Dáil debates

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Priority Questions

Defence Forces Reserve.

1:00 pm

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Question 44: To ask the Minister for Defence the steps that have been taken to implement the recommendation of the Reserve Defence Force Review Implementation Board report, which was accepted by the Government, that the current members of the First Line Reserve of officers and men be reactivated and become involved in training of the RDF and that suitable members on discharge from the Permanent Defence Force should be encouraged to enlist with the FLR; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34476/07]

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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The Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan provides for a phased approach to enhancing the capabilities of the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, over the period to the end of 2009. The introduction of new organisational structures, the development of new training syllabi and improvements in equipment and clothing have been successfully delivered as part of phase 1 of the plan. Phase 2 of the implementation plan is currently being carried out and a pilot scheme for the integrated Army Reserve has been initiated. A total of 180 personnel have completed the required training.

In line with the timeframe of the implementation plan, recommendations with respect to the First Line Reserve, FLR, are to be carried out during phase 2. The implementation group is currently working on these recommendations and I am looking forward to reviewing them in due course. Development of the FLR is also included in the modernisation agenda agreed with the Defence Forces representative associations in the context of Towards 2016 and will be advanced accordingly. The experience and knowledge of former Permanent Defence Force personnel of the FLR is extremely valuable and my primary objective is to ensure that this resource is utilised for the maximum benefit of the Defence Forces.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I am sure the Minister is aware that since the reform of the Defence Forces back in the early 1990s a large number of officers have retired and gone into alternative employment. This vast resource is now available to the Minister and with a bit of encouragement and incentive they could become part of the FLR. It was recently reported that there has been an alarming fall-off in the number of people joining the RDF. This was recently the subject of a question by Deputy O'Shea. Former officers could play an important role in revitalising the RDF because of their expertise, skill and training, which in many cases cost the country a lot. How will the Minister encourage these people to come back and join the FLR?

Would the Minister agree that since the reform of the Defence Forces there have not been as many Permanent Defence Force personnel available for training the Reserve Defence Force? They are just not available because they have so many duties, including those overseas. The group of people referred to in the question could fulfil that role and may even be more suitable, in the integrated Defence Forces, for travel abroad because they have previous experience of being abroad.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I will deal shortly with the question on the fall-off in numbers joining the RDF. To answer Deputy Deenihan's initial point, I agree there is a vast reservoir of potential talent that should be utilised. This was the view of the Reserve Defence Force Review Implementation Board. The Deputy will recall that the implementation plan for the RDF was to be delivered in two phases. Phase 1, which is all but complete, involves reorganisation and the provision of better training, clothing and equipment, and represents the start of the development of an integrated element in the RDF. We have now moved on to phase 2. We have specific recommendations from the implementation group that will be carried out. We are also awaiting comment from the military authorities on the recommendations with regard to the FLR.

However, my view and that of the implementation group, which I know we share with Deputy Deenihan, is that the FLR is a reservoir of talent and a valuable resource, although it has been allowed to fall into disuse since the mid-1980s. It only numbers about 375 at the moment because people are not being chased up, as the Deputy rightly pointed out. The FLR should be used and it has an important role to play in the integration programme we have planned for the RDF proper.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister agree that this group could have a vital role to play in attracting more people back to the RDF? Some of the reasons for the fall-off in numbers include organisational difficulties and the question of the presence of professionals at all times at training camps and other exercises. The importance of attracting this reservoir of talent, as we have both described it, back into the Defence Forces is all the more important in that sense.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I agree that the FLR has a vital role to play in attracting people back into the RDF. That is the view of the implementation board. This is one of the uses to which it will be put in our programme. I hope to expand on this in later questions.