Wednesday, 21 November 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Defence Forces Expenditure
What was the percentage increase for current defence expenditure in 2019, and will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter? There is serious concern that the stagnant level of defence expenditure is having an impact the ability of the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army. Despite our being a neutral country, we are falling behind in the context of the overall budgetary expenditure. Will the Minister of State outline the budgetary allocation?
The provision of current expenditure for the defence sector for 2019 is €888 million, which is an increase of 2.1% on the 2018 provision. This comprises €639 million in current funding for Vote 36 - Defence and €249 million in current funding for Vote 35 - Army Pensions. Capital funding of €106 million has also been provided. Overall, the increase in funding for the defence sector for 2019 is 5%.
I am delighted to take this opportunity to set out the 2019 funding position which shows this Government’s commitment to defence, as evidenced by the increased allocation provided for 2019. The total defence sector allocation, including Army pensions, will be €994 million in 2019, an increase of €47.5 million over 2018. This allocation of almost €1 billion emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the resources necessary to deliver on all roles assigned by Government, both at home and overseas.
Defence Forces pay is continuing to increase in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay, ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over its lifetime. The 2019 allocation includes €6.3 million to meet the commitments for next year. Further increases in pay are scheduled for 2020.
The Government has ensured that full funding has been provided for 2019 for the target strength for the Permanent Defence Force of 9,500, and I continue to engage with the military authorities to ensure that retention and recruitment continue to be prioritised. An additional €2.2 million has been allocated to meet other current costs in the Defence Vote, and a further €10 million has been allocated to the Army Pensions Vote to meet the retirement costs of ex-members of the permanent Defence Force and certain dependants.
In accordance with the national development plan, the capital allocation for defence has been increased to €106 million for 2019, an increase of €29 million. The national development plan provides for a total of €541 million over the period 2018 to 2022. This level of capital funding will allow the defence organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, as identified and prioritised in the Defence White Paper, and builds on the significant investment programme over recent years.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In summary, the allocation for current expenditure, including pay and pension costs, in the defence sector for 2019 has increased by €18.5 million, an increase of 2.1%. This, combined with the increased capital allocation, will give an overall provision of almost €1 billion for next year, illustrating the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the capabilities necessary to deliver on all their assigned roles.
I am aware the Minister of State has outlined his explanation, but of real concern is an internal document from the finance branch of the support division from the Defence Forces Ireland, Óglaigh na hÉireann which has outlined an analysis of the budgetary allocation that he has secured. It says that the defence group expenditure for 2019 represents 1.49% of total Government spending. The group expenditure ceiling as a percentage of GDP last year was higher. We have a lot of spin around recruitment and retention, but the bare facts show that his Department has the lowest percentage increase in allocation in a Government context. Year on year, for example, as a percentage of GDP, the allocation for next year has dropped. It is 0.291% versus 0.292% this year. The gross national income has dropped to 0.479% for next year, which is again a percentage reduction.
All the key metrics point to a reduced defence budget in real terms. In this internal document, which is from the military authorities themselves, it is stated that an evaluation utilising a number of key statistics would indicate that defence spending is reducing or remaining stagnant in real terms. How can the Minister of State stand over a stagnant budgetary allocation when we have such a recruitment and retention crisis and issues around morale? It is important that the mandarins in his Department secure a greater allocation from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
I take great umbrage at the Deputy's comments. Did he call them mandarins? It is total ignorance to call a civil servant a mandarin. It is beneath the Deputy and anybody in this House. I will say no more. It is up to the Deputy to correct the record if he wants to proceed in that manner.
Almost €1 billion is being allocated for defence spending in 2019. That is a €47 million increase, which equates to a 5% increase in 2019.
The conclusions reached in the internal document that the Deputy talks about are completely contradicted by its own analysis. It describes a 5.7% increase of €48 million and also states that there is an increase of €48 million in defence spending or 5.07% of the 2018 gross expenditure ceiling. This document was prepared internally.
I will stand over the increase and I am delighted that we gained the increase in this year's budget for defence spending. We will be able to carry on with the ongoing capital investment within the Department and the Defence Forces. The Deputy knows the real capital expenditure and investment that we are putting into the Defence Forces. On the current side there was an increase of 2.1% and an increase of 37.7% on the capital side. There is ongoing investment within the Defence Forces.
The Deputy referred to recruitment and retention. The most important thing here is that the Government has provided resources to the Defence Forces for a full personnel complement of 9,500 members.
The conclusion is very clear. Defence spending in all of the key metrics is reducing or remaining stagnant in real terms. He can spin it whatever way he likes to and so can his Department officials. The reality is that under his leadership, his Department is beefing up its own internal management.
The Minister of State has created a new assistant secretary position while we are haemorrhaging massive numbers in a recruitment and retention crisis. This is happening under the Minister of State's watch. He secured the lowest percentage increase relative to other Departments. He is the Scrooge of the Government when it comes to allocations and securing funding for military personnel in the State. There will be a Public Service Pay Commission report next year, but there does not appear to be much hope in the budgetary allocation for that year. If the Minister of State rejects the internal note made by military management, it is on him. It looks at gross national income, gross domestic product and the key metrics in budgetary allocations and the allocation is stagnant. Management also made a notable point in its report. When compared to the Minister for Justice and Equality, military management states An Garda Síochána is receiving an additional €60 million in 2019 to fund Garda reforms and the introduction of 800 new recruits. Similarly, the overseas aid allocation has been increased by €110 million in budget 2019. Management is comparing the Minister of State's allocations negatively with those for the Department of Justice and Equality.
To compare it with other Votes, the defence group expenditure ceiling was increased by 5.07%, while the education and skills group expenditure ceiling increased by 4.9%, the health group expenditure ceiling by 6.2% and the justice group expenditure ceiling by 5.9%. That confirms that the increase in the defence Vote was comparable with the increases in other Votes. The Deputy says I am a Scrooge when it comes to negotiating a budget for the Department of Defence. Since I was appointed to the Department, the budget has increased year on year. The Deputy has an internal document. It is quite worrying that it has been leaked from the Defence Forces, which it is presumed are secure. I am disappointed that an internal document has been released into the public domain. There was an increase of €48 million, or 5.07%, in the 2018 gross expenditure ceiling. I am quoting from the same document the Deputy has in his possession.