Written answers

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Defence Forces

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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114. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 373 of 15 September 2021, the efforts being made by his Department to increase the strength of the Reserve Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56186/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The White Paper on Defence is clear that there is a continued requirement to retain and develop the Reserve Defence Force (RDF). A key ongoing challenge for the RDF is to recruit and retain personnel and I am aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment.

As outlined in the previous PQ referred to, the regulatory establishment of the Army Reserve (AR) and Naval Service Reserve (NSR) is 4,069 personnel, as provided for in Defence Force Regulation CS4. The current effective strength is 1,504 personnel, as of 31 October 2021. The strength of the First Line Reserve at that date is 263 personnel.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a very significant impact on Defence Forces recruitment, including to the RDF and has resulted in a reduction of most collective induction processing and training activities. The pandemic resulted in the enactment of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020 and the subsequent delays in Defence Forces applicant processing are now being addressed, including for RDF applicants.

The Military Authorities have advised that a revised Defence Forces framework for living with COVID -19 is in place and is reviewed on an ongoing basis. This revised framework, I understand, affords more scope for RDF training and induction within the parameters of Government guidelines. This of course, will be subject to continued guidance from Government on easing of restrictions.

While the Government remains committed to restoring the strength of the RDF, given the competing recruitment demands at present, where Permanent Defence Force (PDF) recruitment is and should remain a priority, it should be noted that the same personnel and resources are utilised for both PDF and RDF recruitment.

Nonetheless, RDF recruitment will also be progressed to the greatest extent possible and an additional 29 new RDF members have been inducted as at the end of October this year, with 17 inducted into the AR and 12 inducted into the NSR.

I also had the pleasure this week of attending a Commissioning Ceremony where a cohort of 29 officers were newly commissioned into the Army Reserve. These 29 personnel, men and women, received their commissions following their successful graduation from a Potential Officers Course.

Additionally, I understand that measures are currently under consideration by the military authorities with a view to streamlining elements of the induction process. The outcome of a pilot initiative in this regard is awaited and will further inform next steps.

The Independent Commission on the Defence Forces, which as the Deputy will be aware, is due to report at the end of the year and, in line with its Terms of Reference, is expected to include proposals on the role and contribution of the RDF. I very much look forward to the Report from the Commission.

The Deputy will also be aware that the Defence (Amendment) Act 2021 has now been signed into law and this will serve to update the Defence Legislation on the use of the RDF on a voluntary basis, on-island and overseas in support of the PDF. The amendments contained in the Defence (Amendment) Act do not prejudge any possible recommendations from the Commission, but will facilitate the implementation of any recommendations the Commission may make, which would, of necessity, require legislative amendments.

Finally, I wish to assure the Deputy that the Government appreciates the service of the RDF and recognises its important contribution to Ireland's defence capability.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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115. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his proposals to negate the impact of reports regarding the spiralling cost of living on serving members of the Permanent Defence Forces. [56517/21]

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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118. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the improvements that have taken place in the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces since this Government was formed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56482/21]

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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131. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the financial difficulties being experienced by members of the Naval Service; the practical measures he plans to take to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56545/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 115, 118 and 131 together.

Public Service pay policy is determined by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform having regard to Public Sector Pay Agreements.

Since the formation of the Government last year, members of the Defence Forces received a 2% increase on annualised salaries from 1stOctober 2020, in line with the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020.

The 5% cut in Defence Forces allowances, imposed under the Financial Emergency in the Public Interest (FEMPI) legislation, was also restored from 1stOctober 2020.

The current public service pay agreement, ‘Building Momentum – A New Public Service Agreement 2021 – 2022’ ,provides for further increases in pay and allowances to all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces. Most recently a general round increase in annualised basic salary of 1% or €500, whichever was the greater, came into effect on 1stOctober 2021.

The agreement provides for further increases in 2022, i.e.:

- The equivalent of a 1% increase in annualised basic salaries to be used as a Sectoral Bargaining Fund, in accordance with Chapter 2 of the Agreement, on 1stFebruary 2022.

- A general round increase in annualised basic salaries for all public servants of 1% or €500, whichever is greater on, 1stOctober 2022.

In relation to specific measures, the sea going naval personnel tax credit, which was introduced in the Finance Act 2019, was increased from €1,270 to €1,500 for the 2021 tax year and has been extended to the 2022 tax year.

A new sea-going service commitment scheme, for Naval Service personnel, came into effect from 1stJanuary 2021. This scheme is aimed at retaining highly trained and experienced personnel, while also incentivising sea going duties.

The Government remains fully committed to addressing pay and conditions in the Defence Forces. The Programme for Government provided for the establishment of a Commission on the Defence Forces, which was established in December 2020. The terms of reference for the Commission includes an examination of the evolution of all remuneration systems and structures currently in place in the Defence Forces

On completion of the Commission's work, I will consult with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the establishment of a permanent pay review body for the Defence Forces.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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116. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will provide information regarding the average 17.5 patrol days that were reported to be cancelled each month in 2019, which rose to 30 per month to date in 2021; the purpose of the patrols; and the reason for cancellation. [56520/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Naval Service is the State's principal sea-going agency and is tasked with a variety of defence and other roles. The primary day-to-day tasking of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. The Naval Service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone. These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed to all areas of Irish waters as necessary.

Scheduled patrol days can be impacted by a range of factors including adverse weather conditions, unscheduled maintenance as well as staffing issues.

The table below outlines the number of cancelled Naval Service patrol days for the full year of 2019 and also up to 31 October 2021.

Number of Naval Service cancelled Patrol days

Period covered Number of cancelled patrol days Average patrol days cancelled per month
01 Jan 2019 - 31 Dec 2019 94 7.8
01 Jan 2020 – 31 Dec 2020 81 6.7
01 Jan 2021 - 31 October 2021 223 22.3

The increase in cancelled patrol days in 2021 is mainly due to issues relating to COVID 19 as one of the ships, LÉ Ciara could not go to sea given its inability, due to its size, to implement safely the necessary Covid 19 precautions. There were also some unforeseen mechanical issues. In particular 47 scheduled patrol days were cancelled in 2021 due to a fire which occurred on board LÉ NIAMH in late 2020. A shortage of suitably qualified and experienced personnel during the period in question was also a factor.

Notwithstanding the mechanical and staffing challenges being experienced, I am satisfied that the Naval Service continues to carry out the roles assigned by Government.

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