Thursday, 20 September 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Defence Forces Reorganisation
To ask the Minister for Defence further to his recent announcement to outline his decision to disband the Western Brigade reducing the number of brigades from three to two, the number of personnel that will be transferred; the criteria used for identifying transfers; if the transfers are to be undertaken on a voluntary or mandatory basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39664/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 2 and 5 together.
I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, who is indisposed today and will be indisposed for a short while. He sends his apologies. As Minister of State in the Department of Defence, I am taking questions on his behalf.
The Government is committed to maintaining the capacity and capability of the Defence Forces to undertake the roles assigned by Government within an establishment of 9,500 serving personnel. Against that background, the Minister tasked the Secretary General of the Department and the Chief of Staff to bring forward proposals for a reorganisation of the Defence Forces. Those proposals recommended that the Army component of the Defence Forces be reduced from a three brigade to a two brigade structure. A three brigade structure, which had originally been designed for a force of 11,500, could not be sustained in the context of maintaining numbers at 9,500 without impacting on the capacity of the Defence Forces to deliver the services required by Government. The Minister, having considered the matter in detail, accepted the proposals of the Secretary General and the chief of staff for the reorganisation of the Army into a two brigade structure. A reorganisation of the Air Corps and Naval Service within their reduced strengths as set out in the employment-control framework is also being finalised as part of the reorganisation.
The implementation of the current reorganisation is being overseen by a high level implementation group comprising senior civil and military management of the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces. The group has been meeting weekly since the announcement of the reorganisation. They are planning the detailed implementation of the reorganisation in a manner which best addresses the future organisational needs and capability requirements of the Defence Forces while facilitating as far as possible the circumstances and expressed preferences of individual members. The representative associations in the Defence Forces, RACO and PDFORRA have been closely engaged in the implementation planning process as part of the Croke Park agreement and have had significant input into the planning of the implementation process.
The reorganisation under way is a major change in the organisation and structure of the Defence Forces. The extent of it should not be underestimated. It will impact on the lives and future careers of serving and future members of the Defence Forces right across the organisation. This reorganisation has been extensively facilitated by the Croke Park agreement and the commitments given by the representative associations under that agreement to co-operate with major reorganisation and change. The current initiatives being brought forward by defence management for the reorganisation of the Defence Forces, taken with the earlier barracks closures, are far-reaching and challenging.
Under the reorganisation, 118 officer promotion posts in the Army across all ranks up to brigadier general are being eliminated while NCO appointments are also being reduced by 225. In addition, units are being relocated throughout the country while other units, such as the brigade headquarters in Athlone, are being disestablished.
In implementing the reorganisation we must be conscious of the personal impact these changes will have on the lives and future careers of individual members of the Defence Forces. To that end and contrary to much media speculation, there is no question of mandatorily requiring all the personnel serving in units changing location to move with their unit. The Minister for Defence would like to allay concerns in that regard.
The implementation plan, which has been designed by the high level implementation group, is designed to limit as far as possible the dislocation of personnel. The reorganisation also generally maintains existing serving staff numbers in all the existing locations. In so far as is practicable, serving members in the Defence Forces whose units are being moved or disbanded will have the opportunity either to move with their unit or to take up new appointments within or close to their existing locations as part of the reassignment process. That said, it is inevitable that some personnel will have to change location or will be mandatorily relocated to fill out the appointments in the new organisation. This is part and parcel of the employment conditions of members of the Defence Forces.
It is not possible at this stage in the process to state how many personnel will be transferred across the Defence Forces on the basis of the current reorganisation. The specific requirements in this regard will only become apparent as the implementation process proceeds and personnel indicate their particular preferences as to whether to move location or take up alternative appointments in their existing locations. Obviously, this also applies to the transfer of the McKee Barracks staff and the choices they make on transfer or taking up alternative appointments in McKee Barracks.
All personnel in the Defence Forces have been extensively briefed on the reorganisation proposals. They will receive further briefings and information on the many options available to them as the implementation stage progresses. As there are extensive vacancies in the organisation, many serving personnel will also benefit by moving to new roles and promotional opportunities to fill vacancies in the organisation. The detailed administrative order setting out the implementation plan, which has been the subject of extensive consultation with the representative associations, has now been finalised and issued to formation commanders and made available to all members of the Defence Forces.
This current radical reorganisation of the Defence Forces depends for its success on two elements. First is the continued proactive engagement and leadership of civil and military management in the Department of Defence in modernising and restructuring the organisation to meet the new security challenges of today. Second is the robust, positive and constructive engagement of the representative associations, on behalf of their members, under the provisions of the Croke Park agreement.
I have only two paragraphs to go and I think it is important.
The country is facing serious challenges in managing our current economic and fiscal situation. In line with the situation in most EU member states, the Department of Defence faces cuts that must be managed in a manner which ensures we continue to maintain the capacity and capability of our armed forces to meet the requirements set by Government.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The current reorganisation being led by senior military and civil management in the Department is designed to ensure we do that. The Government also recognises the very demanding requirements we are placing on members of the Defence Forces and welcomes their positive engagement in the reorganisation process. It is planned that the reorganisation will be largely completed by the end of November 2012 in line with the ambitious deadlines set by the Minister.
I send my best wishes to the Minister who is not with us and I hope he makes a quick recovery. I am happy to have the opportunity to raise this matter again.
The issue of reorganisation was raised as a Topical Issue prior to the summer recess. I am sure the Minister of State will agree that what we are dealing with today is the fall-out from that reorganisation process. The Minister of State's response is something of a curate's egg in that it is good in parts but somewhat contradictory. I welcome that there has been engagement with RACO and PDFORRA. Does the Minister of State regret that this engagement did not occur prior to the decisions being made and would he agree that it was somewhat perverse to announce that major reorganisation in advance of work being undertaken on the Green Paper?
The Minister of State appeared to intimate in the earlier part of his response that relocation would be voluntary, that people would be consulted and given an opportunity to decide where they might go. He then went on to speak about the inevitability of mandatory relocations. Can the Minister of State indicate what quantum of personnel will have to move against their wishes to other locations? The Minister of State also referred to career paths and stated that there would be new promotional opportunities. However, he also, in the earlier part of his response, listed a plethora of promotional posts that would be done away with. Perhaps he will clarify that point for us and will confirm what percentage of those to be relocated will be mandatorily relocated and the timescale for the changes envisaged. This is a major problem in the area of the western brigade and the environs of Athlone, with many members who have huge mortgages and under real financial pressure concerned about the impact on them and their families of a forced move to a barracks at a considerable distance from where they are based and the ensuing costs.
I fully understand from where the Deputy is coming. I have spoken with members of the Permanent Defence Forces about barrack closures and the effects on them and their families of reorganisation. The implementation group, which includes officials from the Department of Defence and members of the Defence Forces, is working with RACO and PDFORRA to ensure smooth implementation of the reorganisation process. Nobody likes reorganisation. However, we are forced to reorganise. While some years ago we had a force of 11,500, we now have a force of 9,500. One must change with the times. We do not have the level of resources previously available to invest in the Defence Forces.
I can assure the Deputy that the implementation group is engaged in talks with RACO and PDFORRA. I believe RACO and PDFORRA are happy with the talks thus far. The most recent meeting of the implementation group with RACO and PDFORRA was held a number of days ago. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl asked why PDFORRA and RACO were not consulted about the reorganisation. The Government makes the policy for the Army. Once agreed, that policy must be implemented by Government, the Army and the Department of Defence in a professional manner. This is being done. The implementation group is working well.
Deputy Ó Fearghaíl also asked about voluntary and mandatory relocation. As I stated in my reply, in so far as possible relocation will be on a voluntary basis. Every member of the Permanent Defence Force will be consulted about what suits them. I acknowledge that many members have mortgages and families. We do not like to have to tell personnel where they have to go. However, that is what will have to happen. The Deputy will understand that in any reorganisation of a Department and so on some people will be happy and others will not. The implementation group will try in so far as possible to ensure everyone is happy.
The Minister of State will be aware of the view of PDFORRA and the Defence Forces that they more than other sectors of the public service have been co-operating with downsizing since 1990. The closure of the barracks in Mullingar, Castlebar, Cavan, Longford and Lifford and Letterkenny comes to mind. This resulted in the relocation of the Army in North Donegal to Finner which presented huge challenges logistically for serving Defence Forces members. Nevertheless, they co-operated. They now believe they are being punished rather than rewarded for their approach and that they are being taken for granted because of their position in society. It would be deeply unfair to force more of these involuntary relocations onto them. We are all aware of the huge issues that will arise around Cork and Limerick, Dublin and Athlone and vice versa. This relocation presents considerable challenges for members of the Defence Forces and their families.
We would like a reassurance that where possible further dislocation of Defence Forces members will be avoided. I also ask the Minister of State to make clear today that they are not being taken for granted and that the Government is not pushing the weakest point of resistance in terms of cutbacks. I would welcome the Minister of State's response to those points.
I can assure Deputy Mac Lochlainn that members of the PDF are not being taken for granted. My colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, has praised them for their work, enthusiasm and commitment. I can assure the Deputy that nobody is being taken for granted.
We are in the middle of a reorganisation which involves the relocation of more than 9,000 Defence Forces personnel. The implementation group has and will continue to work closely with RACO and PDFORRA in this regard. I assure the Deputy that those talks will continue. The implementation group is, and has been, happy to sit down with the two representative organisations to discuss and allay their fears or concerns.
The reorganisation process will be difficult. There is no doubt but that while some members will be happy, others will not. Some members will want to move and others will want to continue to do the same job they are currently doing but may have to move to a different barracks in order to do so. In so far as possible everybody will be facilitated. PDFORRA and RACO have been and will continue to be briefed by the implementation group.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. The Minister of State has stated that the Government must govern and that it is a matter for the Minister to make decisions. Our criticism is voiced against the background of the Government's decision to enter into a Green Paper process, followed by a White Paper process, in advance of which it has decided to carry out a fundamental reform without any consultation with the parties who are subsequently expected to engage on a positive basis with the Green Paper and White Paper processes. It is deeply disappointing that the Department went down that road.
Does the Minister of State agree that we now find ourselves in a position where he has to admit that there will be mandatory relocation of serving members of the Permanent Defence Force, that there will be reduced promotional opportunities within the Defence Forces arising out of these changes and that it is regrettable that change is coming about without proper consultation and in advance of a process the Government had embarked upon that was to provide a new model for the Defence Forces that would make it fit for purpose for the next decade?
I outlined in my reply the promotional opportunities that are restricted now that we have moved to a two brigade structure from a three brigade structure. I assure the Deputy that the Minister's decision to initiate the reorganisation was made following a detailed assessment of the Defence Forces, the security environment and consideration of associated Defence Forces capability requirements both as part of the comprehensive review of expenditure and the Department of Defence's strategy statement, both of which documents were published previously.
The Minister is currently preparing a Green Paper on defence and when published at the end on 2012 it will inform a broad discussion on Ireland's defence policy. This will culminate in the publication of a new White Paper on defence at the end of 2013. This White Paper will encompass a longer timeframe than that of the strategy statement and will inform long-term capability requirements for implementation over an extended timeframe, typically ten or more years. I look forward to the publication of both the White Paper and the Green Paper. Some people might agree and some might disagree with this but we are going forward with a two brigade structure.
I do not agree with that. The Green Paper and the White Paper will be published and we will know exactly the structures and the reorganisation of the Defence Forces as we move forward. We can work on a ten year policy and on what changes will be made within the organisation once the Green Paper and the White Paper are published.
I have three brief supplementaries. There are concerns around reskilling. Those concerned want to examine it in terms of the Croke Park agreement. How will it be ensured that the personnel who will be relocated will be reskilled if need be?
There are concerns around the Minister's estimate of the savings that will be made from barrack closures. The Government has said it is €5 million based on an average wage of €50,000 per annum but the average wage in the Defence Forces is €37,000 per annum.
The Minister of State might not be able to give me an answer to this question now but I would like an answer to it. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, had issued some correspondence to his constituents welcoming the new incoming posts to Cathal Brugha Barracks from McKee Barracks. There were big questions over the closure of McKee Barracks and it is felt by Army personnel that it is a much more accessible point in terms of any logisticial operations they would have to carry out than Cathal Brugha Barracks. The Minister of State can come back to me on this if he does not have information to hand. Did the Minister issue soft-copy e-mail or hard-copy newsletters or correspondence to his constituents welcoming new posts to Cathal Brugha Barracks and has he been politically trying to benefit from the restructuring of the Defence Forces for his own electoral gain in his constituency?
I am not aware of any newsletter going out with any news on Defence Forces from the Minister. I do not work in his constituency office or run his re-election campaign.
I can come back to Deputy Mac Lochlainn on that.
The Deputy spoke about re-skilling. If any organisation is professional in the manner in which it carries out reskilling and retraining, it is the Defence Forces. It cannot be questioned in any way about its capabilities and professionalism in the way it carries out that. I can assure the Deputy that if there is any moves of personnel within the Permanent Defence Force to different areas, they will be reskilled in a professional manner. I feel very strongly about that and I commend the Defence Forces on their capability in that area.
The Deputy spoke about the savings that can be achieved through the reorganisation of the structures. Monetary savings have been delivered through the reduction in personnel strength and the re-organisation will absorb the reduction in numbers and improve operational effectiveness. The reduction in the number of brigades from a three brigade structure to a two brigade structure will free up military personnel from administrative and support functions.
The Deputy also asked about the plans to transfer personnel from McKee Barracks to Cathal Brugha Barracks. With regard to the projected strength of McKee Barracks and Cathal Brugha Barracks arising out of the re-assignment due to the re-organisation, the comparative strength as per the end of March 2012 was 663 for McKee Barracks while it was 760 for Cathal Brugha Barracks. With a ceiling of 9,000, McKee Barracks will be involved in transfers amounting to 346 personnel while with a ceiling of 9,500 Cathal Brugha Barracks will recieve 1,045 personnel. It is inevitable that some personnel will have to change location to fill other appointments.