Written answers

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Department of Defence

Defence Forces Personnel

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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63. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to improve retention and recruitment in the Defence Forces. [36586/20]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The military authorities have advised that the whole time equivalent strength of the Permanent Defence Force, at 30th September 2020, was 8,529 personnel, comprised of

- Army 6,878

- Air Corps 752

- Naval Service 899 personnel.

I am aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the overall current strength figures and those of the establishment and I am committed to restoring the strength of the Permanent Defence Force to 9,500 personnel.

The Public Service Pay Commission Report and implementation of its recommendations through the High Level Plan - Strengthening Our Defence Forces - Phase 1, is a key part of the response to address recruitment and retention challenges. 

I accept that there are on-going difficulties in the Defence Forces, and these have been well-documented.

However, there are also positive developments which are restoring capacity in areas which were significantly depleted. By way of an example, overall Officer numbers are just seventeen off the full establishment figure as at 30th September 2020. Whilst I appreciate that experience levels have declined at some ranks, and that there remain gaps in certain areas, the continued attraction of Officer Cadets in what was a competitive jobs market is indicative of the continued attractiveness of such a career.

Further initiatives such as re-commissioning of former Air Corps pilots has also assisted in boosting much needed specialists and I understand that further specialist Officers will be re-commissioned. The re-enlistment of former enlisted personnel is another initiative that is to be welcomed. Whilst the numbers being inducted are lower than initially anticipated, all will play an important role in restoring capacity.

The recent introduction of a sea-going service commitment scheme for Naval Service personnel is an example of a measure aimed at retaining experienced personnel and follows the reintroduction of a successful service commitment scheme for Flying Officers in the Air Corps.

The fact is that the restoration of capacity in the Defence Forces will take time. The Programme for Government provides that a Commission on the Defence Forces will be tasked with examining a range of issues. This will provide an opportunity to chart the future direction of the Defence Forces. There is also a commitment to establish a pay review body for the Defence Forces when the Commission has completed its work.  

Working closely with the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff, and a range of key stakeholders, I am confident that the current challenges facing the Defence Forces can be overcome.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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64. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to uninvestigated historic sex abuse within the Defence Forces; the progress he has made on assessing, collating, investigating and addressing the legacy of such historic sex abuse in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36668/20]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The existence of actual or alleged sex abuse claims within a workplace is probably one of the most serious issues to be addressed by an employer. As an employer, I wish to state categorically that I do not condone in any way any such behaviour within the Defence Forces. I urge anyone who has any complaint which they think constitutes a criminal offence to report their concerns to an Garda Síochána. A serving member of the Defence Forces could report such matters via the chain of command or the military police.

From time to time matters pertaining to allegations of sex abuse are brought to my attention and I confirm that I have received correspondence containing allegations of inappropriate conduct in the workplace of an historical nature. The manner in which I receive this type of information and particularly if it is historical in nature, has a bearing on how I can deal with it. It may be received via a third party, it may be disclosed under condition of a person’s identity being protected or it may be received under privilege. Whenever I receive such information, I treat the matter with the utmost importance from the point of view of both the complainant and of those accused of wrongdoing who must have their right to fair procedures protected. This, in my opinion, is best achieved by those who may have suffered serious wrong reporting their complaints of a criminal nature to an Garda Síochána who have the lawful authority to investigate and to prosecute. This process, while not an easy road for anyone to travel, is designed to bring about a result in accordance with law and to provide suitable penalties against those who are convicted of crimes. The Gardaí have the expertise and skills to treat all of those in this process with dignity and respect and especially those who come forward with traumatic detail.

All members of the Defence Forces, Permanent and Reserve, have a right to be treated with respect, equality and dignity and to carry out their duties free from any form of sexual harassment, harassment or bullying. These unacceptable forms of behaviour are not tolerated in the Defence Forces.

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