Thursday, 6 October 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 73 and 88 together.
For 2023, the total allocation for the Defence group is €1.174 billion, comprising €893 million for Vote 36, Defence, and €281 million for Vote 35, Army pensions. This is an overall increase of €67 million on 2022 and double the increase last year. The allocation reflects the commitment of the Government to providing a financial platform for the defence sector to initiate the transformation of the Defence Forces, as recommended by the Commission on the Defence Forces. It also brings our defence capabilities closer to European norms and ensures the Defence Forces maintain their ongoing capacity to deliver on all roles assigned by the Government, both at home and overseas.
The Commission on the Defence Forces reinforced the urgent requirement for significant capital investment on defensive equipment programmes and upgrading and modernising the Defence Forces' built infrastructure. The capital allocation has increased by €35 million for next year to €176 million, which is a 25% increase in one year. This allocation represents the single biggest annual capital investment ever provided for defence. Many of the military equipment projects are complex, multi-annual and have long lead-in times. The additional funding now provided will further enable the Department and the Defence Forces to plan, prioritise and deliver on scheduled projects over the coming years. In particular, it allows my Department to progress its consideration of the development of a primary radar capability and the procurement of additional force protection equipment. A significant number of building projects will also advance under the Defence Forces built infrastructure programme, which will modernise and upgrade defence built infrastructure over the coming months. I referred to the capital investment plan of more than €70 million over the next few years for Haulbowline naval base, which is part of that.
The allocation for current expenditure in the Defence Vote has increased by €22 million to €717 million, made of up €175 million to meet standing and operational costs and €542 million for the ongoing pay and allowances of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and departmental civil servants, including the costs associated with the existing Building Momentum pay deal. The allocation includes funding to facilitate further recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force, in line with the recommendations of the commission. Funding is also provided to facilitate implementation of a number of key recommendations of the commission, such as specific enhancements to pay and allowances and the recruitment of a head of transformation and head of strategic HR in the Defence Forces, as outlined in the high-level action plan.
The allocation for Vote 35, Army pensions, has increased by €10 million to €281 million and will meet the pensions costs for more than 13,000 ex-members of the Defence Forces and their dependants.
The €67 million increase in the allocation does not fully describe the increases in defence spending next year. If, as expected, the new pay deal is accepted by unions, it will mean another €47 million on top of the €67 million spent on defence next year. That will give an increase in the overall spend on defence of approximately €114 million in one year, which is more than a 10% increase. By any standards, people would have to accept this as a very significant signal of intent that the Government is serious about implementing the commission's recommendations and, I hope, continuing to increase defence budgets year on year right up to 2028.
I congratulate the Minister on achieving such an important increase in the budget, which it is not easy to do. I hope it is a precedent for further investment in years to come. There is a huge amount of catching up to be done and this level of investment needs to be repeated and accelerated next year and in the years after that. The investment in capital spending is important and long overdue and it must be sustained and further increased. I hope the pay agreement will be completed. I know from speaking to members of the Defence Forces that many are keen to see it concluded and feel it is long overdue.
Will any of the investment we are going to see focus on international co-operation, particularly in regard to protecting our territorial waters?
I welcome the increase in spending. Will the Minister delve a bit more into the capital spend on built infrastructure? In replies to questions prior to the budget, he highlighted a number of issues, including Haulbowline, which he mentioned today, but also, for example, physical training preparation. Second, will there be much or any capital spending on accommodation for members of the Defence Forces, either by way of upgrade or construction of new on-base accommodation?
I will answer Deputy Richmond's second question first. Work being undertaken includes the provision of a new cadet school in the Curragh Camp, the development of the university students administrative complement, USAC, student facility in Galway, the development of a new military medical facility and other facilities to improve Casement Aerodrome, accommodation upgrades in multiple locations throughout the country, such as at Collins and McKee Barracks and at the naval base in Haulbowline. This year, I opened new, modern gym facilities at the barracks in both Limerick and Kilkenny. That is just a flavour of the capital infrastructure investment we are undertaking.
As I said earlier regarding the challenges around recruitment and retention in the Naval Service, we have a capital investment programme that is worth more than €70 million for Haulbowline alone. We opened a refurbished accommodation building of a really high standard there last month, as well as a new jetty facility that has significantly improved the capacity of the naval base. Work will start on two more buildings in the first quarter of next year to upgrade office accommodation and other forms of accommodation in Haulbowline. We are also starting to plan for a new gymnasium there. We know there is a lot of physical infrastructure that needs to be upgraded. I have talked about Haulbowline but I could say the same about the Curragh and many other key barracks around the country.
Regarding funding certainty, the whole point of the commission's report was to set a horizon in the future, set targets as to where we need to be by then and give funding certainty in terms of what is needed to get us there. That is the advantage of having the commission report. We have agreement by way of a Government decision that by 2028, we will have the equivalent spend on defence and military equipment of €1.5 billion in January 2022 value.
In other words, it will have to be linked to military inflation. In my view, by 2028 that will mean a figure close to €2 billion in defence spending, which effectively means increasing it from €1.1 billion to close to €2 billion over a six-year period. That is the kind of certainty the Department of Defence needs and the Defence Forces and their Chief of Staff need in order to be able to plan for an investment programme in subsea capacity and primary radar capacity, to get a multirole vessel into our naval fleet, which will be the largest ever ship we have had in our fleet when it is delivered, and to get new CASA aircraft in the sky, new Mowag Piranha III armoured personnel carriers and whatever else we decide to do. Defence has never had that kind of funding certainty before, but we have it now.
It is vitally important that there is a goal, a target and a roadmap. Again, I congratulate the Minister on his achievement in the budget. That has to be met in future years, whichever parties are in government, because there is a lot of catching up to be done. I welcome the Minister's clarification in relation to the index-linking of expenditure. I have a question coming up shortly on the undersea issue. It is a pressing matter not just in terms of our own security, but the security of the entire Continent. That will have to be prioritised as well.
There will always be incidents that test our systems and capacity. Last year, we were talking about our experience of getting people out of Kabul. People were rightly raising the question of whether we have a medium-range lift capacity in our Defence Forces which would enable them to take people out of a part of the world where we need to get people out quickly, and what we are doing about that. Now we are being asked what our capacity is in terms of monitoring subsea cables, and what we are doing about that. We will also have questions around our capacity in peacekeeping missions in different parts of the world if we are going to move to chapter VII rather than chapter VI missions, which the UN will certainly ask of us, and what we are doing about that in terms of equipment and training. We need to see this as a challenge that we can only respond to over a number of years. That means investing more in defence and being unapologetic and transparent about what that means, rather than pretending that somehow a neutral country does not have to invest in defence or that if there is a conference on technology and military equipment taking place in Ireland, all of a sudden it is somehow some kind of arms conference. It is not. It is about Ireland having a conversation about how we apply the technology and equipment that we need to be able to do all these things in terms of the investment programmes that we have for the Irish Defence Forces in order that they can do their job efficiently in the future.