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)
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Before beginning I remind members, witnesses and persons in the Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. Members are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to airplane, safe or flight mode, depending on device. It is not sufficient for members to just put their phones on silent mode as this maintains the level of interference with the broadcasting system.

Before continuing with the agenda, I formally welcome Senator Ned O'Sullivan to the committee. This is the first time we have met in public since Senator O'Sullivan's appointment. I welcome him and acknowledge the knowledge and experience he brings to our committee. Senator O'Sullivan was appointed in place of Senator Mark Daly. I also think it timely to formally acknowledge Senator Daly's contribution to our work over a number of years.

Today we meet representatives of the Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association, RDFRA, to discuss issues for the Reserve Defence Force, who are very welcome. The format of the meeting is that we will hear the witnesses' opening statement before going into a question-and-answer session with members of the committee. Before they begin, I bring to their attention that witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also 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.

Ms Fiona Holohan:

As vice president of the association, I thank the Chairman and this committee for inviting us here again.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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You are very welcome.

Mr. Neil Richardson:

Almost two years ago to the day, an RDFRA delegation appeared before this committee in public session to report on the current state of the Reserve Defence Force. At the time, we had an effective force of 2,049 members, or exactly 50% of the Reserve’s total establishment, and we were facing some serious problems. Recruitment had stagnated; with 2,020 places to fill, we had taken in only 471 new recruits in the preceding four years. Retirements due to age and natural wastage were outstripping the Reserve's ability to replace these losses. This was not down to a lack of interest from potential applicants as during that four-year period, more than 10,000 people had applied to join the Reserve, but was rather down to the Defence Forces' inability to give sufficient attention to reserve recruiting. Lengthy delays, frequent cancellations of testing events, and generally ad hoc arrangements resulted in large numbers of applicants losing interest during a frustratingly drawn-out process. By the end of each recruiting campaign, only a handful of dedicated applicants remained to be enlisted on each occasion.

We were also facing other issues that came under the remit of the military authorities relating to the maintenance of personal protective equipment or the timely processing of payment to members of the Reserve for periods of paid training, all of which were raised during our committee appearance. Meanwhile, we discussed issues that fell under the remit of the Department of Defence, namely, its levels of engagement with RDFRA and urgently required initiatives that would require the approval of the Minister of State with responsibility for defence. In brief, early 2017 was not a good time for the Reserve.

Two years on, we are now very grateful for the opportunity to report on the current status of the Reserve to the committee and inform it of the outcomes of our previous appearance. While the effective strength of the Reserve continued to drop in 2017 and early 2018 to an all-time low of 1,653 members in quarter one of last year, by January 2019 it had risen slightly to 1,840 effective members, the highest figure in two years. In 2018, the Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, also revived the office of director with responsibility for the Reserve, which was previously disbanded in 2013, and so the Reserve now once again has a single senior officer whose responsibility it is to grow and develop the force. Since its inception, the two directors who have inhabited the role, Colonel Brian Cleary and the current incumbent, Colonel Ger Buckley, have initiated training courses that will see the commissioning of new Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve officers in the near future; these new leaders are vital to the future of the organisation. The director's office also streamlined the mechanism by which reservists' pay is processed and is actively seeking to get promotion competitions back on track for all ranks.

Make no mistake, there is still more that the military authorities can do to improve the situation for the Reserve. There is an ongoing eyesight standard anomaly that exists in the Naval Service Reserve, whereby an applicant for the Naval Service Reserve can be rejected on eyesight grounds but that same person can then apply for and successfully join the Permanent Defence Force Naval Service. The permanent force will accept candidates of varying eyesight standards but the Naval Service Reserve is only permitted to recruit those with 20-20 vision. It must be noted that this committee raised this matter directly with the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence when he appeared before this committee on 26 April 2018 and the Minister of State replied that the eyesight standards were "currently being changed". That was ten months ago. However, the RDFRA is aware of an initiative by the military authorities to update the Naval Service eyesight standards in line with international maritime standards; the RDFRA sincerely hopes that these changes will come into force in the very near future. The Reserve will be recruiting again on 1 April 2019 and so time is of the essence. If the eyesight standards are not updated by then, many more Naval Service Reserve applicants will be turned away unnecessarily.

Similarly, with another reserve recruitment competition looming, the RDFRA is hopeful that a new reserve recruitment model that has been developed at the request of the director with responsibility for the Reserve – a recruitment model that was designed by reservists for reservists and that empowers reservists to manage their own recruitment insofar as is possible – will be implemented in time for the next recruitment competition, which begins in seven weeks. If this is not introduced in time, it will be a lost opportunity to maximise our potential recruit numbers from this competition and the Reserve will again suffer needlessly as a result.

To sum up on the RDFRA's engagement with the military authorities in recent years, they listened to our 2017 submission to this committee and took serious steps to remedy the issues identified. There is certainly a lot more work to do but the RDFRA wishes to genuinely acknowledge and thank the Chief of Staff, the assistant chief of staff, Brigadier General Peter O’Halloran, and the military authorities for the steps that they have taken to help save the Reserve.

Unfortunately, the Department of Defence’s attitude towards engagement with the RDFRA has been somewhat more aloof. Two years ago we reiterated the critical need to amend and update Defence Forces Regulation R5, which governs most aspects of the Reserve’s existence, and Defence Forces Regulation S7, which governs our representative association. The Reserve was reorganised in 2013 and new versions of both regulations should have been implemented at that time to reflect the new organisational structures. It is simply beyond belief that new regulations have not been implemented some six years later, despite repeated and consistent efforts on our part to obtain updates from the Department. We have offered our assistance in drafting the regulations in order to support the Department. To date, the Department of Defence has continuously informed us that updated draft versions of both regulations are currently being developed. However, the RDFRA has been prevented from seeing these drafts, which effectively prohibits the association from having any input into these documents. This is an untenable position for the Department to adopt since we and our members will be the end users of this product. Similarly, there has been no movement whatsoever on any of the Reserve-specific White Paper projects announced in that document as far back as 2015.

The most serious new issue involving the Department of Defence and the Reserve is the pay discrepancy that the Department of Defence has allowed to form between the Permanent Defence Force and Reserve Defence Force rates of pay. In the first instance, it must be highlighted that the majority of a reservist's service is unpaid; the best part of training takes place in the evenings and at weekends. However, reservists are entitled to payment when engaged in certain activities, such as full-time training courses. This payment serves to offset the costs associated with a reservist’s service in the Defence Forces, including those relating to mileage, time off work and ancillary expenses. However, for the periods of paid training that reservists undertake, there is now a significant discrepancy between permanent and reserve rates of pay.

Reserve pay is tied to Permanent Defence Force pay rates by two ministerial Defence Forces regulations, R5 and S3. These clarify that reservists are entitled to be paid at the lowest point of the Permanent Defence Force pay scale for their particular rank. However, the vast majority of reservists are currently paid 18% less than the corresponding lowest point on the current Permanent Defence Force pay scale for each rank.

This is particularly enraging for reservists. Not only did we suffer a pay reduction at rates variable by rank in 2009, reservists received an additional 10% blanket pay reduction in 2013. The Reserve pay rate has, in essence, been plundered twice and we are not even on a par with the lowest points on the Permanent Defence Forces' payscale. This has significant impacts for our existing members in terms of the costs associated with their continued and loyal service. It also represents an obstacle to attracting new members, particularly among young people who may not be in employment and who are not in a position to foot the costs associated with serving in the Reserve. RDFRA notified the Department of this breach of regulations last December and while we recognise that it is a complex issue, we have not been given an explanation, a plan to settle the arrears or an expected time to resolution. Our members are deeply frustrated by these delays in taking effective action and rightly question whether a similar attitude would be experienced were the underpayment to have been made to our comrades in the Permanent Defence Forces. The Reserve pay rates need to be realigned with their permanent counterparts immediately. However, RDFRA has serious concerns that such a pay rate realignment could take months or even years for the Department to implement, to say nothing of the payment of arrears.

Currently, it is RDFRA's view that the association's and our members' experiences are just one part of a wider malaise affecting defence in Ireland at present, involving the Department of Defence, the military authorities, our colleagues in the Permanent Defence Forces and their two representative associations. What is good for one element of the Defence Forces is necessarily good for all members of the Defence Forces, both Permanent and Reserve. To truly improve the defence disposition in Ireland for both for the Permanent and Reserve Forces, the committee should seek and establish a commission on the future of defence in Ireland in the spirit of the 2017-2018 Commission on the Future of Policing. We also strongly urge the committee to extend invitations to the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the Permanent Defence Forces Other Ranks Representative Association PDFORRA, and the Chief of Staff and the senior military authorities to appear before the committee and give their own views on defence in Ireland at present. It is only by engaging with all stakeholders at this level that the damage done to both the Permanent and Reserve Defence Forces be repaired. Such actions are vital to the long-term growth and stability of the Defence Forces as a whole, and also to the continued security of the State.

I conclude with a brief statement on the value of the Reserve Defence Forces. Taking the RDFRA national executive as an example of what the Reserve has to offer, we are all serving reservists – both Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve - ranging in rank from private to captain, from leading seaman to Naval Service Reserve lieutenant. In our civilian capacities, we comprise a partner in a major Irish law firm and head of the construction law team for that firm, a trainee solicitor, a legal secretary, a cyber-security compliance specialist for a multinational telecommunications corporation, a vice-president of the trade union, Fórsa, a development manager for a food retail and wholesale company, a telecoms engineer, a PhD history student and a consultant at Blackrock Clinic who also serves as a professor at Trinity College Dublin. That is just our national executive. The Reserve is full of people just like us, yet we are not currently being utilised to the maximum benefit of the State. Beyond the military authorities, there is generally no interest or willingness to engage with the concept of utilising the Reserve in a meaningful way. Instead, there is a preference to limit the Reserve's access to resources, ignore our varied qualifications and skills sets, dismiss our calls for reform and generally display a hope that we will just fade away and that no one will notice. Apathy is now one of the greatest threats faced by the Reserve. Regardless of this, the dedicated remaining reservists are still committed to serving the State.

The Reserve must be meaningfully utilised in order to secure its future. Utilisation provides a meaningful sense of reward. It is a goal to work towards. Perpetually training for training's sake is not enough. With Brexit approaching and a hard border scenario a distinct possibility, the defence landscape in Ireland for the immediate future is somewhat uncertain. The Defence Forces must be able to rely on all available personnel and assets should they be required in any contingent scenario. Further, the support reservists could provide to overseas missions would be of great value to Irish missions abroad. There are already small examples of the true value of Reserve utilisation displayed in pockets across the country, most notably in the areas of ICT and cyber, where reservists with specialist civilian IT qualifications have helped to revolutionise the technological and digital assets available to the Defence Forces. This is just a drop in the ocean of what could be possible with greater Reserve utilisation.

As an achievable first step, a minor amendment to the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 would allow reservists to serve outside of the State in roles such as duties of a military representative, secondment to international organisations, conducting or participating in training, carrying out ceremonial duties, participating in exchanges or undertaking visits, undertaking monitoring, observation or advisory duties, participating in or undertaking reconnaissance or fact-finding missions, undertaking humanitarian tasks in response to an actual or potential disaster or emergency, participating in sporting events, or inspecting and evaluating stores, equipment and facilities. It would allow the Reserve to take part in a wide range of valuable overseas roles short of deploying on UN missions, which is governed by the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1960 which we are not seeking to have amended at this time. The Reserve could also engage in activities governed by the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 on the basis of individual reservists presenting themselves as available for service. This would arguably remove the need for employment protection legislation to achieve this as these activities may be of short duration or may require only small numbers of reservists on each occasion. In short, amending the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 would provide the vital basis for utilisation that the Reserve so desperately needs.

There also needs to be meaningful recognition of the qualifications and skills possessed by reservists so that, should the legislation be updated to permit proper Reserve utilisation, the individual reservist's qualifications will be fully acknowledged. My colleague, Dr. Mathew McCauley, is an excellent example of a highly qualified reservist whose professional background has received a dearth of proportionate acknowledgment from the Defence Forces. Having qualified 19 years ago, he has served as a consultant in international military healthcare systems for 13 years in the USA and UK. A fellow of both the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland and the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK, he is also an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. A published expert in his field, he is a consultant at Blackrock Clinic and a professor at Trinity College Dublin. Despite such experience and competence, Dr. McCauley was commissioned into the Reserve at the rank of second-lieutenant, the lowest commissioned rank. Should he have joined the Permanent Defence Forces he would have been commissioned with at least the rank of captain, or two ranks higher than the one he currently holds.

The soldiers and sailors of the Reserve Defence Forces are clawing themselves back from the brink. While the senior military authorities are doing what they can to help us, the extent of what they can do is being limited, to a significant degree, by factors outside of their control. The Reserve is still in danger, and so we require committed political support at all levels to ensure our continued existence and future growth. To summarise, our call to the committee is to consider our proposal to amend the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 in the light of all the positive changes that this would bring about to our Defence Forces. I thank the committee and invite questions from the members.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Mr. Richardson for his comprehensive submission on the work of the Reserve Defence Forces and the potential for its involvement in a wider range of activities at home and abroad on behalf of our citizens.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I thank Mr. Richardson for his contribution. I note that there are a couple of positive developments since the last time the witnesses attended. The main issue is around engagement with the Department of Defence. I have a questions on the membership. Mr. Richardson outlined the position regarding the national executive, but I wonder about the backgrounds of reservists generally. In the forthcoming recruitment campaigns, who is it hoped will joint the Reserve? Who will be targeted? I refer to the time commitment of members of what is a reserve force. I was struck by Mr. Richardson's point that reservists must be meaningfully utilised and his reference to the potential that exists. If members are part of the Reserve, what are the practical issues as to how they can be employed more meaningfully given that they are in other full-time occupations?

Mr. Neil Richardson:

The Deputy's question on the target membership is a broad one because our membership demographic is as wide as the breadth of categories of people in the State. We recruit students just out of secondary school all the way up to highly qualified specialists. As such, it is hard to say specifically who we are recruiting. Our target for the next recruitment intake will lean, however, towards specialists. To give an example, the IT experts to whom I referred in my opening statement are people who work for international or multinational technology corporations like Intel, Google, Microsoft and Facebook. That we can get these individuals to work within the Reserve Defence Forces for the Defence Forces on a predominantly free basis is a miracle. They are willing to give their time for free to be a part of the military family and engage in that way. While we will recruit anyone who is interested and while there are specialist and non-specialist roles across the Reserve Defence Forces, the next recruitment competition will probably lean toward getting specialists into key areas to help out.

I take the Deputy's point on the time commitment. Some people will be able to give more or less time. The proposed amendment to the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 would allow a Reserve team to go to the UK or the Continent to help with training activities for a week or two. Reservists commit regularly to training periods of that length within the State. As such, this dovetails with the leave people take from work. For short deployments, employment protection legislation would not be required to apply as it would be simple enough for people to meet the time commitment involved from current set ups.

We can be used meaningfully for short durations; that would sit very well with the Reserve Defence Forces set-up.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the witnesses for their presentations; they were very comprehensive and provided some valuable policy ideas and initiatives, which are always welcome. There seems to be a mismatch in the language used. The Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association, RDFRA, has obviously had a very positive engagement with military authorities, which is supportive of the work it does and is committed on an ongoing basis to supporting that work. The Department of Defence has used words such as "apathy" and "aloof" to describe a general disengagement. There is a lack of response to submissions made around regulations, for example. How can that be improved? Who is the RDFRA's point of engagement in the Department? Is it a ministerial matter or is it a matter for officials? Where is the direct line of engagement? If this committee is to support the work of the RDFRA we need to know where the issue lies within the Department of Defence. There is a clear split in the language used by both bodies, and if the RDFRA is to be supported it is important that we address those issues.

The last time the RDFRA was here the serious difficulty it was experiencing in terms of numbers was highlighted, as was the mismatch between the White Paper target and the actual numbers in the Reserve. That number has stabilised, but it has not improved. The witnesses have provided some policy ideas in that area. When do they think we will reach a point where we will see proper growth in the numbers? What can stimulate that? Certain things have been mentioned, but if we are to value the organisation this information is important.

As part of the White Paper there have been some reforms in recent years. Some people within the military with whom I have discussed the reforms have said there has been a destructive policy in parts of Ireland where there was a localised system of recruitment. That has now been diminished by the centralising reform which has occurred. Is there anything that can be changed in that area so that we can see an improvement in recruitment of Reserve members across all counties? Are the witnesses seeing a geographical disparity in the people who are applying and who are actually becoming reservists?

Mr. Neil Richardson:

I will answer the questions the Deputy asked on our contact with the Department and will pass the questions on recruitment to my colleague, Mr. Scanlon.

We predominantly deal with the Defence Forces personnel policy branch; it is our main point of contact within the Department. We encounter issues around asking questions about and accessing documents which are relevant to us and which we know are circulating. We are regularly told that it is an inappropriate time to pass on these documents. We understand that there is background policy work which might have to be done before it is ready to be shown to a representative associations, but this happens so consistently and regularly that it is problematic for us. We feel our voices are not being heard and are not being listened to. When we ask a question we are fobbed off, for lack of a better phrase.

Mr. James Scanlon:

We have been engaging with the J1 directorate of the Defence Forces, which looks after personnel matters, and impressed upon it the need for certainty and regularity of recruitment to the Reserve Defence Forces. We have suggested a framework where recruitment would be open at the same time twice a year so that everybody knows. If a member meets someone who is interested in the Reserve he or she can tell that person when to look out for recruitment campaigns. We are trying to time those campaigns so that the processing, which involves security clearance, fitness tests and medicals, would all be ready for periods such as the academic holiday year, because, to return to the point made by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, one of the demographics we are targeting are those leaving secondary school and going to third level. Those people have time on their hands, and are the type of people who can give a good commitment to the Reserve as they are young and fit. We have to lower our age profile, because we are coming out of a period when recruitment was embargoed for several years. We then moved again to recruitment, but the model in place was not fit for purpose. We have high hopes for the next recruitment competition, because many of what we saw as the flaws in that model have been tweaked. Hopefully the improvements since then, including the shortening of time required for security clearance, among other things, will bear fruit. We are trying to achieve consistency and certainty.

The demographics issue was raised. It is certainly easier to recruit people in the areas around occupied military barracks. It is more difficulty for a person who has to make a long journey to a centre like that from a rural area. That person has to commit more to get into the Reserve.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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When one looks at the Department of Defence documentation it is probably demoralising to see that a surplus is being returned to the Exchequer every year while there is a general demise or stagnation in numbers. Has there been any engagement on the budgetary matter and keeping the general allocation so that the Reserve Defence Forces are not returning money to the Exchequer when there are such systemic issues to deal with?

Mr. Neil Richardson:

The main issue is not that the budget is not there for us to use every year. It is. The problem is that our members are not being facilitated to use the paid training and to use that budget. The Department committed to increasing a control measure ceiling that would make it easier for Reserve Defence Force members to access a slightly larger number of paid training days per year. At the moment there is a control measure at 28 days. When a person hits 28 days he or she has to apply for more, and they have to be pre-approved by the Department. It committed, around a year and a half ago, to increasing that number to 42. It is still a control measure, but would provide a little bit more paid training for the Reserve per year. As far as we are aware that has still not been implemented, so the Reserve will still hit that ceiling. We would argue that this is a minor change that would have a drastically positive effect on the ability of our members to attend paid training and to be utilised. It has not been done yet.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan:I welcome the delegation. I find this very interesting. Until I joined this committee I did not know much about the reserves. I used to be a member of the Forsa Cosanta Áitiuil, FCA, when I was a young man, and I am interested in what the correspondence is between the FCA and the Reserve in terms of numbers. Almost every town had an FCA group when I was growing up, and I know that the group the witnesses represent is a much tighter organisation.

What is the profile of members in general? There are obviously some highly qualified people in the ranks of the Reserve, and I suspect those mentioned in the presentation are all officer class; perhaps I am wrong about that. What is the profile of the typical man or woman in the Reserve? Is he or she employed, unemployed, self-employed or farming? What is the gender balance? What is the retirement age for the Reserve? Is it the same as the regular army or is there a difference?

We have been asked to look into the possibility of establishing a commission, such as the commission on policing. Is that an initiative of the RDFRA? Has it talked this out with the regular Defence Forces? Is there cross-rank support on this or is it an initiative of the RDFRA management association?

It is great that people are willing to put their personal time and efforts into being part of the Reserve Defence Forces, serving both land and sea. It is an act of patriotism, and it should be encouraged as very good training for people as well. I hope that, with the centenary commemorations ahead of us, that there will be opportunities for the further involvement of the Reserve Defence Forces. Has that opportunity been explored?

Mr. Neil Richardson:

I will again divide the answers between the delegation. I will answer parts of the Senator's questions first. The FCA, as it existed pre-2005, was turned into the Reserve Defence Forces, RDF, in a reorganisation in 2005. It had a much larger establishment beforehand, but was reduced downwards at that stage. In 2013 there was a further reorganisation into the organisation it is today, with an establishment of around 4,000 members of all ranks, of which we currently have 1,800 in place.

To clarify, the Reserve Defence Forces is the modern FCA.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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There has been a huge shrinkage in numbers.

Mr. Neil Richardson:

The RDF has gone through a number of reorganisations over the years. Invariably, reorganisation has always been based on the current strength of the FCA-RDF and from that, it is formally reorganised to give it that number as its maximum ceiling. Sadly, it dropped further and it has been reorganised downwards to the lowest number it has ever been.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I understand that. I thank Mr. Richardson.

Mr. Neil Richardson:

The retirement age is comparable to the Permanent Defence Forces, PDF. On the wider support we may have for our views on a commission on the future of defence, we would argue that the committee may have to address that with the military authorities. I would not want to put words in their mouths.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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The association has not liaised with the Permanent Defence Forces on this.

Mr. Neil Richardson:

That is our view, as of now.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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The association is speaking to its members.

Mr. Neil Richardson:

I will pass over to Ms Holohan.

Ms Fiona Holohan:

On the general profile of our members, it was mentioned that the national executive was all officers. I am a sergeant and I am vice president. There are exceptions. It is very varied. We have members who are as varied as solicitors, truck drivers, construction workers, engineers and people in college. It is quite varied and it depends on the area people are in. In my unit, there is great variety in the demographics. The issue of gender was also mentioned. In my unit, there are 63 people on books at the moment, 12 of whom are females while the remainder are males.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that consistent with the regular Army?

Mr. Neil Richardson:

We have a higher proportion of females in the Reserve. It is 12% nationally as opposed 5% to 6% in the PDF.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Very good.

Mr. James Scanlon:

The retirement age was reduced for enlisted personnel in the last reorganisation in 2005 from 60 to 50 years of age. This was due to a change to regulation 5, R5. At the time, much work was done to R5. Another regulation, R6, was folded into it. It was all completed by the Department of Defence within a matter of months. Here we are six years later and we still do not have a new R5. In the past, major structural changes to that document have been made in a matter of months but it is six years on and we have not even seen a draft.

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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The witnesses are very welcome. We really appreciate that they have given up their time to come in. Deputy Jack Chambers must have read my scribbled notes because he said literally word for word everything I wanted to say. I commend the association on the work it has done on maintaining what it has and trying to build on it. The Vice Admiral reviving the office of director has probably helped. I would like to know why it was disbanded in first place, or who made that decision. I welcome that the pay process has been streamlined and I suppose that happened as a result of the director being put in place. I acknowledge the association's gratitude to the Vice Admiral, Mark Mellett, and the Assistant Chief of Staff, Peter O'Halloran. I am a bit parochial because he is based in Athlone and I am a bit parochial about Athlone.

I am concerned that there is not one person in Defence Forces with whom the association deals. I presume it is a principal officer that the association should be dealing with but that it does not have the name of anybody. Maybe this committee could do something and get the name of one person with whom the association could deal. I think after the last time the association was in, everybody made representations and things improved.

The association asked for political commitment and support. What specifically can we do to provide it with that support? Does the association literally think that the Department is blocking it and if so, why?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator McFadden.

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I apologise. I am under bit of pressure. I am on duty in the Chamber so excuse me if I have to run.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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We understand.

Mr. Neil Richardson:

The office of the director of the Reserve was disbanded because of a Permanent Defence Forces reorganisation that took place in 2012, the year before our own. This necessarily reduced the number of senior officers the PDF were allowed to have and that office was one that was cut. The revived office is a double hat for a particular individual. It is connected to the office of combat support and ISTAR. It is a double hat for the individual there. The current incumbent, Colonel Ger Buckley, is taking on two roles, the Reserve as well as his other job.

In terms of what this committee could do, we fundamentally believe that utilisation will save the Reserve. If a meaningful form of utilisation was provided, everything else would flow towards achieving that goal. If it is an amendment to the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 that allows us to participate in these small but meaningful overseas tasks, whether training or otherwise, that would be a very serious step in giving the Reserve a meaningful role to play in the Defence Forces.

Mr. James Scanlon:

The Defence Act is a serious impediment to us. A unit of reservists was heavily involved in an IT system and needed to be deployed to Germany for an international exercise. Those people were due to deploy but the Department of Defence forbade them from doing so and cited the Defence Act. It was seen as overseas service to go to Germany for one week for an exercise. It affected the Defence Forces.

We have a doctor in the Reserve Defence Forces. He joined the Defence Forces as a direct entry doctor. He was recruited because they needed someone to go to Africa at the time. They did not have enough doctors on staff. He was brought in and given a conversion course and was sent to Africa. It was a serious mission and when he finished his six-month deployment, they asked him if he would be interested in staying on as a reservist and he agreed. They reduced his rank from commandant to lieutenant and put him into the Reserve. The week before he had been the number one medical person in charge of 500 or 600 people. If something went wrong - there were tropical diseases, people could have a gunshot wound or whatever - he was the person on point and everybody trusted him to do that job. He had to resign his commission in the Permanent Defence Forces and he was then commissioned into the Reserve Defence Forces with a new number and so on but he was not authorised to do a medical. If anybody walked in, he was unqualified. Obviously, he was as qualified as he was the day before but he was now unqualified under the regulations to carry out even a medical. The Defence Forces medical staff are under pressure and we have people like that but they are not considered qualified. They wanted him to go overseas again. He had to resign his Reserve commission, he was commissioned back into Permanent Defence Forces as a commandant and he was sent overseas. When he came back, he had to resign his commission and he is now a lieutenant who is not allowed to medical. They take reservists and put them on the shelf. They really do not want to use them.

The only people who can change that are the people in this building. The Department will say it is in the Act and there is nothing it can do about it. We would like to change this so that the Chief of Staff has a bigger pick. He can decide not to use the Reserve or to use it. As it stands today, he has no choice. He does not have the pick of the Reserve if he wants to use it, except by contorting the regulations in order to do so. We are asking the legislators to look at our proposed amendment.

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I apologise but I have to leave. I thank the witnesses.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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A recruitment campaign was launched on 23 April 2018 and a total of 1,364 applications were received, which is an astonishing number. It shows the interest out there among people who are available. Some 129 of the 1,364 were inducted to the Army Reserve and the Naval Service Reserve. What happened to the other 1,100? Were they just dismissed?

To be honest, I was amazed at the number of applications received. It is a very healthy sign that people are interested and concerned. There is potential that needs to be harnessed. However, it does not say an awful lot that out of 1,364 applicants, 129 were recruited. What happened to the other 1,235 who were not recruited? I am very interested in how we can help to encourage that interest. Are we asking too much of people? Are we expecting too much of those who are recruited? I do not know, but I bow to the four delegates in giving their views and opinions. That is what this gathering is about - seeing how we can help, improve matters and encourage more people. However, fewer than 10% of applicants were actually recruited. If the delegates could shed any light on that issue, I would be very interested in hearing their views and opinions.

Mr. Neil Richardson:

I would definitely be happy to respond to that question. Unfortunately, Reserve recruitment is particularly ad hoc. I will describe what happens to individuals like those mentioned. The closing date for the competition passes and the majority of applicants are contacted for the first time two months later. That is unusual and not great. It is a little sloppy. They are then called for a fitness test which is their first exposure to Defence Forces recruitment testing procedures. It could be another six or seven weeks later and the date might be changed at short notice. As a result, people start to get browned off. Those who make it through that stage come back for a medical examination which is arranged exclusively during normal working hours. Some may be asked just one day before to come into a barracks at 10 a.m.If they say no because they are in work, tough and away they go. The pool gets smaller and smaller because of an ad hocand very poorly organised competition. The small number at the very end consists of the dedicated ones who have stuck it out through the process.

Mr. Scanlon and I have trialled new recruitment methods in our own units, at the Defence Forces training centre at the Curragh or, in Mr. Scanlon's case, throughout the country on behalf of the Naval Service. We took our recruits from the closing date of the competition to induction, when they begin training. Last year my unit did it in nine weeks, while Mr. Scanlon's did it in eight. We found that if the testing stages could be organised rapidly in a formally correct way, the tempo would be kept up and people's interest maintained. That is reflected in the numbers brought into training at the very end. While my recruits from the 2018 competition were in training last year, other units throughout the country were training recruits from the 2017 competition. It took them nearly 18 months to achieve what Mr. Scanlon and I had managed to achieve in a matter of weeks. We developed the recruitment proposal to which I referred in my opening statement which is with the director of Reserve forces to formally structure the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, recruitment process each year in order that it would not be ad hoc and merely utilised whenever there was a gap in the timeline. We are very hopeful it will be implemented and in force by 1 April, when the new recruitment window opens. Otherwise the applicants who will apply online in April may not be sworn in until 2020, which is unnecessary. That is what causes the drop-off. Understandably, people become frustrated at the process. They have other time-related commitments and there are voluntary organisations that will take them in far more quickly than the Reserve. I call on the committee to support the proposal which is to make sure this formal and structured recruitment process would be implemented. It could be achieved and we would have good numbers once it was done.

Mr. James Scanlon:

I do not want to take too much credit for the speed at which the Naval Service's personnel were inducted. Personnel in the Permanent Defence Force, particularly Lieutenant Stephen Stack, put a lot of effort into making sure the process was streamlined and very quick. I would like to point to the one thing that caused all of our numbers to fall below Mr. Richardson's. It is the anomalous eyesight standard for the Naval Service Reserve, NSR, as mentioned in the opening statement. It results in the loss of about 45% of suitable applicants. If Mr. Richardson takes in 100 people who finish the process, he might get 90 of them. He can expect ten to go down on medical grounds. We would lose 45 on medical grounds, mostly due to the eyesight standard. It is not fit for purpose. There is a case to be made in favour of changing it, but it is moving very slowly through the bureaucratic process.

Dr. Mathew McCauley:

The points raised are related to recruitment, retention and terms and conditions of service. I can develop what has been said about the specialist side of the RDF. Comments I make are solely in my role as a member of the national executive of the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association, RDFRA, not in any official capacity in representing the medical corps.

Some of the points raised alluded to the fact that section 7.2 of the 2015 White Paper on Defence specifically highlighted the utilisation of RDF specialist members in cases where the relevant skill was not retained in the Permanent Defence Force, PDF. It is four years since the Department was tasked with developing recruitment and utilisation policies for this group within the Defence Forces. Despite support from the military healthcare authorities and their encouragement of the single force concept, it has not really come to fruition during that time.

If the Chairman allows me a moment or two, I will elaborate on a few of the key issues. The context is the 2012 Defence Forces reorganisation which saw the number of Reserve personnel in the medical field reduced from 213 to 35, an 84% reduction. The number who are filling permanent duty stations, PDS, is around 37%. I understand there are about three clinical medical corps officers left. This has had huge implications, on which my colleague has elaborated. The use of those clinical medical corps officers is restricted to the direct provision of clinical care for Defence Forces personnel, partly owing to the rank they hold and where they sit within the organisation, despite often being consultant-level clinicians in their civilian careers. This compares shockingly with the position in other jurisdictions. For example, 60% of the US army's medical assets sit in the US army reserve. Some ten of the United Kingdom's multidisciplinary comprehensive field hospitals sit in the reserve. As to why that might be the case, the RDFRA has been notified through representations of our members in the medical field that there has been no overt or strategic recruitment campaign for medical professionals. There are no opportunities for military personnel to engage in direct clinical provision. There are no opportunities to engage in specialist activities outside the State. There are limited career opportunities once someone is in the system. There are insufficient numbers of RDF medical personnel to engage in RDF medical exercises. My colleague has alluded to the lack of reciprocity between RDF and PDF medical corps officers. Through discussions and liaison with medial corps RDFRA members, we can attest to a view that is increasingly held that this is unsustainable, despite the support from military healthcare authorities. It is also in spite of the fact that it has been ten years since publication of the PA Consulting report on the future of Defence Forces medical services, seven years since the Defence Forces reorganisation and four years since the publication of the White Paper on Defence. We all agree that the strength, skills mix and use of Reserve assets in the medical field are totally within the remit of the military authorities and we are not trying to step into that domain. However, from our discussions, there is increasingly a view that if there were proper investment and recruitment, we might see PDF medical assets more fully augmented by RDF assets; an expansion of the breadth and depth of Defence Forces medical capabilities; and an ability to deliver a full spectrum military medical operational care pathway, as seen in other jurisdictions. PDF medical personnel could be augmented in engaging in medical and domestic military clinical activities, which would also be an opportunity to enhance the Defence Forces' overall medical resources.

While there are these difficulties, the colleagues who have come to RDFRA with these representations are loyal, dutiful and committed members of the Defence Forces. They believe it is an honour to serve in the RDF. Their only objective is to see its medical cadre thrive. Despite the support we are getting from the military medical authorities, the problem persists.

Collectively, we see the need for change and investment but, as already stated, with policies in R5 and so forth, we feel political support needs to be applied in order to see some change in light of the years and years of challenges.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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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.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.25 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Thursday, 14 February 2019.