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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Mr. Martin Cooney:] As of 31 August 2012 I did 136 voluntary hours outside of paid training, and I had another two months left in the year. I would have been significantly better off in the Civil Defence if I had been getting my €20 for my two hours. In respect of budgets, we would not agree with that, and I ask Mr. Patrick Mulley to deal with that.

Mr. Patrick Mulley: I shall hand over to Mr. Eoin Colgan who is more au fait with budgetary matters.

Mr. Eoin Colgan: In answering this question, I am drawing on my experience of having worked as an engineer and major emergency management officer for Galway City Council for three and a half years and having worked in the local authority system for five years. There is a full-time Civil Defence officer in every county which costs a significant amount of money every year plus the cost of their equipment and whatever.

As we are discussing the Civil Defence, I wish to draw the following to the attention of the committee. First, the Civil Defence has grown a lot in recent years since 9/11 in terms of budget, which was €5 million before the IMF came to town. The Civil Defence and the Irish Coast Guard, which has 1,000 members, carry out very good functions in response to major emergencies, local requests and other instances as an aid to the civil authority. The RDF can also respond to floods, gorse fires and weather incidents. In addition, the RDF can raise its response to a superior level because it is an armed service. We can be armed, if required.

Second, the Civil Defence, Coast Guard and such voluntary organisations do not have the same contractual obligations as the RDF. If a national crisis or major emergency lasts for more than a week or two, Civil Defence and Coast Guard members will get some sort of subsistence pay, but that will not be enough to pay their mortgages or feed their children and eventually they will have to go home. The RDF is contractually obliged and its members have enlisted. If the Minister sees fit to mobilise us full-time, then we are mobilised full time at the service of the State and subject to military law. We cannot go home and must remain at the scene. That is a personal risk we take as reservists and it could prove quite costly to us. That is the advantage of the RDF over organisations like the Civil Defence and Coast Guard. The RDF is on the hook, more or less, can be mobilised full-time and is at the full disposal of the State.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I note from the review that the RDF cannot perform armed duties in aid to the civil power. Will the witnesses please comment? Is there a restriction on performing armed duties in aid to the civil power? They appear to have been discontinued.

Mr. Patrick Mulley: We are now prohibited by law to respond as an aid to the civil power but legislation is being examined to allow us to respond as an aid to the civil authority. When the Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act 1976 was enacted, we were allowed to mobilise and were mobilised throughout the 1970s at the Border and other places. The amendment in 2007 was a retrograde step and unnecessary as there is no cognitive difference between an RDF person and a PDF person.

In regard to the training and the type of training, let us examine the historical side of it. In 1972, in the region of 274 people were performing full-time security duties and that lasted over two and half years. As we said in the 1999 report, we have not changed, our cognitive abilities have not changed and our volunteerism has not changed. We could provide services to the State through the PDF and augment them at a vastly reduced rate. With regard to the Chairman's question, there is no reasonable explanation for the impediment.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Did Mr. Mulley say that the matter is being examined?

Mr. Patrick Mulley: The military people have informed us that they are examining changes in the legislation that could allow us respond as an aid to the civil authority. The excuse that they gave us during the bad weather scenarios in recent years was that there was a cost factor involved in calling us out. We refute that claim.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Did Mr. Mulley say that the RDF cannot be called out under law at the moment?

Mr. Patrick Mulley: We can. The Minister can activate us any time he wishes.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Have security duties been discontinued?

Mr. Patrick Mulley: Security duties were discontinued and we were not given a reason. We take it that it was the advent of the security duty allowance for the Permanent Defence Force.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton According to the value for money report it had something to do with a 24-hour commitment.

Mr. Patrick Mulley: We still provide security duties when we are on camp. Security duties on camp and security duties not on camp are the same thing. This is a grey area as far as the military is concerned. We have absolute authority to provide security duty when on camp because they would one is on training so one can do them. When it comes to a regimental duty, as we might call it, in a barracks, we are not allowed to do those.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton The delegation has made interesting points on specialists such as doctors, electricians and so on who may have skills that would be of use to the military when it does not have them itself. That is something we should pursue and look at and there is certainly an interest in that.

Mr. Patrick Mulley: We have a broad range of skills across the board, not just in the professions. We have all of the trades skills. We had quite a number of RDF members in the ESB and Eircom who travelled to the UK to repair its infrastructure following the last big storm there.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Can Mr. Mulley comment on the single force structure proposed in the VFM report? Is that going to be an advantage or a disadvantage? Is it something he welcomes?

Mr. Patrick Mulley: I welcome it and view it as a great move forward. That is assuming we get the culture shift we require, in that Mr. Martin Cooney outlined that we are being parachuted in on top of regular units who never had anything to do with us, and as I said earlier, we embrace the difference and view it as a positive whereas those units do not embrace the difference and view it as a deficit. That is one of the huge things we have to overcome, and maybe in time it will work out because it certainly worked out in the 1970s and we had no problem with it.

Mr. Martin Cooney: No comprehensive review of the Reserve Defence Force has ever been completed to identify the range of civilian skills. One of the reasons for us coming to this meeting and requesting such a review take place is that it is something that would be fundamental to help identify the skill sets, qualifications and experience. By doing that, we identify the assets. We do a stock take of what we have, we identify what we have, and then we decide how we can use it. That is one of the key steps we would say would have to happen in such a review.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton We can recommend to the Minister to have a look at it. It would be a simple enough operation to do.

Mr. Ger Kiely: The Minister said this morning that he would have a look at it in around 12 months time. We would urge the committee perhaps to have a look at it sooner in light of the fact that we can bring the skill sets to the Minister at any time. He said this morning he would have a look at it in 12 months. We would prefer if he would look at it before the end of the year, perhaps with the committee's backing.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton The committee can reflect on that and discuss it and see what we decide.

Mr. Ger Kiely: Deputy Ó Fearghaíl asked about helping communities and the youth, and the Reserve Defence Force would be delighted to do so. Unfortunately, we are constrained by the military authorities. If the mindset changed, there would be no problem with the Reserve Defence Force helping out.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Deputy Ó Fearghaíl correctly pointed out that part of the problem over the years has been to identify the ongoing operational requirements of the force. That is still a difficulty. The witnesses said they have some ideas and suggestions, and we invite them to send them to us. We could have a look at those again and perhaps have another discussion on them. The ongoing operational requirements were mentioned in the value for money report as being an issue. From my experience over the years, one keeps training but there is nothing to do, and then after a while people begin to get disillusioned.

Mr. Ger Kiely: The Naval Service reserve in Waterford constantly helps the civil authorities by conducting shore searches and searches for bodies.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Officially.

Mr. Ger Kiely: Officially, along with the Civil Defence.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton There are areas on which the witnesses can come back to us.

Mr. Ger Kiely: There are huge areas.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton If they could come back to us on those specific areas, because it is not mentioned here, that would be quite welcome.

Mr. Ger Kiely: All voluntary, may I add.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I thank the witnesses for their attendance and their interesting contributions on this important matter. I can assure them that the debate will be ongoing.

The joint committee went into private session at 3 p.m. and adjourned at 3.10 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 1 May 2013.


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