VFM Review of Reserve Defence Force: Discussion with Minister for Defence and RDFRA (Continued)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality Debate

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Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton As we have a quorum we can commence the meeting. Apologies have been received from Deputy Anne Ferris for part of the meeting, Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Senator Denis O'Donovan. I thank the Minister for his attendance today to discuss with the committee the value for money review of the Reserve Defence Forces, October 2012. There will be an opening statement from the Minister, followed by a question and answer session.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I will be deputising for Deputy Ó Feargháil.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton You are most welcome.

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I welcome the opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss the value for money, VFM, review of the Reserve Defence Forces, which I shall refer to as the RDF for the sake of brevity. I will also outline the progress to date in implementing the response to its findings and recommendations. As the committee is aware, the VFM review of the RDF formally commenced in February 2010 and was conducted during a period of significant uncertainty and change. The previous Government's national recovery plan, NRP, and the current Government's comprehensive review of expenditure, CRE were both key priorities over the course of the intervening period. These priorities drew analytical resources away from the VFM review. In advance of Government decisions relating to the CRE, any recommendations from the VFM review regarding the reserve could have been superseded by changes in the available resource envelope. In this context, the review timeframe was unavoidably extended.

  The CRE and the associated reorganisation of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, within a two brigade structure, defined for the steering committee the level of resourcing available for the reserve. This included the number of PDF personnel that would be available to support the reserve on a full-time basis. This allowed the steering committee to frame appropriate recommendations for the reserve that were financially viable and sustainable within the prevailing resource envelope, and that dovetailed with the broader reorganisation of the Defence Forces.

  The VFM report was finalised by the steering committee and submitted to me in early October 2012. It was subsequently laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and published on the Department of Defence website in November 2012. The report sets out a systematic and detailed analysis of the Reserve Defence Force. The Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan previously set out an ambitious programme of reform for the reserve, which included a major reorganisation in 2005. The VFM review found that the strength and associated training targets set out in that plan were not achieved over the intervening period. This raised concerns about the capacity of the reserve. Although I have no doubt that different people will hold different views as to why the Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan did not achieve its desired objectives, there can be no doubt that it did not.

  I am a firm believer in revisiting plans that have not yielded the desired results. Simply maintaining the status quo with the reserve and continuing in the hope of improvement at some point in the future was not a realistic option. The value for money review clearly set out the key issues that must be addressed and although there are many detailed findings within the review, I will outline a brief summary of the key findings and recommendations.

  The cost of maintaining the reserve, including the costs of PDF support staff, ranged from €34 million in 2006 to €23.4 million in 2011, having peaked at just under €36 million in 2008. The majority of these costs - or an average 82% - were comprised of PDF support staff costs and the cost of paid training and gratuities for members of the reserve. The effective strength of the Army reserve and Naval Service reserve at end 2011 was less than half of the organisational design strength of 9,692 personnel. The number of full time PDF staff in place supporting these RDF structures was inefficient having regard to the actual strength level of the reserve. The option of recruiting to the establishment level was not realistic given the level of resourcing available for paid training and having regard to previous recruitment trends. In this context, the steering committee concluded that the existing organisational structure was inefficient and unsustainable.

  In addition, the reorganisation of the PDF within a strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel required the number of full-time Army PDF support staff for the Army reserve to be capped at 48 personnel, or 24 for each of the two new brigades. There are a further nine PDF support staff for the Naval Service reserve, giving a total of 57 full-time PDF support personnel. An examination of the number of reservists that undertook both paid and unpaid training highlighted that over the period of the review only approximately 60% of reservists undertook any paid training. Research also identified that those reservists not undertaking paid training did not compensate for this with additional unpaid training. In 2011, the number of reservists that met prescribed levels of paid and unpaid training for payment of a gratuity numbered 2,010, excluding recruits, of a reported effective strength of 4,554 personnel.

  There is a critical link between the uptake of training and the capacity of the reserve. In this content, the steering committee had concerns about the capacity of the organisation to fulfil its role. I particularly draw the attention of members to the numbers who undertook training. The steering committee noted that the PDF could fulfil all ongoing operational requirements and that there were no operational gaps that required the ongoing deployment of the reserve at home or overseas. In this context, it was concluded there was no requirement to amend the roles of the reserve beyond the contingent role currently provided for. However, it was recommended that there was scope to achieve greater utility from the reserve through usage in a voluntary unpaid capacity for unarmed aid to the civil authority and other specified tasks.

  The steering committee considered a range of options for the reserve, including "do-nothing" or "abolish" options. It concluded that it remained prudent that the State should have additional military resources available to provide additional support to the PDF if required. This additional capacity could assist in dealing with a broad range of contingencies. However, in light of concerns regarding the capacity of the reserve, there were caveats.

  The steering committee only recommended the retention of the reserve on the conditional basis that it be reformed and reorganised. It also recommended that greater utility should be derived from the reserve in a voluntary unpaid capacity. I accepted the findings and recommendations of the steering committee outlined in the report. This included a recommended strength for the reserve of approximately 4,000 personnel, based both in PDF installations and in 16 other locations throughout the country. This strength level was only sustainable, within existing resources, if gratuities were withdrawn from members of the reserve and this budget redirected to boost the availability of paid training. As Minister, I emphasise the importance of participation in paid training as opposed to simple membership of the reserve.

  Detailed reorganisation proposals, including the location of the reserve units in the 16 locations outside of PDF installations, were brought forward by the chief of staff and Secretary General of my Department. I accepted these proposals and the details of the reorganisation were published at the same time as the VFM review. The reorganisation would consolidate a large number of under-strength Army reserve units that were previously organised into a three brigade structure into a smaller number of full-strength units within the new two brigade structure. The new organisational structures set a revised strength ceiling for the Reserve of 4,069 personnel, 3,869 for the Army reserve and 200 for the Naval Service reserve.

  Implementation of the reorganisation commenced immediately under the auspices of a high-level implementation group chaired by the deputy chief of staff support.

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