Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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49. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of annual leave days that were lost by officers; the number of annual leave days that were lost by enlisted personnel in each of the years 2017 to 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23500/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The granting of Annual Leave to members of the Permanent Defence Force is governed by Defence Forces Regulations.

I am advised by the Military Authorities that under these Regulations, a member may carry forward annual leave not granted or availed of in the leave year concerned, to a subsequent leave year, subject to a maximum of 24 days in the case of Commissioned Officers; 19 days in the case of a Non-Commissioned Officer or Private of the Army or Air Corps; or 24 days in the case of a Non-Commissioned Officer or Ordinary Seaman or Able Seaman of the Naval Service.

I'm also advised that in some circumstances, a member of the Permanent Defence Force may be unable to avail of their full annual leave entitlement in any one leave year, as a result of their deployment on an Overseas Mission. However, the Deputy may wish to note that personnel returning from overseas deployments also receive additional mission leave.

I would also add that there are circumstances where a member may be allowed to carry forward annual leave, from one leave year to the next, up to a maximum of 4 working weeks for use within the period of 15 months after the end of a leave year. This may arise where an individual is unable to take all or part of their annual leave entitlement in that leave year due to illness, for which they have been granted sick leave in accordance with Defence Force Regulation A. 12, of if they have availed of maternity leave or adoptive leave.

The Military Authorities have supplied the details of the number of annual leave days, in line with the provisions of the Regulation, that were lost by Officers and the number of annual leave days that were lost by Enlisted Personnel in each of the years 2017 to 2021, as follows:

Enlisted Personnel

Year Days in Excess of Carry-Over
2017 31968.5
2018 33126.5
2019 33099.0
2020 57544.5
2021 51148.0

Commissioned Officers

Year Days in Excess of Carry-Over
2017 11636.5
2018 11105.0
2019 11840.5
2020 15643.5
2021 14478.5

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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50. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps that he is taking to improve reporting mechanisms for personnel in the Defence Forces who are experiencing sexual abuse, harassment and bullying. [23496/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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A key priority for me as Minister for Defence is my duty of care obligation to all members of the Defence Forces. I am fully committed to ensuring that every member has the right to be treated with dignity, equality and respect to carry out their duties in a safe workplace underpinned by a culture of zero-tolerance for any kind of bullying, discrimination, harassment or sexual abuse.

The Independent Review Group established last January is examining the systems, policies and procedures for dealing with workplace issues relating to bullying, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, as well as workplace culture, in the Defence Forces.

This Judge-led review is a necessary and critical first step to address the need for a safe work environment for serving members with zero-tolerance for such unacceptable behaviour.

The Terms of Reference for the Review are wide-ranging and provide that Government may consider further work on receipt of the Independent Review findings.

There are 3 key aims of the Independent Review:

- Firstly, to advise on whether the current legislative frameworks, policies, procedures and practices for addressing incidents of unacceptable behaviour in the workplace are effective;

- Secondly, to independently assess whether the pervading culture in the workplace is fully aligned with the principles of dignity, equality, mutual respect, and duty of care for every member of the Defence Forces and;

- Thirdly, to provide recommendations and guidance on measures and strategies required to underpin a workplace based on dignity, equality, mutual respect, and duty of care for every member of the Defence Forces.

A number of reforms have been implemented over the last twenty years since the 2002 publication of the External Advisory Group on the Defence Forces and the three subsequent reports from the Independent Monitoring Group (IMG), for addressing allegations of inappropriate behaviour, including harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, which are contained in policy documents and in regulation.

The Defence Forces Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Statement and Action Plan aims to ensure that a transparent culture exists, that encourages personnel to report inappropriate behaviour, discrimination, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.

Despite the reforms that have taken place, current and former members of the Defence Forces have been clear that the culture that is pervading, and the application of those policies, systems and procedures for dealing with unacceptable behaviour have not, and are not serving all Defence Forces personnel well and that while there has been progress in recent years, more needs to be done.

As the Deputy will be aware, I have set out an ambitious timetable for the Group. An interim report is due within the next 3 months with a final report within 12 months of the establishment of the Group. I will be bringing this final Report to Government and thereafter it will be published.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a very fruitful meeting with Ms. Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon and the other members of the Group, Ms. Jane Williams and Mr. Mark Connaughton, on 25 April last where they updated me on progress. I very much look forward to their interim report in the coming months.

Finally, the Deputy will recall that on foot of my engagement with both serving and former Defence Forces personnel last year, I immediately put in place a number of interim supports including the appointment of the Confidential Contact Person with Raiseaconcern, to support serving and former members in the safe reporting of allegations of wrongdoing in the workplace.

Raiseaconcern have recently provided me with a report on the work of the Confidential Contact Person. The Report is completely anonymised and as agreed I have submitted a copy to the members of the Independent Review Group and it is expected that it will be a valuable input into their ongoing deliberations.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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51. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he intends to introduce legislation to ensure that only members of the Permanent and Reserve Defence Forces and those engaged in legitimate historical re-enactment are allowed to wear combat uniforms. [23443/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Defence Act 1954, as amended, prohibits the unlawful wearing of any Defence Force uniform or dress.

Section 264 of the Defence Act 1954 provides that it shall be an offence for any person (not being a member of the Defence Forces) to wear, without permission granted by or on behalf of the Minister for Defence, any uniform of the Defence Forces or any colourable imitation thereof. This prohibition does not apply in respect of the wearing of any uniform of the Defence Forces or any colourable imitation thereof in the course of a stage play or other dramatic representation or performance. The section also provides that a person found guilty by the Courts of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to €1,270 or to a term of imprisonment, or both.

In view of the existing provisions in the Defence Act relating to the unlawful wearing of any Defence Forces uniform or dress, I have no plans to introduce new legislation in this regard.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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53. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of enlisted personnel in the Defence Forces who are from ethnic minority backgrounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22886/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Within the Defence Forces Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Statement and Action Plan, the Defence Forces recognises the need to ensure that the societal changes being witnessed in Ireland would also be reflected in the Defence organisation. The Strategy has clear focus on promoting respect for diversity and recognising the strength that inclusion can bring to the organisation.

However, I have been advised by the Military Authorities that they do not collect details pertaining to ethnicity.

The Defence Forces Gender Equality & Diversity (GED) Advisor has developed extensive working relationships with Public Sector agencies and NGOs on issues relating to gender equality and sits on the Oversight Group for Ireland’s third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Networks and contacts have also been established which facilitate the sharing of best practice across Public and NGO Sector including, An Garda Síochána. These outward facing activities and engagement are in addition to the internal working groups and policy initiatives relating to recruitment and retention.

Building relationships with religious, cultural and ethnic groups was identified as an action point in the Defence Forces Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Statement and Action Plan and ensuring different religious and cultural beliefs are respected. The Defence Forces has conducted initial outreach to cultural or ethnic groups in order to examine any barriers to enlistment and how they might be addressed.

Finally, as the Deputy will be aware, the recently published Report from the Commission on the Defence Forces has contained a number of recommendations relating to diversity in the Defence Forces. These recommendations are currently under deliberation.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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55. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of members of the Defence Forces who have been on duty in Mali in each of the years since 2011; the role that they have played in the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22659/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Irish Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed in two separate missions in Mali, the European Union Training Mission Mali (EUTM Mali) and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA).

EUTM Mali mission is an integral part of the EU’s comprehensive approach to the situation in Mali and Africa’s Sahel region. EUTM Mali complements other EU projects and activities carried out in the context of the EU Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel.

EU Foreign Ministers recently approved the temporary suspension of the training activities of EUTM Mali to the Malian Armed Forces and the Malian National Guard. However, EUTM Mali continues to be involved in training activities for the Malian Police and the Malian Gendarmerie. An interim strategic review of EUTM Mali is expected before the end of May 2022.

With regard to EUTM Mali, Ireland has participated in this training mission since its launch in 2013. Ireland’s current contribution to the EUTM Mali mission stands at twenty (20) personnel. Defence Forces personnel are primarily deployed at Koulikoro, Bamako and GAO, but deploy as part of Combined Mobile Advisory Training Teams within Mali, they do not operate in other G5 Sahel countries.

Defence Forces personnel first deployed to MINUSMA in September 2019 as part of a joint deployment with German Armed Forces. Irish personnel continue to be deployed with the German Armed Forces at Camp Castor in GAO and at MINUSMA HQ in Bamako, where they carry out assigned tasks in accordance with the mission mandate. The Army Ranger Wing team carry out surveillance and intelligence gathering operations as part of their remit. Irish personnel in GAO are embedded with the larger German Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Company and benefit from the security and force protection effort that is in place to protect the full Company.

The security situation is monitored by the Defence Forces on an ongoing basis.

The details of the numbers of personnel serving in Mali are listed in the tabular statement below.

Year Serving overseas as at 1 December (EUTM Mali) Serving overseas as at 1 December (MINUSMA)
2013 8 N/A
2014 10 N/A
2015 9 N/A
2016 18 N/A
2017 20 N/A
2018 20 N/A
2019 20 13
2020 20 14
2021 20 14
2022 (as at 1 May 2022) 20 14

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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57. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Ireland’s current defence capabilities in view of recent reports; Ireland's defence capabilities in relation to air space and at sea; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23494/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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My priority as Minister for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles as assigned by Government, including overseas deployments.

The Department of Defence has received a capital allocation under the national development plan of €566 million over the 2022 to 2025 timeframe. Within that capital allocation, the defence annual capital budget for 2022 is €141 million. This level of capital funding will allow the Defence Organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service as identified and prioritised in the Defence White Paper and builds on the significant investment programme over recent years.

The Equipment Development Plan (EDP) published in June 2020 was completed following extensive joint civil-military work. It provides a comprehensive list of planned equipment projects which will be progressed over five years. This plan builds on the intentions set out in the White Paper in relation to equipment acquisition, modernisation and upgrade and has been developed to ensure that our Defence Forces have the major equipment platforms, ancillary equipment and force protection equipment to carry out their important roles both at home and overseas.

The Equipment Planning process recognises the need to maintain and upgrade military capabilities having regard to emerging operational requirements and changes in technology and this is an ongoing process.

Modern secure communications are essential for the Defence Forces and in that regard Defence Force personnel are suitably equipped in a variety of roles with required communications and global positioning systems (GPS) equipment. GPS systems are used to aid navigation and as a force protection measure. They are integrated on board vehicles, vessels and aircraft control systems and embedded in communications systems used by Defence Force personnel in order to achieve a Joint Common Operating Picture.

I am advised by the Military Authorities that the Defence Forces operate many different types of radar systems. Existing capabilities available to the Army include radar systems such as the Giraffe Mk4 short-range air defence system and the Foxtrack X-Band ground surveillance radar. The Air Corps use surface search radar on the CASA 235 maritime patrol aircraft and all aircraft are fitted with a transponder and the automatic identification system (AIS) for identification and tracking. The Naval Service use maritime surface search radar and the Recognised Maritime Picture (RMP) systems for surveillance and tracking.

It remains Government policy, as per the 2015 White Paper on Defence, that should additional funding, beyond that provided for in existing plans becomes available, the development of a radar surveillance capability for the Air Corps, will be considered.

The Naval Service Vessel Renewal and Replacement Programme is ongoing, this programme includes radar and other equipment upgrades along with the replacement of Naval Service Reserve motor launches. The programme of works for the midlife refit and upgrade of LÉ Róisín has been completed, while works are ongoing on LÉ Niamh. Marine Advisors have been appointed to support the procurement of multi-role vessel to replace the flagship, LÉ Eithne, with work underway that will inform a public tender competition in due course. Two Inshore Patrol Vessels have been purchased from the New Zealand Government to replace LÉ Orla and LÉ Ciara, it is expected these vessels will be transported to Ireland in 2023 following the completion of a programme of works.

The Naval Service is equipped with a various surveillance equipment in order to undertake the roles assigned by Government, including certain capabilities that allow for underwater search and surveying, for example, an underwater remotely operated vehicle, ROV, and a magnetometer system. As part of the ongoing development of capabilities, further capabilities that will enhance the Naval Service’s under-sea situational awareness, such as multibeam echo sounder systems, are also being developed.

The Deputy will be aware that the Government established an independent Commission on the Defence Forces in December 2020. The work of the Commission encompasses the consideration of appropriate military equipment capabilities, structures and staffing, and their report will inform decisions regarding the future development of the Defence Forces.

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