Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence

Reserve Defence Forces: Discussion

9:45 am

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Ms Holohan, Mr. Scanlon, Mr. Richardson and Dr. McCauley for their presentation. Dr. McCauley asked about political support. He knows that he has it from this committee. This is the second time in two years that representatives of the Reserve Defence Force have had an opportunity to make a presentation to the committee, which I do not think happened previously. Deputy Lisa Chambers - the main Opposition party spokesperson on defence - Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, Deputy Barrett and the other members of the committee will pursue these issues with the Minister. We recognise their importance. We have had the Chief of Staff before the committee. It was the first occasion on which he had made a presentation to an Oireachtas committee. We have had ongoing engagement with the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, and we will have him before this committee again to discuss the White Paper. We will take that opportunity to raise some of these issues.

I mentioned to our guests previously that I am very conscious of the very important role of the Reserve Defence Force and its predecessor, the FCA, over the years. I often mention this in discussions on defence-related issues, be they Estimates or other aspects of the Defence Forces' and the Department's work. I have had the privilege of representing over a considerable period two Border counties. I grew up in a Border community. I witnessed the thuggery and violence and the loss of life that resulted from paramilitary activities. The very important role of the Reserve Defence Force during those years is unsung and not recognised enough. In addition, the Reserve Defence Force was a very good training ground for young people who may have been vulnerable at the time. I know many members of the FCA, members of An Garda Síochána and members of the Permanent Defence Force who at times identified young people who may have been vulnerable, who may not have completed their education or who were not in employment, and they ensured that they became members of the FCA. Many of them progressed to be members of the Permanent Defence Force and have served our country with great distinction and great commitment.

Over the years, the Reserve Defence Force and the FCA have been a very valuable progression route to recruit people into the Permanent Defence Force. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, and his Department officials tell us there is a problem getting people recruited into the Permanent Defence Force. I do not think enough is being done to use the Reserve Defence Force as a pathway to a career in the Permanent Defence Force, which is very important. It was farcical that recruitment for a particular year was announced in or around August. I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, and his officials, why we do not target colleges of further education, where in many instances there are security courses and other courses that would appear to have the profile of young women and men who would be suitable for the Reserve Defence Force. There are plenty of recruitment avenues to explore but, as Deputy Barrett pointed out, the length of time the process takes is very frustrating.

Deputy Lisa Chambers referred to the method of recruitment. I think it is very important to have a localised element to it. As I mentioned previously, the local knowledge and the interest of existing members of the Reserve Defence Force ensure that people who may not have been aware of the opportunity to join the Reserve Defence Force became aware of it through that local knowledge and local participation. Some time ago, following the 2012 reorganisation of the Defence Forces, efforts were made to have further reorganisation of the training centres for our guests' organisation. At the time it was proposed to close the centre in Cavan. I objected very strongly to this. It was proposed that the centre be amalgamated into the one in Dundalk, which would have been ludicrous. Thankfully, the centre has remained in Cavan, covering Cavan, Longford, Leitrim and Monaghan. I think that is the configuration. It is very important there is a localised element to the recruitment and the training.

I wish to place on record again my appreciation and that of the committee of the work of the Reserve Defence Force over the years. That work continues. It is very heartening to hear how representative the Reserve Defence Force is of society in general. Of course, we would like to see the potential of the contribution those members could make utilised to the full, and it is clear from Mr. Richardson's presentation that this is not happening. I assure our guests that we will continue to ensure that the work of the Reserve Defence Force is given recognition within the discussions and the debates we have here. We will highlight to the Minister of State and the Department the need to address the issues our guests have outlined.

Again, on behalf of the committee, I thank Mr. Richardson sincerely for his presentation. We would also like our guests to convey to the Reserve Defence Force's members our appreciation of the work they do. I think it was Senator Ned O'Sullivan who said that more of the public became aware of the role of the Reserve Defence Force at the time of the centenary celebrations because they saw individual members participating in the various celebrations around the country. It is oftentimes only when there are crises or calamities, such as difficult weather conditions, that we become more aware of the work of the Reserve Defence Force. Again, we ask our guests to convey to the Reserve Defence Force members this committee's appreciation for their work. I again thank them for giving us a very comprehensive briefing and dealing very well with the issues raised by the members.

Before adjourning, I remind members that we have two informal meetings on 13 February and 14 February before we meet again next Thursday with An Tánaiste to discuss the heads of the so-called Brexit Bill. The committee secretariat has already notified members of these meetings.

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