The Defence Organisation provides a broad range of services in accordance with its primary security role while it also undertakes a diverse range of non security related tasks. The Defence Forces continue to carry out the roles assigned by Government, including security operations, critical supports to An Garda Síochána and ATCA supports to other Government departments and agencies. In particular, the Defence Forces are playing an active and important role in the Covid 19 response, providing a broad range of supports to the HSE.
Notwithstanding the above, the Government has acknowledged the recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces that are resulting in operational challenges primarily across the Naval Service and Air Corps.
A range of actions have been taken to date to address the recruitment and retention issues, and further actions are currently under consideration.
Civil and Military management are actively engaged in measures to address the recruitment and retention challenges in the Naval Service. It is clear that the situation the Naval Service is facing remains challenging, in particular there are a number of pinch points with particular specialists in terms of recruitment and retention. The Department and the Defence Forces are assessing a range of options to manage the current challenges in the short, medium and longer term. Both myself and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have received separate briefings from the Naval Service on the current challenges. The Department has engaged in discussions with DPER on this matter and these discussions are ongoing.
The Air Corps has also experienced challenges. In this context the Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS) and the GASU (Garda Air Support) have been prioritised. A Service Commitment Scheme for pilots was sanctioned by DPER and implemented in the third quarter of 2019. This has had a stabilising effect. Other measures such as a recommissioning scheme for former Air Corps pilots has also boosted pilot numbers and a range of initiatives which will see accelerated training through outsourcing, are restoring capacity to the Air Corps as quickly as possible.
With reference to Search and Rescue, since 2004 the Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of Search and Rescue services within the Irish Search and Rescue region. Both the Naval Service and the Air Corps provide support to the Irish Coast Guard in maritime Search and Rescue operations on an “as available” basis. A Service Level Agreement is in place setting out their roles and responsibilities in this regard.
Notwithstanding the staffing challenges being experienced, the Defence Organisation continues to provide support, as available, to the Irish Coast Guard in respect of Coast Guard Search and Rescue operations.