Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 8 March 2018
Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Estimates for Public Services 2018
Vote 35 - Army Pensions (Revised)
Vote 36 - Army Pensions (Revised)
On behalf of the select committee, I extend our sincere thanks to the members of the Defence Forces for their work throughout the State during the recent storms. With their colleagues in all of the emergency services, they did us proud in providing support for individuals, families and communities at a very difficult time.
On 14 September 2017 the Dáil ordered that the Revised Estimates for Public Services for the following Votes be referred to the committee for consideration - Vote 35 - Army Pensions; Vote 36 - Defence; Vote 28 - Foreign Affairs and Trade; and Vote 27 - International Co-operation. In the first part of the meeting we will consider the Revised Estimates for Votes 35 and 36 and report back to the Dáil on them. I welcome the Minister of State with special responsibility for defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, and officials from the Department whom I thank them for the briefing material provided. The proposed format is that at the outset of consideration of each programme we will hear a short overview from the Minister of State, including details of pressures likely to impact on his Department's performance or expenditure under the programme in 2018. We will then open the floor to members to ask questions. I ask that they ensure their questions are about the specific programme under consideration in order that we can get through our business in an orderly and efficient manner.
I remind members and those in the Visitors Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as, even when left in silent mode, they cause interference with the recording and broadcasting equipment.
I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. They have been forwarded in advance briefing material on the programmes to be considered. We shall proceed sequentially. I call on the Minister of State to make brief opening remarks on programme A.
I welcome the opportunity to engage with the Oireachtas Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence in considering the 2018 Revised Estimates for Vote 35 - Army Pensions and Vote 36 - Defence. I concur with the Chairman's remarks and acknowledge, on behalf of the Government, the efforts made by all public servants, communities and volunteers in responding to the severe weather emergency. In particular, I record my thanks to the civil servants, civilian employees, members of the Defence Forces and Civil Defence and all volunteer organisations for their particular contributions. Overall co-ordination was led by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government from the National Emergency Coordination Centre which is managed by my Department's Office of Emergency Planning.
While I understand the select committee does not want an opening statement as such, it would be useful to set out briefly the overall position on the Votes and update members on some of the main developments within the defence sector in recent times.
The defence sector is covered by two Votes, Vote 35 - Army Pensions and Vote 36 - Defence. The high level goal of both is to provide for the military defence of the State, contribute to national and international peace and security and fulfil all other roles assigned by the Government. Accordingly, defence sector outputs are delivered under a single programme in each Vote. The combined Estimates for defence and Army pensions in 2018 provide for gross expenditure of €946 million. The Army pensions Vote has a single programme for the provision of Defence Forces’ pension benefits. It makes provision for retirement pay, pensions, allowances and gratuities payable to, or in respect of, former members of the Defence Forces and their dependants. It is primarily demand driven and non-discretionary, with superannuation benefits - retirement pensions and gratuities - and disability pensions accounting for 99% of all expenditure. The 2018 Estimate provides for a gross sum of more than €239 million for the Army pensions Vote.
Some €229 million of this allocation covers expenditure on all superannuation benefits for former members of the Permanent Defence Force and their dependants. Pension benefits granted are, for the most part, statutory entitlements once certain criteria are met. There are currently 12,350 pensioners paid from the Army pensions Vote. This is a net increase of 1,350 since 2007. For the years 2018-20, inclusive, current projections are that some 1,050 military personnel will retire on pension. During 2017, almost 330 Defence Forces members retired on pension, with a similar number anticipated for 2018. As the committee will be aware, it has been my stated intention to seek extra funding for military pensions as part of the overall future budgetary negotiations, and solid progress has been made on that front. As announced in budget 2018, the gross allocation for Army pensions has been increased by €9.5 million to some €239 million for this year, which is very welcome. This builds on a funding increase of €6 million in the 2017 Estimates.
I now turn to Vote 36, which is delivered under a single programme entitled "Defence Policy and Support, Military Capabilities and Operational Outputs". The Vote of €707 million includes a pay and allowances allocation of some €509 million, while the remaining non-pay allocation of €198 million provides mainly for the renewal and maintenance of essential equipment, infrastructure and operational costs. The pay allocation of €509 million includes €12.3 million to provide for increases due under the Lansdowne Road public service stability agreement 2018-20 commitments. The public service stability agreement contains proposals for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement. I welcome the fact that the Defence Forces representative associations have accepted this agreement.
The defence pay allocation provides for the pay and allowances of a Permanent Defence Force strength of up to 9,500, 550 civilian employees, 350 civil servants, 18 chaplains and 14 Army nurses. This level of funding provides the defence organisation with the resources necessary for it to deliver effectively across all its key domestic and international responsibilities. There has been an ongoing and increasing level of recruitment taking place within the Defence Forces over recent years at both enlisted and officer level. This includes general service recruits, apprentices, cadets and direct entry officers. Recruitment has increased from 405 in 2015, to 690 in 2016 and to 751 in 2017. It is anticipated that there will be over 800 personnel recruited in 2018. The budget allocation also provides over €2 million for Reserve Defence Force pay for 2018. This will allow for 26,000 training days for reservists this year.
The defence non-pay allocation comprises both current and capital elements. The current expenditure allocation of €121 million provides mainly for expenditure on ongoing Defence Forces standing and operational costs such as utilities, fuel, catering, maintenance, information technology and training. The capital expenditure allocation of €77 million for 2018 will allow the defence organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, as identified and prioritised in the defence White Paper. Among the main equipment programme priorities planned for 2018 are the ongoing upgrade of the Army Mowag armoured personnel carriers, replacement of the Air Corps Cessna aircraft, continuation of the naval vessel replacement programme and the mid-life refit of naval vessels. The overall capital allocation of €541 million for defence for the period 2018 to 2022, as set out in the national development plan, emphasises the importance attached by this Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the capability necessary to deliver on all the roles assigned by the Government. This fundingwill play a vital role in ensuring that the priorities identified in the White Paper can be met and that the Defence Forces can deliver fully across all roles.
I will now briefly mention some of the key roles and outputs delivered under the defence programme. The Defence Forces continue to make a considerable contribution in their international peace and security role. As of February 2018, Ireland is contributing 586 Permanent Defence Force personnel to nine different missions throughout the world. In addition, personnel are deployed to a range of international organisations and national representations. The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are the United Nations interim force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 375 personnel, and the United Nations disengagement observer force, UNDOF, in Syria, with 136 personnel. Since October 2017, the Naval Service has been participating in the EU naval mission Operation Sophia which specifically seeks to counter human trafficking and smuggling in the southern central Mediterranean, and the Government recently approved the continuation of this deployment for 2018.
The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for Ireland’s domestic security, supported, as required, by the Defence Forces as part of its aid to the civil power function. This role is multi-faceted and in 2017 included a varied set of tasks such as Garda air support missions, Central Bank security guards, prisoner escorts, explosive ordnance disposal call-outs and Naval Service diving operations. The Defence Forces also provide assistance to the principal response agencies tasked with responding to major emergencies. The professional competence shown by the Defence Forces in undertaking these roles is greatly valued and appreciated by all stakeholders and was further illustrated by the extensive and wide-ranging assistance provided in response to last week's severe weather emergency.
Civil Defence is also funded from the defence Vote and remains a vital component in each local authority's emergency response arrangements. Volunteers from Civil Defence have responded very effectively when required, most recently during the flooding events that occurred in 2017, during Storm Ophelia and again in the most recent severe weather emergency last week. Committee members have been provided with briefing material on the individual subheads for both the defence and Army pensions Estimates and I look forward to positive engagement on any issues the members may wish to discuss.
I will be brief. The question is about pension payments and payments to the Defence Forces. At the end of last year we saw many protests about the pay and pensions of Defence Forces personnel. The Minister of State said in his opening statement that he is trying to get extra funding for that so I presume he is not satisfied that the pensions of retired Army personnel are adequate. Does he anticipate being successful in that? It appears to be a big issue among the retired Army personnel. How do the pensions compare with those in other areas of the public sector, for example, the Garda Síochána, local authorities and the hospitals? Are they way down the line in that regard or does the Minister of State have such a comparison?
It is similar across the public service. It depends on the salary of each member, and that is reflected in the pension payment. Any retired member of the Defence Forces who is entitled to a pension will receive that pension. There is never any shortfall-----
No. It is the overall issue. The average pension of all ranks combined is €19,100; it is €30,600 for retired officers and €16,000 for retired non-commissioned officers, NCOs, and privates. The average retirement gratuity, the lump sum, for all ranks combined is €52,000; it is €81,000 for officers newly retired on pension and €44,000 for NCOs and privates newly retired on pension. What I am saying is that there is a shortfall in the overall package and we want to make up that shortfall. We got additional moneys last year in the 2018 budget, amounting to €9.5 million, and I will be in negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for the next budget to make up the shortfall.
There have been pay increases for all members of the Defence Forces and both the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, signed up to the extended Lansdowne Road agreement in the last number of months.
They will receive extra pay increases in the next short while.
I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. I want to put on record the work done by the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps, and the Civil Defence in recent weeks. I am sure the committee would acknowledge the work that was done by the Defence Forces and others up until this weekend. It is important we acknowledge that wonderful work by the Defence Forces, the Air Corps, the Civil Defence and everybody else. The Civil Defence is a voluntary organisation. With regard to benefits, its members are there at the beck and call of all of us, and it is important these people are acknowledged.
The Minister of State referred to additional funding and it is good to see it is hoped over 800 personnel will be recruited for 2018. With regard to the starting salaries and the budget the Department has had in recent years, given the Minister of State is endeavouring to get additional funding for the recruits and everybody associated with the Defence Forces, he might elaborate on that.
I have a number questions. We have had the discussion in regard to the numbers within the Defence Forces and the numbers that have been leaving. Has that exodus increased pressure on the amount allocated for pensions each year? If that continues, will an additional amount be required? Obviously, when people leave they do not automatically get their pension but if they leave ahead of schedule and are not working elsewhere, and if they have the required time, do they still benefit from the pension?
Yes. I fail to see why the cost of pensions is included in an Estimate, whether it is Army pensions or any other pensions. Surely, we should have an overall costing for pensions full stop. This has really nothing to do with the Department of Defence once the person has retired. It seems strange that we include it an overall Estimate for the Department because, if there are reductions or cuts, the pensions cannot be cut. I question the whole concept of including an item called "Pensions" in an Estimate. There should be an overall figure for pensions in, for example, the Department of Finance, rather than the Minister of State having to come in here and talk about Army pensions. There is nothing he can do about it. The people are retired and they are entitled to their pension, so let us get on with it.
I will not disagree with the Deputy as this affects every public service organisation, whether it involves nurses, teachers or otherwise. While I am not sure if Ministers such as Deputy Simon Harris or Deputy Richard Bruton have to come in here and argue for the pensions of retired nurses, doctors or teachers, I concur with the Deputy in this regard. We got an increase of €9.5 million in budget 2018 and we will be in negotiations with the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, in the coming months for budget 2019. However, it is too early to predict and, of course, year on year, we are not sure how many people are going to retire on pension.
On Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question, I will give the figures for the past three years. In 2015, some 567 people retired, of whom 318 were entitled to a pension; in 2016, some 649 retired, of whom 330 were entitled to a pension; and in 2017, some 700 retired, of whom 327 were entitled to a pension. In 2017, some 700 left and 751 came in; and in 2016, some 649 left and 690 came in, which indicates we are bringing in a few more than are leaving.
Before we do, I suggest that we make a recommendation that the Department of Finance, or otherwise, would look into this whole question of including in the Estimates for various Departments the cost of pensions, and that it should be centralised. It is giving an inflated impression of-----
On subhead A4, concerning payments to spouses of deceased veterans of the War of Independence, I understand a once-off payment was made in 2016 as part of the commemorative programme. Obviously, it is a reducing number of people. Given that next January is the anniversary of the supposed start date of the War of Independence, I ask whether the Department is considering further one-off payments for the remaining 45, according to this Estimate, although it might be fewer at that stage. I believe it would be appropriate that this be looked at as some way to mark the date for the surviving spouses of deceased veterans of the War of Independence.
The widows received the special 50% boost in their monthly pensions from the Department of Defence on 1 January 2016. That would have given an average of €175 per month, increasing their average annual payments from €4,200 to €6,300 per head. At the moment there are 48 such persons receiving the payments to spouses of deceased veterans of the War of Independence.
Whether it is monetary or whether there is some other way of marking this, given these are surviving spouses of deceased veterans of the War of Independence, I ask that this consideration go into the Department. It is a reducing number. This time next year will be the anniversary of the Tan war or the War of Independence, whatever we call it, and something special should be done in acknowledgement of those who are surviving.
How many vacancies are there at present in the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps and how many positions are not filled? We have heard questions being asked in the Dáil, particularly about vacancies in the Air Corps, from which there has been an exodus of members.
I think my next question has been asked. We are all very proud of the members of the Defence Forces who serve abroad. I concur with what Deputy Tony McLoughlin said about the work done by Army personnel during the storm. Any time there is a crisis, they are there to be called upon and we must acknowledge the tremendous work they do. What is the total cost of their service abroad? What moneys are recouped from the United Nations or various governments, including those in the Middle East or along the Mediterranean where Irish personnel worked in dealing with the refugee crisis? We are very proud of how Naval Service personnel served there. What were the costs in that regard and was any of the money recouped from the European Union or the United Nations? What is the cost arising from Army members serving abroad with the United Nations? How much do we get back? Will the Minister of State update me on the matter?
What will be the role of the Army in the context of Brexit and the talk of a hard or soft border? Are plans being drawn up and costings put in place to determine whether Army personnel need to be redeployed at the Border to stop smuggling that could happen in the event that there is a hard or soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?
I will come back to the Deputy on that matter. On whole-time equivalents, the Army establishment figure is 7,520. The current strength is 7,425. The establishment figure for the Air Corps is 886 and the current strength is 737. The establishment figure for the Naval Service is 1,094 and the current strength is 1,052.
The Department and the Defence Forces are making submissions to the Public Service Pay Commission on specialised pay. Pilots and air traffic controllers will come under that heading. We are working on the submission.
As the Deputy understands, that would be a matter for An Garda Síochána. If required, Army personnel would act in aid of the civil power.
Deputy Tony McLoughlin is right about Civil Defence. It is an organisation in which staff are voluntary and unpaid. The Department looks after whatever investment is required to provide whatever equipment Civil Defence needs. The budget in 2018 is €4.2 million. The allocation covers the cost of recruitment and 70% of the local authorities' expenditure on Civil Defence. It also covers the cost of Civil Defence stores, equipment and exercises. Some €3 million is provided in grants for local training, administration and operational costs. Additional funds were provided for Civil Defence in 2016 and 2017 for the purchase of vehicles and other capital equipment. The 2018 allocation excludes these additional funds and is in line with usual expenditure in this area.
I have a question about the figure of €4.2 million. As I said, those involved in Civil Defence are the unsung heroes for the work and activities they carry out each year. I have seen at first hand the work being done. Does the Minister of State think this is adequate funding to meet the requirements of Civil Defence in the current year?
Absolutely. It is an area in which I have a keen interest. The Civil Defence organisation and the equipment it needs are high priorities for the Department. We also work very closely with the local authorities. We are looking at a number of counties where additional buildings are needed in which the Department might incur rental costs and where they want to build their own buildings. We are working with a number of local authorities in that regard.
I thank all those involved in the Defence Forces and Civil Defence, in particular, for their tremendous work last week. Anything I say is not a slight on them or their work. It is more a question of how we can help them to provide even more assistance in the future.
The allocation for Civil Defence has been reduced from the figure of €5.1 million in 2016. I think it was down to €4.2 million in the budget for 2018. What is the reason for the reduction? Is it the drop in numbers? The numbers have been set out somewhere. If the numbers in Civil Defence are down, how do we attract more volunteers? Obviously, on the back of the Trojan work done last week, it might be an opportune time to remind people of the role played by Civil Defence and encourage them to join it. The allocation for Civil Defence in the 2017 Estimates was €5,240,000, not all of which was spent. A sum of €300,000 was not spent. The allocation in front of us is €4,240,000, which represents a reduction of €1 million, a substantial amount for such a small organisation. Will the Minister of State explain the reason for the reduction? The allocation for the Irish Red Cross is small. Obviously, its outrun was far higher because of the storms and the same could happen this year. We understand that in the event that there is storm damage, caused by floods in particular, the Irish Red Cross receives additional money, as it has during the years; therefore, I am not too worried in that regard. However, given the significant role played by it, does Civil Defence have enough equipment or does it need new equipment? Obviously, it will review its activities last week and the week before which might indicate, or perhaps not, that it needs more modern equipment. It is about the Department having a sense at this stage because if Civil Defence needs additional equipment, rather than having to wait until later in the year, the allocation of funding should be fast-tracked for additional or new equipment, given that there are red alerts more frequently.
I have other questions on other issues, which I hope to raise later.
I will answer the question on the Civil Defence. In 2016 and 2017, additional money was provided for vehicles. That was additional to the Civil Defence's budget in those years. There is no question of any shortfall or reduction in the yearly provision for the Civil Defence. In 2016 and 2017 the Government provided additional moneys.
There are approximately 350 Civil Defence personnel, with 70 members currently active in local authorities. Some 350 personnel were deployed on each of the days of last week. Some 138 vehicles, including ambulances and 4x4 vehicles, were deployed throughout the country in recent days to provide assistance to citizens throughout the country during the snow.
It was asked if there had been a drop in the number of volunteers for the Civil Defence. That is not the case. Most local authorities have a waiting list of people seeking to become members of the Civil Defence. In the White Paper on defence in 2015 there is a section concerning the Civil Defence and an inter-agency programme with all local authorities.
I thank the Minister of State for that clarification. When one reads the figures it looks as though there has been a drop. If there is a waiting list, I cannot figure out why we cannot take those people on, encourage them and train them so that they are available during the next weather event or whenever we need the Civil Defence again. I understand the local authorities' role but there must be some way to do this, because the goodwill is there. In regard to the Civil Defence, I note the praise throughout country for the role that it played, the number of vehicles it deployed and the people it rescued, including personnel of other emergency services. That shows the value of the Civil Defence. If we cannot get volunteers to join the Defence Forces we should get them to join the Civil Defence at the very least, so that they are available in a crisis such as that of last week.
When a volunteer joins the Civil Defence, they are trained to a very high standard. The issue arises in providing this training. There is a waiting list throughout the country to join the Civil Defence, and there is a reason for that. While volunteers join, they are not simply given a jacket and made a member. They have to be trained and equipped. Some counties are quite happy with the numbers they have. I understand Deputy Ó Snodaigh's point, but the fact that people are willing to join the Civil Defence shows that it is a healthy organisation.
The estimate for litigation and compensation costs is set to rise. The outrun was €3.8 million and the estimate is €5 million. Does the Minister of State have reasons for that increase?
I also wish to raise EU issues. I refer to the signing of the permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, in December and the confirmation in recent weeks of the specific projects Ireland has signed up to out of the 17 that are available. Are additional costs expected this year or next year? Will the Minister of State elaborate on those costs?
I have raised the issue of the Air Corps several times. Others have referred to a shortage of numbers. Is the funding in the Estimate large enough to cover health and safety requirements and training that have been lacking in the past? Is the Minister of State satisfied that the health and safety regime that was promised is now fully up-to-date?
I am content. I have visited the facilities recently. The Chief of Staff, the Secretary General and I got a full tour of the base, and I am content that every resource is provided for the health, safety and well-being of all members of the Air Corps.
On the issue of PESCO project engagement, I note that Ireland is participating in two projects. The European Union Training Mission Competence Centre project aims to improve the availability, interoperability, specific skills and professionalism of personnel trainers for EU missions across participating member states. Moreover, it will accelerate the provision of EU training missions due to a higher situational awareness regarding trained, educated and available personnel for current and future EU training missions. This is a capability that the Irish Defence Forces continually develop, and it is compatible with their efforts in this area.
The other project in which we are participating is the upgrade of maritime surveillance. This project aims to integrate land-based surveillance systems, maritime and air platforms to distribute real-time information to member states to provide a timely and effective response in international waters. The main objective of the programme is to enhance maritime surveillance, situational awareness and potential response effectiveness of the EU by using the existing infrastructure, deploying assets and developing related capabilities in the future. It aims to provide a timely and effectively response new and old threats and challenges, such as energy security, environment challenges and security and defence aspects. It also aims to ensure accurate awareness and rapid response to contribute to the protection of the EU and its citizens. We will have a minimal participation, whether in European Defence Agency, EDA, or PESCO projects. Participating in the projects will not stretch our finances.
The total allocation for litigation during the past three years has been €5 million per annum. The estimate for 2018 is €5 million. Expenditure has been somewhat less, ranging from €2.4 million to €3.7 million per annum. The Department has no direct control over the quantum or timing of legal costs, claims or awards that fall for payment. Expenditure over 2017 amounted to €3.76 million.
Looking at the Estimate itself, I note some alarming figures, given that we are now facing into Brexit. This is going to impose greater obligations on our Defence Forces and our Naval Service. We should be hearing about this and talking about it before it happens. The Naval Service had 1,376 vessel patrol days in 2016. In 2017, that figure was 1,171. There were 200 fewer patrol days for the Naval Service. In 2016 the Air Corps had 4,287 operational flight hours. In 2017 it flew 3,271. There was a decrease of in excess of 1,000 flight hours between 2016 and 2017. Whether we like it or dislike it, Brexit is going to cause us major problems. We cannot allow a situation where Air Corps operational flights are reduced by more than 1,000 hours and the Naval Service's activity is reduced by about 260 patrol days.
These are important issues at which we need to look and for which we need to be prepared because Brexit is only 12 months down the road. We need to examine how we can bolster both the Naval Service and the Air Corps in patrolling and protecting our waters. It will be a new ball game. The figures have been presented factually but they are alarming. Not to take away from the great work being done by both the Naval Service and the Air Corps, but these figures are alarming when considering how they can protect our shores and assets locally.
While we may not have the time today to examine all these issues, I suggest that the Minister of State considers coming back to the committee to discuss the impact of Brexit on the Naval Service and the Air Corps. There is no point in waiting until D-Day to discover we have serious problems. I am not blaming the Minister of State but there is obviously a reason for this. Whether it is lack of personnel or the fact that we are engaging in other activities, we have to look after our assets and ensure that our fisheries are protected. I am just highlighting the fact that these figures are alarming.
I will get back to the Deputy on that. I am not disputing the figures he has in front of him but I will get back to him with the exact figures. The Naval Service has always fulfilled the requests made of it by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. The new modern ships have greater capability than the older vessels. I will come back to the Deputy on the Air Corps' flying hours. These amounted to 3,894 in 2015, 4,287 in 2016 and 3,572 in 2017.
Within the Air Corps, it depends on the availability of the aircraft and pilots. We have a shortage of pilots.
As part of the whole-of-Government approach to Brexit, the Department of Defence is engaged in forward planning with all other Departments. We have a senior official at assistant secretary level working with the Government as part of the Brexit preparations. While no one knows the outcome of the final Brexit negotiations, I do not envisage we will have a hard border. Patrolling it will be a matter for the civil power, An Garda Síochána.
This is not a matter just for the Irish Government. When the British withdraw fully, they will protect their boundaries. That means there will be greater activity on the Irish Sea and in other areas. It also means that we have to be careful to make certain we are in a position to safeguard our fishing waters from a country that will be outside the EU. I am only highlighting this in the context of what we are facing in Brexit.
It is a matter for the Government, as well as the Department of Defence. The line Department in this case will be the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Naval Service has fulfilled all roles requested of it by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. We have increased Naval Service patrol days every year. The Deputy may have a different figure but I know we have increased them because I answered a similar question-----
There are two costs associated with participation in two PESCO projects - the training mission competence centre and maritime surveillance. Are these projects part of the Estimates before us or will there be a future cost involved? Is it for one year? Does the Minister of State know the cost for the two projects in their entirety?
Is it under subhead A23, costs arising directly from Ireland’s participation in the EU’s common security and defence policy? It looks as if we are estimating that we will spend less this year than we did last year, but we are participating in two additional projects.
I am just trying to understand-----
The reason I ask is that the Minister of State is estimating we will spend less this year, which just does not seem to work out. If we are participating in additional projects, one would imagine the Estimate for this year would be larger than last year.
I understand this is fairly new. We might come back to it. The second issue I wish to raise with the Minister of State I have raised with him in the Chamber. It concerns the state of barracks, specifically the accommodation and the bedding and equipment within barracks. I am looking under subhead A12. I see the 2018 Estimate provides for a slight increase in expenditure on this. I wish to raise with the Minister of State the matter of Cathal Brugha Barracks in particular. I was contacted very recently about this. A career course was held in the barracks for, I think, corporal rank, and complaints came through concerning the bedding and the mattresses not being fit to sleep on. When I addressed the Minister of State on this issue in the Chamber, I asked that a review of the accommodation across the board be considered. I had reports back from Cathal Brugha Barracks that there were ripped mattresses and stained bedding that were not fit to be slept on and that some of those participating in the career course did not sleep in the barracks because of the state of the accommodation and stayed outside the barracks instead. I doubt this is confined to Cathal Brugha Barracks, but there probably is a need to do an inventory check and a check of the accommodation to see what state the bedding and mattresses are in. These are basic enough things. They may seem minor in the overall context of the Defence Forces but these are the day-to-day things those serving must deal with. Some small changes would make a big difference in this regard. I therefore welcome the projected increase in spending on this area for this year but I ask the Minister of State to make a specific effort regarding the accommodation and bedding under subhead A12.
There is a five-year plan for the built infrastructure programme. I am not sure whether the Deputy has raised this matter with me. Did she do so during Question Time or through a written parliamentary question? I am not sure.
There are projects and a process. Specifically, €5 million will be spent on different projects within Cathal Brugha Barracks. There is a combination of expenditure. Provision is made for an upgrade of accommodation facilities at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines, with €1.8 million to be spent as part of the built infrastructure programme. Investment in locker refurbishment at the barracks, at a cost of €3.7 million, is also provided for.
In this day and age it is not really acceptable. My next question concerns the recruitment campaign. This has been ongoing for the past number of years. We are still not at the establishment strength of 9,500 that we should be at. We are taking people in but losing them at an even greater rate. How much did the recruitment campaign cost in 2017, and what is the projected cost of the recruitment campaign for 2018?
I might not have those exact figures to hand for the Deputy. If I do not, I will get back to her on them. While I try to get them, I will say we have actually taken in more people in the past three years than have departed the organisation.
I am working with the Chief of Staff and the general staff to try to get to the full establishment strength of 9,500. Campaigns will be launched by, I think, the end of this month or very early April for cadets and a general list of personnel.
The 2018 Estimate includes an increase of €150,000 in respect of advertisements to facilitate the costs arising from an increased recruitment drive for the Defence Forces. We are therefore increasing the budget for-----
The next issue I wish to raise brings me to the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, allowances. In this context I wish to comment on the record on the outstanding work of the Defence Forces in respect of Storm Emma. So many of our soldiers went above and beyond the call of duty and worked day and night. I am sure they are still recovering and still quite tired after the work. I know some of them are still out on the ground assisting in various communities throughout the country. In times like these when we see a red alert warning and a potential national disaster, when there is a real threat of loss of life, we see the huge value and the importance of our Defence Forces, how much we really need them and that they are there at the drop of a hat in the worst of conditions. When everyone else is locked up in their homes staying safe, they are out helping people, bringing medical staff to hospitals and freeing people stuck at the sides of the roads.
This brings me back to the area of pay and conditions and members' allowances. The notion that a serving soldier who does a 24 hour duty would get in or around €20 has not been addressed yet and needs to be addressed. I understand the pay review that is ongoing - I know all that - but the Defence Forces are different from other public sector workers, and this has been recognised in other jurisdictions. Take, for example, our closest neighbours in the UK, where a military covenant is in place and the state, the government and society as a whole recognise the defence forces' very special and unique work and role and the fact that they are limiting their own rights as employees because of the work of the defence forces. They do not have the right to strike and their work is extremely demanding and can often put their lives in danger. On that note, we must look at our Defence Forces as a separate and distinct entity within the Civil Service and the public service. The €20 they get paid for a 24 hour duty needs to change. I do not care how we go about doing so or what needs to be done to make it change, but that level of payment in itself is nothing short of a kick in the teeth for those who serve their country. It is one of the reasons we are finding it hard to hold on to personnel.
Regarding the allowances, and I refer specifically to subhead A4, PDF allowances, there is only an increase of roughly €100,000. The Defence Forces as an organisation have been trimmed and slimmed as much as possible in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 and every year since then. They have pulled back and made savings and efficiencies to the point that they can go no further. They have probably gone too far, actually. While their salary is one aspect of their pay, their allowances are a very vital other aspect, and it is in the latter area that we can make huge changes and alleviate some of the pressures on Defence Forces personnel and their families. I see the Estimates for this year are pretty much the same as last year's. If we are talking about taking in additional personnel and saying we now have more personnel on the books, even to stay at the same strength we would need to see a greater increase in spending on allowances than what we are seeing for this year. Salaries are a difficult thing to move on and they are moving slowly in the right direction. However, allowances really formed part of personnel's overall pay. They became reliant on them, and I can understand why. It is these allowances that were cut to nothing.
Will the Minister to look at the Estimate for this year for the allowances and see what we can do for our Defence Forces personnel in this area? I appreciate the difficulties around public sector pay but I think a pay commission in the context of the Defence Forces would be worth exploring. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We can look to our colleagues and neighbours in the UK. They have done this and they recognised that the defence forces, their armed forces, are a unique entity among public sector workers and that the sacrifice they make needs to be recognised separately.
I will go on. I have other questions. Would the Minister of State prefer me to-----
I will decide that. We will take all the questions together and then go back to the Minister of State because unfortunately we are starting to lose time. I prefer if we take all the questions now please.
My next question is on the Air Corps. I know this question has been raised with the Minister of State but there are ongoing issues in respect of litigation. We cannot get into that. It is probably an explanation as to why litigation costs have gone up by €1.5 million for this year. I have my own views on that, which I have made known to the Minister of State within the Chamber. I do not think the approach is the right one. Granted, we cannot get into individual cases.
In respect of Air Corps equipment and support in subhead A9, there is only a slight increase of about €500,000. Considering the well documented and publicised issues in the Air Corps, including its inability to provide top cover 24-7 and the air ambulance service not being where it should be in respect of the level of cover, it strikes me as a very slim increase in that area of spending. We know the Air Corps needs serious investment and support financially.
My last question is on the area of military transport. Can the Minister of State advise me on the state of fleet within the transport corps? My understanding is that much of our fleet is old and needs replacing. The €500,000 allocated for this year is not going to get an awful lot of replacement transport vehicles. Will the Minister of State comment on where we are at with the transport corps? From the feedback I have been getting from those serving, €500,000 is not going to bring us to where we need to be with the age of our fleet.
The Deputy spoke about allowances. Any Defence Forces member out during the last number of days, as in Storm Ophelia before, will receive the maintenance of essential services allowance. They will get that, as was the case with any storm where the Defence Forces have been called out in the last couple of years or where they have been called out under aid to the civil power, under which heading this comes. On the 24-hour duty allowance, I have been in negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe on that. That is completely separate to the Public Service Pay Commission. The representative organisation, PDFORRA, is aware of that. I understand it is back with it.
The Department of Defence, and the Defence Forces, is making a submission to the Public Service Pay Commission. That submission will be made, I understand, in the next couple of weeks. Last week's weather conditions delayed it. The review of the Defence Forces conciliation and arbitration scheme is happening. I appointed Mr. Gerald Barry as an independent chair. That began to sit the week before last. Both representative organisations, the Defence Forces, the Department of Defence and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are all part of that.
I mentioned specialist pay. On the allowances, the difference between 2016 and 2017 was a €4 million increase. The estimate for 2018 is €39,680,000. If more is required, then we will find it. There is no issue around that. If people are entitled to an allowance, then they will get their allowance. On transport, there has been a significant investment in the replacement programme. Within the Air Corps, the Cessna replacement programme is worth €40 million. The naval vessel replacement programme will see a new ship expected in mid-2018. The armour protective vehicle refit programme is under way at the moment. In 2017, there were 24 minibuses, ten Citroën Berlingo vans, four Mercedes coaches, three Fiat Ducato trucks, three Scania recovery trucks, two Citroën Relay vans, two Mercedes Sprinter vans. In 2018, over €2 million in spending is planned for 130 cars, 20 minibuses, 20 store vans, 17 off-road motor cycles and one electric van. The purchase of tools and equipment for 2018 will cost €2 million. I have not been told of complaints from anyone in the Defence Forces about equipment or vehicles. I have had no complaints from any member, the general staff or anyone. No one has approached me for further investment, unless the Deputy has been told differently.
I have one brief follow-up point. In respect of the allowances, I appreciate that if they are entitled to the current allowances, as they are, they will be paid. The point I was making was that perhaps we could look to see how we could allow more flexibility and generosity in the whole area of allowances. It became so slimmed down that it took away a huge chunk of weekly take-home pay.
I welcome the Minister of State engaging with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the 24-hour duty allowance. It has been a slow process and we still do not have a change. I urge that it be pressed even further to ensure those funds become available as soon as possible. I appreciate and welcome that those who were out during Storm Emma will be recognised for that. I do not think the pay will be sufficient to compensate them for what they have done but we are all very grateful for the work they have done. I thank the Minister of State.
I am not sure where it is at the moment. I cannot be directly involved in every part of negotiations but I have left it to my senior officials. However, I do know that PDFORRA is aware of my work. It has been in communication with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as well.
I have a number of queries. One is in relation to the Reserve Defence Forces. The effective number of Army and Naval Service reserves is at 46%. That suggests there is a major crisis. How is that going to be reversed? How can we ensure the Army and Naval Reserve is at something akin to 90% to 95% of its effective strength? I do not know if the Reserve Defence Forces played a role during storm Emma recently. Was there a role and if not, why not?
In respect of the other issues, I refer to recouping of funding and specifically appropriations-in-aid. We are not expecting to receive any moneys back from the EU for fishery protection costs in 2018. That seems odd, given that our fisheries and fishery stocks are still being plundered. On page 10, PDF allowances breakdown is expected to cost €8 million plus for allowances for security duties. Is any of that recouped from private banks and the likes? Is that what is in appropriation-in-aid as No. 3 "Receipts from banks and other organisations", and is that the State recouping some of the costs? It is not equivalent; one is €1.3 million and the other is €8,212,000.
In terms of military education and training, while the drop in the Estimate is not substantial, it is a drop nevertheless. I would have presumed that we would continue to enhance the education and training of members of our Defence Forces. I am wondering why, given that the budget had been increasing each year prior to this, there is a small drop in it now.
Deputy Barrett mentioned earlier the matter of Naval Service vessel patrol days. The figures indicate a slight increase but Irish naval vessels were on operational duty in the Mediterranean continuously in 2017. Are those days in the Mediterranean counted as patrol days? If so, that means that the number of patrol days in the Irish seas have reduced substantially in terms of fisheries protection and other duties.
I think we were all across the road for the annual remembrance ceremony for war veterans. The grant this year is €55,000. I know that those in receipt of the grant have asked that it be increased substantially. I am aware that €55,000 represents an increase on the previous year but it still seems a minuscule amount considering what the veterans associations and the various representative associations want to do to assist past members of the Defence Forces, some of whom have fallen on hard times and others have lost contact with friends and so forth. These organisations are doing tremendous work trying to liaise with former members, reunite them with colleagues and organise special events, particularly for more elderly and infirm former members.
On the veteran associations, I meet them at least and sometimes twice a year. I last met them in December of 2017. Their allowances were discussed and officials in my Department are in negotiations with them on that matter.
In 2016, the budget for military education and training was €1,983,000 while in 2017 it was €2,173,000. The Estimate for 2018 is €2,150,000 but if additional funding is required for 2018, it will be provided. It is most important that we continue to train and educate members of our Defence Forces. If members want to participate in any training or education programmes, they will be facilitated in doing so.
The Deputy also spoke about the Reserve Defence Forces, RDF. In 2017, there were 139 inductees. The most recent recruitment campaign for the Army's Reserves and the Naval Service began in July 2017 and attracted 121 applications. A total of 139 personnel were inducted into the RDF in 2017. It is planned to hold a further Reserve recruitment campaign in 2018. Having regard to training demands arising from the significant ongoing requirements of the PDF, it is proposed to hold the RDF general services recruitment campaign between 23 April and 4 June 2018. Applications for the Reserve are vetted by An Garda Síochána and standard vetting takes four weeks. However, additional vetting also takes place appropriate to the role of the Defence Forces as an element of national security. If at all possible, we try to facilitate members of the Reserve who are working by scheduling medical checks, fitness tests and so forth at weekends. One of my priorities is to increase the numbers in the RDF. However, it is also a priority in build up the numbers in the PDF. The fall-out rate for those who apply to join the RDF is very high as people go through the different stages of the recruitment process. I know that the process has been speeded up to try to get as many applicants through as quickly as possible.
Defence Forces allowances include a Border duty allowance, an overseas allowance, a miscellaneous allowance and a security duty allowance. The Deputy focused on the latter allowance which is payable to personnel to compensate them for the additional hours and responsibilities associated with security duties. These can include aid to civil power duties, barrack security duties or explosive ordnance disposal, EOD, duties. Personnel may also receive a patrol duty allowance, subsistence allowance and uniform allowance.
The Deputy also spoke about the number of patrol days carried out by the Naval Service. The figures provided are for actual patrol days in 2016 and 2017 and the projected number for 2018. However, I must stress that all of the requests made by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority are met. We have never failed to meet all of the agency's requests for assistance. Indeed, the high number of arrests reflects the number of patrol days that the Defence Forces put in with-----
Yes, they include absolutely everything, right across the board. They are the figures for all eight of our vessels.
There is no provision made for the receipt of EU funding for fisheries protection in 2018 but we are examining the potential for such funding in future years.
I thank the Minister of State. Deputy Lisa Chambers raised an issue respect of accommodation which also arose in the context of the University of Limerick's survey. That issue must be addressed. People are entitled to basic standards of accommodation and I sincerely hope that matter will be addressed without delay.
The RDF's representative association made a very good presentation to this committee 12 to 18 months ago. One of the issues raised was the fact that persons in receipt of a social welfare payment who must attend training for a few weeks must sign off with the Department of Social Protection but there is a considerable time lag before they receive any payment from the Department of Defence. We ask that this unacceptable maladministration be addressed. I ask the Minister of State to write formally to this committee informing us of the time lag now for persons serving their number of weeks and getting their payment. It is not fair on people whose primary income is a social welfare payment that they are without any payment for a number of weeks. I sincerely hope that issue is addressed.
There is no issue in terms of payment within my Department. The issue arises when people sign off and then sign back on again. There is a delay with the Department of Social Protection rather than with the Department of Defence. I know that we pay them totally independently. Once they do their training days, they are paid and there is no issue with payment on our side. I will revert to the Chairman on this but as far as I recall, the issue was with the Department of Social Protection. When people signed off, there was a delay in getting their payment when they signed back on to the unemployment register. I think that was the problem but I stand to be corrected on that.
What was presented to us was that while there may have been a delay on the Department of Social Protection side, there was also a definite delay with payments from the Department of Defence. There should be no delay in any Department, particularly for people on very basic incomes.
If there is a delay on the part of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection the Minister of State might address it on behalf of people who are willing to serve in the Reserve Defence Force.
I will come back to the committee on the matter. On accommodation in each of the barracks, there is provision in the capital plan for €23 million in 2018 for investment in built infrastructure and for €855,000 for furniture, bedding, utensils and so on. I take the Deputy's point and I agree that throughout the years of the recession there was little investment in accommodation. I am now ensuring that there is investment in accommodation for members of the Defence Forces.
With regard to the legislative output, three items of legislation are being prepared by the Department of Defence, including the Defence Forces (forensic evidence) Bill, the defence (amendment) Bill and the Red Cross Bill. The targets for this legislation were previously rolled over from 2016 to 2017 and they are now being rolled over again to 2018. I ask the Minister to provide the committee with a follow-up note on the status of this important legislation.
Before we conclude this session of the meeting I again emphasise the point made by Deputy Seán Barrett in regard to Brexit. With every passing day people are becoming more pessimistic about what is going to happen post Brexit. There has been much talk about soft borders and hard borders. Unfortunately, it appears we are to have a border foisted on us again. I sincerely hope that I am wrong but I do not think so in light of the comments of Prime Minister May that a border similar to the Canadian-US border could work here. We have all seen the pictures of how that border works in terms of hardware and the huge queue of vehicles and so on. Members of all Governments should be very conscious of the remarks of former Prime Minister John Major and Senator George Mitchell on the need to avoid borders. Given the current status of the talks I am not optimistic that we can avoid a border in this country but, as a person who lives in a Border community, I sincerely hope I am wrong. I understand that the Minister is not in a position to brief the committee on the preparations being made in this regard by the Department and the military authorities but like Deputy Seán Barrett, I hope that good work is under way.
Brexit and ensuring there is no hard border is a priority for the Taoiseach and the Government. As I have previously stated, the internal security of the State is a matter for the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality but if there is a call on the Defence Forces they are ready to assist. A senior official of my Department, at assistant secretary level, is working with the interdepartmental group on Brexit, such that Brexit is a priority issue within the Department of Defence as well.
Issues such as sea fisheries are matters for the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority but the Defence Forces have always been able to respond to the calls from that authority. Brexit gives rise to a range of different areas that will affect all of us. While Brexit is a priority for the Department of Defence, security is a matter for An Garda Síochána but the Defence Forces do assist under aid to the civil power.