Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Ceisteanna (77)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

77. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if an evaluation has been carried out in respect of potential weakness in the Defence Forces with a view to addressing the issues in the short to medium term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53445/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The White Paper on Defence, approved by Government in July 2015, resulted from a comprehensive examination of Defence requirements.  It provides the defence policy framework for the period up to 2025.  This policy framework is designed to be flexible and responsive given the dynamic nature of the security environment and enables the Defence Organisation to be adaptive to changing circumstances and to use resources as efficiently as possible.  

Within this context, the White Paper contains the Government's decision to put in place a fixed cycle of defence reviews.  The first such review, the White Paper on Defence - Update 2019, has now been completed, was approved by Government last week and has now been published on my Department's website.  While the Update acknowledges that there are challenges in certain areas, it affirms the fundamentals of our approach to defence policy that were settled when the White Paper was approved in 2015.  

As such, I am committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces continue to have the means to carry out all of the roles assigned by Government.  My priority as Minister with responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible.  

The allocation of over €1 billion for the Defence Sector for 2020, an increase of €32.3m on 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.  The White Paper Update refers to the multi-annual capital programme, launched as Project Ireland 2040, which has increased the overall level of investment in Defence and provides for €541m. in capital funding over the period to 2022.  

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, as recognised in the White Paper Update, reaching a strength level of 9,500 personnel is a key challenge that this will require unrelenting attention into the foreseeable future.  

Regarding equipment, the Update refers to the range of new equipment already delivered or in immediate prospect, including new Armoured Logistics and Utility Vehicles, upgraded Armoured Personnel Carriers, Naval Service Ship replacement and renewal, and acquisition of new Fixed-Wing Utility and also Maritime Patrol aircraft for the Air Corps.  

In relation to infrastructure, there have been very important modernisation projects completed in the last few years and many are ongoing, all contributing to capability. However, as noted in the White Paper Update, there is continuing potential for additional investment in military facilities and, with this in mind, a focussed five year infrastructure programme will be launched in January 2020. This will provide the means to channel available funds to where these will have the strongest impact, while acknowledging the potential for additional investment.  

The Update was undertaken while Brexit has continued to evolve. The Update notes that the precise security implications of Brexit remain hard to predict, albeit that the overall setting in which security resides may be adversely impacted. It is not clear, at this point, that any particular implications call for a defence response beyond what is committed in the White Paper. Prudent planning remains the essential relevant focus against the backdrop of the current position on Brexit, and the responsibility, in the first instance, of the Department of Justice and Equality, along with An Garda Síochána, for internal security matters and the Revenue Commissioners for customs issues.  

Overall, I am pleased with the outcome of the White Paper Update and I am satisfied that the Defence Forces will continue to fulfil all roles assigned by Government.