Tuesday, 15 February 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, to the Seanad to discuss this very important issue.
I welcome the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. There is no doubt that this will foster real debate and, indeed, has started to do that around the defence Ireland needs as a modern European country. This is very welcome. It is a substantial report running to 224 pages and making 69 recommendations. I commend all of those involved in this very comprehensive report.
There are many noteworthy recommendations within the report such as: a meaningful transformation in the military hierarchy; an increased focus on cybersecurity; new armed personnel carriers; a larger and more robust naval capacity; a larger aircraft fleet; and many others. Of course, there was a huge emphasis on the people within the Defence Forces. That is absolutely the greatest strength we have.The recommendations for the regeneration plan for the Reserve are critical. The proposal of regular potential officer courses, what we call the commissioning of the ranks, enables experienced non-commissioned officers to train to join the commissioned ranks. They are recommendations that the former Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, made in 2006. In 2022 it is still a recommendation but nothing has happened in between, which is regrettable. We have to recognise there has been a lost decade for the Defence Forces and that defence needs an increase in current funding and investment to undo the damage caused by neglect and return Defence Forces modernisation to the path originally charted in the 2000 White Paper.
I hail from Kildare and represented that area in the last Dáil, where I advocated strongly on behalf of the defence community not just in Kildare but across the country. I have continued to advocate strongly for it in this House. While I am pleased to see the comprehensive report, I am concerned and slightly sceptical about the implementation process. We need to see action now. We have broken the trust of the defence community before by failing to act and this cannot be allowed happen again. For far too long the Defence Forces have been under-resourced, ignored and not shown the respect they deserve. This has to be a turning-point for the defence community in my area of south Kildare and across the country. The days of reports and talking about reports must come to an end. We need to come to the next phase if we are to revitalise our Defence Forces and if we are serious about attracting people to a career in our forces, which is hugely important.
In this House last week, I asked the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, to prioritise the immediate establishment of a permanent pay review body in tandem with my party colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath. Pay and conditions for Defence Forces personnel must improve and the establishment of this pay review body must be a priority. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, to outline when we will see a comprehensive implementation plan. How long does the Minister of State estimate full implementation will take? Will he on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, commit to prioritising the establishment of a permanent pay review body as a matter of urgency?