Thursday, 20 September 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Defence Forces Reserve Strength
To ask the Minister for Defence the current status of the review into the Reserve Defence Force, the vision he has for the future of the RDF; the time line of the value for money review; if he sees it as an integral part of the Defence Forces; his views on recent media speculation regarding its future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39665/12]
The steering committee, established to oversee the value for money review of the reserve, met most recently on the 19 September and is working towards completing the review by the end of this month. The steering committee commenced its work in February 2010, and in the intervening period other priorities, such as undertaking the comprehensive review of expenditure, diverted analytical resources away from the value for money review. In this context, the review has taken longer than anticipated. However, in practical terms, the development of proposals for the reserve would have been premature in advance of the outcome of the comprehensive review of expenditure. Arising from the comprehensive review of expenditure, the Government stabilised the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel and a major re-organisation of the Permanent Defence Force was initiated. This encompasses a reduction in the number of army brigades from the current three to two. As part of the re-organisation, Permanent Defence Force personnel are being re-deployed from administrative and support tasks to operational units. As part of this process, the number of Permanent Defence Force personnel available to work full time with the Army reserve, known as the Permanent Defence Force cadre, is being reduced to 24 in each Army brigade - 48 in total - and additional support will be available to the reserve from within Permanent Defence Force units.
The steering committee undertaking the value for money review of the reserve must have due regard to the revised Permanent Defence Force organisational structures and available resource envelope when framing its recommendations. Any recommendations regarding the reserve organisation must dovetail with the new Permanent Defence Force organisational structures.
Recently there has been speculation that the reserve was being disbanded. This is unhelpful and unwarranted as there have been repeated assurances that no decisions have been made regarding the future development of the reserve pending the completion of the value for money report. I confirm that this remains the position.
The Minister is looking forward to receiving the value for money report and considering its recommendations. Any further comments at this point, including possible options for the future development of the Reserve Defence Force, would be pre-empting the final report, and the Minister is anxious to allow the steering committee to complete its work.
I had hoped my question might put people's mind at rest in respect of the future of the Reserve Defence Force but I fear it will have the opposite effect in light of the comments of the Minister of State. I reflect considerable disappointment at the fact the value for money review has been ongoing for two years in respect of an area that spends 1% of the overall defence budget. That figure was cut by 50% in 2010. Perhaps more enthusiasm and energy could be injected into the review process. It is to be hoped the Minister can give us an absolute assurance that the proposal will come forward before the end of September. We spoke earlier about the fact that the Defence Forces have been to the fore in public service reform and have accepted major reform. We saw the reserve go from 13,000 in 2004 to 6,000 members at present. I would like to hear an assurance from the Minister of State, given that he is directly responsible for the area, that he is committed to the future of the Reserve Defence Force, that he has an optimum figure in his mind for the personnel that should form its membership, and that he will do his best to ensure many young people, who are more than willing to participate in training and other opportunities offered by the Reserve Defence Force, will have the opportunity to participate now and in the future.
I will repeat the second last paragraph of my reply.
As I stated, there was speculation recently that the Defence Force Reserve is to be disbanded. This is unhelpful and unwarranted. There have been repeated assurances that no decision was made regarding the future development of the Defence Force Reserve pending the completion of the value for money report. I very much look forward to the report. When it is published, we can determine the future of the force.
I visited members of the Defence Force Reserve recently at a training exercise in the Glen of Imaal. I commended them on their enthusiasm and commitment to the force and on their work. Some have been in the reserve force for years. It is great to see new members showing enthusiasm. Having spoken to some members, I understand they, too, are seeking reform. They very much look forward to the publication of the value for money report. They are willing to co-operate and have an input into the review. The report is expected shortly.
The Deputy has a personal interest in the Defence Force Reserve. We are very much looking forward to working closely with it as soon as the value for money report is published.
I respect the Minister of State's personal interest in this matter and his commitment but the members of the Defence Force Reserve want from him an assurance that he, as Minister of State, is committed to the future development of the force. He has not made that commitment today. The members also expect him to say he is bewildered at the fact that it has taken two years to consider a review of the expenditure of 1% of the Department's overall budget.
We came into office in 2011. I explained in my reply the position on reorganisation and the comprehensive review of expenditure, and on the role of the people working on the review. We are anxious for progress but I will not pre-empt the content of any report to be published. I assure the Deputy that as soon as the value for money report is published, there will be questions on defence in the Dáil the next day. I look forward to allaying any fears of the members of the Defence Force Reserve. Last Saturday week, I addressed a group of members in the Curragh. The Defence Forces, Department and Government very much appreciate the great work of the reserves and their training and commitment. Nobody wants to see the Defence Force Reserve come to an end. However, I will not pre-empt the content of the value for money review. I will await its publication, after which we will have a conversation on the content.