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Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 893 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney]   On environmental sustainability, almost €114 million will be made available under the forestry programme in 2016. The removal of forestry income from the high earners restriction for active foresters and farmers is a significant measure in support of national forestry policy. This is something for which the forestry sector has been campaigning for the last three years and we are delivering more than it was seeking. What was being sought was income averaging over a certain number of years. Instead, we have decided to exempt income in its entirety. That will allow much more efficient and commercial afforestation and clear felling in Ireland, which makes a great deal of sense for a sector that has tight margins and is very competitive.

  In terms of research and development, I am fully committed to research and innovation which drive competitiveness, profitability and sustainable economic growth. I am continuing to prioritise innovation by allocating over €31 million for research, development and training to be delivered mainly through the Department’s competitive food institutional research measure, FIRM, stimulus and forestry research funding programmes and Teagasc training.

  I am pleased to announce an increase of €6 million in the 2016 allocation for the horse and greyhound racing fund. This is an increase of almost 9% and brings the total fund to €74 million. It is almost back to the level it was at during the boom. This is a sector with a turnover of approximately €1.2 billion and which employs approximately 17,000 people; therefore, it will give a great deal more back than we are putting into it. The Government's commitment to the racing and greyhound industries has been extraordinary in recent years, given the financial pressures we have endured. I hope the increase will be welcomed and put to good use.

  I continue to be very concerned about farm safety. The number of fatalities in the farming sector is unacceptable. Last year the figures were horrific and many families are still in mourning as a result. This year the numbers are not quite as high, but they are still far too high. We have again prioritised farm safety as a critical component of the TAMS and I have also made it a mandatory requirement for all applicants to have completed a minimum of a half day farm safety course before they can claim grant-in-aid in any of the new schemes we are opening.

  Animal welfare is an issue on which I am anxious to have made a definite change by the time I leave office. I feel very strongly about animal welfare. I am, therefore, pleased to be in a position to provide some additional funding in this area. I will increase funding by €600,000 in 2016 to €2.7 million to support animal welfare organisations. Five years ago the figure was a fraction of this. My Department has a responsibility for welfare issues and we are delivering from a funding perspective. I am maintaining the funding of €2.8 million to assist local authorities in reducing instances of horse abandonment and advancing horse projects for urban and Traveller horse owners. We are anxious to build specific horse welfare projects in and around some of our towns and cities and are providing capital funding to do this.

  This has been a good budget for farmers, as it should be. Agriculture, farmers and the food industry are the most important parts of Ireland's indigenous economy. They must be supported by the Government and are being supported by it. That will continue.

  My other responsibility is the Department of Defence. I am pleased to be able to signal an increase in the defence 2016 allocation to allow the first step towards the implementation of the recently published White Paper on defence and continue the Defence Forces' delivery of operational outputs, both at home and overseas. This is the first increase in the defence budget since 2008. Although some opposition parties would like us to reduce defence expenditure, I do not agree with that position. Our troops, sailors and members of the Air Corps need modern equipment to be safe and do an efficient and safe job, both at home and abroad in their peacekeeping role.

  The combined defence 2016 allocation of some €904 million, comprising €224 million for Vote 35 for Army pensions and €680 million for Vote 36, is a significant level of funding and shows an increase of €6 million on the corresponding 2015 allocation. The White Paper on defence sets out the roles the Government has assigned to the Defence Forces and looks at associated capability requirements. It sets out proposals on the replacement of major equipment platforms for the next decade and other priorities for the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service. The White Paper has a crucial role to play in determining our financial strategies and spending plans in the next decade. The improving public finances will allow further scope for investment in the replacement of major equipment and ongoing recruitment.

  It is in this context that I have made a commitment to maintaining Permanent Defence Force, PDF, numbers at 9,500. The Permanent Defence Force is conducting a very active recruitment campaign to ensure we stay at that number. In parallel with the ongoing recruitment campaign, I am pleased to announce that there have been over 500 promotions across all ranks of the Permanent Defence Force to date in 2015. The White Paper on defence also outlined a range of measures that would be progressed during the next few years to develop further the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, which plays an important strategic role and will do so in the future.

  Capital expenditure accounts for a sizeable element of the defence Vote and the increased allocation for defence under the recently announced 2016-21 capital investment programme is highly significant. In total, €437 million is provided for defence capital investment over that period and this allocation will be expended on replacement programmes for defensive equipment across the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service, as well as on an infrastructure works programme within barracks. The naval vessel replacement programme has seen the LE James Joyce added to the Naval Service fleet in 2015, joining the LE Samuel Beckett which was delivered in April 2014. A third ship purchased under this programme, the future LE William Butler Yeats, is scheduled for delivery in July 2016. The progressive and prudent approach taken to these purchases is testament to the value for money ethos prevailing within the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces.

  The capital funding envelope provides for the development of a key proposal under the White Paper, the new institute for peace support and leadership training, building on the UN Training School in the Curragh. The institute is intended to provide a new international resource in the area of conflict resolution, conflict prevention and peace building. The capital allocation will also provide for the ongoing refurbishment of a diverse defence property portfolio and the provision of replacement or additional facilities, where required. I will provide more details on the peace and leadership institute in the weeks ahead.

  I take the opportunity to pay tribute to Defence Forces personnel serving overseas in very important and often challenging situations. Ireland is contributing 494 Defence Forces personnel to 12 overseas missions. This level of overseas deployment reflects Ireland’s ongoing contribution to international peace and security. The numbers will increase. We are committed to providing at least another 170 personnel for UNIFIL next year. In addition, there will possibly be another 175 committed in connection with the German battle group, should it be called upon for a peacekeeping mission somewhere in the world. Our role overseas is one that makes Irish people very proud. It is also really testing for the Defence Forces. It is what they train for and what they do, but it is a significant and sometimes very dangerous job, be it in southern Lebanon, on the Golan Heights, in north Africa, eastern Europe, Afghanistan or in the Mediterranean where our sailors, with the support of some of our soldiers and medical staff, have saved almost 8,000 people during the summer months.

  Domestic security remains primarily the role of the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. However, the Defence Forces will continue to provide essential support for the civil power throughout 2016, whenever requested to do so. I take the opportunity to express my deep condolences to An Garda Síochána and the families who are mourning as a result of the tragedies that have occurred in recent days.

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