Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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218. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the recommendations of the recent review of the Defence Forces will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24051/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Commission on the Defence Forces was established on foot of a commitment in the Programme for Government and the Government decision in December 2020 which also agreed its terms of reference and membership. The report was published on the 9th February 2022.

The Commission undertook a significant body of work encompassing their wide-ranging terms of reference. The report contains 69 main recommendations with a large number of sub recommendations. The Commission's terms of reference included the consideration of appropriate capabilities, structures and staffing for the Army, the Air Corps, the Naval Service.

The Commission's report proposes significant changes for the Defence Forces, including to Defence Forces culture, high-level command and control structures, and for the level of Defence provision in Ireland. Clearly, there are matters that will require careful consideration and in some critical aspects inter-departmental discussion. This includes the level of resourcing that may be allocated to Defence, legislative implications and the governance framework that will be required to underpin any changes the Government approve on foot of the Commission's report.

The report is being fully considered, in consultation with Ministerial colleagues and other stakeholders. The intent is that following relevant consideration, and before the summer recess, I will revert to Government with a proposed response to the Commission's recommendations and a high-level action plan.

As outlined previously, I will not engage in speculative discussion regarding the recommendations in the Commission’s Report or the outcome of the deliberative process.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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219. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps potential will be brought up-to-date in terms of equipment and mobility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24052/22]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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221. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which it is intended to invest in and expand the capabilities of the Naval Service having particular regard to the recent review of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24054/22]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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228. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when aircraft and defence equipment available to the Air Corps will be brought up-to-date on par with that of their colleagues in neutral aligned and non-aligned countries and in order to ensure a regular and rapid coastal surveillance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24061/22]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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231. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which all modern equipment available to similar Defence Forces abroad is made available to the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps here with a view to increased ability to participate in any emergency affecting Ireland’s security; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24064/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 219, 221, 228 and 231 together.

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 so as to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles as assigned by Government, including overseas deployments.

In this context, the principal aim over the period of the White Paper is to replace and upgrade, as required, capabilities in order to retain a flexible response for a wide range of operational requirements at home and overseas. The Department of Defence has received a capital allocation under the National Development Plan of €566m over the 2022-2025 timeframe. Within that capital allocation the Defence annual capital budget for 2022 is €141m. 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, completed through extensive joint civil-military work, 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 current position regarding the major equipment platform projects is as follows.

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.

The mid-life upgrade of the Army’s fleet of 80 Mowag Piranha III armoured personnel carrier vehicles is well underway and is due to be completed by 2023. In addition, orders for an additional 30 Armoured Utility Vehicles (AUVs) are nearing completion with the final 4 due for delivery during 2022. These vehicles will more than double the existing fleet and will provide a level of protected mobility between the levels of soft-skinned light transport and heavier armoured vehicles.

There is also continuous investment in the non-armoured vehicle fleet. In 2019, a contract was signed with Toyota Ireland for the replacement of the Army's fleet of 3/4 tonne 4X4 vehicles. To date 210 vehicles have been delivered with the remaining 70 expected in 2022. In March 2020, a tender process was completed for the supply of one hundred and twenty (120) new 4X4 Troop Carrying Vehicles, with 60 delivered to date. A further 30 are scheduled to be delivered in 2022 and all 120 vehicles concluding by 2023. A scheduled vehicle replacement programme is also currently underway for the replacement of 22 heavy logistics vehicles between 2022 and 2025.

In addition to the above mentioned major capital programmes, the entire Defence Forces fleet undergoes ongoing review and replacement as required. As a result, an additional 120 vehicles of varying types will be delivered in 2022.

In relation to air-based capability, my immediate priorities have been the acquisition of three Pilatus PC-12 aircraft in the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) role and to acquire two Airbus C295 maritime patrol aircraft. An additional PC-12 was also acquired in 2020 in response to the Covid 19 situation.

The White Paper provides for the replacement of the two CASA 235 maritime patrol aircraft with consideration to be given to their replacement with larger more capable aircraft which would enhance maritime surveillance and provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo carrying tasks. A contract for the supply of two C295 Maritime Patrol Aircraft was signed with Airbus Defence and Space in December 2019, with delivery of the aircraft expected in 2023. Some €276 million, including VAT, has been committed to the acquisition of all of these enhanced capabilities, with delivery of the aircraft expected in 2023.

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 examples given, whilst not exhaustive, demonstrate my commitment to update and upgrade the Defence Forces equipment and capability, within the financial envelope available.

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.

I am satisfied that the Defence Forces have a modern and effective range of equipment which is line with best international standards, to enable them to meet operational requirements.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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220. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when the numerical strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps will be brought up to recommended levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24053/22]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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222. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the degree to which it is intended to use the recent review of the Defence Forces as a template to bring strength and capability of the Air Corps up to an acceptable level with a view to ensuring the level of competence required for neutral country if attacked; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24055/22]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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223. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when it is expected to bring the strength of the Defence Forces up to the recommended level; if the upgrading of training and facilities are likely to be included; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24056/22]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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230. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when it is expected that the strength of the Defence Forces will meet the levels recommended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24063/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 220, 222, 223 and 230 together.

As the Deputy is aware the Permanent Defence Force is currently under strength by just over 1000 personnel.

The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces has made it clear that the level of ambition (LOA) for the Defence Forces must be elevated beyond that at which it is operating at the moment.

The report outlines three levels of ambition. LOA 1 is essentially proceeding as we are at present and trying to move back to a full establishment figure of 9,500. The Commission has concluded that this would leave the Defence Forces unable to mount a credible defence of the State. LOA 2 would address specific priority gaps to improve on-island and overseas capabilities. LOA 3, would bring Ireland in line with other small neutral European countries in terms of spend. I am on the record as saying that LOA 2 is the minimum that we should aim for. This level of ambition will require an additional 2000 personnel beyond the establishment figure of 9,500 and an increase in the defence budget of some 50%. The Defence Forces are responsible for recruitment and I have requested them to examine their recruitment practices and structures to facilitate this increase in numbers.

This Commission report also includes, inter alia, consideration of issues relating to training, facilities, recruitment and retention and, following relevant consultation, I will revert to Government with a proposed response to the Commission's recommendations and a high-level action plan, which will set out proposed timelines and oversight arrangements for its implementation.

In the interim, my focus remains on restoring all branches of the Defence Forces to the current agreed strength and in that context, there are a number of initiatives which are presently being implemented to counter ongoing staffing challenges.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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224. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which the Defence Forces here will receive training comparable to other Defence Forces throughout Europe in respect of non-aligned neutral and aligned countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24057/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The 2015 White Paper on Defence frames the delivery of training and education in the Defence Forces as one of the most important outputs of the organisation. Training and Education remain central to capability development and are key elements of the five pillars of the Defence Capability Framework. Through the provision of military capability, the Defence Forces achieves its mission to defend Ireland and its assigned interests internationally.

The primary focus of the Defence Forces, when not engaged on operations, is training and preparation. The appropriate training for all Defence Forces Formations and Units is based on conventional military doctrine to prepare them for the roles laid down by Government. The Defence Forces deliver military programmes and modules of training meeting national and international standards encompassing both academic and military best practice. The Defence Forces also engage with external national and international educational institutions, both military and civilian, to ensure that Defence Forces training is in line with international best practice.

Adherence to such international best practice ensures the levels of modernisation, transformation and interoperability required for the Defence Forces to deploy successfully on peacekeeping missions. NATO has become the standard-setting organisation for modern military forces and NATO standards include a wide-ranging set of specifications including detailed training standards and operational procedures. The continued participation by Ireland in NATO’s Partnership For Peace mechanism ensures that the Defence Forces have the necessary interoperable capabilities to participate in modern demanding peacekeeping operations alongside other European Military Forces, including those from like-minded states.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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225. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which training of the Army Reserves or part-time Defence Forces continues to be brought up-to-date on par with international standards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24058/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The primary function of training and education in both the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) and the Reserve Defence Force (RDF) is to develop and maintain capabilities necessary to enable personnel to fulfil the roles laid down by Government. The principal role of the Reserve is to augment the PDF in crisis situations. As such, the RDF undertakes training in preparation to assist the PDF when required.

The scheduling of training in the Defence Forces, including the Reserve, is underpinned by an analysis of training needed to meet operational output requirements and capability development needs. Members of the Army Reserve (AR) and Naval Service Reserve (NSR) are volunteers who undertake training in their spare time. In order to facilitate the voluntary nature of Reserve Service and to maximise attendance of Reserve personnel, training continues to be organised both in and out of normal working hours, at weekends and during academic and traditional holiday periods.

The current budget for the RDF is €2.150m, of which €2.068m is allocated to paid training, which provides for seven days annual paid training for each effective member of the AR and NSR. The budget also provides for fourteen days paid training for all additional personnel recruited, along with career and specialist courses for selected members of the Reserve in line with Reserve priorities. This provision is sufficient having regard to the existing strength of the RDF and the voluntary nature of Reserve training.

RDF recruits undergo varied training in areas such as combat first aid, military law and tactical training. A major part of Recruit training is in the use of the Steyr 5.56mm Assault Rifle. After recruit training is complete, personnel are then trained in the operation of basic radio communications, map reading, Nuclear, Biological & Chemical warfare defence and the Light Machine Gun. Each Corps also carries out specialist training in its particular field. For example, the Infantry and Cavalry Corps train in weapons and tactics and the Corps of Engineers train in engineering tasks, such as demolition, construction and mine warfare.

I am satisfied that members of the AR and NSR are afforded the opportunity to avail of training and update their skills on an ongoing basis and that the extensive and professional training provided to the Reserve is a major motivating factor.

Finally, the Deputy will be aware that the recently published Commission on the Defence Forces contained a number of recommendations on the role and structure of the Reserve Defence Forces. These, in line with the totality of the recommendations are currently under deliberation.

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