Thursday, 16 November 2006
Defence Forces Strength.
Question 4: To ask the Minister for Defence the position in relation to the commitment given in the White Paper on Defence to have a Defence Forces strength of 10,500 plus 250 in training; if this commitment has been honoured; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38350/06]
The White Paper on Defence was published in February 2000. It provided for a strength of 10,500 for the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, comprised of 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army. At the time of publication the strength of the Permanent Defence Force stood at approximately 11,500. This was reduced to 10,500 by the end of 2001. The White Paper also provided that the Chief of Staff could maintain an additional 250 personnel in training at any one time. That provision was withdrawn in June 2003 as part of the Government decision on managing public service numbers. The strength of the Permanent Defence Force on 30 September 2006, the latest date for which detailed figures are available, as advised by the military authorities, was 10,383.
It is my intention to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at the level set out in the White Paper as required to meet military needs. The strength of the Defence Forces as at 31 December in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively, was 10,498, 10,551 and 10,446. There are no plans to review the established strength of 10,500 as set out in the White Paper.
I note from the Estimates for the Department of Defence that the total Defence budget is similar to the increase in health expenditure. It is a small budget. The commitments placed on the Defence Forces have increased since the publication of the White Paper. A solemn commitment was given by the former Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, of a strength of 10,500 plus 250 personnel in training. However, that was withdrawn by him shortly afterwards, not long after the 2002 general election.
Will the Minister restore the strength to include that figure of 250 personnel in the context of permitting an overall strength of 10,750? It was mercurial the way the Defence Forces were told they were allowed have a strength of 10,500 and maintain 250 personnel in training and then that commitment was withdrawn. Those figures were not constant because once personnel were trained they moved into the category of the 10,500 personnel. However, it transpired that the strength of 10,500 personnel fell slightly and personnel were brought in to be trained, but the strength of the Defence Forces never reached 10,500 personnel and the maintenance of 250 personnel in training. I stand to be corrected on that — perhaps it was reached for a short duration. Will the Minister preferably increase the strength to 10,750 personnel inclusive or revert to a strength of 10,500 personnel and the maintenance of 250 personnel in training?
In regard to today's Estimates, I am delighted that for the first time in the history of the State the defence budget has exceeded €1 million. It has always been a small budget compared to the budgets for the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science, Health and Children etc.
On the matter of the exact terms of that 2001 commitment, my understanding is that the commitment was to maintain an Army, a Permanent Defence Force of 10,500. The Chief of Staff was permitted to maintain an extra 250 personnel in training, but the overall strength of the Permanent Defence Force would not exceed 10,500. Therefore, the commitment was not as binding as the Deputy suggests. That commitment was adhered to. The Government at its discretion — it retained the discretion under the original decision — told the Chief of Staff that it could no longer permit him to maintain the extra 250 personnel in training because the Department of Defence wanted to play its part in controlling public service numbers.
I assure Deputy Timmins that at the time of publication of the White Paper the overall strength of the Army and what we would need was assessed — that continues to be assessed — in the context of providing the required number of personnel to improve equipment, training, facilities etc., and the conclusion was that 10,500 would be required.
Our troops are doing a magnificent job abroad, as everybody is aware. We have committed up to 830 troops abroad, which is a big commitment given the size of our country and Army. My information is that the Army is sufficiently large for present day requirements.
The Minister mentioned that when the White Paper was published the strength of the Permanent Defence Force was 11,500 but that due to the cutbacks in the public service, the strength of the Defence Forces was reduced to 10,500 and the provision for the 250 personnel in training was no longer maintained. Were there any cutbacks in the number of civilians in the Department of Defence in that period, given that there was a 10% reduction in the strength of the Army?
The civilian section of the Department of Defence is small in terms of numbers compared to the Army. In 2001 we reduced the strength from 11,500 to 10,500 but as a quid pro quo we invested a great deal of money in equipment, training, facilities etc. We now have a professionally organised and successful Army which is admired all over the world.