Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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229. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the degree to which the Irish Defence Forces can and will be updated sufficiently to accommodate an early scramble of all branches of the services in the event of a threat to national security; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24062/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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In accordance with the Framework for Major Emergency Management, primary responsibility for responding to emergencies, including security events, rests with the three designated principal response agencies, namely, the relevant Local Authority, An Garda Síochána, and the Health Service Executive. The Defence Forces provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of an emergency situation in its Aid to the Civil Authority role.

At National level, representation on the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, by both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces, ensures the fullest coordination and cooperation in the event of an emergency and that the command structure within the Defence Forces is compatible with the requirements in this area.

Major Emergency Plans have been developed by local and regional authorities and these plans identify the procedures for requesting assistance from the Defence Forces.

The Defence Forces retains a wide range of specialist skills which can be deployed in such circumstances, including for a natural disaster or terrorist incidents. The Operations Directorate in Defence Forces Headquarters manages the necessary cross-service coordination in responding to both emergency and security issues. These arrangements have proved effective in all emergencies encountered to date.

With regard to security threats, primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP), which, in practice, means to provide assistance and support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.

There is ongoing and close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters, including ATCP deployments and a wide variety of military training activities are specifically designed to counter or respond to possible security emergencies. Regular coordination and liaison meetings take place between the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána in relation to ATCP issues.

The full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment is available for deployment in response to any security and other emergencies that may arise. Within the Defence Forces, both the Ordnance Corps and the Army Ranger Wing specialise in providing an immediate response to emergency incidents that might require their highly specialised capabilities. The role of the Defence Forces in these situations is dependent on the nature of the incident and the type of assistance requested.

The Defence Forces Alert System provides joint and coherent direction regarding responses to any potential national threat. This system ensures a quick, uniform and appropriate response to situations and enables the response to be phased, or brought to maximum effect as required. The readiness of Army, Air Corps and Naval Service personnel and assets are scalable in terms of size and timeliness, and can be adjusted to suit specific threats or situations.

I can confirm that the Defence Forces keep their operational plans and response capabilities for dealing with a wide range of threats under constant review. It is my priority as Minister with responsibility for Defence to ensure that the operational capacity of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles both at home and overseas.

There is an ongoing requirement to consider whether the capabilities we maintain are appropriate, having regard to the security environment, the roles that we wish the Defence Forces to undertake, and likely risks. This is the work that the Commission on the Defence Forces were requested to undertake. The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces was published in February 2022. It is a substantial report running to over 180 pages and 69 main recommendations many of which have sub recommendations. It recommends significant changes for the Defence Forces and Defence provision in Ireland. It covers high level Defence Forces structures, defence capabilities, organisation, culture and human resources, the Reserve Defence Force and funding.

The Commission's report is being fully considered, in consultation with Ministerial colleagues and other stakeholders. The intent is to revert to Government with a proposed response and a high-level action plan in advance of the summer recess.

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