Priority Questions - Defence Forces Strength.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 681 No. 4

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 61. Deputy Jimmy Deenihan Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea  the implications of the moratorium on promotions and recruitment in the Defence Forces for the capability of the organisation to fulfil its role in aid to the civil power and its overseas commitments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18113/09]

[732]Deputy Willie O’Dea:Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea The recent Government decision on savings measures on public service numbers is being implemented in the Defence Forces. The implications of the decision are under consideration by my officials in consultation with the military authorities and the Department of Finance.

I am advised that the Defence Forces retain the capacity to undertake the tasks laid down by the Government at home and overseas. The Defence Forces have improved in every respect since 2000 through the implementation of the White Paper. This represents a significant public service success story. The organisation is therefore in a healthy state in terms of personnel and equipment.

The economic reality is such that the Government decision must be implemented. It can be anticipated that further flexibility and restructuring will be required arising from the implementation of these measures. Therefore, I intend, within the resources available, to retain the capacity of the organisation to operate efficiently across all roles. This will represent a significant challenge in the coming years and one in respect of which I will work closely with the Chief of Staff.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan I am sure the Minister would agree that the Defence Forces, as an organisation, are based on promotion. It is critical that people be promoted to ensure a young, fit, streamlined and effective defence force.

Will there be a cadet intake this year? If not, it will be for the first time in the history of the State. Has the Minister discussed with the Minister for Finance the critical appointments that the former must make within the Defence Forces to ensure that they can carry out their role in aid to the civil power and participate in future overseas missions? I would like the Minister to answer these two critical questions.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea There were a number of points. I understand the Deputy’s comments on promotion. A question arises as to whether people who have gone through most of the promotional process, up to and including the medical stage, can be put through the system. This is a matter I will discuss with the Minister for Finance.

No cadet intake is planned for this year——

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan That is a disgrace.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea ——as matters stand. While Deputy Deenihan is aware there has been a cadet intake into the Army every year since the early 1980s, there is a recruitment embargo at present. Incidentally, a number of other issues arise in this regard, such as the question of fixed short-term contracts, when people have an expectation or commitment to go on to become full-time officers in the Army. I must ascertain what is the status of such contracts. Even in respect of general service enlistment, the Deputy is aware that the system works by taking on a recruit for the first five years, after which he or she continues for either four or seven years and then ultimately for the balance of 21 years. The question arises as to whether this system is affected although in my view it is not, because it involves neither recruitment nor promotion.

The House will be aware that I can discuss such matters with the Minister for Finance and seek appropriate exemptions. My commitment as Minister for Defence is to maintain the operational capacity of the Army in order that it will be able to meet the tasks it must undertake at home and abroad. I am satisfied that even with the recruitment embargo in place, within the next year it will be fully equipped to do what it must do both at home and abroad. As I noted, I am taking some advice on some of the technical matters to which I have adverted and when [733]that is done, I will discuss the matter with the Minister for Finance. That option is open to me and I intend to avail of it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Deputy Deenihan may ask a brief supplementary question.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan The fact there will be no cadet recruitment this year comes as something of a bombshell and certainly will affect the future operational capacity of the Defence Forces. I would not wish to be in the Minister’s position and to be obliged to stand over and explain this decision to the Defence Forces. Will the Minister give Members an assurance today that aid to the civil power and future overseas missions will not be affected by this decision? For example, what now will be the fate of those Air Corp pilots who are on a 12-year contract at present and who have been trained at enormous expense to the State? I also refer to soldiers who joined on the basis that promotion was a prerequisite of having their contracts extended. If such soldiers will not be promoted, will they now be obliged to leave the Defence Forces?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin An tAire, for a final reply.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I stated in my initial reply that I am quite satisfied and will ensure in my talks with the Department of Finance that the capacity of the Army to do its job, both as an aid to the civil power and in performance of its overseas duties, will not be materially affected by the recruitment embargo. As for cadet recruitment, I did not state there would not be a recruitment competition this year. I stated that recruitment of cadets has been suspended for the present.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan When will they be recruited? They must be recruited before September to go to college.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea For the present.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan However, they go to college——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Allow the Minister to reply.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Just a minute.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan ——and they will have filled out their CAO forms.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Recruitment is suspended for the present, pending my talks with the Minister for Finance.

As for the technical questions raised by Deputy Deenihan, these all are matters which are being discussed at present. I am discussing them with the representative organisations and the military authorities and, ultimately, I will discuss them with the Department of Finance.

I am not taking these measures happily in respect of recruitment. I am doing this because the Government must take a grip on public finances in Ireland. Deputy Deenihan’s party consistently states that the Government has let the public finances slip out of control and that it must take immediate action to bring them back into line. However, the difficulty is that Fine Gael is in favour of general saving but particular expenditure. Each time the Government takes action to bring the finances back into line, Fine Gael opposes that particular action, which seems to be downright inconsistent and hypocritical.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan There are other areas.

[734]Deputy Willie O’Dea:Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I reiterate I am satisfied the Army will be capable of doing its job both at home and overseas. As for recruitment, it has been suspended across all branches of the Army for the present. However, this is a matter I will discuss with the Minister for Finance.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan This measure will decimate the Army.


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