Wednesday, 7 December 2005
Defence Forces Equipment.
Question 52: To ask the Minister for Defence the protocol and regulations in place for the use of Defence Forces weapons at public or publicity events; the safety guidelines that govern the use of such weapons by non-Defence Forces personnel at such events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38253/05]
The items usually displayed by the Defence Forces at public or publicity events such as charity events, recruitment drives etc. include vehicles, armoured vehicles or aircraft, technical equipment such as radios and engineering equipment, and clothing or personal kit items. Defence Forces weapons are not displayed at public or publicity events.
From time to time events arise which are organised, controlled and secured by Defence Forces personnel, such as visits by VIPs, where non-Defence Forces personnel are permitted to handle weapons. These types of events are normally conducted within the confines of military establishments and all weapons are handled under the supervision of suitably qualified Defence Forces personnel and are, of course, not loaded.
I recognise the Minister did not mean to cause offence by posing for these photographs but does the Minister of State accept that the portrayal of him handling weapons in this manner sends an inappropriate message to the public? Does he agree that the playful style of the image can glamorise the use of weapons at a time when we were in the midst of gangland killings involving illegally held weapons?
I accept what Deputy Sherlock is saying. I will repeat what my colleague, the Minister for Defence, said. He visited the Defence Forces training centre in the Curragh on 16 November to attend a display by the Army Ranger Wing to mark its 25th anniversary and to open a new stores facility at the ARW headquarters. The display consisted of a number of training exercises and simulated rescues, including two practical demonstrations of static room assaults and fast rope hostage extraction, and static demonstrations of weapons, equipment and vehicles. He was invited to inspect the weapons on display and this was done under constant military supervision. It was an open media event with those present being given the maximum access possible subject to safety and security considerations.
The Minister has asked me to reiterate his deep regret if people's sensitivities were offended by the pictures of him widely published in the media handling the weapons on display. The photographs used were selected by the media, not by the Minister. He has made it clear that he regrets what happened and has apologised to those who were offended by it.
I can say that most definitely on behalf of my colleague. The Minister also regrets if an impression was given in the media that his participation at the event was an attempt to glamorise gun crime. He would not wish that to be the case. His intention on the day was to highlight the professionalism of the ARW, the excellence of its training and the sophistication of the equipment provided to it. I recall when I was Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development visiting the Army in Liberia where I saw at first hand the quality of its equipment and professionalism of its personnel. The Minister was anxious to portray that and I assure the House it will not happen again.