Questions Nos. 1 to 10, inclusive, answered orally.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 6.

Defence Forces Strength

Ceisteanna (12)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

12. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the current strength of the Defences Forces is 8,724; his views on the fact that this is below the minimum strength of 9,500 that it is supposed to have (details supplied); his further views on the contention that this is a retention and recruitment crisis that is undermining the very viability of the Defence Forces; and the measures he is taking to tackle same. [38462/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The military authorities have advised that the strength of the Permanent Defence Force (whole time equivalent), across all services, at 31st August 2019, was 8,653 personnel. Whilst I am very much aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment I remain committed to restoring the strength of the Defence Forces to 9,500.

The Government have acknowledged that there are recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces that must be addressed. It is a fact that members of the Permanent Defence Force are being attracted to jobs elsewhere in a buoyant labour market.

In light of the particular difficulties being faced by the Defence Sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of recruitment and retention issues in the Permanent Defence Force (PDF).

The Commission’s Report, which has been accepted by Government, contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements, these include:

- a 10% increase in Military Service Allowance,

- the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances,

- the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps.

These measures will be implemented swiftly on confirmation of acceptance by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations.

The Report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving work-force planning, recruitment and conditions of service.

The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out the timelines and objectives, indicating the commitment to deliver on the Pay Commission’s recommendations. The plan also provides for an examination of core pay in the PDF and to identify further retention measures within the context of the Public Service Stability Agreement and future public sector pay negotiations. Work on implementing the plan is underway and, under my direction, is being prioritised by Civil and Military Management.

I am confident that the implementation of the PSPC’s recommendations, in tandem with pay benefits being delivered by the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the most recent being a 1.5% increase on 1st September, will ameliorate current recruitment and retention challenges being experienced by the Permanent Defence Force. These measures will build upon a range of recruitment and retention actions already in train.

Industrial Relations

Question No. 14 answered with Question No. 8.

Ceisteanna (13, 17, 20, 26, 30, 34, 36)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

13. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will request amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to ensure representative rights for Army personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38547/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

17. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if an amendment to the Industrial Relations Act 1990 will be supported in order to allow Defence Forces personnel the right to be represented by a representative organisation of their choice and have full access to the industrial relations machinery of the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38532/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

20. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will meet with representatives of the Defence Forces, specifically an organisation (details supplied), to discuss its campaign for representative rights in view of ongoing concerns on issues of pay, conditions and retention in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38533/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

26. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the progress which is being made in affording Defence Forces representative organisations affiliation with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions as a means to advance the interests of its members in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38549/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

30. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to deal with the recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Forces; his views on whether granting the right to representation including the right of bodies (details supplied) to join an organisation and have access to the industrial relations machinery of the State could help in dealing with the current crisis in the forces in terms of retention of members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38534/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Ryan

Ceist:

34. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the move by an organisation (details supplied) to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38552/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

36. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether the conciliation and arbitration scheme to address issues regarding the pay and conditions of Defence Forces personnel does not address or adequately deal with concerns of members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38531/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 17, 20, 26, 30, 34 and 36 together.

I am aware of the longstanding desire of PDFORRA to associate with ICTU.

In 2017, in a non-binding ruling, the European Committee of Social Rights concluded that prohibiting military personnel from the right to strike was not in breach of the European Social Charter, but that the Charter was breached by prohibiting the representative associations from affiliating with a national employee organisation, such as ICTU, and in respect of the right to bargain collectively.

This case related to a complaint made by EUROMIL, a European umbrella body for military associations, on behalf of PDFORRA, concerning the lack of certain rights for military representative associations in Ireland.

The complainant claimed that Ireland was in breach of the European Social Charter by prohibiting military personnel from the right to strike, prohibiting the Permanent Defence Force representative associations from affiliating with a national employee organisation such as ICTU and an alleged restriction on the Permanent Defence Force representative associations at negotiations on national pay agreements.

The Government welcomed the conclusion of the European Committee of Social Rights that the prohibition on the right to strike for members of the Defence Forces is not a violation of the European Social Charter. It is critically important that the Defence Forces are fully operational at all times. The taking of any form of industrial action is irreconcilable with military service.

It should be noted that the basis for complaint pre-dated a number of significant Government initiatives. In relation to collective bargaining, the Government established an independent Public Service Pay Commission in 2016, to provide objective analysis and advice on the most appropriate pay levels for the public service, including the Defence Forces.

Following the publication of the Report of the Public Service Pay Commission, the Government initiated negotiations on an extension to the Lansdowne Road Agreement. The Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations were invited to the negotiations on the agreement which were held under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission. They were afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations.

Both PDFORRA and RACO accepted the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 which provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement, with the focus on the lower paid. The increases in pay are being implemented on a phased basis with the most recent increase being a 1.75% increases on annualised salaries with effect from 1 September 2019.

Section 2(3) of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990, prohibits the Defence Forces representative associations from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body, without the consent of the Minister.

To compensate for these limitations there are a range of statutory redress mechanisms available to serving members, including redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces Ombudsman and a Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

The Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force provides a formal mechanism for the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations, that is PDFORRA and RACO, to engage with the Official side.

Having regard to commitments made under pay agreements, members of the Permanent Defence Force can make representations in relation to their pay and conditions of service through their representative bodies.

In light of the many changes in the industrial relations landscape since the establishment of the scheme, I initiated a fundamental review of the scheme in 2018.

While the majority of the recommendations arising from the review of the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force are aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the C&A scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, there are no recommendations relating to the amendment of Industrial Relations legislation.

Instead, the Reviewer recommended that the Departmental and Representative sides agree a revised scheme implementing the recommendations in the Review. The reviewer recommended that the revised scheme be reviewed after a three-year period as this would afford the parties an opportunity to assess the schemes performance. The parties to the scheme are in the process of developing and agreeing a revised scheme. It is not intended to make any legislative amendment that will pre-empt the outcome of the revised scheme.

The terms of reference for the review included consideration of the findings of the European Committee of Social Rights in the case of the European Organisation of Military Associations (Euromil) v Ireland. One of the recommendations from that review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with the ICTU to explore the practicalities of a PDF representative association forming association/affiliation with the ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service.

This is in the context of a statement which the European Committee of Social Rights took into consideration in their deliberations where EUROMIL claimed that ICTU had stated that PDFORRA could be affiliated to ICTU with whatever conditions the Government deemed necessary and that this remains the position of ICTU.

I asked my officials to examine this matter further and in this regard Defence management (civil and military) have engaged in discussions with ICTU.

Association with ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. The feasibility of association is the subject of ongoing discussion and engagement with ICTU.

I have recently met both RACO and PDFORRA and this matter was discussed in the course of the meetings.

The implications of any possible decision around association or affiliation are being carefully considered.

Question No. 14 answered with Question No. 8.

Defence Forces Personnel Data

Question No. 16 answered with Question No. 9.

Question No. 17 answered with Question No. 13.

Ceisteanna (15)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

15. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the estimated number of persons likely to leave the Defence Forces in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38422/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

As at 31st August 2019, 558 personnel had discharged from the Permanent Defence Force. The term 'discharges' encompasses personnel who left for a variety of reasons including on age grounds, at end of contract and voluntary discharges and also includes a number of trainees who exited prior to completion of their initial training. There will be additional discharges in 2019 for various reasons and the majority of personnel who discharge do so prior to the mandatory retirement age and at a time of their own choosing.

In 2018 the overarching turnover of personnel in the Permanent Defence Force was 8.1%. While the overall average departure rate since 2002 is 6.3% this peaked in 2012 at 8.58%. This departure rate, or turnover rate, is comparable to, and in some cases more favourable than, other military organisations worldwide. However, the overarching turnover level does not illustrate important underlying trends. As the rate of turnover within a military organisation can differ across functional areas, the impact of turnover can vary accordingly. Headline turnover figures do not reflect this complexity.

The issue of a fluctuating high turnover rate is also a feature of other military organisations.

Nevertheless, this does not detract from the Governments goal of restoring the Permanent Defence Force to a strength of 9,500 personnel and, in that regard, I have previously acknowledged that there are recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces which is reflective of the current buoyant economic environment and jobs market.

I brought these issues to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission and the recommendations contained in their recent report have been accepted by Government. These recommendations are being progressed through a detailed implementation plan that is driving a number of projects to implement specific recommendations.

The recommendations relating to increases in certain allowances and the re-introduction of a service commitment scheme for Air Corp pilots in the Air Corps are currently being considered by the Defence Forces Representative Associations.

As I have said already today, while it is clear that there is and has been a significant amount of work undertaken in this area, I continue to work closely with the Secretary General of my Department and the Defence Forces Chief of Staff to further enhance the responses to the issues facing the Defence Forces at this time.

Question No. 16 answered with Question No. 9.
Question No. 17 answered with Question No. 13.

Defence Forces Medical Services

Ceisteanna (18)

James Browne

Ceist:

18. Deputy James Browne asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on mental distress in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38223/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a high priority for me and my Department. Mental health supports are part of a range of medical and non-medical services provided to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them.

Medical mental health services available to personnel include access to clinical psychology and psychiatry services. The Psychology service assesses, diagnoses, treats and advises on strategies to prevent mental health disorders and there are currently two Clinical Psychologists employed by the Defence Forces. Psychiatry services specialise in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Deputies will already be aware of the ongoing efforts made by my Department to fill the vacancy left by the previous in-house military psychiatrist, who retired in May 2018. In this regard, a direct entrant competition for the position of military psychiatrist, which closed on 30th September 2018, yielded no applications.

To continue to provide an interim in-house service until such time as the military psychiatrist position could be filled, attempts were made to secure a locum psychiatrist but these also proved unsuccessful.

In order to explore every option to facilitate an in-house appointment, I gave approval for my Department to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian consultant psychiatrist on a temporary 24-month contract at pay rates equivalent to those available in the HSE. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) sanctioned the competition.

The Public Appointments Service is currently conducting a competition to fill the position. The closing date for the competition is 26 September 2019 and I am informed that there has been interest expressed in the vacancy.

Until this vacancy is filled, interim services are being provided through a combination of external public and private services. I wish to stress again that there is no delay in referring Defence Forces personnel requiring immediate psychiatric care or assessment. Patients presenting to Defence Forces Primary Carers (Medical Officers or contracted civilian GPs) with a requirement for urgent psychiatric assessment are referred to HSE Accident & Emergency Departments. Those requiring hospitalisation are admitted immediately.

Furthermore, in order to provide Defence Forces Primary Carers (Medical Officers or contracted civilian GPs) with the broadest range of options possible in dealing with the spectrum of cases that present to them, they have also been authorised to refer cases to local external private psychiatrists for outpatient treatment where deemed appropriate.

As I have outlined in the past, there is a nationwide shortage of trained psychiatrists, with recruitment issues in a number of sectors of the health service. The difficulty with recruitment for such a position is not unique to the Defence Forces.

In addition to the clinical supports I have outlined, non-medical mental health services are provided by the Defence Forces Personnel Support Service. The Defence Forces Personnel Support Service provides a welfare, information, psycho-social support and referral service to serving members of the Defence Forces and their families.

The service is also available to civilian employees, and in a limited role to veterans. This service sustains and enhances the individual well-being of personnel, and promotes a safe and positive work culture, in order to support the effectiveness of the Defence Forces.

The service is delivered through a network of military Barrack Personnel Support Service Officers and civilian Occupational Social Workers. This network of professionals is prepared to provide immediate help to service personnel and their families in a routine environment or at a time of crisis. This assistance can range from the simple provision of information to counselling or, if required, signposting and referral to specialist help and assistance.

Furthermore, the assistance may include providing psychosocial support, counselling and information & assistance services on a variety of issues, including relationships, general finances, addiction, retirement (including pensions and gratuities), housing, taxation and PRSI and much more.

In addition, my Department funds a confidential counselling, referral and support service for serving members of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and Civil Defence volunteers. The service provides confidential counselling on a wide range of personal and work related issues, including but not limited to health, relationships, addictions, financial, bereavement, stress, conflict, critical incident and trauma.

In the case of relationship counselling, the spouse or partner may also attend the counselling sessions.

A Freephone confidential helpline is available on a 24/7 basis 365 days a year. The helpline provides for referral to appointment-based telephone or face-to-face counselling.

While I am satisfied that the available medical services offer comprehensive supports to Defence Forces members, I can assure the Deputy that they are kept under constant review.

Defence Forces Medical Services

Question No. 20 answered with Question No. 13.

Ceisteanna (19)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

19. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 30 of 26 February 2019, if a psychiatrist for the Defence Forces has been appointed following the retirement of the in-house psychiatrist in May 2018; the number of personnel awaiting referral to a psychiatrist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38544/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

Deputies will already be aware of the ongoing efforts made by my Department to fill the vacancy left by the previous in-house military psychiatrist, who retired in May 2018. In this regard, a direct entrant competition for the position of military psychiatrist, which closed on 30th September 2018, yielded no applications.

To continue to provide an interim in-house service until such time as the military psychiatrist position could be filled, attempts were made to secure a locum psychiatrist but these also proved unsuccessful.

In order to explore every option to facilitate an in-house appointment, I gave approval for my Department to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian consultant psychiatrist on a temporary 24-month contract at pay rates equivalent to those available in the HSE. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) sanctioned the competition.

The Public Appointments Service is currently conducting a competition to fill the position. The closing date for the competition is 26 September 2019 and I am informed that there has been interest expressed in the vacancy.

Until this vacancy is filled, interim services are being provided through a combination of external public and private services. I wish to stress again that there is no delay in referring Defence Forces personnel requiring immediate psychiatric care or assessment. Patients presenting to Defence Forces Primary Carers (Medical Officers or contracted civilian GPs) with a requirement for urgent psychiatric assessment are referred to HSE Accident & Emergency Departments. Those requiring hospitalisation are admitted immediately.

Furthermore, in order to provide Defence Forces Primary Carers (Medical Officers or contracted civilian GPs) with the broadest range of options possible in dealing with the spectrum of cases that present to them, they have also been authorised to refer cases to local external private psychiatrists for outpatient treatment where deemed appropriate.

As I have outlined in the past, there is a nationwide shortage of trained psychiatrists, with recruitment issues in a number of sectors of the health service. The difficulty with recruitment for such a position is not unique to the Defence Forces.

Question No. 20 answered with Question No. 13.

Defence Forces Training

Ceisteanna (21)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

21. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the degree to which he remains satisfied that all military personnel including reserves receive ongoing upgraded training in military techniques and communications with particular reference for the need to communicate with other defence forces throughout Europe in the case of emergency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38457/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

In accordance with the Framework for Major Emergency Management, primary responsibility for responding to emergencies caused by severe weather events, such as storms and flooding, rests with the three designated principal response agencies, namely, the relevant Local Authority, An Garda Síochána, and the Health Service Executive. The Defence Forces provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or emergency situation in its Aid to the Civil Authority role.

At National level, representation on the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, by both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces, ensures the fullest coordination and cooperation in the event of an emergency and that the command structure within the Defence Forces is compatible with the requirements in this area.

Major Emergency Plans have been developed by local and regional authorities and these Plans identify the procedures for requesting assistance from the Defence Forces.

The Defence Forces retains a wide range of specialist skills which can be deployed in such circumstances, including for a natural disaster or terrorist incidents.

With regard to security threats, primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) which, in practice, means to provide assistance and support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.

There is ongoing and close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters, including ATCP deployments and a wide variety of military training activities are specifically designed to counter or respond to possible security emergencies. Regular coordination and liaison meetings also take place between the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána in relation to ATCP issues.

The full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment are available for deployment in response to any security and other emergencies that may arise.

In addition to training provided in Ireland, the Defence Forces have ongoing opportunities to avail of training techniques and facilities available to other forces throughout Europe. They attend training courses run by the following organisations:-

- NATO School Oberammergau

- Associated Centres of Excellence (COEs)

- Partner Training and Education Centres (PTECs); and,

- Other foreign militaries which offer courses of interest to the Defence Forces.

I can confirm that the Defence Forces keep their operational plans and response capabilities for dealing with a wide range of threats under constant review. It is my priority as Minister with responsibility for Defence to ensure that the operational capacity of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles both at home and overseas.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (22, 31)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

22. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to reintroduce new Army barracks in counties Cavan and Monaghan or the greater Border region in view of Brexit and the possible reintroduction of a hard border; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38326/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

31. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans for the reinstatement of troops in the Border counties in view of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38325/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 31 together.

As part of a whole of Government approach, my Department continues to engage in forward planning with the other Departments involved in addressing all issues relevant to the UK's decision to leave the European Union. On 9th July last, the Government published the Brexit Contingency Action Plan Update. This reflects the extensive work which has taken place at EU level and on a whole-of-Government basis, including the Brexit Omnibus Act 2019, to prepare for a no deal Brexit. It sets out the next steps to be taken between now and 31st October.

While the UK's decision to leave the EU does not of itself give rise to additional border control requirements, it remains the Government’s view that the best way to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border is for the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, to be ratified.

The Government remains committed to the avoidance of a hard border and Ireland and the EU are at one on this. The Government is working closely with the European Commission to meet the shared twin objectives of protecting the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it, and protecting the Good Friday Agreement, including avoiding physical infrastructure at the border. This work is looking at necessary checks to preserve Ireland’s full participation in the Single Market and Customs Union.

In these circumstances, there are no plans for a new Army barracks in counties Cavan and Monaghan or the greater Border region. In terms of deployment of military personnel to the border, as I have said in the past, primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Minister for Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Accordingly, responsibility for the security aspect of border control rests with An Garda Síochána, while the Revenue Commissioners also have responsibilities relating to their particular mandate.

Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of Aid to the Civil Power which, in practice, means to provide assistance and support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. The Defence Forces also provide support to the Revenue Commissioners, again, when requested to do so.

There is ongoing close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters and regular coordination and liaison meetings take place. My Department continues to monitor the ongoing situation to ensure that both it and the Defence Forces are fully prepared to address any potential issues that might arise in the defence area as a consequence of Brexit.

Defence Forces Operations

Ceisteanna (23)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

23. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of times the Defence Forces have been called on to perform aid to the civil power duties at Shannon Airport to date in 2019; the nature of the activities carried out; the dates on which those duties were performed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38545/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) which, in practice, means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. On each occasion that the support of the Defence Forces is required, An Garda Síochána issues a form C70 to the Defence Forces to request their assistance.

As of 18 September 2019, the Defence Forces have conducted 233 Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) deployments to Shannon Airport this year. The nature of the activities carried out was security assistance to An Garda Síochána. The duties were performed on various dates upon receipt of a request from An Garda Síochána.

I am satisfied that there is ongoing and close liaison between both An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, and between my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality regarding security matters generally, including the Defence Forces ATCP roles.

Naval Service Staff

Ceisteanna (24)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

24. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the measures he is taking to tackle the retention and recruitment crisis in the Naval Service in view of issues (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38461/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I remain committed to maximising recruitment capacity and introducing measures to return to, and maintain, the establishment strength in the Naval Service and the Defence Forces as a whole.

There are a number of recruitment and retention difficulties in the Naval Service which are presenting ongoing challenges and the Government has acknowledged these. My main focus is returning the Naval Service to its full capacity. As you know, two ships LÉ Eithne and LÉ Orla were brought in for routine maintenance earlier this year and are now on Operational Pause. A number of their crew have been redeployed within the fleet.

A high level civil military team has been working on addressing the issues facing the Naval Service and has identified a number of specific HR options for consideration. I receive regular feedback on the work of the group. I met with them last week for a detailed brief. It goes without saying that as we deal with these issues, the safety of serving personnel must be the number one priority.

In light of the particular difficulties faced by the Defence Sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive examination and analysis of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces.

The Commission’s Report, which has been accepted by Government, contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements, these include:

- a 10% increase in Military Service Allowance

- the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances,

- the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps.

These measures will be implemented swiftly on confirmation of acceptance of by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations.

The Report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving work-force planning, recruitment and conditions of service.

The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out the timelines and objectives, indicating the commitment to deliver on the Pay Commission’s recommendations. The plan also provides for an examination of core pay in the PDF and to identify further retention measures within the context of the Public Service Stability Agreement and future public sector pay negotiations. Work on implementing the plan is underway and, under my direction, is being prioritised by Civil and Military Management.

The implementation of the PSPC’s recommendations, in tandem with pay benefits being delivered by the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the most recent being a 1.5% increase on 1st September, are all intended to ameliorate current recruitment and retention challenges being experienced by the Permanent Defence Force, including the Naval Service.

Departmental Properties

Question No. 26 answered with Question No. 13.

Ceisteanna (25)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

25. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will consider allowing a premises in a location (details supplied) in the ownership of his Department to be used by UN veterans for housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38546/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I am advised that officials from my Department have met with representatives of Wicklow County Council to discuss the future of Rockbrae House and surrounding lands and are currently waiting for an updated position from the Council with regard to any potential proposals they have for the property. Until these considerations are advanced I am unable to provide a position on the future of Rockbrae House at this juncture.

I recognise the outstanding contribution veterans have made to the State and in that regard my Department is committed to supporting IUNVA in recognition of their valued service .

Question No. 26 answered with Question No. 13.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Ceisteanna (27)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

27. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of the implementation of the Barry report in respect of the Defence Forces conciliation and arbitration scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38423/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force provides an established mechanism for the PDF representative associations, that is RACO (the representative association for commissioned officers) and PDFORRA (the representative association for enlisted personnel)to engage with the Official side. Having regard to commitments made under public service pay agreements, members of the PDF can make representations in relation to their pay and conditions through their representative associations.

The C&A scheme, since its inception in the early 1990’s has provided the framework to progress many successful negotiated agreements between Defence management and the PDF Representative Associations. In light of the many changes in the industrial relations landscape in the intervening period, I initiated a independent review of the scheme, and that report was published on 2 October 2018.

The report of the review contains a number of recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency of the scheme.

The parties to the scheme, including the Permanent Defence Force representative associations are developing, in a collaborative process, the terms for a revised C&A Scheme incorporating the recommendations in the Review. This work is ongoing.

Defence Forces Strength

Ceisteanna (28)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

28. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way in which he has prioritised retention of suitable personnel as an essential factor in developing military capabilities in line with section 7.3 of the 2015 White Paper on Defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38421/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

A range of factors influence an individual’s decision to stay in the Defence Forces. These include career progression opportunities, pay, personal development opportunities, work – life balance, job stimulation and work environment. There has been significant progress in all of these areas. There are significant opportunities for career progression in the Defence Forces.

Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay.

The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the Agreement. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. The increases due to date under the Agreement have been paid to members of the Defence Forces, the most recent being a 1.75% increase on annualised salaries from the 1 September 2019. Further increases in pay are scheduled in 2020.

By the end of the current Public Service Pay agreement the pay scales of all public servants (including members of the Defence Forces), earning under €70,000 per annum, will be restored to pre FEMPI levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI is also scheduled in the agreement.

As with many other areas of the public service, challenges in the recruitment and retention of personnel have arisen in a buoyant economy, with many personnel or potential personnel, including pilots, air traffic control staff and Naval Service technicians, having scarce and highly marketable skills.

In light of the particular challenges faced by the Defence Sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces.

The Commission’s Report, which has been accepted by Government in July, contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements, these include:

- a 10% increase in Military Service Allowance,

- the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances,

- the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps.

These measures will be implemented swiftly on confirmation of acceptance of by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations.

The Report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving work-force planning, recruitment and conditions of service. The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out the timelines and objectives, indicating the commitment to deliver on the Pay Commission’s recommendations. The plan also provides for an examination of core pay in the PDF within the context of the Public Service Stability Agreement and future public sector pay negotiations.

Work on this plan is underway and, under my direction, is being prioritised by civil and military management

Departmental Expenditure

Question No. 30 answered with Question No. 13.

Question No. 31 answered with Question No. 22.

Ceisteanna (29)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

29. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which current expenditure of his Department for 2019 is off target; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38425/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The Defence Vote Group, comprising of the Defence and Army Pensions Votes, was provided with a current funding envelope of some €901 million in 2019. This allocation provides for the pay and allowances for over 10,400 public service employees, ongoing Defence Forces operational and standing costs, funding in respect of Civil Defence and the Irish Red Cross Society and funding for some 12,400 Army Pensioners and certain dependants.

Defence Vote Group current expenditure at end-August was €561 million, representing 62% of the total provision. This is broadly in line with expenditure trends in recent years. At end-August, overall Defence Group current expenditure was €26 million below the profile set out at the beginning of the year, mainly due to payroll numbers being below approved strength levels. Army Pensions expenditure was slightly above profile.

My Department will continue to monitor all expenditure across the Defence Vote Group very closely. It is intended that any savings arising within the Defence Vote at year-end would, in consultation and agreement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, be used to address spending requirements elsewhere in the Defence Vote Group, including Army Pensions.

Question No. 30 answered with Question No. 13.
Question No. 31 answered with Question No. 22.

Naval Service Operations

Ceisteanna (32)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

32. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the role the Naval Service may have in the designation and protection of marine protected areas; and if the Naval Service would have capacity to ensure the integrity of such areas. [38500/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

As the Deputy is aware, my colleague, Minister Murphy, the Minister for Housing Planning and Local Government, is responsible for marine environmental policy. This includes the overall co-ordination of Ireland's network of marine protected areas. I understand it is Minister Murphy's intention to bring forward a Bill to provide for the designation of further Marine Protected Areas in 2020.

The primary day-to-day tasking of the Naval Service in Ireland is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State’s fishery protection legislation and our obligations as a member of the European Union.  When on patrol Naval Service vessels are multi-tasked in the sense that they also undertake general surveillance, security and other duties. While the Naval Service has no role in relation to the designation of Marine Protected Areas, the Deputy can be assured that the Naval Service will continue to carry out the roles they have been assigned by Government.

Army Barracks

Question No. 34 answered with Question No. 13.

Ceisteanna (33)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

33. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if funding will be allocated to improve working and living conditions for soldiers in the Curragh camp; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38511/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

In order to ensure that the Defence Forces have the capability to deliver on all of the roles assigned by Government, I am committed to the development and improvement of the physical environment and living conditions in military installations throughout the country. The Defence Forces Built Infrastructure Programme, is compiled on a priority needs basis by my Department in conjunction with the Military Authorities.

This year some €28m was allocated towards the maintenance of and the development of new building projects for the Defence Forces. Over the period of 2016 to end 2018, some €17m was spent on various capital projects and ongoing maintenance of buildings and facilities in the Defence Forces Training Centre, most notably this included the refurbishment of Blocks B and D of Pearse Barracks as well as the provision of a newly constructed ammunition storage facility. In 2019, it is intended that a further €3.5m will be expended by year end on ongoing maintenance and improvement works in the DFTC. One of the key projects being undertaken this year is the upgrading and refurbishment of Plunkett Block 7 in the Curragh Camp, DefenceForces Training Centre. This project involves the refurbishment of the existing accommodation for 58 personnel to modern standards. These works will commence shortly.

Question No. 34 answered with Question No. 13.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 13.

Ceisteanna (35)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

35. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the fact that the recruitment drive in 2017 for the Defence Forces yielded modest results; if he will consider pay and conditions of existing members being paramount in addressing the retention of members in place of costly recruitment policies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38420/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The Government remains committed to returning to the agreed strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500.

In that context there is ongoing recruitment and the Defence Forces recruitment process is subject to continuous monitoring and appraisal to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. In 2017, this resulted in the traditional annual General Service Recruitment Campaign being replaced by two campaigns annually to reduce waiting times on panels for aspiring entrants.

I have acknowledged that there are both recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces which is reflective of the current buoyant economic environment and jobs market.

For that reason, I brought these issues to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission and their recent report contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvement. These recommendations are currently being progressed through the associated Implementation Plan.

Whilst it is clear that there is and has been a significant amount of work undertaken in this area, I continue to work closely with the Secretary General of my Department and the Defence Forces Chief of Staff to further enhance the responses to the issues facing the Defence Forces at this time.

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 13.

Military Medals

Ceisteanna (37)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

37. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the medals being sought by the veterans and families of the siege of Jadotville will be awarded. [38359/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The siege of Jadotville was a prominent event that occurred during Ireland's peacekeeping mission in the Congo in September 1961. "A" Company, 35th Infantry Battalion took responsibility for the UN post at Jadotville on 3rd September 1961. On the 9th September, a large force of Katangese Gendarmerie surrounded them and early on the morning of the 13th September "A" Company came under attack. From the 13th to the 17th September they endured almost continuous attack. They were taken into captivity on the 17th September and remained in captivity until finally released on the 25th October 1961.

In accordance with Defence Forces regulations the award of medals for bravery is time bound. These may not be awarded in any case unless a recommendation is made through the usual channels to the Chief of Staff, not later than two years in the case of the Military Medal for Gallantry, and not later than four years in the case of the Distinguished Service Medal, after the performance of the act in respect of which the recommendation is made. Such awards are made on the recommendation of a Military Board appointed by the Chief of Staff for the purpose of examining and reporting on every recommendation for an award.

The issue of the award of medals to the men of “A” Company, 35th Infantry Battalion was comprehensively addressed in 1965. A properly constituted Medals Board considered the various cases presented. The board did not award any medals whose citations mention Jadotville. The Chief of Staff of the day considered the decision of the Board and was satisfied with the findings. Subsequently at that time, the question was raised again in a letter to a newly appointed Chief of Staff. He forwarded the letter to the original Medals Board and asked that they reconvene and review their decision. The Board indicated that the issues raised had received due consideration and that they were not prepared to alter their findings.

Over the past number of years various representations have been received in my Department outlining the courage and bravery of "A" Company. All representations have been considered and responded to acknowledging their valiant actions while under siege in Jadotville.

A review was conducted in 2004 by military officers for the purpose of a broader examination of the Jadotville case. This Board recommended that the events of Jadotville and the contribution of the 35th Battalion be given recognition. In this context, a number of measures have taken place to honour and to commemorate the events at Jadotville and the very significant contribution of “A” Company and of the 35th Battalion, as a whole, to the UN Peace Support Mission in the Congo.

Recognition of their contribution over the years include:

A. A presentation of scrolls to "A" Company in 2006.

B. Portraits of Lt Col McNamee (35th Battalion Commander) and Comdt Quinlan (Company Commander “A” Company) were commissioned in 2006.

C. In July of 2010 the 50th anniversary of the first deployment to the Congo was commemorated in a highly publicised and well attended event in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

D. A nominal roll of “A” Company, printed in copper, was affixed to the monument in Costume Barracks and was unveiled as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Jadotville affair in September 2011.

E. On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the Siege of Jadotville, I decided to issue a Unit Citation to honour the collective actions and bravery of the men of “A” Company. This was the first time a Unit Citation was awarded within the Defence Forces and I was delighted to be able to formally recognize the brave actions of these men.

Furthermore, on 13th June 2017, the Government decided, as an exceptional step, to award a medal known as “An Bonn Jadotville” or “The Jadotville Medal” to each member of “A” Company, 35th Infantry Battalion and to the family representatives of deceased members to give full and due recognition in honour of their courageous actions at the Siege of Jadotville. This medal presentation ceremony took place on 2nd December 2017 in Custume Barracks, Athlone. This location is considered the spiritual home of “A” Company and it is from here that “A” company assembled in advance of their fateful deployment to the Congo.

I am satisfied that the events and happenings to date properly honour the collective bravery of the men of “A” Company and full and due recognition has been afforded to them in their honour.

Defence Forces Strength

Ceisteanna (38)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

38. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which the strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps remains sufficient to meet a situation emerging such as a natural disaster or international responsibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38456/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

My priority as Minister with responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service is maintained to the greatest extent possible.

The allocation of over €1 billion for the Defence Sector for 2019 emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the resources necessary to deliver on all roles assigned, both at home and overseas.

In terms of personnel, the Defence Forces retain a wide range of specialist skills and equipment. The full spectrum of personnel and equipment are available for deployment in response to any emergencies that may arise. Between 2016 and 2018 over 2,000 personnel were inducted into the Permanent Defence Force while, in February 2019, the largest ever cadet class in the history of the State was commissioned. Nevertheless, I recognise that reaching a strength level of 9,500 personnel is a key challenge for the Defence Forces at present but I am committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the means to continue to carry out all of the roles assigned by Government.

At National level, representation of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning by both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces, ensures the fullest coordination and cooperation in the event of an emergency and that the command structure within the Defence Forces is compatible with the requirements in this area. In accordance with the Framework for Major Emergency Management, primary responsibility for responding to emergencies such as a natural disaster rests with three designated principal response agencies, namely, An Garda Síochána, the relevant Local Authority and the Health Service Executive. The Defence Forces provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or an emergency situation in its Aid to the Civil Authority and Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) roles. Major Emergency Plans have been developed by local and regional authorities and these Plans identify the procedures for requesting assistance from the Defence Forces.

In terms of overseas, at present there are close to 680 members of the Defence Forces serving in missions worldwide. In planning and supporting overseas operations, the combined engagement of the Defence Forces and Departmental staff is an essential element in the effective management of deployments. This includes reviewing potential operations, rotation planning, procurement planning and training. My Department and the Defence Forces work together to ensure the maximisation of options available to Government to meets its international obligations and I am satisfied this will continue in furtherance of Ireland's foreign and defence policy objectives.