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 Header Item Other Questions
 Header Item Defence Forces Equipment
 Header Item Air Corps Equipment

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 824 No. 2

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Other Questions

Defence Forces Equipment

 6. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Defence Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the degree to which all military personnel in the Army, the Naval Service and Air Corps continue to avail of training and upgrading of equipment in line with other defence forces throughout Europe, with particular reference to the need to be able to interact with other forces in the event of overseas deployment or co-ordinated security or emergency measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [52880/13]

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan This question relates to the need for the Defence Forces to have ready access to the most modern methods of training and upgraded equipment, so as to be in a position to interact effectively with other international forces in the event of deployment.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am satisfied the level of resources available to the Defence Forces, including training resources and equipment, enables them to carry out their roles, both at home and overseas. The acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces remains a focus for me. It is a matter that is kept under constant review at a senior level in my Department and in the Defence Forces through their joint participation in the high level planning and procurement group. This group is charged with identifying equipment requirements and agreeing on a procurement programme to provide the Defence Forces with type and quantities of equipment necessary to carry out their assigned duties.

In the current economic climate, the budgetary situation will continue to dictate the level of funding available for new equipment, training and equipment upgrades. Decisions will be made, accordingly, on a strictly prioritised basis in accordance with operational priorities with a view to maintaining the capability of all roles assigned by the Government to the Defence Forces.

In my recent visit to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, I had the opportunity to see at first hand the range of modern equipment available to Irish troops in Lebanon. This included MOWAG armoured personnel carriers and a range of force protection and personal equipment which allows the Defence Forces carry out their various taskings in a safe and secure manner.

On the issue of training, the Defence Forces maintain a robust and comprehensive training system which incorporates a wide variety of modern training methods. Training standards in the Defence Forces are constantly benchmarked against best international practice. Similarly, the Naval Service’s training techniques and technologies are up to date in all respects. The provision of two new offshore patrol vessels is well advanced with the first ship due for delivery in early 2014. These modern new vessels, combined with a continuous process of refurbishment and repair on the other vessels in the fleet, will ensure the Naval Service continues to meet the required operational capability.

The Air Corps also keeps abreast of all developments in modern aviation. It will continue to conduct its training in accordance with industry best practices and to the highest standards, referencing European Aviation Safety Agency and Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

I chair the Government's task force on emergency planning, which includes senior officials of several Departments, senior officers of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and officials of other key public authorities which have a lead or support role in Government emergency planning. The task force, which meets on a regular basis, examines current risks and supports co-ordination arrangements for emergency planning across Government. The Defence Forces will continue to play an integral part in the emergency planning process.

I am satisfied the Defence Forces are adequately equipped and trained to meet the many demands and tasks the Government has assigned to them.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Is he satisfied that budgetary restrictions, imposed as a result of the economic situation, will not unnecessarily impact negatively on equipment upgrading and access to training required in all branches of the Defence Forces? Will he indicate the degree to which our Defence Forces are equipped, trained and capable of dealing with all kinds of emergencies, whether they be natural disasters or terrorist attacks, either at home or abroad?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Despite the economic difficulties, our Defence Forces are better equipped than they have been at any time in the history of the State. In the context of the tasks we have to perform abroad in UN missions, they have the equipment required for the tasks they are undertaking. Most recently, with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, mission, I made demands of the UN with regard to the type of equipment we believed was necessary for our forces to have so as to perform their duties. We had that equipment and the UN agreed our forces could take it with them in their deployment to the Golan Heights. It ensured there were no serious injuries in a recent incident there. If there had been lesser equipment, such as that to which the mission originally was confined, there could have been a difficulty.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Thank you, Minister. I will let you back in.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter We keep Defence Forces equipment under review. Circumstances, needs and demands change. In that context, it is of significant importance that we keep under continuing review the adequacy and appropriateness of equipment, as well as its usage to ensure we have the capability to fulfil tasks.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan How rapidly can our Defence Forces be deployed in the event of an emergency? To what extent are our Defence Forces regularly upgraded in that context?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter There is regular training in these areas. Theoretical situations are created to look at response times. I am satisfied the Defence Forces are dealing with these issues in an appropriate manner. No one can ever predict with certainty that some unexpected and unplanned event will not take place. We should be proud of the professionalism of the Defence Forces, the extent of their training and planning, as well as their consideration given to a broad range of eventualities that can occur. That fits in neatly with some of the issues considered by the task force on emergency planning in respect of which theoretical exercises are frequently conducted on a comprehensive, whole-of-Department basis, involving several Departments along with the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána. Such an exercise took place within the past four weeks.

Air Corps Equipment

 7. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Defence Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter in view of the recent helicopter crash in Scotland, if he will confirm if all helicopters owned and operated by the Defence Forces are fitted with flight recorders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [52686/13]

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan This question relates to a recent tragic police helicopter crash in Glasgow. I extend my sympathies to the people involved. Are the State’s helicopters in the Defence Forces and elsewhere fitted with flight recorders to assist in the event of a flight accident?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter In the context of the incident to which the Deputy referred, I express my condolences and the condolences of all Members of the House to the relatives of those whose lives were lost during that tragic accident.

The Air Corps operate a fleet of eight helicopters, two light utility EC 135 helicopters used in the main for pilot training and six utility AW 139 helicopters used for general purpose military operational and training. In addition, the Air Corps provides pilots to fly the two EC 135 helicopters operated for an Garda Síochána-related activities. All helicopters in our fleet, including those used by the Garda air support unit, are fitted with flight recorders and this has been the case since they were originally acquired. The provision of such recording equipment in our helicopters is a standard requirement of our Defence Forces.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan A report will be issued on the investigation into the recent accident in Glasgow to the Glasgow police force and the UK’s Ministry of Defence. Will the Minister liaise with his colleagues in Britain to see if anything can be learned from this incident for Irish operations? Unfortunately, in the recent past there was a tragic incident involving an Irish helicopter with a loss of life. If changes need to be made from a Defence Forces, Garda or civil aviation point of view, then they could come from this investigation.

Deputy Pat Breen: Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen I want to be associated with the expressions of sympathy. An Irish Helicopters chopper crashed several years ago in my parish, a mile from my house. Unfortunately, there was a loss of life but thankfully it did not crash into buildings and cause further loss of life.

The Eurocopter has a good safety record and is used by many police forces across the world. Are there plans to have more air inspections? Do we have an adequate number of Garda helicopters?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter If there are lessons to be learned from the tragedy in Scotland, we will seek to learn them. I have no doubt the Scottish authorities will be publishing a report on the outcome of the crash investigation which we will be able to access.

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