Wednesday, 8 February 2012
The White Paper on defence has provided the policy framework and development strategy for defence for the past decade. The planning certainty arising from the policy provisions of the White Paper underpinned the modernisation process within the defence organisation. It also afforded the requisite flexibility to develop appropriate capabilities in response to changes in the defence and security environment.
The recent decisions on defence arising from the comprehensive review of expenditure have provided a degree of clarity on the resources available to the defence organisation in the short to medium term. In response to the Government’s decision to revise the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force to 9,500 personnel, I have initiated a major reorganisation of the Defence Forces. This will encompass a reduction in the number of Army brigades from three to two.
Having considered the preliminary work undertaken on the preparation of a new White Paper on defence, I decided to expand the planned consultative process by initiating the preparation of a Green Paper on defence. The Green Paper will initiate a broad consultative process. The purpose will be to elicit an informed debate on Ireland’s defence policy. The clarity provided by a settled policy framework drives and facilitates service provision. A further long-term policy framework will facilitate planning for and delivery of the required defence outputs. I intend to bring a memorandum to the Government in early 2012 seeking approval to formally launch the process. At this stage, I expect to publish the Green Paper on defence by the end of the year.
The idea is that we will ultimately produce a White Paper that will prescribe the policy approach to defence matters for the next decade, as the previous White Paper did for the last decade. The Green Paper will be a consultative document. It will be produced by my Department in consultation with others. I hope that not just Members of the House but also the broader community will engage in the public consultation process. I have no doubt that the representative associations will have an input into the process. Essentially, it will deal with policy issues and I am looking forward to an open and broad debate. In some areas it may raise questions for debate or propose options on how we deal with particular matters. I hope we will have an informed discussion in advance of the finalisation of the White Paper.
One issue which I am considering is that, following publication of the Green Paper, the justice and defence committee receive submissions and hold hearings on the White Paper in order that we have the broadest possible consultative phase. My recollection of the process for the previous White Paper - I was Opposition spokesperson on defence at the time - is that it emerged from the Government and was presented without this kind of consultative process being undertaken, although I am sure the Government of the day engaged in some consultations. We should have a more transparent process. Ultimately, it will fall to me to make proposals to the Government on the final format of the White Paper and to the Government to make a decision on it. This is a new way of proceeding in what is a very important area which is not often subject to adequate comprehensive public examination and debate.
I welcome the possibility of the joint committee being given the opportunity to hear submissions. It is very busy dealing with justice issues, but this is one way in which defence issues could be raised before it. It would certainly be a good process.
It is welcome that the Minister wants to commence a consultation process. I do not think the role of the Army is appreciated enough among the general public. Many think Army personnel just drive around after cash vans. Would the Minister consider involving CPSE classes in schools and local community groups in the submissions? He could broaden the process to include every aspect of society, rather than just the usual suspects in consultation processes.
The Green Paper will be published and any group or individual across civil society, including those in schools and third level colleges, will be free to engage in a process to hold debates, make proposals and feed into the thinking in the finalisation of the White Paper. The intention is to use it to increase public knowledge of the Defence Forces and the role they play. Their participation in the Queen’s visit brought them tothe attention of the public to a greater extent than usual. They were more visible. On previous occasions there might have been a one-day event, but on this occasion there was a series of events in which the Defence Forces were involved which heightened public awareness of them.
It is important that the general public are aware not only of the worthwhile job done on major UN missions such as the one to Lebanon or the smaller one mentioned earlier but also of the assistance the Defence Forces provide for the civil power, not just in dealing with vans transporting cash but also in dealing with emergencies such as flooding, fires and other difficulties caused by climatic conditions. This is a real opportunity for people to learn more than they may already know about the Defence Forces, as well as contribute to a discussion on where we go in the following decade.
I join in the Minister’s tribute to the Defence Forces. In particular, I pay tribute to the Naval Service for the role it is playing in the search in Glandore. I understand another body has been brought ashore this afternoon. The House owes a debt of gratitude to all the members of the Naval Service and everybody else involved.