Thursday, 6 October 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
74. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the projects to be financed by the increased defence capital allocation announced in budget 2023; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48994/22]
The budget last week was a very good one, from the Minister's Department's point of view. I commend the Minister and the Government on increasing funding for the Department. As has been mentioned previously by both Deputies Richmond and Griffin, one of the most positive aspects of that was the increase in capital funding by €35 million, bringing the total capital fund up to €176 million. Noting what the Minister stated in his previous answer, what does he regard to a priority when it comes to investment in capital projects? Although it is a large amount of money, equipment and other things cost vast amounts as well, so we have to choose.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 74 and 90 together.
For 2023, the total allocation for Vote 36 – defence is €893 million, which is an overall increase of €57 million on 2022, doubling the increase for defence from last year. As the Deputy said, the defence capital allocation has increased by €35 million, up to €176 million. In truth, we will spend more than €176 million on capital next year because we will have that €35 million increase and we will also have some unspent moneys in the area of pay which, in all likelihood, will be transferred into capital investment as well. For what it is worth, I expect we will be well above €180 million of capital investment next year. The figure of €176 million represents a 25% increase on 2022. Defence capital investment delivers a significant return in terms of the wider societal impact and reassurance it contributes to overarching national security frameworks.
Among the projects across land, sea and air platforms included in the EDP for progression for next year are the ongoing midlife upgrade of the Army's fleet of Mowag Piranha III armoured personnel carriers; the acquisition of body armour and helmets, along with a range of chemical biological, radiological and nuclear suits; the acquisition of software-defined radio; the development of a primary radar capability, which many people in the House have asked me about, and with which we are moving ahead next year; the continuation of the midlife extension programme works on LÉ Niamh; and the acquisition of two inshore patrol vessels from the New Zealand Government to replace LÉ Orla and LÉ Ciara. One of the attractive elements of these highly efficient and modern vessels is that they require much smaller crews of around 35 rather than 50. We also intend to acquire two Airbus C295 maritime patrol aircraft. There is investment in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service and a big investment in primary radar capacity. That is the straight answer to the Deputy's question on prioritisation.
I thank the Minister for his answer. I am pleased to hear that there is to be significant investment in capital projects for the Naval Service. As the Minister is aware and as commentary has indicated, it has always been viewed a bit as the Cinderella of the Defence Forces. I like the fact that the Minister may be coming as the Prince Charming to give more money to the Naval Service.
As other Deputies, including Deputy Brady, mentioned, we cannot ignore what happened with the Nord Stream pipelines in the recent past. It is a matter of extreme concern that it appears to be the case that there may be malice behind the damage that was done to the Nord Stream pipeline. If that is going to be a development or practice in international disputes, we need to have a look to see what we can do to ensure we protect our cables and pipelines. That will mean significant investment in the Naval Service. We also need to recognise the jurisdiction in the sea for which Ireland is responsible is about 12 times our landmass. It is no easy task for the Naval Service to be able to do that. What type of equipment will assist the service in policing that large sea area?
What I did not mention previously in terms of capital investment next year was the actual physical build investment in the Defence Forces training camp at the Curragh, the development of a student facility in Galway, along with facilities improvements and accommodation upgrades in multiple different barracks locations. I should mention that.
What happened with Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 is still under investigation. Clearly, those two pipelines have been the source of a lot of political focus in the months since the war began. What we have seen was clearly deliberate sabotage of both pipelines and, from what we can see, it was done by a state actor because we do not believe that a non-state actor would have the capacity to do it. That is worrying. We do not have the full details of that and we probably will not have them for another while. We should not necessarily jump to the conclusion that every piece of cable and pipeline infrastructure in the EU and on the Continent of Europe is at risk. However, we need to be aware of that concern. That is why my Department and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications have had discussions with each other and with Gas Networks Ireland and EirGrid in relation to that infrastructure and how we may be able to respond to increased security concerns or risks linked to that.
The Minister is echoing the point, in many respects, that was made by the Commission on the Defence Forces in its recent report. It noted that the Naval Service currently does not have the capabilities required to closely monitor activity below the waves. Obviously, that report came out before what appears to have been a malicious attack on the Nord Stream pipelines.
We need to be vigilant and prepared because attacks on cables coming across the Atlantic would have a significant impact not only on the defence of the country but also on our ability to provide services for the large number of commercial activities that operate in this country.
It is going to be difficult to keep up with the demands involved in defending the seas. When it comes to the allocation of capital resources, the Minister should continue to do what he is doing, which is to try to prioritise the Naval Service to ensure our waters are protected in the same way we must protect our landmass.
I am absolutely committed to that. We have a very large sea area at surface level and below, which, as the Deputy said, is more than ten times the size of our land surface. I suspect we are going to build offshore infrastructure worth tens if not hundreds of billions of euro not only to power Ireland but also to power other countries in Europe in the future. We are about to embark on an enormous offshore energy build programme, which, of course, will be an infrastructure we have to ensure is secure and protected in the context of our sovereignty. There is going to be an increasing role for our Naval Service and Air Corps in that regard. There will also, to a certain extent, be a role for the Army. That means a consistent capital programme to invest in new equipment, new technology and more people, which, in turn, means a lot more money. We must get our heads around the fact that every year for the next decade we need to be looking at the kind of increases in defence budget that we have seen this year, or more again. An extra €100 million or more every year is more than justified and required to build up the kind of capacity that the commission has been clear is justified and needed.