Defence (Amendment) Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

Thursday, 2 July 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 156 No. 9

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Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith Is cúis mhór áthais dom teacht ar ais go dtí an Seanad agus an Bille seo a chur os bhur gcomhair. Tá tábhacht ar leith ag baint leis go háirithe maidir le ceannaireacht na bhFórsaí Cosanta agus eagar nua a chur ar na Fórsaí.

Ba mhaith liom i dtosach báire mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leatsa, a Chathaoirligh, leis an Seanadóir Donie Cassidy agus libhse ar fad go raibh sibh sásta am a sparáil chun an Bhille a rith tríd an Teach.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and his colleagues for affording us the opportunity to bring the Bill before the House. Notwithstanding the pressures of time and competing legislation, it was necessary to try to complete this legislation before the recess. I appreciate that making time available to allow us complete our work this afternoon could not have been easy.

We all recognise the importance of Defence and appreciate the job our Defence Forces do, both at home and overseas. The can do approach and professionalism of members of the Defence Forces have long been recognised by successive Governments.

Defence is, of course, a considerable public undertaking and in 1998 will involve expenditure of £570 million and the employment of 13,200 people, including military and civilian personnel, throughout the country. My Department manages a property portfolio of approximately 21,000 acres, which includes 34 permanent military installations and holds equipment and other assets to the value of over £250 million. It accounts for approximately 4 per cent of Government spending. Accordingly, the Government is committed to ensuring that all these resources are used wisely to enable the Defence Forces deliver high quality services and at the same time give value for money to the taxpayer.

The Government's objective is a properly structured, well equipped Defence Forces, capable of meeting their roles in the most efficient and effective way. In addition, the Defence Forces of the future must have the capacity and the flexibility to adapt to a changing environment.

Next Monday one of the most important events in the Defence Forces calendar takes place in the Curragh Camp. It is the commissioning ceremony for 34 cadets who come from different backgrounds, with different skills, ready to give their all for their country. The ceremony epitomises what the Defence Forces stands for — a proud organisation with a distinguished history. These young, ambitious leaders are ready to lead the Defence Forces well into the next millennium. They are ready to face the changes which are necessary to ensure that the organisation is ready [702] and able to face the many challenges that lie ahead.

In that regard, one of the key developments currently taking place is the reorganisation of the Defence Forces. This is not something that is happening in Ireland alone. With the changing international environment, many countries are having a hard look at their defence forces and the requirements for the future. No organisation, civil or military, can afford to sit still. One must move with the times to progress in any form.

The reform process for the Defence Forces is the most far-reaching and wide-ranging which the organisation has seen since its foundation. It is a most complex process and one which cuts across all areas of military life. It has been acknowledged by all concerned that reform of the Defence Forces is both necessary and overdue. All major aspects of Defence Forces reform are contained in the Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan, which covers the years 1996 to 1998 and which followed from the 1994 Price Waterhouse review of the Defence Forces.

The plan has been widely circulated throughout the Defence Forces and all participants are working in the full knowledge of the ultimate objective, which is to have the Defence Forces structured and organised in such a way as to enable them carry out their roles as laid down by the Government in September, 1993. It will be an organisation with enhanced operational capacity and one of which all its personnel can be proud.

Some of the major reforms being carried out as a result of the Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan involve the reorganisation of the Defence Forces from a four command structure to a three brigade structure and an enhanced organisational and operational capability through larger unit sizes. There will be nine larger infantry battalions instead of the current 11 and there will be less top-heavy structures in place. There will also be a reduced manpower level to 11,500 and lower age profiles and new career structures for officers and enlisted personnel.

Another recommendation contained in the implementation plan provides for the revision of the range of statutory duties of the Chief of Staff, specifically to give a new emphasis and focus to his responsibility for the effectiveness, efficiency, military organisation and economy of the Defence Forces; and the allocation of the duties of the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General to two new appointments of Deputy Chief of Staff, one with responsibility for operational matters and the second for support matters. Having one person at the helm of the Defence Forces makes for a more streamlined management system. The Bill will give legislative effect to these recommendations.

The unique structure of primary and secondary legislation governing the Defence Forces also forms part of the background to the Bill. Based on the Defence Act, 1954, and supplemented by an extensive set of Defence Force regulations, the purpose of this legal structure is to facilitate the

[703] Minister's control and regulate the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in every detail. However, in many ways, the 1954 Act reflects the priorities and concerns of another age with a major emphasis on procedural detail.

In the Defence Forces in recent years, a major effort has been devoted to blowing away the administrative cobwebs. Instead of formal regulation, many matters are now dealt with by simple administrative instruction issued by the military authorities, enabling a more creative and flexible approach to management. However, in the area of organisation, this effort has been stymied by the inflexibility of the 1954 Act with regard to organisation. At present, as Minister, I am obliged to specify by regulation each and every appointment in each and every unit of the Defence Forces. Every time personnel are moved around I should, in theory, make yet another amendment to the regulation, a thick volume known as CS 4.

The Bill will introduce two major innovations in military management. First, it will put in place a modern management structure along the lines outlined above as suggested by the EAG. Second, it will empower that management structure with the flexibility to manage effectively the manpower resources of the Defence Forces by removing the requirement for a major body of regulations.

Since the launch of the Strategic Management Initiative, there has been a greater focus throughout the public service on clarifying lines of authority and accountability and on specifying clearly the objectives to be met. The vesting of authority in senior public service managers must be balanced against the need to ensure that the position of the elected Government is not in any way eroded. The organisational changes proposed in the Bill are grounded in this balanced approach. Where before there where three quasi independent offices, now there will be a single integrated military headquarters with a single officer clearly in charge. The Bill also reflects the provisions of the Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan adopted by the previous Government. Military command of the Defence Forces will remain with the Minister.

In many ways the Bill is technical in nature. In the course of its preparation, many different issues concerning both the new management structure and the new approach to regulating the military organisation were raised. Senior military personnel have been intimately involved in this process and many of their suggestions have been incorporated into the Bill. In addressing all of these issues, the expert advice of the parliamentary draftsman's office has determined our approach. I appreciate its considerable assistance in clarifying many difficult legal issues.

Sections 12 and 13 of the Defence Act, 1954, are the principal sections being amended. Section 12 provides for three principal military office holders and prescribes the terms and conditions attaching [704] to these three appointments. Section 13 establishes in the Department of Defence three principal military branches, the heads of which are the Chief of Staff, the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General. Under the terms of the Act, the Minister for Defence has assigned to each of them specified duties relating to the business of the Department of Defence. Each is directly responsible for and reports to the Minister on the performance of those duties. In addition, a co-ordinating role in relation to the business of the principal military branches of the Department has been delegated to the Chief of Staff.

In accordance with the implementation plan, the Bill before the House provides that the existing three military branches of the Department of Defence will be replaced by a single military element to be known as Defence Forces Headquarters. The Chief of Staff will be the head of Defence Forces Headquarters and will be supported by the two Deputy Chiefs of Staff, one dealing with operational matters and the other with support matters. The Chief of Staff, who will as heretofore be appointed by the President on the advice of the Government, will be given the full range of duties heretofore assigned to the Chief of Staff, the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General. He will have responsibility for the overall management of the Defence Forces. The Deputy Chiefs of Staff, who will be appointed by the Government and to whom duties will be delegated by the Chief of Staff with the approval of the Minister, will report to the Chief of Staff and not directly to the Minister.

The amendment Bill provides for the recommended designations and for the reorganisation of the duties of the existing three principal military office holders, for smooth transitional arrangements and for adaptations. The remaining sections of the Bill involve relatively minor changes and mainly provide for the replacement of the existing appointments of Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General with the appointments of Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) or Deputy Chief of Staff (Support), as the case may be.

Since the adoption of the three year implementation plan in 1996, an excellent start has been made in rectifying the many deficiencies identified in the consultants' report. Through a voluntary early retirement scheme costing nearly £50 million, we have achieved a strength of 11,500. The final phase of the scheme, which will involve about 225 personnel, will be launched next week. There has been substantial progress reducing the number of medically unfit personnel. We have introduced a policy of continuous recruitment and a new manpower policy for enlisted personnel. We have 300 first timers serving with UNIFIL at present. In the case of officer promotions, progress has been made to a more merit based system.

Although these achievements represent major milestones along the path of reform, we must be mindful of the need to underpin our recent successes [705] through longer term reform in the management structures. The present top level structure of the Defence Forces was designed to meet the needs of a bygone era. It was deliberately designed to ensure that no single military officer could exercise excessive authority and undermine the position of the Minister. Accordingly, each of the three autonomous branches was headed by an independent office holder reporting personally to the Minister with the Chief of Staff confined to exercising an unspecified co-ordinating role. However, while the command and management structures of the Defence Forces must be consistent with maintaining civil control of the military, in the modern age we must also have regard to good management practices.

In the course of its 1995 report, Price Waterhouse emphasised the importance of developing and strengthening a professional management ethos in the Defence Forces with a greater focus on the efficient and effective use of resources. In this context, the consultants highlighted the unusually cumbersome arrangements at headquarters where three nominally independent office holders report separately to the Minister. When this matter came before the then Government, a more conventional and centralised approach was endorsed with a single officer, the Chief of Staff, empowered to act as a chief executive. This approach has been adopted in the present Bill.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Caffrey: Information on Ernie Caffrey Zoom on Ernie Caffrey This Bill is so technical in nature it is impossible to oppose most of it. The only issue with which I disagree is the transfer of responsibility for the appointment of the Chief of Staff from the President to the Government. I am aware amendments were tabled on this issue in the Dáil to which the Minister did not accede.

The Bill is a housekeeping exercise in terms of military reorganisation and one could say a lot of time, energy and effort has been expended on it. Given that the organisation as a whole demands farreaching reform and reorganisation, I do not know why the Minister did not wait until the publication of the White Paper and include these housekeeping and reorganisational exercises in one, overall reforming piece of legislation which would bring the Army, its management and structures out of the Victorian age and into the 20th century.

As the Minister stated, it was the era of anarchy in the 1920s and 1930s which gave birth to the unique type of Army structures we have in Ireland. I am sure no threat could be posed to the security of the State by the Army and no single member of it could have complete and absolute authority. However, in more settled times, the existing arrangements are now totally unnecessary and it is important we bring the Army into the modern age. In that regard, I commend the Minister for his efforts. More farreaching reforms [706] are required, however, and I would like to know when the Minister intends to introduce them.

In Seán O'Casey's play Juno and the Paycock, Joxer Daly asks the famous question “what is the stars?”. I reflect the opinion of many when I ask “what is the Army?” In view of current controversies, the public perspective on the Army has diminished. That is a pity. We are faced with the prospect of approximately £1 billion disappearing out of the national Exchequer to meet compensation claims. During the previous debate, Ireland's entry to EMU and its implications for Ireland were discussed. The Minister for Finance was asked what he would do with the money which would become available as a result of Ireland's entry, particularly the vast Central Bank resources and the tax windfall coming into the Government coffers as a result of our improving economy. If £1 billion is subtracted for Army compensation claims, a sizeable hole will be put in those resources.

Nowadays people expect a return on their money and that is sometimes the sole criterion by which worth is measured. As we become more sophisticated, we demand more from our public services and more will be demanded from the Army. The Army's role should be expanded and new legislation may be necessary to provide for that. The role of military police could be expanded. For those of us who travel 500 and 600 miles rarely a day passes when we do not meet lunatic drivers on the road. One would sometimes wish to have the authority to arrest them. I know there would be logistics involved in the creation of an expanded role for the Army but I am sure the necessary legislation could be drafted.

The issue of Army deafness claims is topical at the moment. The Green Book could possibly become a green eyed monster with court claims reaching mammoth proportions. The controversy has overshadowed the Minister's work since assuming office and has become a major public issue. The manner in which the media are treating this issue leaves a great deal to be desired. I am aware there are genuine cases but the courts seem to be experiencing considerable difficulty dealing with this issue. The efforts to provide the courts with some kind of guidelines may have backfired. The Judiciary does like to be guided in its approach to decision making and it certainly does not appreciate Oireachtas involvement in its role.

The wrong decision was made on compensation. The Minister is appealing many of the decisions to the Supreme Court, something which should have been done initially. Before any case was appealed, £45 million had been paid in compensation. This set a trend which continues still.

The purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to reorganisational changes at the top level of the Army structure. The Bill does not set out to do anything radical. The changes are necessary but I do not understand the urgency with which they are being dealt. We have been waiting for legislation in other areas and we have been [707] unable to get it as quickly as this Army legislation. The legislation for the Commission for the West was promised six months ago but it has not yet been delivered. There is widespread public concern about that. It is amazing that there can be legislation dealing with issues I would not regard as urgent when there is legislation badly needed for the development of disadvantaged areas in the west and the midlands. The bulk of legislation for the Western Development Commission has been delayed. I see no sense of urgency about that legislation. The Minister must have reasons for the urgency surrounding the legislation; maybe he would tell us those reasons.

This is a housekeeping exercise which is technical in nature and will not make any dramatic changes. I will say no more about it except to ask the Minister to bring in the White Paper on his proposals for the total reorganisation of the Defence Forces.

Acting Chairman (Dr. Henry): Information on Mary E.F. Henry Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry The Clerk tells me I have been too generous with time. This morning we agreed to ten minutes for spokespersons and eight minutes for all others.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis Zoom on John Dardis We will have to protest most strongly about that.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn Zoom on Camillus Glynn I dtosach ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo.

I am delighted to speak on this important legislation. I pay tribute to Minister Smith for his work in the Defence portfolio. We are aware that most of his time is taken up in dealing with the major issue of Army hearing loss compensation claims. The problem was not of his making, it was a poisoned chalice passed on by the previous administration who dealt with it as one would deal with a hot potato. He has tackled the issue in an up front manner. He has made every effort to resolve this complex problem. He wants to have the issue put to one side and remove it from the courts, significantly reducing legal fees and lessening the burden on the taxpayer. The action he has taken to date has saved a significant amount of money and I am sure the Minister will refer to that in his response. I hope the level of awards in the courts stabilises at a reasonable level which will facilitate the Minister in his desire to establish a compensation board to deal with all claimants in a fair and equitable manner.

The Minister is working hard to implement the Defence commitments contained in An Action Plan for the Millennium. Work on the White Paper on Defence is well under way. Delegation of day to day administration from the Department to the military has progressed. The continuous recruitment of young personnel is paying dividends. It is important to have a constant supply of young, eager and talented recruits coming into the Defence Forces and making their mark. The programme of equal opportunity is bearing [708] fruit. Columb Barracks in Mullingar is positive evidence of this. This is due to the Minister's proactive manner of dealing with the Defence Forces.

The process of providing suitable equipment and accommodation for the Defence Forces is ongoing. You only need to walk around McKee and Cathal Brugha Barracks, the naval base at Haulbowline and Baldonnel to see how much has been spent on improving facilities. The current tender competition for armoured personnel carriers is the biggest defence contract in the history of the State. The Army personnel carriers will be essential for Irish troops carrying out their roles at home and on peacekeeping duty overseas, where their magnificent performance brings the reputation of Ireland to new heights. These are positive developments which will enhance the overall operation of the Defence Forces.

The Bill before us follows the Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan for 1996-8. The enactment of the legislation is necessary for the implementation plan to work. The Bill will revamp the top level military organisation and structure and it makes perfect sense. The situation in the Defence Forces since the enactment of the Defence Act, 1954, is past its sell-by date. Things have changed and I am glad this legislation is before us.

There is no doubt that this house we are discussing requires a different type of roof because the one which is there is leaking. The Minister has taken measures to correct that. The top level organisation needs to be modernised. Section 12 of the Defence Act, 1954, is one of the main sections which needed to be amended because of the reorganisation. The principal amendments to the section involve the substitution of the two new posts of Deputy Chief of Staff for the posts of Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General, and prescribe that the appointment to these posts be made by Government. This contrasts with the present position where appointments to the offices of Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General are made by the President.

The fundamental difference between the new arrangements and the current situation is that under the new arrangements, the holders of the appointments of Deputy Chief of Staff will report to the Chief of Staff, whereas at present the Adjutant General and the Quartermaster General report independently of each other and of the Chief of Staff to the Minister. Under the new structure the Deputy Chiefs of Staff will be subordinate to the Chief of Staff. They will be his deputies and for this reason it would be most inappropriate to prescribe in legislation that they should be appointed by the President. Appointments by the President are normally reserved for positions which are independent of the Government such as members of the Judiciary, the Ombudsman and the Governor of the Central Bank. It is worth noting that Secretaries General of Government Departments and the Garda [709] Commissioner are appointed by the Government and not by the President.

It is, therefore, wholly appropriate that appointments to Deputy Chief of Staff should be made by the Government. It could reasonably be argued that the Chief of Staff should also be appointed by the Government. However, given the relationship between the Defence Forces and the President, as set down in the Constitution, it is felt that on balance there is some merit in his appointment being made by the President.

In accordance with the provisions of the existing section 12 of the Defence Act, the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General are appointed to the principal military offices of Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General. This Bill provides that the Deputy Chiefs of Staff are appointed by Government and are not separately established posts. This is because under the new arrangements all of their duties, functions and responsibilities will derive from the office of the Chief of Staff and they will not have an independent function of their own. In this regard it should be noted that in the strict legal sense each and every member of the Defence Forces, from Lieutenant General down to a new recruit, is an office holder. The thrust of this section is to place the Chief of Staff at a different level than his deputies in the new structures and to make it clear that he is the sole officer reporting to the Minister on the military business of the Department of Defence. That is a logical move which is in the best interests of the Defence Forces.

Arising from the reorganisation of the Defence Forces it is necessary to rewrite a number of Defence Force regulations, including those which prescribe the numerical establishment of the forces. In that context it is considered that future Defence Force regulations should prescribe the maximum overall limit of 11,500, together with the permitted maximum number in each rank and the number of technical officer and technician appointments within that overall strength. This would give much needed flexibility to the military authorities, enabling them to determine from time to time within the prescribed overall limit the strength of the various staffs, units and other elements of the forces and the title and designation of each military appointment. It will also facilitate the transfer or posting of personnel from time to time to areas of greatest need, having regard to such factors as changing circumstances, the operational requirements of the forces and the exigencies of the service. This is another important strategic step forward.

This is necessary legislation which will allow for the better managment of the Defence Forces. The defence and security of the State are vital to national economic and social wellbeing. Defence services are among the most critical provided by Government. The importance of having a top class, streamlined Defence Force with the capability to effectively and efficiently handle its designated roles cannot be understated.

[710] In bringing forward this legislation the Minister is complying with the undertaken given in An Action Programme for the Millennium. Reference was made to the White Paper, which is at an advanced stage of preparation. The Minister has grappled with one of the most serious situation ever to confront a Minister since the foundation of the State and he is to be congratulated. He is a man of great political courage and since taking office his status has risen to new heights.

Mr. Cosgrave: Information on Liam T. Cosgrave Zoom on Liam T. Cosgrave This is a technical Bill which we will be supporting. The important issue is what members of the Defence Forces do and how efficiently and effectively the Army is run rather than titles and chains of command. It behoves us as legislators to ensure that the Minister leads the way in restoring morale to the Defence Forces. There has been a problem with morale for a number of years and we must pay tribute to all members of the Defence Forces — the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, which play a vital fishery protection role.

We need to refocus attention to see where we are going in the next century. This behoves the Minister to lead by example and he has done so. Problems exist such as that concerning compensation. Over many years the Army has been the poor sister in defence matters but we should not forget the great work it has done. There have been problems concerning the Garda and the Army but it is important to give due recognition to these two important institutions of State. We must also ensure that whatever resources are required are made available. The Minister will have the support of this side of the House in any extra commitments and recognition he can give to the Defence Forces.

The Army has played a very significant role at home as a back up to the Garda. It is particularly noted for the peacekeeping roles it has carried out over many years. I welcome the belated recognition of those who served in areas such as the Congo and Namibia and the Minister's recent awards. For too long too much lip service has been paid to these men. If we are to continue to play an influential peacekeeping role the necessary resources must be provided to ensure that the best training is provided and that equipment is updated — the Army must not be seen as a Dad's Army. I am sure the Minister intends to ensure that the Army is well resourced and that the Government supports the Defence Forces.

The Army School of Equitation has played an important role over 70 years. Army personnel and Irish horses have graced many arenas throughout the world and have competed at Olympic games and other such events. This role must be maintained and resources must be provided to ensure that there is an adequate supply of young horses so that we continue to recognise the prominent role played by the school.

We support this Bill. I hope the Minister will take on board the matters I have mentioned, [711] particularly the Air Corps and Naval Service and their efficient fishery protection role, which will be increasingly important. Additional resources must be provided to those areas of the Defence Forces which are in need. If there has been a loss of morale in recent months and years, it behoves the Minister, with the support of both Houses, to ensure that morale is rebuilt so that we can continue to be proud of the Army and that it will continue to serve the country well into the next century.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis Zoom on John Dardis I welcome the legislation and accept the need for it. However, I believe, and am sure the Minister accepts, that it is part of a raft of legislation which will be introduced over the next few years as part of the reorganisation of the Defence Forces which is a result of the Price Waterhouse efficiency audit group report. I welcome the fact that the Minister is preparing a White Paper and I look forward to its early publication. I will comment on it later.

The Army comprises three brigades, nine infantry battalions and 11,500 personnel and will become slimmed down and fitter. In that context, I hope it will be allowed to operate efficiently and effectively and that it will be given the resources it requires to do the job properly. Those resources should be channelled through the Chief of Staff and he should be given control of the operational side of the budget. There was a great deal of debate in the Dáil on outputs and it was suggested that the Chief of Staff should be responsible for them. I share that view but since the Minister answered in detail many questions asked about that in the Dáil, I do not intend to deal with it in any substantive way.

When the Public Service Management (No. 2) Act was debated in the Houses in 1997, I sought to amend it because it was part of the legislation that the Department of Defence was defined as being the Department and principal military branches — the Chief of Staff, the Quartermaster-General and the Adjutant-General. However, the latter two were not included in the Schedule and this was the case for a number of people in other Departments, such as the Attorney General. I sought to have the principal military branches excluded because to do otherwise would be to give the Secretary General of the Department undue influence over them and I thought that undesirable. That attempt to amend the legislation was unsuccessful. The Minister dealing with the legislation was the late Deputy Coveney.

However, an important principle is at stake and it is one about which we must be careful and that is the degree to which the State and the Defence Forces interface. Given our history and the need to ensure there is a separation between Government and the Army, we must be careful how we proceed on these matters. That is not to say that this legislation does not intrude on an area that it [712] should not because it does, but it does it properly. However, it is something about which we must always be aware when dealing with defence matters. It is only a short step from wanting to regulate the Army to wanting to control it. That is something undesirable in a parliamentary democracy such as this. Obviously this also works in reverse. The degree to which the Army intrudes in civil matters is something about which we must also be careful.

I regret that the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General — or the Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) and the Deputy Chief of Staff (Support) who will replace them — are no longer office holders. I sympathise with the view expressed in the Dáil that these should be presidential appointments because of the principles I outlined. However, having read the Committee Stage debate in the Dáil, the Minister has answered that point conclusively. In other areas, such as the courts, the President appoints the chief officers while other appointments are dealt with differently. Perhaps that is appropriate. However, it comes back to departmental control, the fact that the Secretary General can exercise a substantial degree of control and the nature of the relationship between the Army and the State.

The Minister might deal with section 39(b) in his reply as it was not dealt with as comprehensively in the Dáil as other matters. It concerns the five year term for office holders. While I welcome it, I query its renewal. The Minister mentioned the commissioning ceremony in the Curragh next Monday to which I look forward. Young people entering the Army should have a reasonable expectation that they can progress to the most senior ranks and that career opportunities are available to them. There should also be a prospect of the age profile within the service falling. By international standards, we have an elderly army. Personnel are old by international standards and that is something of which we must be aware. The Minister is correct to say that the 1954 Act was inflexible. It is ridiculous that he should have to specify by regulation each and every appointment within the Army. That is not sensible in a modern society.

Regarding the White Paper, difficult issues will have to be confronted, not the least of which will be barrack closures. In that context, I appeal for the representative bodies, RACO and PDFORRA, to be fully consulted, as I am sure they will be, in the preparation of the White Paper and for their views to be taken into account.

Another matter is savings in the Forces. We have already debated the deafness problem and I welcome the legislation presented on that matter. However, it would wrong if the savings achieved within the Defence Forces were used to pay the bill accruing to the State as a result of liability which the courts might establish. The savings from reorganisation should stay within the Army. In the Curragh, it has been decided that people [713] who live in Orchard Park, a part of the greater Curragh complex, will be able to buy their houses. That is something they have sought for many years. Plausible reasons were given in the past why it could not happen but now it can. It would not be proper or appropriate for the moneys which arise to the State in that context to be used to meet the deafness bill.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith Perhaps it should go towards the swimming pool.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis Zoom on John Dardis I was coming to that. The Minister has prompted me in that direction. I learned to swim in the Curragh swimming pool many years ago. The principle is that, if the Army is to be a proper one, it is right that it should have facilities available to it, and that is purely from a social rather than an operational point of view. That is why the pool in the Curragh is important and why it should be kept open. There is also the issue of the Army bands which are an important part of military tradition. I hope they can be retained. Recently there was a commemoration of 1798 in the Curragh at which the band of the Curragh Command played. Such bands enhance these occasions and they are an important part of military tradition. Senator Cosgrave mentioned the Equitation School; that too is important.

One final important point concerns the Partnership for Peace. Ireland and the Irish Army should be part of the Partnership for Peace. The Amsterdam Treaty does not oblige us to enter into any military commitment unless it is by the will of the Irish people. However, we must take part in actions overseas. It is already the case that Irish soldiers serve under NATO in Bosnia and that they have been involved in peace enforcement. Legislation was introduced to allow our soldiers to serve in a similar capacity in Somalia.

We must participate in international peacekeeping and peace enforcement and become involved in the Petersberg Tasks on a humanitarian basis. It is entirely appropriate for the Army to be involved in these matters, given its proud and honourable tradition in helping to resolve conflicts overseas. It has gained tremendous credibility from the international community in areas of conflict for its efficiency and impartiality. The Oireachtas will be able to decide on these matters and no one will be forced to do anything he should not do. Once we have decided that we need an Army it is proper and correct that it should be deployed overseas. I am very much in favour of our being a member of the Partnership for Peace.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara This is a small but important piece of legislation. I welcome it because it performs the important function of updating the structures of the Defence Forces to make them more efficient and effective, particularly at top level. Senator Caffrey called the Bill a housekeeping exercise. That is so, but the house in [714] question — the Defence Forces — is in need of major renovation. I accept that the White Paper which is pending will be that renovation plan and will establish structures to allow the Defence Forces to meet the challenges of the modern era. The Partnership for Peace to which Senator Dardis referred is one of the functions of the Defence Forces. It is important that we ensure that the Defence Forces are equipped to deal with our international responsibilities and I support any move to ensure that they are equipped to fulfil their function on our behalf on the international front.

I assume the White Paper will lead to further legislation and for that reason I do not intend to be too critical of this legislation. A number of urgent and important issues are not addressed in this legislation. First, the Bill makes no reference to the structures of the Air Corps or the Naval Service. We know from recent newspaper reports that some changes are proposed for both those branches of the Defence Forces. I hope the Minister will respond to this point.

Second, the Bill makes no reference to procedures for courts martial. This is a grave omission. As the Minister is aware, in the United Kingdom court martial procedures have been challenged through the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds of partiality and the role of the judge advocate. The UK Government, in response, has had to promise new legislation to make the procedures more independent. I wonder if similar changes are required here, if our procedures have been examined in the context of the Defence Act, 1954, and if amending legislation will be required to address this matter.

I will be brief because this issue was discussed in the Dáil only this week. I disagree with very little the Minister has said and having read the Official Report of the Dáil debate I see that very few aspects of the matter have been missed. However, no debate on defence matters could ignore the Army deafness issue which hangs like a black cloud over the Defence Forces. Public perception of the Army and confidence in it are extremely important. The Minister has struggled with this issue since coming to office when he was handed a poisoned chalice. I commend him on his efforts and publicly wish him the best. We all know that the Army has been done untold damage by the massive Army deafness claim. The public are convinced that among the huge number of claims there must be some which are bogus. This reflects badly on soldiers who are genuinely afflicted and on their families. The Minister is hidebound by the inconsistent approach of the courts to the claims. There is an urgent need to take the matter out of the court system and resolve it in an independent tribuna, but this appears to be impossible. Until the matter is dealt with the image of the Army will continue to suffer damage. Any review of the structures of the Army must involve an internal discussion of this matter, the causes of the crisis [715] and its effects on the Defence Forces. That discussion cannot happen while the issue is current but I hope it can be done in the near future.

I welcome the Bill and I look forward to the publication of the White Paper and the legislation which will follow.

Mr. D. Kiely: Information on Daniel Kiely Zoom on Daniel Kiely The Minister landed in the hot seat when he took over in the Department of Defence. The Army deafness claims represent a huge problem and I wish him luck dealing with it. I hope the courts will start making awards that will stabilise the situation. Hopefully, a compensation board can be established which will remove the big wigs and legal personnel from the equation and ensure that compensation is paid to the people who deserve it without having their legal representatives taking the cream. I hope the Minister will be successful in his endeavours.

Over the years the Defence Forces have done a fantastic job for this country in extremely serious situations, especially during the war years and the Troubles. They play a vital role in the stability and defence of this nation. In latter years they have fulfilled various roles as part of peacekeeping missions abroad. They are highly regarded and respected throughout the world for that work.

I was in the United States when President Kennedy was assassinated and a unit of our Defence Forces was brought from Ireland to be part of the guard of honour at the President's funeral. I was extremely proud of the Irish Army on that occasion.

The Defence Forces are going through radical change at present which will require extensive resources. It would be detrimental to that process if resources earmarked for streamlining and so forth had to be paid in claims. Everybody hopes to see the Defence Forces improved. The Minister is endeavouring in this legislation to upgrade and introduce regularity into the forces or, as he said, shake the cobwebs from the cupboards. This will give young people an ideal opportunity to serve their country and to go from the rank of private to the top of the Defence Forces. That is a challenge which will be attractive to young people. This Bill is the start of many good developments in this area and I wish the Minister well.

The legislation is necessary and it is high time it was introduced. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Caffrey: Information on Ernie Caffrey Zoom on Ernie Caffrey On a point of clarification, I think I said the Government appointed the Chief of Staff. I meant to say the Deputies.

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith That is correct but I interpreted the Senator's remark in the right way.

I thank the Senators who contributed to the debate. This legislation was linked to the White Paper in a number of contributions. It is more important to link it with the ongoing reorganisation [716] of the Defence Forces. The Price Waterhouse review and the subsequent implementation plan envisage a ten year span during which the different stages of the reform process can be completed. Ten years are required for a number of reasons. One is the fact that the review was long overdue. A number of the problems which had developed in the intervening period were so great that no single instrument or Bill could solve them at the same time.

I was anxious that this Government be the first Government to commit itself to constant recruitment, not only because young, talented, motivated and educated people would join the Defence Forces continuously but also because we cannot afford to repeat the process of humps and hollows of non-recruitment followed by extensive recruitment followed by non-recruitment. There are promotional and other problems when great numbers of people of the same age join the forces at the same time and are seeking promotion. I am anxious to get rid of those problems.

However, it is not possible to change what I inherited overnight. This Bill should not be linked in that sense to the White Paper. It should be linked to the process of change which has reduced the numbers through voluntary early retirement from over 13,000 to 11,500. That and constant recruitment — in fairness to the last Administration, there were two tranches of recruitment — will reduce the age profile. Significant investment in refurbishment is required in Cathal Brugha, McKee, Finner and Collins Barracks and in various other centres throughout the country to ensure the working environment is continually improved. On many occasions I have said that I am ashamed of many of our installations. No previous Government did anything about them and it is unlikely that a future Government will have the resources to do everything to each of them. Therefore, we must set priorities.

Senator Dardis referred to the savings that are made being allocated in part to deal with the claims for hearing loss compensation. We have no resources which, through their sale, would match the requirements of the total compensation bill; but if we can make a contribution, however small, it will remove some of the pressure. However, of the resources which will come to hand as a result of relocations and disposals of important pieces of property which can assist with the housing crisis and commercial and other development, only part of them will be devoted to that purpose. The bulk will be devoted to necessary re-equipment, refurbishment and redevelopment.

I now turn to morale and the effect on the Defence Forces of the current debate. It is important to remember that the majority of people who have and are serving in the forces have made no claim and that the majority of the claimants have genuine claims. The argument relates to those who climbed on the bandwagon and the court awards for minor injury. They are [717] the two problems which should be separated from the generality of what the Defence Forces do.

The work of the Defence Forces includes participation in peacekeeping missions in 30 countries over the past 40 years. This country has been proud of their activities in each of those countries. Grave risks were taken in the name of peace. Highly trained and motivated people went on these missions and 75 people lost their lives. This week I honoured those who were killed in action under the banner of the United Nations with An Réalt Míleata, a medal to commemorate their great contribution and enormous sacrifice.

At home, the Defence Forces deal with fisheries surveillance, drugs interdiction, support for the Garda Síochána, defusion of bombs, cash escorts and their usual daily work. Senator Dardis referred to the more spectacular work such as bands going to schools around the country and the style, presentation and grace of parades. That is an important part of the soul of a country and it should be protected and developed. It is critically important in this and other debates to emphasise these positive developments.

There are few industries where employees are permanent, have secure pensions and no threat to their employment. These are the strengths of the Defence Forces and they should be emphasised. I do not feel that my work is dishonoured by the actions of another Senator or Deputy in the Houses of the Oireachtas. There have been instances where I would not have wished to be in the position that a minority of my colleagues have been in. I cannot comprehend why I should take responsibility for that. I do not see why I or the generality of politicians should be blamed for that, notwithstanding the fact that the public might do it. My own approach to this and to that of the Defence Forces is to stand up, be counted and not be afraid to feel proud about it because it is part of the way we should proceed.

Senators Glynn and Caffrey spoke from two different angles on the Army deafness claims. I assure Senator Caffrey that the legislation passed here on the Green Book and civil liability requiring the courts to have due notice of particulars contained in that independent study is standing up well despite a few glitches. I forecast that it will be better in the future. If we trawl the compensation arena over the past year to 18 months, the average quantum award by court or out of court settlement was £35,000, it is now £15,000. If you use your multiplier on 12,000 cases, you are talking about a saving of £250 million in little over a year. Therefore, it would be very hard to say this system is failing. This has been a difficult time and we have further to go. We must reduce awards for minor disabilities, but we need everyone's co-operation to make it happen. We should continue to make whatever savings are possible in this area. We must also protect the Defence Forces and its image from fraudulent claims or from very high awards for minor disabilities. Despite a few problems that have emerged over [718] the past weeks, the bulk of the current settlements are based within the context of the Green Book. The court staff and the legal profession think it is a formidable document. I intend to ensure it stands the test of time; but, more importantly, that it produces a quick solution on a fair and equitable basis which protects the image of the Defence Forces, does not give major awards for minor disability and saves the taxpayer millions of pounds.

I will deal with the issues of output, autonomy and control. It is very important to remember that the democratic Government is in control. This is the civil authority and the Army is answerable to it. Through all that empowerment, local autonomy, better management of resources has to be the order of the day. About 60 per cent of the non-paid area is totally within the control of the military. There are some signs of alarm in terms of various costings that we inherited. I am not blaming anyone. These costings have grown over time but the matter needs to be looked at seriously. It is not as a result of civil control but probably because there was no control. It is important to get the right balance and have cohesion between the military and civil authority so that we are all kept on our toes to make whatever savings possible and devote them to development, redevelopment and re-equipment.

Senator Dardis inquired about officeholders. It is important we remember that the Quartermaster General, the Adjutant General and the new Deputy Chief of Staff are and will continue to be officeholders. The five year contract is renewing the old Act and is part of being able to have continuity. In 1969, when the Troubles greatly intensified, there was a great need for the Army to be at the ready for contingency plans. If the Chief of Staff was due to retire at a time like that most people would think whoever was in charge at that time should be able to guide the Army through that emergency. That is one part of freedom. But if you look back over the term of office of successive Chiefs of Staff you will notice they had a much shorter period.

I thought Senator Dardis at the end of his contribuiton was referring to the five year contract in the force generally.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis Zoom on John Dardis I had intended to.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith It is now a 12 year contract provided over three year spans and after five years progress is made. It is very important for people to progress and have that accredited in terms of their performance and where their career takes them thereafter.

Senator O'Meara referred to the fact that there was no mention of the Naval Service and the Air Corps in this Bill. Price Waterhouse reviewed the Air Corps and presented a report last year. The then Government decided it was not comprehensive enough, that they should go back and have a more detailed analysis of the problems, strengths [719] and weaknesses of these individual forces. Price Waterhouse presented a final report in late February. It was presented to the Taoiseach's office who has responsibility for the EAG. The report will be placed before the Government before 8 July and will be published before the end of the month.

Even though there was a review of these two forces we still implemented a few measures. One such measure was the purchase of an additional ship which is being built by Appledore and will be commissioned in 1999. We continued to move forward because fishery protection, drug importation, all those management matters are very important. We also addressed the problem of pilots leaving the Air Corps because of attractive offers from civil aviation by introducing a service commitment scheme which enabled us to retain 12 out of a potential 24 pilots.

We are not just waiting for the White Paper, new legislation, reports, etc., day-to-day management still goes on. I accept the White Paper will be an important component in the medium to long-term as to where we go and how much we delve into different areas. It is also important to realise that there was no mention of a White Paper until this Government came into office. We gave a commitment to produce a White Paper. It was intended to produce it within one year but now it will probably be within two years because we need greater consultation. We obviously have to have discussions with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There are other areas where security matters have to be resolved. I give a commitment that the consultation will be full and meaningful and submissions will be sought from representative associations and other very shortly. There will be an opportunity for a full consultation with all the representative authorities.

Our courts martial system is based on the principle of civil courts. Their decisions can be appealed to the civil courts. Every soldier is entitled to the same rights as anyone else under the Constitution, that is, they are free to go to whatever court his or her legal advisers suggest.

The Army bands represent another difficult matter to resolve. The reorganisation process has decided on the numbers. The advice from top band musicians is that the figure suggested is not sufficient for four bands. The military advice is that that is the number, because reorganisation does mean some pain. Further discussions have to take place to try to come up with the best solution. I am interested in maintaining the history and quality of music produced by the Army bands. The band has visited my constituency twice, including last Sunday when it gave a beautiful recital in Killenaule. Arguments are ongoing about whether smaller or greater numbers are required. The position is being examined.

[720] A sum between £100,000 and £150,000 was provided to the Army Equitation School this year to enable it buy better horses. We must ensure that this can be done on an ongoing basis because it is not now possible to buy top quality horses at former prices. We must consider how we can continue to build up this resource given its impact on the Defence Forces, the support it receives from the public, its tourism potential and the international acclaim it has received.

I thank Senators for their contributions.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis Zoom on John Dardis What about the Curragh swimming pool?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith The Senator has got enough from this debate. The pool was closed for safety reasons. Once the engineer's report is available I will provide resources to ensure the pool is put back into commission. As the problem involves safety, I do not have any room to manoeuvre.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil do na Seanadóirí a labhair sa díospóireacht i dtaobh an Bhille. Tá súil agam go mbeimid in ann í a chríochnú.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.


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