Thursday, 8 October 2020

Ceisteanna (47)

Cian O'Callaghan

Ceist:

47. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Defence if a shortage of personnel is affecting the operational efficiency of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28522/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

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 Force 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.

The Defence Forces continue to contribute fully to overseas peace support operations. There has been an added complication arising from Covid 19 with members of the Defence Forces deploying on overseas missions now required to quarantine for 14 days before deploying overseas and to self-isolate on return. The question of appropriate allowances for this additional requirement has been agreed with DPER.

In summary, a range of HR initiatives are being progressed which are aimed at enhancing the capabilities of the Defence Forces.. These include changes to recruitment practices and implementation of the findings of the Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC) Report on recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces. Certain of the PSPC pay related findings are linked to the next pay agreement and will be progressed in that context. Discussions are ongoing in relation to other of these findings.

The Government is committed to retaining the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and to undertake the tasks laid down by Government both at home and overseas.