Written answers

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Department of Defence

Defence Forces

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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4. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the training of at least four members of the Israeli Defence Forces by the Irish Military College since 2017 has, in his opinion, compromised Irish neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13291/24]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have been advised by Military Management that four Israeli Defence Forces personnel attended training courses conducted at the UN Training School in the Curragh during 2018 and 2019 as follows:

  • In 2018 two Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Personnel attended the International Civil Military Relations Course. In the same year one other IDF member attended the International Protection of Civilians Course.
  • In 2019 one IDF member attended the International Civil Military Relations Course.
This training, open to all members of the United Nations, as part of Ireland's pledges to the UN regarding training capabilities, does not in any shape or form compromise Ireland's military neutrality.

At the United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial held in Vancouver in 2017, Ireland pledged certain training capabilities for delivery in Ireland at the UN Training School in the Curragh (UNTSI). The military courses were in response to an identified UN need and offered as part of the UN Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System. Ireland has successfully delivered on our training pledges to the UN and is strongly recognised for its expertise in delivering these courses, particularly the Protection of Civilians course. Countries who are members of the United Nations can apply to participate on these courses. Military Management has also advised that the costs for these courses are borne by the home nation of the foreign student and that there are currently no plans for Israeli Defence Forces personnel to attend Irish Defence Forces training courses in 2024.

In summary therefore, I wish to assure the Deputy that Ireland’s traditional position of military neutrality, which is characterised by Ireland's non-participation in any military alliance, was not compromised by the attendance of Israeli personnel at UNTSI courses that were open to all UN member states. The Government has been very clear that we have no desire to alter Ireland’s policy of military neutrality.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence how many legal cases have been taken against the Defence Forces since the beginning of 2024; and if that figure is higher or lower than the same period in 2023. [13287/24]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Between the 1st of January 2024 and the 14th of March 2024, my Department received twenty (20) new litigation cases.

While the volume of cases received can fluctuate throughout the year, and from one year to another, this figure is broadly in line with figures from previous years for the same period.

At the same point in 2023, my Department had received fourteen (14) new cases. The figure for the same period in 2022 was ten (10) new cases and for 2021 it was twenty-six (26) new cases.

The timing of the receipt of cases is a matter beyond the control of my Department and of the Defence Forces, as it is at the discretion of the litigant to institute proceedings at a time of their choosing, as long as it is within the statute of limitations for the type of litigation being pursued. The Deputy will also be aware that a case does not always start and finish in the same calendar year, and in some instances the cases can run over a number of years.

While my Department's Litigation Branch manages and coordinates litigation claims taken against the Minister for Defence, and by extension against the Defence Forces, in doing so, the Branch works closely with both the State Claims Agency (SCA) and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office (CSSO).

The Deputy will be aware that all claims for personal injuries taken by current and former members of the Defence Forces have been delegated to the SCA, who manage these claims on behalf of the Minister for Defence and Employment Law matters taken against the Minister for Defence are managed by the CSSO.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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16. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when all the recommendations contained in the report on the Defence Forces are likely to be implemented including the issues around gender-based violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13228/24]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The report of the Independent Review Group (IRG) established to examine dignity and equality issues in the Defence Forces was published following Government approval on 28 March 2023. The Government agreed to progress the 13 recommendations contained in the Report. Some actions have already been completed while others will take further time due to the requirement for legislative change.

One of the first actions taken following publication of the IRG report was the establishment of an External Oversight Body (EOB), initially on a non-statutory basis. The EOB is a critical element in driving the necessary culture change throughout the Defence Forces and increasing transparency and accountability. Professor Brian MacCraith is Chair of the Body and, last July, the Government approved its Terms of Reference. To date, the External Oversight Body has met on 21 occasions and last November I received its first written report and I have also met with the Chair on a number of occasions. Last December, the Government approved the General Scheme of the Defence Amendment Bill 2023, which includes provision for the establishment of the External Oversight Body on a statutory basis, and this legislation has recently been the subject of Pre-legislative Scrutiny by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.

In a further significant development, in January of this year the Government approved the Terms of Reference for a judge-led Tribunal of Inquiry to examine the effectiveness of the complaints processes in the Defence Forces concerning workplace issues relating to discrimination, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. The Tribunal will also have the power to investigate the response to complaints made regarding the use of hazardous chemicals within the Air Corps’ headquarters at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. I am very pleased to say that Ms Justice Ann Power will Chair the Tribunal. Following Government approval of the Terms of Reference, the Motion to formally establish the Tribunal was recently approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas and the logistical and administrative arrangements are now being put in place to allow the Tribunal to commence its work as soon as possible.

In addition to this, following publication of the IRG Report, I committed, in line with its recommendations, to introduce, on an interim basis, an independent complaints system to deal with complaints of an inter-personal nature, such as complaints of inappropriate behaviour, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment. Various options have been considered and extensive policy and legislative analysis undertaken to identify options for a system which will take the complaints process outside of the immediate chain of command for the complainant. Work is ongoing in this regard and I am in regular discussions with my officials on how best to implement this recommendation. The considered views of the EOB on progressing this critically important recommendation have also been recently received and are now being considered. A complete overhaul of the existing complaints system will, however, most likely involve change to primary legislation and therefore this recommendation will take time to be fully implemented.

In a separate development in relation to complaints, I recently appointed Mr Kevin Duffy as the Independent Chair of a Working Group that has been established to develop a complaints process for civilians and civil servants working with the Defence Forces. This is another important step in implementing the recommendations of the Independent Review Group.

In addition, to what I have outlined, there are a wide range of further initiatives that have been taken since the publication of the IRG report relating to the aspect of your question which concerns issues around gender-based violence.

One of the key actions taken following publication of the IRG report was in July 2023 when the Government approved the text of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2023. Part 4 of the Bill amends sections 169 and 192 of the Defence Act 1954 in line with a recommendation in the IRG Report. These amendments will ensure that An Garda Síochána will have sole jurisdiction within the State to investigate alleged sexual offences committed by persons subject to military law. Any subsequent cases will be dealt with by the civil courts. The Bill is currently progressing through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Following discussions with officials in my Department, the Garda Commissioner established a helpline for victims of sexual assault to historic or current report cases. The Commissioner has also established a targeted operation to examine cases of alleged sexual assault in the Defence Forces.

With the assistance of an external legal firm, extensive work is underway to ensure that the Defence Forces are compatible with the provisions of the relevant equality legislation while the Defence Forces has also developed and rolled out Sexual Ethics and Responsible Relationship (SERR) workshops in cooperation with UCC. These are mandatory for all personnel to attend. This important programme is being delivered by Professor Louise Crowley of the UCC School of Law. The SERR training initiative has been ongoing since September 2023 and in the past month I took the opportunity to meet personally with Professor Crowley to discuss the importance of the work she is carrying out.

Finally I wish to state that my Department is working tirelessly with Defence Forces’ colleagues to take the steps required to bring about the culture change that is so urgently required. This work this is being overseen by the External Oversight Body and represents a significant programme of reform and culture change that is being prioritised to ensure that the Defence Forces is an equal opportunities employer, is reflective of contemporary Irish society and provides a safe workplace.

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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17. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reasons for increasing the mandatory retirement age for Permanent Defence Force personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13029/24]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The recruitment and retention challenges experienced by the Defence Forces are well documented. The numbers leaving the Defence Forces exceed the numbers recruited year on year, resulting in a continued decline in the overall strength level. While significant measures have been undertaken to improve the overall package in the Defence Forces, the decline in numbers has continued.

The decision to increase the mandatory retirement age to 60, for personnel with a current mandatory retirement age of under 60, is part of an overall effort to remove any potential obstacles to recruiting and retaining personnel. The retention of personnel will be subject to certain criteria, including appropriate medical and fitness tests.

This strategic move will have a two-fold effect. For the organisation, it will help to address, in part, the issue of retention by allowing experienced and skilled personnel to remain in their positions for longer, thereby retaining valuable organisational knowledge, providing continuity and contributing to enhanced training experiences for new recruits. For Defence Forces personnel, the move supports career longevity and provides personnel with the opportunity to continue to contribute meaningfully to the organisation.

In addition, the increase in the mandatory retirement age has facilitated an increase in the maximum recruitment age to 39 for those roles with a current recruitment age below 39 years.

The Government has also approved a further increase in the mandatory retirement age for the Permanent Defence Force to 62, which will be facilitated by amendments to the relevant pension legislation to be brought forward by the Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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18. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence what progress has been made to date in respect of current accommodation projects being carried out by his Department to accommodate members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13076/24]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I would like to thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline the recent and planned future improvements to Defence Infrastructure throughout the State which is unparalleled in our history. There are currently over €147m worth of IDP projects underway at different stages of development, many of which are specific to addressing operational and living-in accommodation requirements.

The Defence Forces Infrastructure Development Plan sets out a programme of project delivery for the years 2023 to 2027. The Programme reflects the complex environment in which the Defence Forces operate and the corresponding need for appropriate infrastructure to provide for accommodation and training of personnel, maintenance and storage of equipment for land, sea and airborne operational requirements. The required infrastructure, as one would expect, ranges from single living in accommodation, to training and messing facilitates up to bespoke ammunition depots, aircraft hangers and berthage facilities.

That being said on becoming Minister for Defence, I made it very clear to my officials and senior military management that I wanted to see accommodation projects identified in the Plan prioritised and delivered on as a top priority. To that end, I am pleased to advise the Deputy that there are ten accommodation projects with a combined value of €46m, which are now completed or currently under construction to provide 565 bed space. These building projects are in several locations across all the military installations.

In addition to those completed projects, a further seven will come on stream in the coming months to provide a further 370 bedspaces. Taken together this represents a significant provision in additional Single Living in Accommodation capacity over and above the 4,500 places currently within all the military installations.


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