Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 26 September 2023
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Implementation of the Recommendations of the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces: Discussion
I have received apologies from Senator Ó Donnghaile. I welcome from the Department of Defence, Ms Jacqui McCrum, Secretary General; and from the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, Chief of Staff. They are here to brief the committee on the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, with a particular focus on the implications of the working time directive on Defence Forces personnel, the strategic objectives on transformation in both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces in the context of ongoing work dealing with issues highlighted in recent reports, the matter of gender balance, recruitment, including current remuneration and allowances in the Defence Forces, issues of retention and requirements for entry into the Defence Forces. We look forward to hearing from the witnesses on the issues outlined. The format of the meeting is that we will hear opening statements followed by questions and answers with members of the committee. I ask members to be concise in their questions to allow all members the opportunity of participation.
I remind witnesses and members of the long-standing parliamentary practice that we should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make them identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, any statements that may be potentially defamatory with regard to any identifiable person or entity will result in a direction to discontinue the remarks. It is imperative that any such direction be complied with. I remind members that they are only allowed to participate in this meeting if they are physically located within the Leinster House complex. Senator Ardagh is on Microsoft Teams and she is welcome, even though we cannot see her.
I do not doubt that at all. If you raise your hand, you will be invited to participate in the usual way. I welcome the ambassador, H.E. Ms Mari Skåre, and the other members of the public to the Gallery.
With that, I invite the Secretary General, Ms McCrum, followed by Lieutenant General Clancy, to make their opening statements.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
As Secretary General of the Department of Defence, I thank the committee for inviting both me and the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, to address it today. We are joined by Brigadier General Rossa Mulcahy, assistant Chief of Staff, and principal officer, Emer Dalton.
This is a welcome opportunity to discuss the ongoing work of both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces. It is particularly timely, given the Tánaiste today published the overarching strategic framework for the transformation of the Defence Forces. I had made the Chair aware some weeks ago about the potential publication of this document and I hope members have all received a copy, which we were able to release once approved by Cabinet this morning.
Following the publication of the report of the independent review group on dignity and equality issues in the Defence Forces in March 2023 - the Independent Review Group, IRG, report - the Tánaiste set out his priority to develop one strategic framework for the transformation of the Defence Forces, fully understood by everyone, which has the appropriate governance and reporting mechanisms, and is properly resourced. He has stated, “The priority within this transformation is cultural change above all else.” In addition to the culture change, there are also transformation actions that will ensure the Defence Forces is an equal opportunities employer, reflective of contemporary Irish society, and that it is providing a safe workplace and a fit-for-purpose organisation, equipped to defend the State and meet the challenges of today and the future. It will be an organisation where all members are treated with dignity and respect and one that continuously evolves to deliver positive change.
This journey of transformation has commenced. A lot of work has been done since the end of 2021 and continues to be our primary focus. The strategic framework clearly sets out the actions to be delivered before the end of 2024, which are as follows: to implement the recommendations of the IRG report; implement the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces, CDF; support the recruitment to and retention of personnel to our Defence Forces; enhance the physical working environment and equipment of our personnel; and make the legislative changes to underpin the transformation agenda.
While all the actions under the strategic framework are important, the core strategic priorities are as follows: specific actions to support cultural change within the Defence Forces to be implemented through a well-designed and expertly-led culture change programme, with oversight by the external oversight body; to stabilise the number of personnel in the Defence Forces in the short term and thereafter to increase the strength towards the level of ambition arising from the report of the COD; and to implement a new independent external complaints service for serving members of the Defence Forces and a new complaints process for civilians and civil servants.
Core strategic priorities also include the implementation of an agreed policy for the application of the working time directive within the Defence Forces with legislative underpinning and to progress the specific actions to enhance the physical working environment and equipment of our personnel, including specific capability enhancements across all services as set out in the commission report. Further core strategic policies include: legislative changes to support the transformation of the Defence Forces to be put in place including the statutory underpinning for the new high level structures within the Defence Forces; the consequential redesign of the governance and oversight framework for the new command structure; the new independent complaints mechanism and the external oversight body; and a judge-led tribunal of inquiry would be established to examine the effectiveness of the complaints processes in the Defence Forces into workplace issues relating to discrimination, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.
The Government, in response to the independent review group recommendation, has established the external oversight body, EOB, for the Defence Forces to drive the necessary culture change throughout the organisation and to increase transparency and accountability. The terms of reference for the EOB were published on 12 July and the body is now embarking on the development of a work programme. To date the EOB has met nine times. Legislation is now being developed to put this body onto a statutory footing. Also in July the Government approved the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry to examine the effectiveness of the complaints processes in the Defence Forces to address workplace issues relating to discrimination, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
The Tánaiste is considering feedback received from stakeholders in relation to the terms of reference for the inquiry and he will revert to Government in the near future seeking approval for the terms of reference and the appointment of a judge to chair the tribunal. The Commission on the Defence Forces delivered its report in February 2022. In July 2022, the Government approved a high-level action plan to progress the 130 recommendations and to commit the State to move to level of ambition 2 with a commensurate increase of the defence budget from €1.1 billion to €1.5 billion in 2022 prices by 2028. It is worth noting that the published high-level action plan identified 38 early actions, of which 95% are now complete, and work on that detailed implementation plan is currently at an advanced stage.
Ms Julie Sinnamon, chair of the independent oversight group, briefed this committee on 13 May on the status of the Commission on the Defence Forces recommendations. I do not, therefore, propose to repeat the comprehensive update that was provided to the committee that day. I will instead focus on a number of key actions delivered under the Commission on the Defence Forces. It recommended the removal of the blanket exclusion of the Defence Forces from the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and the Government has committed to this. Extensive work by the military authorities has determined that a high percentage of everyday work is in compliance with the working time directive. Recent European case law on military service has been clear that certain activities can be considered outside the scope of the directive. The provisions of this ruling have informed a proposed civilian military management position, which has as its guiding principle that appropriate health and safety rights and protections are afforded to serving members, while also ensuring the Defence Forces fulfil essential State functions.
The introduction of a robust time and attendance system is essential to ensuring that the provisions of the working time directive are properly afforded to serving members and this and other areas of discussion are at a very advanced age. A new permanent civil military capability development unit within the Department has been established with the comprehensive strategy setting out capability development planning into the future. Allied to this there is a significant capital investment programme ongoing across the Defence Forces and noteworthy projects include the purchase of two C295 aircraft at a cost of €228 million. The first aircraft was delivered in June 2023 and the second is expected to be delivered shortly. Two inshore patrol vessels have been procured for €26 million. They arrived in May 2023 and now require remaining work before becoming operational in 2024. Accommodation provision, both living and office, at McKee Barracks and at Haulbowline naval base has been completed. A MOWAG gunnery simulator has been established in the Curragh.
The Defence Forces infrastructure development plan focusing on building infrastructure sets out a programme of project delivery for the years 2023 to 2027. The plan estimates infrastructure requirements to be in the region of €300 million for the coming years and there are currently over €130 million worth of projects under way at different stages of development. Projects under way include a new Cadet School headquarters and new accommodation buildings in Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa, Galway, and at Collins Barracks.
On gender balance, the current female strength in the Permanent Defence Force is 7.26% percent of the force. To put this in an international context, as of 1 April 2023 female representation in the UK defence forces stood at 11.5%. Gender balance continues to be a key area of focus and the Department of Defence has led on a number of key initiatives in this area. The management board of the Department has moved from a 20% female representation to 57% within the past two years. The Chief of Staff and I have established a currently thriving civil-military defence women's network, which was established in 2022. Earlier this month the Tánaiste announced that private secondary medical care would be extended to all ranks in the Permanent Defence Force. Importantly, this provides access to private maternity care for all females in the Defence Forces. This is a unique benefit in the public sector. It is a tangible recognition of the value placed on women and builds on the supports needed to attract and retain women into our Defence Forces. Female participation and career development is necessary for a modern-day defence force. It is and will remain a priority until the female strength in the Permanent Defence Force reaches a level that is comparable with the best international rates.
Significant enhancements to the remuneration and allowances in the Defence Forces have been approved by Government. Recruits on completion of training, which takes approximately 24 weeks, now start at €38,000. A school leaver on commissioning is paid almost €42,000. For a graduate on commissioning as a cadet, the initial starting salary will be over €47,000. Temporary associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, for the purposes of participation in national pay discussions for the representative associations was granted in May 2022. There has been an increase in the overall establishment in the Defence Forces to 9,600 to support transformation work: a total of 152 officers and 449 enlisted personnel were promoted in 2022, and 107 of those enlisted promotions were to senior NCO ranks. A total of 196 officers were promoted to date in 2023, and 225 enlisted personnel were promoted to corporal and sergeant ranks. My Department is continuously striving to support making the Defence Forces an employer of choice in an increasingly competitive environment for skilled young people. As referenced earlier, the Tánaiste has announced the commencement of private secondary medical care to all ranks in the Permanent Defence Force. This will now apply to all personnel and will be of immediate benefit to a further 84% of the Permanent Defence Force, some 6,400 personnel based on current strengths. This is a significant enhancement to the overall benefits package for personnel and is unique in the public sector. This is in addition to a number of other retention measures including increases in mandatory retirement age for privates, corporals and sergeants and an increase in general recruitment age to 29. Issues relating to upper recruiting retirement ages of the Reserve will also be considered in the context of the development by the Office of Reserve Affairs of a regeneration plan for the Reserve. These considerations must also have due regard to deliberations on the same matters for the Permanent Defence Force, which are ongoing. A service commitment has been introduced for pilots in the Air Corps, as well as a seagoing service commitment scheme, tax credit for seagoing personnel, and extensive education and training opportunities.
Much development work in the area of defence and security policy will continue to take place and will provide the future context for our Defence Forces. This includes policy development work flowing from the strategic defence review. In March 2023, the Department of Defence commenced a strategic defence review as part of the defence review cycle, which includes a wide-ranging assessment of the security environment and the threats facing Ireland. The consultative forum on international security policy was convened in June 2023 by the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence. This was to build public understanding and generate discussions on our foreign security and defence policies. In addition, priority will be given to the legislative changes to support the transformation of the Defence Forces, including the statutory underpinning for the new high-level structures within the Defence Forces and the consequential redesign of the governance and oversight framework for the new command structure, the new independent complaints mechanism and the external oversight body.
In conclusion, I thank the committee for the opportunity to discuss the significant and wide-ranging programme of work, which is continuous across the Department and the Defence Forces in relation to transformation. The past three years have been turbulent and unprecedented in many areas. It has been challenging for all involved. I am confident, however, that we are on the right path but actions must to be taken to support the transformation of the Defence Forces into a fit-for-purpose organisation to defend the State and meet the challenges of today and the future. The Chief of Staff and I have significant jobs of work in each of our areas of operation to deliver in order to complement and deliver this transformation. My team and I are committed to this programme of work and to working with the Chief of Staff, the Defence Forces board and our Defence Forces colleagues to achieve this mutual goal. I thank the members for their time and I look forward to hearing the committee members' thoughts and views on matters raised here today. I will now hand over to the Chief of Staff.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
Mar Cheann Foirne Óglach na hÉireann, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le baill an choiste as ucht an gcuireadh chun labhairt leo faoi chúrsaí a bhaineann le, agus faoi tosaíochtaí, Óglaigh na hÉireann. Táim ag tnúth go mór le caidreamh dearfach le baill an choiste agus leo a chur ar an eolas faoin ábhar atá faoi chaibidil.
As Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, I will commence by thanking the members of the committee for the invitation and opportunity to address them. I have noted the key areas that the committee outlined in its letter of invitation and I will address some of those issues in my opening remarks but also in our later engagement. For the purposes of this session, and to state for the record, I am accompanied this afternoon by Brigadier General Rossa Mulcahy, who is my assistant chief of staff.
Regarding the working time directive, WTD, members will recall from my previous appearance that I stated then that the decision on its implementation for the Defence Forces was welcome. I am pleased to report that there has been some very meaningful engagement between the Department, military management and the representative associations in the interim. This has been followed by further bilateral engagements between military management and the respective representative associations. The intent of those discussions was to allow all stakeholders to establish defined positions and to consider additional protections in order to accurately inform policy advices to the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence. The recommendations of the Defence Forces board, DFB, have been submitted to the Department and discussions are ongoing in relation to this submission. The DFB understands and accepts that there will be a cost in terms of the availability of human resources for our units and formations arising from the WTD implementation. However, I am confident that we can collectively and successfully address those challenges in the fullness of time.
Concerning our transformation agenda, at our previous appearance I addressed the Government-approved recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces. In the intervening
Governance and oversight structures have been established and introduced, the detailed implementation plan is close to being finalised and there has already been significant progress is some key areas. Over 95% of the early actions identified in the high-level action plan have been successfully completed. The Defence Forces has developed a new vision for the future force to be approved by the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence and we have a clear view on the wider implementation of projects to deliver key outcomes over the next 18 months. I have met with the external oversight board on two occasions and the Defence Force's women’s network also attended on 18 September. Further monthly meetings and engagements with the external oversight board are scheduled for October, November and December. In recognising the increasing volume and scope of staff support that will now be required to be provided by the Defence Forces to progress the work of both the external oversight board and the proposed statutory tribunal of inquiry, I have sought sanction for additional staff resources to assist and sustain that effort.
On recruitment and retention, members will be very cognisant of the human resource difficulties the Defence Forces have been experiencing in this space across all three military services. Our recruitment strategy analysis directed a focus on delivering improvements across four principal recruitment themes, namely, expanding our induction pools so that more people apply; enhancing our marketing tools to engage our target audience; optimising our selection and induction methodologies to remove potential obstacles to application; and maximising our retention rates for those who are inducted to ensure that they stay the course in training. To date in 2023, we have inducted 244 general service recruits, 18 of whom are female, representing 7.3% of the total inducted. We have also inducted an additional 11 specialists and are planning to induct 60 cadets this year, ten of whom are female, representing 16% of the inductions of cadets. We are also progressing competitions for additional medical and dental officers capacity, a pharmacist and ten to 12 instrumentalists. Overall, the projected figure for Permanent Defence Forces, PDF, inductions for 2023 will be between 400 and 425. The committee should note that we have only inducted 20 personnel into the Reserve, 25% of whom are female. However, the Reserve recruitment portal is reopening in October and this will result in increased levels of induction.
In terms of personnel exiting the Defence Forces to date, we have a total exit figure of 481 in 2023, comprising 53 officers and 428 from the enlisted ranks. Many aspects of military service have the potential to influence retention rates, including career opportunities, remuneration, intensity of training and operational missions, work-life balance considerations, and infrastructure and equipment developments. The ongoing transformation programme goes to the heart of these influencing factors as we seek to improve an individual’s work-life balance, career development and cultural and working experience. We are investing considerably in new infrastructure. We have drawn down some of our overseas deployments and are developing remote working practices and blended learning programmes to reduce the travelling burden. We have also submitted proposals to the Department and Minister on extending mandatory retirement ages. These types of initiatives form the cornerstone of our retention strategy and will define the total package for those who continue to serve.
I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to make these opening remarks and I look forward to taking any questions the committee may have that are within my scope and area of responsibility. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
That is fine. I was going to suggest that the Deputies co-operate, with Deputy Carthy asking a question on behalf of Deputy Cronin if necessary. I will invite Deputy Carthy to speak first and we will see how we are then in terms of Deputy Cronin's time. I am also conscious that I have already indicated to Deputy Stanton that I would give him priority on foot of the issue he raised earlier. I also have other members offering but we will start with Deputy Carthy.
As we are now in public session, I will take this opportunity to wish you well, Chairman, following your announcement over the weekend. I always find that my goodwill towards Fine Gael Deputies increases once they announce their retirement. I mean it in all sincerity when I say that I hope you have a long and happy retirement, whenever the election does come.
I thank our guests, Ms McCrum and her team and the Chief of Staff and his team, for being here today. I commend the Defence Forces on the ongoing operation in which they are engaged. I understand the Ranger wing is involved in a very serious and dangerous operation off the coast as we speak. I send my best wishes to all involved.
In the context of today's opening statements, I have been reading back over quite a number of the debates that took place in advance of, and subsequent to, the publication of the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. The language has not changed and, unfortunately, nor has the trend. We are still in a situation where more people are leaving the Defence Forces than joining in any given year. According to the Chief of Staff's figures, there have been 244 general service recruits so far this year but the exit figure stands at 481. Already there have been more exits than the projected maximum level of recruits for this year.
To me that indicates that we have not yet addressed the fundamentals of the problem. As I say, much of the language used here has been articulated to this committee in various guises over a long number of years.
I will ask the following question in order that we have something to benchmark into the future. When will we see the trend reverse in the information and strategy that have been outlined today in terms of the strategic framework? In what year will we see more recruits than exits? In what year is it envisaged that we will see the establishment figures for each of the services reached? In what year will we see the level of ambition, LOA, 2 figures being reached, as outlined by the commission?
I refer to the working time directive. I received a reply to a parliamentary question five months ago that is almost identical to the language Ms McCrum used earlier regarding the commitment to address the directive. Given that we know it will require legislative change, when will the legislation come before the Houses? That would give us a good indication of when we will see the working time directive implemented. Is there a cost associated with the implementation of the working time directive and, if so, will that cost be included in budget 2024? If not, that too will have to viewed as an indication that it will not be implemented next year, which I fear will be another year in which the trend I have spoken about continues.
As regards the recruitment process, the figures the Chief of Staff highlighted are stark. Is there a belief, a view or an acceptance that the recruitment process is broken? It strikes me that there should not be any sector where there are 4,694 expressions of interest in a particular post and a recruitment level of only 244 people, which is what we have so far this year. That indicates that there is a problem somewhere and that it is a fundamental one that needs to be addressed. Most people would be surprised, if they were not aware of these issues, at the process involved in this.
When we hear the figures, we can see where there are particular declines. There is an issue with the recruitment of women in particular and it is clearly not the willingness of women to express an interest in joining the Defence Forces. Some 13% of those who expressed an interest are women, yet only 7% of Defence Forces members are women. There is, therefore, a problem between the two ends. Looking through the numbers that have been given, when it came to the first stage and the psychometric tests 10% were women, so that is a drop. Following on from the pass rate of the psychometric test, again 10% are women. When it comes to being invited to the fitness test and interview, again 10% are women. All of a sudden, however, we see where the decline starts to emerge because of those who do not show up for the fitness test, some 14% are female, and of those who fail the test, 20%, which is a relatively low proportion, are women. I wonder whether there is recognition in the recruitment process of the different strengths of the genders and whether that is being missed in terms of the added value. I also wonder if there is a focus on the wrong areas in terms of the attributes that could be brought to bear.
On the capital investment the Defence Forces need, I ask again that we deal with LOA 2 produced by the Commission on the Defence Forces. It set out an expenditure need of €2.45 billion in 2020 money over ten years, which would amount to an additional spend of €245 million each year. LOA 2 was published last year and we hope to have it implemented in ten years’ time. What percentage of the additional expenditure required has been provided? What expenditure level are we expected to reach by the end of 2024?
A major bugbear of mine is the current position of the Reserve Defence Forces, which are moving towards reaching critical levels. Do the witnesses agree that we are on the verge of being as well-off saying we do not have Reserve Defence Forces because of the numbers? The Chief of Staff mentioned that 20 people were recruited this year. That is worse than pathetic, to be frank. What are we going to do about that? The Secretary General mentioned that 95% of the 38 early actions in the implementation plan are complete. The intention was to establish an office of Reserve affairs within six months. Is that considered by the Department and the Defence Forces to be one of the actions that has been met, given that this committee has heard that while the office has been established, it has not been adequately resourced to fulfil the role the commission envisaged for it? I am a big believer that if we want to address the recruitment and retention issues within the Defence Forces, we have to get the Reserve right first. That is the best body from which to potentially recruit in the future. We must encourage young people to engage in the Reserve in the same way as we saw engagement at one point in every town and village in the State. We would have seen the Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, FCA, van pulling up and people from all walks of life would participate in the FCA, as it was once known. That is virtually gone and it is more of a surprise to witness members of the Reserve on our streets and in local communities. Therein lies a big part of the problem we face. I would appreciate comments on those issues.
We will have a number of members ask questions before we go to the Chief of Staff and Secretary General for a response. Deputy Stanton raised issues earlier that we will come to now. He will be followed by Senators Joe O'Reilly and Ardagh and Deputy Cronin.
I welcome our guests and thank them for the work they are doing. The report was published at lunchtime and members received an advance copy, which I glanced through. There are a lot of good aspirations and intentions in the strategic framework. One thing that jumped out at me was that the detailed implementation plan from the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces will be published next month, in October 2023. We look forward to that as it will detail what we need to do. It is fine having high-level aspirations but I am interested in drilling down into the detail of exactly what will happen on the ground.
I note RTÉ is reporting that an operation is under way in the Atlantic, off Cork, as we speak, with a container ship being boarded as part of a drug smuggling investigation. We have personnel out there in dangerous situations and I thank them for the work they do. They are putting their lives on the line in boarding ships like that in an armed situation, which cannot be easy. I want to remember what they are doing and thank them for it.
I will ask the Chief of Staff a specific question that I brought up the last time he was here, as it a concern to me. As Deputy Carthy alluded to, we have projected inductions of 425 this year, with 481 members having already left the Defence Forces. We are all concerned about that. To come back to the number the Chief of Staff provided, in mid-August, which I assume is August 2023, there were 4,694 expressions of interest in joining the Defence Forces. Some 43% of those did not continue with the engagement. At almost half the number, that is quite a lot. Of the remaining 2,035 who presented to do the psychometric test, 59% passed and the rest failed, which is a large number. I question the use of psychometric tests. I noticed the Defence Forces have stopped using them in the Naval Service. What has been the impact of that? Has it improved matters in the Naval Service in any way? I know there is a review ongoing and we will get another report on that later.
I have looked at the psychometric tests. They are quite difficult. Even though people are advised to practise them, and I know people have paid outside agencies to coach them, we still have huge numbers failing. These are people who are interested in going forward, I would expect. Are we actually turning people away unnecessarily at a very early stage? That is one question.
The other issue further down is that we end up with 374 eventually being called through and going to medical examination and the interview, of the 4,696 who started off. That is a huge drop-off in numbers. Have the officials looked at that to see if we can do anything to encourage the people who initially expressed an interest to join to stay engaged? Are we putting hurdles and barriers in their way and turning them away unnecessarily?
I also want to ask about the general recruitment strategy, which Deputy Carthy alluded to. What is the engagement at the moment with schools and colleges for personnel going in directly and recruiting there? When somebody appears in uniform it has an impact. When they tell of the lifestyle, it has an impact. Is that ongoing at the moment in schools and colleges across the country?
On the Naval Service seagoing allowance, how many people availed of it last year and the year before? The Secretary General might be able to answer this. Has any consideration been given to a retention payment for personnel? When someone reaches the stage where their time is up, they get a retention payment of so much per year to stay on, on top of their wages. I understand other jurisdictions are doing that. Has any consideration been given to it here in Ireland, or is it in place in some shape or form I am not aware of?
Finally, could the Secretary General tell me about the connection at the moment with the Women of Honour and the cultural change they have asked for? Will they be included in the tribunal that is being established?
I concur with Deputy Carthy, not in the latter part of his remarks but where he wished the Secretary General well. I wish him great success. Hopefully we will be two more years or near it together yet, working here, and there will be no election for a long time. To move into the issues, I would like to focus on the Reserve Defence Force. Deputy Carthy dealt with some of it at the latter end of his contribution but I have a number of issues here. The commission recommended the establishment of an office of Reserve affairs. Could the Secretary General elaborate on how that office is developing and when it will be fully functional? There was a recommendation in the commission report for a regeneration plan for the Reserve Defence Forces. Could I get an update on that? It is so sadly and badly needed. There is a recommendation in the commission report that 200 air defence personnel be from the Reserve. Could the Secretary General comment on that, and on the Naval Service Reserve of 200? Significant numbers of those in the Reserve Defence Force are reaching the age of 50 and are being forced to resign. What is the Department going to do if there are not enough people coming in and others are being forced to resign at 50? What would the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff suggest could be done there?
Recruits waiting for medicals in the Reserve remains a huge issue. Can the Secretary General tell me why it would not be considered to use places like the Beacon or any other private institution to get the waiting lists for the medicals out of the way? Can a retired permanent force person rejoin the Reserve Defence Force and if not, why not? It would seem a logical thing for somebody who would have great experience which they could bring to the Reserve and ideally hold the office they had.
In the Permanent Defence Force, there is recognition by the recognition bodies for third-level qualifications, such as Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC, of qualifications achieved in the Permanent Defence Force. I understand this is not the case in the Reserve Defence Force. That is a significant error if it is the case. Like all my colleagues, because of the nature of my work I read all my local press and listen to local radio. Because of my former hats and so on I am in and out of schools and meet a lot of teachers. I see no visible evidence of recruitment to the Reserve Defence Force. This was raised in respect of the Permanent Defence Force earlier; to be truthful, there is not enough visible evidence of recruitment there either. I do not see it. It is not long since my children left secondary school and I never remember them saying that they had an officer in uniform in, as Deputy Stanton mentioned. I have not seen anything in my local newspaper. Senator Wilson has a very acute brain and he lives in that area. I do not know if he has seen stuff I missed. I have not seen an advertising campaign in our local media for the Reserve Defence Force or the permanent one.
There is also a delay in swearing in the Reserve Defence Force personnel. I would like our guests to comment on that. I will leave it at that because others raised the issue earlier and there is no point in repetition. By way of a general remark, there is nobody in this room who would not welcome our guests' commitment to cultural change and to ensuring that women will be welcome and able to exist happily, be fulfilled and have a proper uninhibited career within the Defence Forces. It is sad that we are on 7.26% and the UK is on 11.5% in terms of females within the forces. To go back to the Reserve Defence Force, it appears to me that it has been made and remains a Cinderella and there is no serious intent there. If that is the case it is a tragedy in terms of potential recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force and also in terms of personal development of so many young people right across the country. It was a wonderful way to develop civic-mindedness, leadership capacity, patriotism and so on. The benefits are very obvious and sadly it has been left on the back foot.
I thank the Senator. We have a lot of questions there from Deputies Carthy and Stanton and Senator Joe O'Reilly. I will hand back to our guests to deal with them in an apportionment that they feel appropriate, after which I will call on Senator Ardagh and Deputy Cronin.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
I thank the members for all their questions. There are some very far-reaching ones there. I am conscious that some of them came up in my previous engagement also. A number of members commented on the ongoing operation. Just to reiterate that this was a joint operation in terms of the Defence Forces and the assets we employed on it - it is ongoing - but also joint in terms of the cross-government agencies and multi-agency approach that was being developed over a number of weeks, the culmination of which we have seen today. Deputy Stanton's comments in particular are quite right and relevant. Sometimes we lose sight of the raison d'êtreof the Defence Forces in the complexity of everything we do. I thank him for his comments. They are noted and appreciated.
With regard to recruitment and across a couple of different themes from the first questions to the latter questions from the Senator, we have a very proactive recruitment strategy and engagement. As I mentioned in my opening comments, we have a head of strategic HR who has just been appointed. He is in the office three weeks.
I am very hopeful and confident about what he brings to the table.
With regard to our overall recruitment, we have the joint induction training centre. This is a centre of excellence through which we sustain at the very initial stages the recruits who come to us and introduce them to the organisation. This gives us a capacity that we hope to increase over a three-year period to 900 recruits per year. It went to initial operation capability only in April. It is an initiative that I posited and developed as one of my priorities to bring governance and excellence to those who join us and whom we train. They expect it and we expect it of them. This is the way forward. Growing the capacity for recruitment at this point in time is important for us.
I do not accept that the recruitment process is broken. We are constantly evolving and changing our recruitment process. We are aware of the barriers to recruitment in our organisation and we have been examining them. To answer one of the questions with regard to female-specific recruitment, we have taken a very broad approach to the fitness level, and this has been mentioned. We have looked at our standards and what we expect people to pass on entry. We have changed from a pass or fail system to a red, amber and green system. We have re-examined the female specific milestones that have to be achieved. In this new approach that we have taken and adapted “green” means those people who meet the standard, “amber” means those people who get within a certain limit of the standard and we have confidence that we can get them to the standard when they join us, and “red” means those people we feel will not meet the standard and we will not be able to get them to the standard in the training environment in the timeframe applied.
With the psychometric testing we have taken a very positive approach to allowing IT infrastructure to enable psychometric testing to happen when people come into barracks. We have people to help them, supervise them, encourage them and enable them to do it, in so far as is practicable. Deputy Stanton said that psychometric testing is sometimes the first engagement with the Defence Forces but it is not. There is a direct contact reply within 48 hours to every expression of interest we receive. Despite this, we still have the figures that have been mentioned. Whether or not people intend to continue with the process we engage within 48 hours. This is the general level of ambition I have set in HR. This is a new initiative that has been put in place to ensure we are very proactive in trying to get to the level that has been set.
As a matter of interest, the general expected yield of inductees, not only in the Defence Forces in Ireland but in European militaries and wider afield, is in the order of 10% to 12% of applicants from initial expression of interest. The total number of inductees includes cadets and direct entry. The general service recruitment numbers that Deputy Carthy mentioned are only the general service recruitment numbers. The total number is between 400 and 425. During my previous engagement here I mentioned that the most important thing right now is to close the gap between those whom we are not retaining and those we are recruiting into the organisation. We are on the road to this. The Naval Service numbers indicate this very positively for 2023 alone.
With regard to female recruitment, the average throughout European militaries is 7%. There are numbers below this and, as has been mentioned, the figure is as high as 11.5% in the UK and higher in other militaries. We are at 7.1% or 7.2%. My understanding is that this is the average throughout Europe. The ambition and target I have set this year is for 9% female intake. As Deputy Carthy rightly pointed out, the numbers indicate that it is not increasing significantly more widely in the organisation. Increasing the recruitment numbers will not have the same impact on the totality of the numbers in the organisation because they will increase at a slower rate. This is the point at which we can increase the numbers. The level of ambition set by the Commission on the Defence Forces was 35%. I said in my previous engagement here that this was a very ambitious number but we have to start the process. This is how we plan to do so. I am very confident that we will reach the target in 2023, which is the first full year of the initiative.
We had a female-specific recruitment initiative. We have put in place a recruitment team that is getting up off the ground. It comprises a captain, an NCO and a private. As part of the female-specific strategy it is targeting regional-level events and engagement. These are some of the initiatives we have put in place to try to meet our overall aim of giving people the career opportunity to be more in the Defence Forces and to communicate this, as has been rightly pointed out, in the wider community in the organisation as a whole.
These are some of the areas in the recruitment process where we have ongoing work. On foot of this and the initiative of the Secretary General, and in consultation with her, an outside group will come in to validate our recruitment processes as they stand to help us understand whether there are other areas that we can improve. We are open to this engagement. We are open to seeing where we can constantly improve and constantly change what we are doing. This will take place very shortly and will be done in short order.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
I want to go back to Deputy Carthy's question on the working time directive. I share his frustration. We answer parliamentary questions on this all of the time and I acknowledge that it is the same answer all the time. I assure Deputy Carthy that there is constructive dialogue. The removal of this blanket exemption is a very complex matter. While many militaries throughout Europe have signed up to this, and I believe seven have done so including Sweden, Belgium, Greece, Austria, Romania, Italy and Hungary, they have their derogations and they have their exemptions. Not all of them have transposed the directive. We are not too far behind. We need to come to a combined policy decision on this. I hope we are not too far off this. The Tánaiste is certainly pushing us to finalise these conclusions and it will flow from there. On the legislation front there is no timetable for it but we have upped the number of people working in the legislative process so that we can bring this and other parts of the legislation through in a very timely manner in the new year.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
I will go on to the question on level of ambition 2. The original plan was to have a level of ambition 2 with an increase in the defence budget from €1.1 billion to €1.5 billion in 2022 prices by 2028. We are progressing on this. We have multiannual funding of €566 million, which is being allocated to us under the national development plan. This is out to 2025 and we will negotiate it again. In last year's budget we received an increase of €93 million in 2023. This was a doubling of the annual year on year percentage increase to 8.4%.
Tomorrow I will sit down with the Tánaiste and the Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform and I do not want to pre-empt what we may or may not get. The Government agreed that we would get to the figure I mentioned in 2028. We had agreed that we would not divide it on a year-on-year basis. We will go in aggressively tomorrow to look for what we require in our budget for next year.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
Deputy Stanton had two questions.
One was on recruitment and the second was on the psychometric testing and the specific impact on the Naval Service. I put in place a six-month trial for that and we have to wait until the end to get the data and the analytics. There appears to be an impact but I am not at liberty or I could not say at this point in time, to be quite frank, though we are very conscious of it and I want to see what the impact is thereafter. I am also conscious of the fact that when we have removed psychometric testing before it has caused a cause-and-effect issue, perhaps, in other areas. It was very identifiable in terms of our recruiting and being able to recruit certain individuals, so it is not as simplex as just removing the psychometric test. I am conscious we have to put enablers in place and it is on one of several areas a recruit and anybody coming into the organisation has to step through in order to join and I wanted to go back to that.
If I can answer on the office of Reserve affairs, which came up especially with Senator O'Reilly, who asked some directed questions, but also with Deputy Carthy. We have an office of Reserve affairs fully up and running. It is manned initially by an OF5 - a colonel in charge of it - and we have started to grow the office from there. We currently have an OF4 assigned to it as well, which is a lieutenant colonel, and we have an NCO and also a Reserve officer of OF4 rank in the office itself. From my perspective the office is therefore developing and evolving on an appropriate timeline and in an appropriate way. One of the key tasks given to that office is to create a regeneration plan for the Reserve. That regeneration plan has got many facets to it, one of which is the retirement age, which the Senator mentioned. There has already been a food-for-thought paper positioned with general staff for consideration in that area because it is one of the key elements. The very early retirement age is now 50 years of age for corporals and below in the reserve, as members will be aware. That came into place in October 2005, if I recall. Those who joined before 2005 can serve up to 60 years of age and for those who joined after 2005 it is 50 years of age. That is something that is part of the food-for-thought paper we are looking at.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
Yes, because these are people of competence and experience. The single force concept that was deliberately introduced well over a decade or more ago at this stage still exists in the organisation and therefore the Reserve being integrated into the permanent force in the manner in which it has been is an important factor. Some of the barriers to overseas service, for instance, have been removed, but more have to be done. There are three particular regulations in this area that are complex and need to be addressed and that is part of the regeneration plan. It is not just a question of changing one thing and another thing. I want a holistic regeneration plan in place that identifies all the enablers for the Reserve. I am very conscious of the low level of recruitment we have had to date but as I mentioned we are reopening our Reserve, in particular for the Naval Service, in October and I hope to see an increased level.
On the number of 200 in the Naval Service Reserve that I think the Senator mentioned, it a recommendation of the Commission on the Defence Forces that that would increase, and it will increase. It was not in the high-level implementation plan, HLIP, itself, but we have to generate the numbers first and get to that. I do not see that as a barrier and am sure the Secretary General shares those thoughts.
On visible recruitment, the Senator mentioned this in the Permanent Defence Force and in the context of the Reserve as well. We have a very specific recruitment strategy when it comes to advertising and promotion and we follow that strategy. We have to get value for money. We have finite resources. The Senator may have seen the Be More campaign, which was a very specific new campaign that follows our strategy of recruitment. That covers both the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve in time. A Naval Service-specific section of that recruitment strategy was rolled out in the last three months. We have seen an increase as a direct effect from that advertisement campaign. We are repeating that through acquired investment and more investment again on the Naval Service because that is an area of concentration over the next three months in order to build the application numbers to bring us through to 2024. As a result of that particular communications strategy we are planning an additional Naval Service recruit class in October. It would be indicative that is as a consequence of that Naval Service drive. I take the point about the local advertising, but as I said we have finite resources and we generally focus most of them on the national sphere.
We reach out to schools and to main events such as the National Ploughing Championships. I am sure some members were there and would have seen the large 40 ft recruitment truck we have and the personnel we deploy to man that and advertise. We get a wide demographic attending events such as the championships and other major events and also local events, such as festivals. If any members feel there is an event of reasonable size and reasonable effort it would be worth our while to attend, we would be more than happy to do so. We send people out to schools but it is on an opportune basis and generally through association with members who know a school. Having to visit every school in the country would demand considerable resources on top of what we are already trying to do in this space to communicate the possibilities of service in the Defence Forces.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
I was going to go back to Deputy Stanton. We have answered on the psychometric tests. I think the other question the Deputy asked was about the seagoing allowance, the patrol duty allowance. That is payable to personnel serving aboard a Naval Service ship on patrol duty away from the naval base. This is currently in place. In addition to that we have a specific Naval Service seagoing tax credit and a Naval Service seagoing commitment scheme. Both of those were introduced in the last number of years. The Commission on the Defence Forces recommended they should be replaced with less complex seagoing duty measures and that we should just roll them all up into one. That is an issue currently under active discussion with our colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform. I am hopeful we will come to a conclusion in the coming weeks. It is something that has been on the Tánaiste's high-priority agenda and something we are addressing.
I think Deputy Stanton asked the number of personnel on the seagoing commitment scheme and I gather 32 applications to that were approved in January 2022. The other matter was the retention payment. He mentioned other militaries abroad had introduced bonuses. I was in Washington in the US in July this year and we discussed finances and what was working, because there has certainly been very strong visibility of the bonus payments being paid there. The US view was the world has changed and the finances were not necessarily attracting people in. I am sure they attract some in and have some impact, but the view the Americans gave - and we are working closely with them to get some research on it - on the nature of this cultural change that has happened, especially perhaps with the new generation but also post Covid, was that the world of work has changed and militaries need to take account of that. In a lot of cases militaries are struggling to find people outside those conscription areas. As members know, all our work has been reimagined and maybe that is something we need to do with the Defence Forces. We are certainly not the only ones struggling. The Americans are not meeting their naval targets either.
I think Senator O'Reilly asked about waiting lists for medicals for the Reserves.
Without going back, a Chathaoirligh, what of the delays in swearing in and the matter of whether a retired person can come back from the Permanent Defence Force to the Reserve? I thank the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General for their answers.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
I will get the Chief of Staff to answer that one in a minute. The only other question I had was around the Women of Honour and the cultural change.
In respect of what is happening with the statutory inquiry, the Government decided during the summer that it would hold one and that is progressing on a number of fronts. The terms of reference are still outstanding and have not yet been decided, but we are taking further observations on them and the Tánaiste is keen to bring them to a conclusion as soon as possible and to get the inquiry established before Christmas. We are progressing other hygiene matters in that regard behind the scenes and discussing the matter with the Attorney General as well.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
The Senator asked about the Reserve and whether people leaving the Defence Forces can serve in it. The second line Reserve is open to everyone and anybody who has served can go into it but it is not the same as joining the first-line Reserve. The first line Reserve is open to officers and existed through 1988 and beyond but has been in abeyance for some time. We are looking at two potential courses of action on this specific issue. One is in the form of a future Reserve Defence Force with the traditional Reserve serving alongside members of the Permanent Defence Forces who have left, which would bring the two together, while the second is to retain the distinction between the first-line Reserve and the second line Reserve, with the former comprising those who have served in the Permanent Defence Forces previously while being opened to enlisted members and officers, with re-engagement in that regard. These issues are being engaged on through our office of Reserve affairs and, by extension, the regeneration plan we have for that.
I thank the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General for their attendance. I commend them on all the efforts of Óglaigh na hÉireann in the context of the crackdown on drug smuggling into the country. As other members said, a lot of important, dangerous work is going on and I thank the Chief of Staff and the members of the Defence Forces for that. It plays a vital role in the fight against gangland crime in Ireland.
Recruitment is probably the main element currently affecting both the Army and the Reserve. We have had a lot of engagement with the Reserve and I hope that will not cause upset between the two because that is not our intention as a committee. We are very proud of Óglaigh na hÉireann and we are also very proud of the Reserve. Some of our committee’s members, such as Senator Craughwell, served in the Reserve. Our intention is to support both the Reserve and the Army, so I hope we are not stoking any fires or upsetting any balance. Recruitment for reserves will open in October, which is very exciting, and as a member of the committee, I look forward to being able to share that with the public. It is also great to hear that funding will be allocated to ensure the bottlenecks in medical examinations will be able to be ironed out because we have previously heard evidence at the committee that there were a large number of applicants to the Reserve but that, unfortunately, in getting through the medicals and the other processes, the attrition rate was high. It is great to hear that that will, we hope, be improved.
As for recruitment to the Army and the level of female participation, we were all disappointed during the summer to read the report. It is great that there are a high number of women at the top tier of management and the Defence Forces is leading by example in that regard. I hope that will trickle down. It is good to see that female participation but, ultimately, more has to be done. As other committee members said, we do not really see many adverts on TV or social media promoting the Army as a career to young women, but I would like to see more of that. I would like to see what type of spend is involved in marketing, if the witnesses have those figures, because it is important to have a strong and modern marketing campaign targeted at strong, young, healthy women, of whom we have a lot.
It was good also to hear about the work-life balance and how the Defence Forces are going to re-examine the culture of the Army and the ability to work from home. Mr. Clancy mentioned the women's network but, in line with what others said, can he give any information as to whether there will be consultation with the Women of Honour group? They have direct experience of working in the armed forces, so it would be interesting to hear Mr. Clancy’s comments on that.
The witnesses will have heard about the increase in crime in Dublin city, at night in particular, in recent months. There have been a lot of violent outbursts and we have heard anecdotal evidence of people feeling unsafe. What are the witnesses' thoughts on the idea of the Army walking the streets of Dublin to help the Garda Síochána at night? Obviously, resources in the Garda are scarce, and while I accept those of the Defence Forces are too, it seems greater visibility is needed for security on the streets of Dublin at the moment and in the other cities. Crime seems to be sharply on the increase and that is of concern to citizens.
My first questions are for Lieutenant General Clancy. I welcome his support for the issue of the seagoing allowance for the Naval Service, which is important. On the issue of the working time directive, it appears to many of us that the talks have stalled. Will he comment on that and advise as to whether the Defence Forces are now recording the hours worked by their members in order that we can put a healthier face on it? Historically, the Reserve had a footprint throughout the highways and byways of Ireland, as has been said. It was effectively disbanded as a result of the 2013 reorganisation. The saving involved was €40 million, which was tiny in light of the contribution the reserves made to their local communities and of the impact the Reserve had on recruiting for both the cadet corps and enlisted personnel. I look now at the Reserve Defence Force and wonder where, if I lived in a place such as Belmullet, I would go to join or how I could become a member of the Defence Forces. If I lived in Headford, County Galway, I would probably that bit too far away.
On the issue of pay, we constantly hear the figure of €38,000 for a person coming out of recruit training or €42,000 for a cadet who entered immediately after leaving school, and it sounds pretty good on the face of it, but there is no other occupation in the country where someone is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I recall during my own service attending to a fire in a forest in Oughterard, when I left home on a Sunday and did not come back for three weeks. These things happen and the Defence Forces are constantly available in the event of a national disaster, a snowstorm or whatever. They will always turn out and be there. The €38,000, therefore, does not sound so good when we boil it down to the level and breadth of duties that people have to carry out.
Turning to the Secretary General, the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform recently carried out an organisational capability review and recommended the remediation of those practices relating to the governance of the Defence Forces that are unduly and unhelpfully focused on day-to-day activities. The Department wanted the establishment of an appropriate mechanism of governance, responsibility and accountability. What progress has the Department of Defence made in the implementation of that recommendation?
The organisational capability review also pointed out problems for principal officers in the Department such as the lack of autonomy. What has the Department done to resolve that problem? We constantly hear about cultural issues in the Defence Forces. Would Ms McCrum accept that there are cultural issues in the Department that need to be sorted out? Has she taken steps to sort them out?
Ms McCrum was a great supporter of Women of Honour and gave a lot of time to those women when they first came into the public domain. They asked her to recuse herself from being a member of the external oversight body. I have written to Ms McCrum and the Minister pointing out that there is a certain amount of difficulty with Ms McCrum being on the external oversight body. I would be interested in hearing her comments on that.
What efforts have been made to empower and increase the autonomy of the Chief of Staff in the transformation of the Defence Forces? I note that the Department has appointed a head of strategic HR. We had a head of strategic HR before and I saw nothing come from HR that improved the Defence Forces or any initiatives or policies coming forward during that period. Has the new head of strategic HR been briefed and told precisely what the Department needs?
Is the external oversight body in danger of being seen to be hijacked as a vehicle to increase the Department's already inappropriate control of the day-to-day business of the Defence Forces as seen by some outside? I am not saying the Department has that. I am saying these issues are brought to me and those who bring those issues to me deserve an answer. If they feel that way, they need it. I will leave it at that. Those questions are significant enough.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
Senator Ardagh spoke about the Reserve. The Chief of Staff may wish to come in on that as well. Regarding the medical examinations, we acknowledged there was a problem and are in the process of addressing it. I hope we will see progress on that this year. The Senator asked a lot of questions about the Reserve. Were we a bit upset about that? We certainly are not. It is a very important part of the organisation and deserves our full attention. The Senator asked a question about recruitment but that may have been answered. Is there anything further we need to say on that?
I just asked what type of investment was going into recruitment and whether the Department was using online social media-type investment. I have never seen an ad asking me or my peers to enter the armed forces. What space is the Department working in regarding recruitment?
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
We have introduced a rolling recruitment induction methodology. Our recruitment campaign is based on all of the above factors mentioned by the Senator. During the recent All-Ireland finals, the rugby and all of the All-Ireland series across all codes, we ran a targeted television campaign on the new "Be More" campaign we devised as our communications recruitment strategy. We are on Facebook and Instagram and gain a considerable number of hits, which we measure tangibly. I am sorry the Senator has not seen it but I can assure her that the views and hits we have are quite substantial. We have received recognition for our social media in the social media awards year on year and this year, in particular, for the "Be More" campaign. We got special recognition and received best in class across the public sector so I am delighted and am very positively disposed to the fact that we are engaged fully in that area. Those campaigns are ongoing and we are investing quite heavily and deliberately in each of those.
The medical issue can cross many questions. We have put in place a specific medical to alleviate the medical issues but there have been problems in that in terms of supply. Like every other area, private medical support is very difficult to get in terms of what we need done. There are difficulties in that area but we are addressing them.
Having members of the Defence Forces on the streets is very much a policy issue. Let us be very frank and clear. An Garda Síochána has the responsibility for security and policing in Ireland. Senator Ardagh asked if I would be in favour of it. I certainly would not at this point in time. We live in a democratic state and the essence of democracy is policing and observing the rule of law. That lies within the remit of An Garda Síochána primarily and the Department of Justice and we are there to support them in aid to the civil power when required and we do that but to start patrolling the streets would be a very retrograde step.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
I will return to the issue of gender balance. What Senator Ardagh referred to was probably within my own management board. I wish to put on record because it is quite an important change that I am the first female Secretary General of the Department of Defence in the history of the State. I am very proud and privileged to have this position. There has been a change within the management board over the three years I have been in situ. I only realised it yesterday when I looked at it that there is a 50:50 split on my management board between male and female. When I put myself into the mix, it is 57% but that is probably quite unique even within Departments and the Civil Service. It is just the way it happened. It just transpired that way.
Along with the Chief of Staff, we established the Defence Women's Network in 2022. It is a thriving network that is supported by a committee that is civil and military. It meets very regularly to carry out events across the country and generate that sense of camaraderie within the lower numbers that are there. We need to rebuild confidence for females in the organisation. Many initiatives are under way and only time will tell if they will have an impact. We will work extremely hard to make sure they do. We will benchmark to make sure they do happen. Some of the small things in terms of just accepting females within the organisation that have come through from the Defence Women's Network may seem very small but they do say women are welcome. We have introduced sports clothing for females such as an allowance for sports bras. Female hygiene products are now available free of charge across barracks, the Department and ships. Maternity healthcare is another significant initiative that has been introduced. Private medical care for maternity will be an attraction and, hopefully, a retention piece. They are small pieces that build into the narrative of what we want to do.
There is a civilian cohort in the Department composed of 430 people who mainly work in the Defence Forces.
In fact, I only prepared this statistic in preparation for this committee meeting. In the Department, 33% of our staff are male and 67% are female. In the civilians, the respective figures are 81% and 19%. When the two are combined, 58% of all civilian personnel working within the defence sector are male and 42% are female, so it is almost 50:50 on that civilian side, which is an interesting factor.
With regard to the Women of Honour, in another part, we engage with all of the stakeholders involved with that particular issue. We continue to do so and we will learn from those issues as they come through. We have learned from them. We have put actions in place and we will continue to learn from them.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
At the top of Senator Craughwell's questions, he asked about the working time directive and whether progress had stalled. The focus of all of these discussions from a military management point of view is first and foremost on the protection of the statutory rights of all of our personnel, which is very important, while at the same time being very conscious of operational capabilities and the impacts any changes would have. As the Secretary General mentioned earlier, we are satisfied that nearly 80% of our day-to-day routine operations meet the requirements of the working time directive. We are looking at derogations in respect of those that are outside of it. It is in that context that the talks are taking place, with these involving a three-strand approach to ensure that proper protections are put in place to ensure those statutory rights are upheld and, if they are not, that alternatives are put in place to maintain balance. We are very conscious of that. I will categorically say that they have not stalled. All of these issues involve complex discussions. This is a complex matter. As I said, we very much welcome the introduction of the working time directive. It is on that basis and on those principles that negotiations proceed and that we have formulated our position in this regard.
We do have a time recording system in the Defence Forces. People sometimes ask how we calculate hours. We have a personnel management system that records where everybody is at any given time of day. I have a highly accurate picture of the entirety of the force at any particular time through that system. As the Senator will be aware, the working time directive demands that hours are recorded in a very precise manner. We have already undertaken a pilot programme in that regard within the Defence Forces. Part of the introduction of the working time directive, which we will achieve in the fullness of time, will involve ensuring we meet the requirements of the directive. We have enhanced our personnel management system to grow that. A significant investment in software will be required to ensure we can achieve that. The processes as regards how we will go about operationalising that have to be worked through. That will take a considerable amount of time, as the Senator can appreciate. I am confident that we will do that. Does the Secretary General want to say anything else on that?
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
We have answered a lot of questions on the Reserve, if the Senator will forgive me saying so, but on his specific points, I am conscious that the value for money review in 2013 to which he referred to, coupled with the single force concept, had a significant impact on the Reserve. The Senator referred to Belmullet. There was a time when we had in the order of 43 barracks, although I am open to correction on that. The Defence Forces is now situated in 13 effective centres. Our physical footprint has an impact on our ability to draw people into training in those centres. Somebody from Belmullet may not be inclined to go to Galway for training and so on. We are very conscious of all of those factors that have an impact. Of course, I would like to go back to the historical situation but we are not in that position. We have to deal with what we have today. That is why the office of Reserve affairs was a recommendation of the Commission on the Defence Forces. It is why it purposefully stood that up in one of the initial high-level action plans and why I am committed to ensuring we put the right footprint and the right enablers in place to start the regeneration process. I know that is frustrating for some of our current serving Reserve members. I am very conscious of that but I am also very conscious that the Reserve Defence Forces play an active part in Óglaigh na hÉireann. Óglaigh na hÉireann stands for the Permanent Defence Forces and the Reserve Defence Forces and long may that continue.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
I will go back to a question Senator Craughwell asked about pay. As we have quoted, the pay for a recruit is €38,000. For a school-leaver it is €42,000 and for a graduate it is €47,000. Included in that is military service allowance, which is a pensionable payment made for the exigencies of the nature of the work the Defence Forces are required to do, which the Senator has quite rightly stated. In the UK, this is termed an X factor payment, which is paid at 14.5% across the board to the people it applies to. In Ireland, we pay it starting at 27% and going down to 20% and then to a slightly lower rate. There is no doubting the commitment of the people within the Defence Forces and the work they do but there is a benefits package that encompasses more than just the pay. If personnel are deployed abroad, there is a €15,000 tax payment available. There is an additional three days on top of what is given to any other public sector worker. There is now private medical healthcare, which is quite significant. There is also the education and training afforded to personnel. At a certain level, you see very few people without a degree. That is happily given and encouraged. There is an all-encompassing benefits package available. Coupled with that we have gyms and facilities. These are a natural part of the job. People have to keep fit. We have put in state-of-the-art gyms in Kilkenny and Limerick and we are looking to put in another three, certainly to include one in Haulbowline. I believe the others are to be in Casement Aerodrome and Renmore. We will continue to build on that. Those extra parts of the package are sometimes lost in the discussion, which can purely be about pay. That is another point I would like to make.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
In addition to everything the Secretary General has said, there is a recommendation for a pay review mechanism at some point. That is recognised as well. This would deal with specific issues pertinent to the unique nature of the Defence Forces. That has yet to materialise but it is part of the entire package in terms of developing the actions and recommendations. That is very much a discussion point.
Do the witnesses see benefit in a system similar to that the British have in which one-size-fits-all national pay rounds take place but then the defence people have a look at specific qualifications or skill sets and may recommend an additional premium for those who hold those skill sets, allowing them to move outside the national pay round? If the pay round is 5%, another 1% might be given to artificers, for example. I appreciate that the Secretary General has to deal with the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform. My own view is that Department has far too long a reach over all other Departments. It makes it very difficult for the Secretary General because she has to get sanction for anything she wants to do. As has been learned in militaries right across the world, there has to be a way to pay people for the skill sets they have over and above the ordinary soldier. For example, a private soldier in an infantry battalion is not the same as a private soldier who is working in cybersecurity. That is my view. I do not know if the Secretary General wants to comment on that. I will leave it to her.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
With all of these things, the world of work is changing. When I started in banking many years ago, we were all paid the same. We then went into these streams. It then went back again. It is chopped and changed depending on circumstances. We keep account of what is happening in forces internationally. In fairness to my colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, they have a difficult job to do. They have to ensure the necessary checks and balances are in place. However, we work collectively and collegially with them. As I have said, everything that needs to be looked at is in the mix.
Senator Craughwell had asked me about the organisational capability review, which was undertaken at the same time as the Commission on the Defence Forces. He has asked me about the remediation of practices in governance, as well as the day-to-day governance responsibility and accountability. When we received that report, which is naturally another report we have to address, there were many actions in there for the management team. During my three-year tenure, we have re-organised ourselves. We have a management board that has changed. We have reorganised to concentrate on our priorities, which are defence policy, legislation and capability delivery through procurement and infrastructure.
As the Senator knows, I am the Accounting Officer. That brings with it significant responsibilities in that area. We have our own unique areas that we deal with as well. In the office of emergency planning, some very significant work is being undertaken at the moment on the critical entities resilience, CER, Directive. There is the Civil Defence, which has been before the committee as well. A smaller part we do, and this is a very positive piece, is in relation to sail training. These are all the areas we have under our remit.
In terms of principal officers and the lack of autonomy, during the time of Covid-19 in particular, when I first came in, it was quite difficult to organise ourselves. We were only learning how to organise ourselves. Certainly, however, it is my view that principal officers - although they may not like hearing me say this - are at a significant level of management and they are paid to lead and to hold that autonomy. In one way, I am a control freak and in another way, I just like to let people go and keep going until I tell them to stop. Certainly, however, that does not resonate with me. I would like to think that if we did the report again, that would have changed. It is tricky when you are in a disparate model to try to get that autonomy and to get people to push it down. In fact, even only the other day I said we need to push responsibility down further. That is challenging.
I am not quite sure what the Senator is referring to regarding the cultural issues in the Department. Maybe we should have a conversation about what it is. We are civil servants and we live those public service values. Quite honestly, anybody who does not live up to those values needs to move out of my Department because I will not countenance that. However, I have not encountered any of that, and I do not encounter that. They have a very can-do attitude. I am very proud of the team I lead, and I have never found any of them wanting. That is all I will say about that.
In terms of the external oversight board, I have received correspondence. The Tánaiste has received correspondence. The IRG made a specific recommendation in relation to that. The Tánaiste did not resile from changing any of those recommendations. That is what has been approved by the Government and that is where I currently sit.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
No, I do not. Where there is a conflict of interest, or if it ever arises at any board meeting I am at, I excuse myself.
Regarding the autonomy and power of the Chief of Staff, I was not sure if that question was directed to me but I will start the conversation and the Chief of Staff can contribute. The Chief of Staff and I have our own responsibilities. We are very clear on those responsibilities and we are very clear on those accountabilities. We meet for definite every week on a Monday but in general we talk to each other most days because the matters do cross over each other. We need to work collectively and collegiately as two leaders to make these organisations a success. We are very much focused on that and we will not be resiling from that.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
To comment on that, as has been outlined by the Secretary General that is exactly the situation, despite what people may think or otherwise. Our focus has always been on delivering. Our focus has been the benefit of the Defence Forces as a whole. We are working to that end. We often have this discussion. Despite whatever the motivations are, this has to benefit and go to the other extreme. The command and control issue, which I think the Senator might have been referring to, lies within the legislative piece. As the Secretary General has outlined before, advices have been received and there is a position paper being developed for the approval of the Government on how to proceed as we move forward. It is not something that is not going to be addressed. It will be. I am satisfied with where we are. It is really a legal and legislative piece, and with the Attorney General’s insights into it, we are now proceeding. This lies with the Department, in particular, its legal services branch. Is that correct?
That completes that round. I am conscious of the time and I am conscious that three members still have some questions or observations. I will go to Deputy Cronin. I apologise for the earlier confusion.
The witnesses are very welcome to the committee. I will keep my questions brief.
In Ms McCrum's opening statement, she mentioned the specific actions to support cultural change and the external oversight body. Are the people who are on that body public knowledge? Can she tell me who is it? Is she on it?
She also speaks about the new complaints process for civilians, civil servants and serving members of the Defence Forces. I know that whistleblowers do not have an easy ride. They do not have an easy time. Many people say that one would be mad to even consider whistleblowing. I have information on the Women of Honour and that would really make the hair on your head stand up. I know Ms McCrum also has access to that information involving whistleblowers and their experiences which are, I have to say, abject. Sometimes I dread turning the page or scrolling down the screen.
The word “culture” features constantly in reports about the Defence Forces. Just mentioning the word “culture” does not really address it. I want to ask Ms McCrum about her commitment to cultural change. What is now in place to protect current and future whistleblowers, particularly in the grave context of the experiences of others? We spoke earlier about national security. For me, I think the culture in the Defence Forces has to be tackled. Ms McCrum is going to have to be courageous about this and really get it. For me, members of all four parts of the Defence Forces have to know that their colleagues and their comrades have their backs and that it is an “All for one and one for all” kind of thing. Of course, structure and discipline are needed and that has to be part of the Defence Forces but that structure and discipline can never be abused. People who are going into the Defence Forces have to know that. I think it is a matter of national security if we do not have that in our Defence Forces.
The report also mentions work-life balance. There is a huge gap here as well between the aspiration and the application. It is reported that some military chefs and members of the officers’ mess are being asked to work for 15 non-military occasions, such as meetings and functions, and they will have to work on weekends. How will that affect their work-life balance? In one officers’ mess, 15 private functions will be held between now and Christmas, which will require staff to give up their weekends. That is dysfunctional in the extreme, and it has no place in a modern defence force in a republic. I seek Ms McCrum’s views and plans on that, as well as those of the Chief of Staff.
Ms McCrum also mentioned specific capability enhancements. I would like for her to give us some examples. We do have an example in Kildare, in the case of the fire service at the Curragh, where there are multi-capable individuals who also provide military facilities and fire safety facilities overseas, as well as the monitoring of munitions depots in the Curragh. Personnel were told that office would be closing down. If Ms McCrum thinks she is going to hold onto these personnel in the Defence Forces if the fire services close down, she is very much mistaken. They also provide, as I have already said, fire cover overseas and there is the experience that brings. I have spoken to members of their families and they are so proud of their partners and the work they do in the Defence Forces. They do not want them to be forced to leave.
I have written to the Minister on this but I have not yet received a reply. I would appreciate a response.
I believe the Chief-of-Staff has been referred to as the "chief" by everybody else, so I will call him that too. This report is very interesting. I know it was done to address the gender perspective. Mr. Clancy said he would like to reach out to new applicants within 48 hours. A few members of my family and some friends have served. While this occurred maybe 15, 30 or 40 years ago, they told me that when they went down to a barracks to enlist, they got what was called a “Cinderella pass” so they could go home and tell their mammies they had joined the Army. That was it - you were admitted in a day, although I am sure that was not particularly good practice. How long does it take from the psychometric, fitness and medical tests to induction? How does the figure of 4,694 applicants compare with other years, going back ten years? What is the average in a year?
Some 40% are not showing up for the fitness test, yet the number failing the fitness test is quite small, at just 6%. Are the Defence Forces engaging with the no-shows? I know it can be very disheartening when people do not show up. Are the Defence Forces engaging with people on why they are not showing up? If only 6% of applicants are failing, it is perhaps the case that many of the no-shows thought they might have failed and that the test was too difficult? I have asked lot of questions and I apologise for taking longer than I thought I would.
I acknowledge that our colleague, Deputy Stanton, has indicated he will not seek re-election after almost 40 years. I wish him well.
I welcome the Secretary General, the Chief of Staff and their colleagues and I thank them for coming before us. I thank them also for their presentations and for answering the questions so far. I will be brief because there is no point in my going over areas that have been covered already. How much of a negative influence on recruitment and retention does the Chief of Staff think the new pensions arrangements in the Army are having? As we all know, one of the attractions for young men and women joining the Army or the Defence Forces has been that they could leave, if they so wished, with a full pension. That is no longer the case.
I agree with my colleagues, in particular, Senator Joe O’Reilly, on recruitment. It is important that we bring to the attention of our young men and women in secondary school the fact that recruitment is open and is rotating on a 12-monthly basis. In a former life, I was involved with the Youthreach training programme in Cavan. As part of that programme and its summer activities, we formulated, with the local Army barracks, a specific programme designed for a week where young people would sample different areas of Army life. That was very successful. Unfortunately, it can no longer take place because Dún Uí Neill, the only purpose-built Army barracks in the history of the State, was closed. The Youthreach programme in which I was involved was very successful and a number of young people later joined the Army as a result of that introduction. Perhaps the committee, in conjunction with the Department and the Defence Forces, could look at introducing a module on the Defence Forces and policing in transition year. That would make young people aware of the fact that there is a worthwhile career to be had in the Defence Forces and, by extension, An Garda Síochána. I ask for the witnesses’ views on that.
To return to Dún Uí Neill Barracks and the issue of training young recruits, I believe the training module for recruits should include a Border familiarisation programme. An ideal location in which to hold that would be Dún Uí Neill Barracks. It should be reopened as is ideally located on the Border and is modern. I note it is no longer in the ownership of the Department of Defence but it is in the ownership of the local education and training board. There would not be a huge difficulty in dealing with that if there was a will to do so.
On 15 September, I had the privilege of being in Custume Barracks in Athlone, where the personnel who are soon to be deployed to the Golan Heights had their ministerial review. The Chief of Staff was also there and I think the Secretary General may have been there too. Deputy Berry was present, as were others. While the weather was very bad that day, the hundreds of people who attended the ministerial review very much enjoyed it. It was a proud day for the personnel involved, their families, the Chief of Staff and his colleagues. It was a credit to everybody involved. This goes back to something I mentioned the last time the witnesses were before the committee. Ministerial reviews or similar types of military parades should be rotated around the country, particularly to areas where there are no Army barracks. They put on view the pride that is within the Defence Forces. The impact that could have on young people looking on could be very positive.
I will be quick because I am conscious of the clock. I will make three quick points. First, I am very heartened by what the Secretary General has said in relation to the patrol duty allowance. If there is to be a resolution in the next number of weeks, that would be a major step forward. The entire committee visited a naval base approximately 18 months ago and the one message we consistently received was that fixing the patrol duty allowance will fix the Naval Service. The caveat is that the allowance must be set at the appropriate rate. Currently, members get €60 per day before tax for going to sea for 24 hours. After tax, it works out at just a little more than €1 per hour.
A live, evolving operation is taking place at the moment. It is a kinetic operation, and we can see from media reports that shots have been fired. There are gardaí on the exact same naval ship - fair play to them - who are getting multiples of the offshore allowance that our military sailors are getting. If we set the patrol duty allowance at the appropriate rate, we will fix the Naval Service and regenerate it over time. Coincidently, I will be meeting the Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, tomorrow and I will give them that message as well. As I said, unfortunately, if we fix the wrong rate for the patrol duty allowance, it will make matters worse. We have to get it right. If we get it right, over time, the Naval Service will regenerate. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
The second point relates to military housing. I very much welcome the Tánaiste’s comments in recent months in which he pretty much overturned the defence policy of the last couple of decades. There are a number of derelict and unoccupied military houses around the State. The number is approximately 75, to give a ballpark figure. My question is to both the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General. When is it envisaged that these houses will be renovated?
Is there any planned date for when these houses will be re-occupied? When can we expect the first military married quarters, as they were called, to be re-occupied? Is there a timeline for that?
Finally, this is more of an open question. We know there are some issues with long-service increments. We speak consistently about recruitment and retention. It is my own view that we should be speaking about retention and recruitment because retention is more important than recruitment. There are outstanding issues in relation to long-service increments and some technical pay grades. Our troops in the Defence Forces are the only workers I know of in the country who do not have access to the Labour Court. That was a similar situation to members of the Garda approximately seven or eight years ago. However, the Cabinet of the day referred a play claim to the Labour Court for the adjudication of the Labour Court. Obviously, the Labour Court found in the favour of the gardaí and I have no doubt but that if a case was put to the Labour Court from the point of view of the Defence Forces, the Labour Court would be horrified by the rates of pay. I think it is a potential solution and I would be grateful for the thoughts of the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General on that. Those are my three questions. Unfortunately, I will not be able to stay for the answers but I will follow up by reading the transcript afterwards.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
In relation to the external oversight board, Deputy Cronin asked about the membership of the board. The terms of reference and the membership should be published on the Department's website. It is chaired by Brian MacCraith. The membership comprises Patricia King, Josephine Feehily, Aongus Hegarty, Julie Sinnamon, and myself. If the Deputy wishes, and if she wants some more details on that, we can send her a link to that.
The Deputy referred to whistleblowers and I am looking at them through the lens of protected disclosures. Regarding the numbers of protected disclosures I currently have, at the moment I have 48 of them open. We have closed 33. That total figure is over many years and goes back to 2014.
In relation to how whistleblowers are treated, that is an issue that will probably come up through the statutory inquiry. I can assure the Deputy that I have treated them appropriately within my period of time and certainly with regard to other people's times. However, there are differing views as to how they may have been treated by colleagues or other members, wherever they worked. It is a very complex area but I can assure the Deputy that in relation to any whistleblower or anything I get through protected disclosures, they come through directly to my office. Somebody who is reporting directly to me is overseeing that.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
On that point, this goes to the heart of the culture. The Deputy asked a lot of questions about the cultural space. To contribute to what the Secretary General has said, a confidential contact person has been put in place. That facility is there. We also have personal support structures. We have taken many initiatives internally around changing this culture.
At the very outset, I have recognised both the historical and current issues that are prevailing in the organisation. I have also been very careful to recognise and have very deliberately recognised - and the Deputy possibly will as well - that the majority of men and women in Óglaigh na hÉireann come to work every day and give dignity and respect, and receive it. It is important to acknowledge that. However, there are those who do not live up to those values in our organisation today. This is at the heart of the cultural issues we have to address. We are taking the recommendations by the independent review group very seriously. They have all been accepted. They have been openly accepted on my part. For example, this month we have started ongoing sexual ethics and responsible relationships training, which I have made compulsory for every member of Óglaigh na hÉireann to undertake. That syllabus has been led by an independent professor from UCC because we identified a gap in this training. Every member will undergo that. To date, 150 members have taken it, and it is in its first two weeks. There is ongoing training today, tomorrow and every week from now until it is done. Moreover, it will be repeated.
I want to assure the Deputy that there is zero tolerance. On top of that, of course, the Tánaiste has directed that any inappropriate behaviour, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment or anything on that spectrum will be reported directly to An Garda Síochána. That is the case within the organisation on the foot of my direction and the Tánaiste's direction. That is happening. I wanted to give the Deputy that level of assurance in terms of the questions she asked specific to the culture that must change. I agree wholeheartedly with her in that respect. We are making strides and efforts to achieve that. It will be a journey and we cannot become complacent on it in any shape or form. That is the intent and I wanted to assure her of that.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
Deputy Cronin also raised the fire service at the Curragh. In relation to that, I apologise if she has written to the Minister and she has not received that reply. We will certainly source that and get her reply straight away. Normally, we have the replies drafted, so we will certainly follow that up tomorrow.
In relation to the fire service at the Curragh, that is one of the areas that was being looked at under the derogations or otherwise of the working time directive. Matters got a bit ahead of themselves and there was a communication of some sort or an understanding or perception that it was closing down. However, the Tánaiste has made no decisions in that space at all.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
On the recruitment issue, we had quite a lot of conversation on this in the Deputy’s absence. On her specific questions on the numbers and comparisons, we can get the Deputy the numbers of total applications over the last number of years, although I do not have them to hand. In 2017 we recruited 751, in 2018 we recruited 611, in 2019 we recruited 615, in 2020 we recruited 538, in 2021 we recruited 576 and last year we recruited 435. That is an indication of the yield from the rate of applications we had.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
Generally speaking, we have tried to concertina that, because it is one of the areas. There are some pressure points in the system, one of which is, for instance, the medicals. We mentioned that we have put outside contractors in place to alleviate that problem but the contract that has been put in place has its own problems. In fact, they are in relation to fulfilling the contract, if I can be quite honest, and we are pursuing that. More importantly, we have to undertake certain security clearances with our personnel coming into it. That is outside our control. In general, however, we would have had up to a six-month process. We have reduced that right down. On average, it is now somewhere between three and four months. It varies depending on the number of applications and the time of year.
Let us not forget the rolling recruitment process, which I mentioned during the earlier conversations. We are recruiting all the time. We build the lists and then we apportion recruit classes into the joint induction training centre at specific times of the year. This is in order that people can be informed and kept engaged through the process.
This goes to the heart of one of Deputy Cronin’s other questions, which was about whether we maintain contact. For anybody who is invited and does not show up, we offer them alternative dates etc. However, there is only so much you can do in that space if people do not want to engage. It is a common experience whereby we try to re-engage and get no response.
There were questions from Senator Wilson.
Ms Jacqui McCrum:
I apologise. We will come back to that. The pensions issue is a complex issue. We can certainly write a more detailed explanation but every time you move something, something else happens. When we are increasing the age, for example, somebody has to have the ability to serve for 21 years. That then requires another knock-on. There are fast accrual pensions. A pension board has been set up that is looking at a number of areas that have fast accrual pensions to see how we can move those forward. That will impact on that. I do not wish to cover this issue off lightly; I am very happy to write to the Senator with more details if he wishes.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
On that point, Senator Wilson asked specifically about its impact on recruitment and retention. I am not sure if I can comment on the recruitment impact, because it is very difficult to measure that. The only measure we could have on retention is the exit surveys we undertake. We do those online and one-to-one, but they are done on a voluntary basis. From the key takeaways and analysis of the exit surveys we have done, the pension issue has not arisen.
Central issues were job satisfaction, work-life balance, working conditions, the uncertainty of postings, allowances, such as the Naval Service allowance in particular, and just the pressures of work overall. They are the key elements that would have come through the exit surveys. Pension was not a factor that was engaged with.
The Youthreach training programme that was mentioned was a very positive programme. Most of our barracks, if not all, engage with a transition year, TY, programme. We have a specialised programme week and several barracks, including in the Air Corps, would run up to four or five of those in a given school year. Every barracks is encouraged to have a TY programme in place and that is the case. The Senator mentioned the initiative and we are already doing that. We also engage with Gaisce in trying to engage with that programme and we support Gaisce in terms of the President's awards. We support the adventure part of that engagement and when people go out to engage with it, we provide supports, facilities and logistics and we engage with that. We are engaging with youth insofar as is practicable but I am very open to any suggestions in this regard.
I take on board the suggestion with regard to the proud days in Athlone. I commend and congratulate the Senator's son who is now deploying overseas for his service. I am always proud of my service and of every man and woman who serves in the Defence Forces but it is days like this that really bring it home. It is days like today, when we look at what is going on off the south coast, that bring home what service actually means. I am very conscious of that. We did go outside the barracks for a period, for example, in the town of Athlone, in Limerick and in other areas. The Senator has flagged an idea in my head with regard to going to other locations outside of traditional barracks towns and installations. I would certainly take that on board also.
I have a final question on work-life balance. When people are starting off in the Army, if they look in any way presentable, they are often expected to work weekends in the officers’ mess. How does that equate with improving the work-life balance? We can get away with things like that when unemployment is high but not in the current employment circumstances. I would like to have that addressed.
Mr. Se?n Clancy:
The overall work-life balance is one of the priorities I have set in terms of the Defence Forces as a whole. I set three key priorities when I came in as Chief of Staff, and health and well-being of the personnel and work-life balance are contained within that.
The Defence Forces work 24-7, as Senator Craughwell noted, and we do not distinguish between weekdays and weekends per se. We have people on duty, working throughout the year, 24-7, in many installations, including in messes, in catering and so on throughout the organisation, as the Deputy can appreciate. In most of the barracks bar the main command barracks, we have centralised all of our catering into one, so there is no distinction between, for instance, the officers dining in Athlone barracks and the enlisted personnel dining in Athlone barracks. Chefs work weekends to cater whoever is in those barracks.
It is a wider issue of work-life balance that we are trying to address. We have not addressed all of the problems or issues and we are constantly trying to find ways to improve work-life balance for everybody in the organisation. When we look at the duties we perform, I have the review ongoing on our aid to the civil power or aid to the civil authority activities that are outside normal work days and on weekends, which are drawing heavily on the resources of the Defence Forces. That review is ongoing as part of the Commission on the Defence Forces’ specific recommendations. We have already made inroads into reducing our commitments to give greater flexibility around the working hours that are being performed by our soldiers, sailors and aircrew within the organisation and we continue with that process.
On a final point regarding catering, we have the front-of-house catering externalised, so all of the front-of-house that is delivered in our messes or catering centres is delivered by an external contracting company. I want to give the Deputy that information to make sure she has an understanding.
If Deputy Cronin is happy with that, I will move towards a conclusion. On behalf of the joint committee and on my own behalf, I thank all of the witnesses for meeting with us this afternoon and for the manner in which they dealt with the questions from members. I thank the Secretary General, Ms McCrum, and the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Clancy, whose contributions on the questions were, to my mind, quite comprehensive, under the watchful eye, of course, of Ms Dalton and Brigadier General Mulcahy. No doubt, we will have an opportunity to meet with them again. I express our thanks for the early copy of the strategic framework, which is the transformation document. While members received it, we probably did not have an opportunity to go through it in the type of detail that it deserves but I am sure we will have another occasion to do so. I thank the witnesses for their co-operation in that regard so early after Cabinet approval.
I advise members that we will go into private session but we will not be delayed.