The Programme for Government contains an ambitious range of commitments concerning the Defence sector that my Department will continue to implement over the lifetime of the Programme.
One of the key commitments was to establish a Commission on the Defence Forces. On the 15th December 2020, the Government approved terms of reference and the membership of an independent Commission on the Defence Forces. This Commission subsequently commenced their work and will continue to work throughout 2021 with their report due in December 2021. The work of the Commission will inform the future development of the Defence Forces.
The Defence Organisation has played a sigificant role in the State's overall response to the Covid 19 pandemic. The response has involved the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and Civil Defence, having regard to their specific roles. The Defence Organisation has participated in a number of official groups such as the High Level Task Force for Covid 19 Vaccination. In addition to supporting the HSE, the Defence Forces have also provided a broad range of supports to other Departments and Agencies. Provision of this support will continue to remain one of my Department's main priorities for 2021.
Implementation of projects arising from the White Paper on Defence (2015) has continued. In total, of the initial 95 projects, 47 are now formally completed. An additional 5 new projects will be initiated during 2021. I have also approved the commencement of a further 15 projects in the period 2022 to 2025. The three year implementation plan for "Civil Defence - Towards 2030" has been approved and is being implemented and other Public Sector Initiatives have been progressed.
My Department has progressed a number of activities including recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces, and related HR issues. Central to this was the continued implementation of the High Level Implementation Plan “Strengthening Our Defence Forces”. A range of other recruitment initiatives have been introduced including commissioning from the ranks, the re-entry of former PDF personnel with specific skills and a sea-going service commitment scheme for members of the Naval Service. In addition, a range of direct entry specialist competitions have also been initiated as a further means to fill critical positions.
An organisational capability review of the Department of Defence commenced in 2021. The Review is being conducted by the Organisational Capability Review team which is based in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and will involve engagement with Departmental staff and key stakeholders in the policy and operational domains of the Department.
The Department of Defence and Defence Forces Strategy Statement 2021-2023 was published in April 2021 and comes at a pivotal time for the Defence Organisation with the establishment of the Commission on the Defence Forces and the Organisational Capability Review of the Department of Defence. This Strategy Statement will be subject to a mid-term review.
In relation to international initiatives, my Department's main focus since June 2020 has been Ireland's policy input regarding the establishment of the European Peace Facility (EPF) which is a new mechanism to finance Common Security and Defence Policy activities. The Council decision establishing the EPF was adopted in March 2021. In addition, my Department continues to provide initial policy input into the process around the EU's Strategic Compass which was proposed to enhance and guide the implementation of the Level of Ambition arising out of the EU's Global Strategy. These two EU initiatives will require further policy input by my Department in 2021.
Since June 2020 with the successful outcome for Ireland in achieving a UN Security Council seat, additional structures have been established between the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence and the Defence Forces with a view to greater coordination on peacekeeping policy issues. This will continue to be a priority for my Department and the Defence Forces throughout 2021.
The 10th Be Winter Ready public safety campaign was launched in November 2020. My Department has also overseen the launch of a new Be Summer Ready public safety campaign. Under the chairmanship of my Department, the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning adopted the SEM Guideline 4 - Climate Change Adaption document.
My Department also published The National Risk Assessment for Ireland 2020. The National Risk Assessment identifies and assesses the likelihood and impact of key risks facing the State across a broad range of emergencies. It will also form part of the EU-wide risk assessment process.
My Department will continue to implement the rolling 5 year Infrastructure Plan and rolling 5 year Equipment Development Plan for the Defence Forces. A step change in military air-based capability is being achieved through the delivery into service of the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. The original order of three aircraft, which were delivered in September 2020, was augmented on an urgent basis by an additional aircraft delivered in April 2020 to enhance fixed wing capacity to meet demands arising from Covid-19. Other major equipment projects are also being progressed and delivered. Climate action has been integrated into equipment & infrastructure programmes of work and this will continue in 2021.
In relation to legislation, the Defence (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019 were restored to the Dáil Order Paper. The Second Stage and Committee Stage debates on the Defence (Amendment) Bill were subsequently completed during 2020. My Department received approval from Government to introduce Report Stage amendments to the Defence (Amendment) Bill to provide for the possible deployment of members of the Reserve Defence Force on voluntary military service (both within the State and overseas). These are enabling provisions to give effect to commitments in the Programme for Government subject to the recommendations by the Commission on the Defence Forces. The necessary amendments are currently been finalised.
I am satisfied that significant progress is being made in implementing the Government’s ambitious programme for Defence and I look forward to ongoing delivery of key commitments.