Tuesday, 28 June 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
79. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way that he proposes to implement the recommendation of the Commission on the Defence Forces for the enhancement of Defence Forces structures across the cyber domain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34205/22]
Question No. 79 asks how the Minister intends to implement the recommendation of the Commission on the Defence Forces for the enhancement of Defence Forces structures across the cyber domain. Can the Minister also tell us what the plans are on cybersecurity and the role of the Defence Forces in that, which most people think should be central to it?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 78 and 79 together.
There will be a new cyber command within new Defence Force structures. That will report into the Defence Forces headquarters, which will be headed up by what is called a CHOD, which is a military term for a chief of defence. We envisage that the cyber role of the Defence Forces will be increasingly important in security terms. People do not need me to remind them how vulnerable every country is to cyberattacks, including this one. In the middle of a pandemic, we experienced a cyberattack on our health system which meant that many of our hospitals were run on paper-based systems for quite a period. I estimate it cost the State well over €100 million to resolve that issue. There are vulnerabilities there that we need to guard against but primary responsibility, in terms of Government Department for cybersecurity for the State, does not rest with the Department of Defence but with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. Nevertheless, we work closely with the National Cyber Security Centre.
I have to guarantee that the Defence Forces and their security infrastructure is fully protected against potential cyberattacks on our systems and networks. For that, we need more resources and people and an increased priority for the cyber domain, which I intend to pursue in a way that is consistent with the recommendations in the commission report.
I welcome that response. In building up this cyber capability, will the reality of the need to attract very skilled people into this space in the military be taken into account in laying out the type of salary levels and conditions that these people will work under? If one wants to attract and retain very high quality people, one will have to pay the competitive wage for such people from outside of the military.
More generally on the wage issue, let us not forget that the Defence Forces are part of the public sector pay negotiation. Both PDFORRA, which has been campaigning on this issue for years, and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, asked me to facilitate the associate membership of their organisations in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, for the purposes of this round of pay negotiations and we have done that, which is a first.
If the Defence Forces' representative bodies are part of that ICTU structure now, it is difficult to ask for separate treatment of wages outside of the public sector pay deal. Having said that, we need to attract the right skill set, particularly specialists, into the Defence Forces. I believe we will see some civilianisation also in some of this space which can work, just like we have seen civilianisation within An Garda Síochána, which has worked quite well. We will be exploring various different approaches but undoubtedly the Deputy is correct in that we need to get skill sets that can deal at a senior level with the cyber security threat and we will need to compete with the private sector to get that skill set. That will not be easy.
I take it that the Minister would accept that in the past, certain specialists had special salaries, for example medical personnel, and so forth, within the military. Otherwise, they would not have been attracted to work in that sector because of the salaries available outside of it for people so qualified.
Can I take it that the rates that would be set for people like this with very high levels of skills will be equivalent to those in the private sector? I wish to put on record that I welcome the decision that PDFORRA and RACO could affiliate to ICTU in the way they did. That is a step forward.
One of the things that one cannot do forever, however, is that where there are wage anomalies, just because there are issues of parity, this cannot become an absolute rule that one can never change anything. Then the past becomes the present becomes the future. We have to have flexibility that where something needs to change, it can change.
Yes, but it will have to change within public sector pay policy. That is not to say that we cannot strategically use allowances within the Defence Forces in a way that perhaps gets better outcomes and the commission makes some recommendations in that regard. Undoubtedly, we have to find a way of ensuring that we have a sufficient number of specialists, particularly in the cybersecurity space, but there are other specialist areas also around engineering, navigation and various other types of engineering specialties that we have to get into the Defence Forces, across the Naval Service, the Air Corps and the Army. I am conscious of that and, of course, we will make a case to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform if there are gaps that can only be filled by making an exception. We will have to get approval for that, however, which is never easy because it has a knock-on impact in precedent terms in other areas of the public sector. My job is to get the best deal possible for the Defence Forces and that is what I will be trying to do.