Written answers

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Defence Forces

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
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96. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to commit Irish personnel to serve in MINURSO. [56578/21]

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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134. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason Ireland has withdrawn two officers from the MINURSO mission in Western Sahara; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56549/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 96 and 134 together.

In July this year, the decision was taken to withdraw the two Defence Forces' personnel deployed to the MINURSO mission. This followed a review of current overseas deployments and a proposal from the General Staff. The withdrawal of the personnel arose from a need identified by the General Staff to consolidate current operational deployments in the context of additional commitments by Ireland in recent years to peacekeeping operations including UNDOF, MINUSMA, EUTM Mali and EU CSDP Operation IRINI.

I can assure the Deputy that Ireland remains a strong supporter of the United Nations role and its engagement in the Western Sahara, including the role played by the MINURSO mission.

The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces constantly review the deployment of Irish personnel overseas. Any decision with regard to future deployments of Defence Forces personnel, including any possible return to MINURSO, would have to be considered by reference to a number of other considerations, including the resourcing of the mission and the level of existing commitments to other peacekeeping operations and security requirements at home.

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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97. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the efforts being made by him and his Department to address the retention of post-1994 personnel some of whom face discharge from the Defences Forces in December 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56583/21]

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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107. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of discussions with an organisation (details supplied) on the recommendations to resolve the issue of post-1994 contracts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56300/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 97 and 107 together.

Military life places unique demands on individuals and it is necessary that Defence Forces personnel are prepared to meet the challenges of all military operations. For this reason compulsory retirement ages for ranks in the Permanent Defence Force are considerably lower than in other employments.

The age and fitness profile of the Permanent Defence Force have been the subject of a number of reviews. A range of policies were introduced to ensure an appropriate age profile and levels of fitness. This included fixed term contracts for certain ranks enlisted from 1994 onwards.

Arising from an adjudication in 2015, it was agreed that a further review of contracts of service for Line Corporals and Privates and Corporals in receipt of Technical Pay 1 and 2 would be conducted. It was subsequently agreed with PDFORRA that all Privates and Corporals recruited post 1994, would be allowed to continue in service to 31 December 2022 (or until they reach the age of 50), provided these personnel meet certain criteria during the interim period, including medical grades and fitness tests.

This agreement was also extended to include post 1994 Sergeants, who also can continue to serve to the same date, subject to their meeting similar criteria in the interim period. These measures are in place to provide time for the review to be completed.

A joint civil/military review of mandatory retirement ages of all ranks in the Permanent Defence Force has been conducted. The review has taken into account the Report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force, which included in their recommendations, the need to consider options to tackle barriers to extended participation in the Permanent Defence Force.

The recommendations in the joint civil/military review requires consideration from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in relation to implications on costs and pensions. Discussions with PDFORRA on the recommendations will take place following the consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

I have said previously that I want to provide clarity on this issue before the end of the year. This is not solely my nor my Department's decision. We have to work with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as well. Nonetheless that is a commitment I have given and I want to follow through on it.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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100. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on the efforts being made by his Department to encourage and increase diversity in the ranks of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56185/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I believe it is critically important that the Defence Forces reflects the modern demographics of today’s Irish society. To that end, the Defence Forces is committed to supporting a diverse workforce through its various policies and strategies.

The Defence Forces Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Statement and Action Plan, launched in 2016, commits to an inclusive workplace environment where dignity and respect are afforded to all. In addition, the Defence Forces comply with the legal provisions of the Gender Recognition Act, 2015.

A number of initiatives with a particular focus on diversity in communications have already been implemented with a view to increasing the diversity of Defence Forces personnel. These include:

- Information on Defence Forces careers provided to cultural, religious and ethnic groups throughout Ireland via the Irish Centre for Diversity;

- Schools receive briefs on careers in the Defence Forces on an ongoing basis and this is coordinated and conducted by Brigades and Formations;

- The Defence Forces website also includes an education piece on Gender, Equality and Diversity;

- And 2020 also saw a review of the Defence Force’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Statement and Action Plan which provided recommendations for the development of the strategy into the future.

The Defence Forces’ approach to diversity and inclusion is also anchored in the White Paper on Defence 2015. A number of projects were identified with a view to ensuring that the Defence Organisation was reflective of Irish society and its changing nature.

Other measures which support the Defence Force’s commitment to a workplace underpinned by diversity and inclusion include the following:

- Both the Department and the Defence Forces, are represented on a Committee, led by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth established to oversee and monitor progress on the implementation of the National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy 2019-2021.

- Additionally, the Defence Forces LGBTQI+ Network “Defend with Pride” was launched in October 2016 with the aim of providing support, information and guidance for LGBT personnel and allies who wish to support colleagues, family and friends. The Defence Forces were subsequently winners of the HR Leadership & Management Awards 2020 for ‘Best Public Sector Initiative’.

- A Joint Civil/Military working group was established in 2019, to progress the of Transgender Employment Policy for the Defence Forces. This work is continuing.

- The Defence Forces participated in Dublin Pride for the first time in 2018 and contributed to the 2020 virtual Pride Parade in the form of a virtual pride message from the Chair of Defence with Pride, the Defence Forces LGBTQI+ and Allies Network and a message of support and solidarity from the Chaplaincy Service led by the Head Chaplain.

- In addition, the Defence Forces and my Department, also contributed to ‘Our Public Service 2020 Action 16’, which aims to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, across the Public Sector.

I am satisfied that through its various policies and strategies, the Defence Forces with the support of my Department, is committed to supporting a diverse workforce reflecting the Ireland of today.

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