The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 10, inclusive, answered orally.
11. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to introduce flexible working time and shift arrangements to improve the work-life balance for Defence Forces members in particular for those who have family commitments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20437/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): The achievement of an effective balance between the demands of the workplace and the home is important for the long-term welfare and development of the Defence Forces. Family-friendly working conditions and operational effectiveness are both possible. The Defence Forces will continue to develop appropriate work-life balance initiatives to assist personnel whilst ensuring that defence capability is maintained. A range of initiatives has been introduced by the Defence Forces to assist with work-life balance. These include:
In November 2016, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation obtained Government approval to amend this Act insofar as it provides for a specific exclusion for members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. Responsibility for the legislation subsequently moved to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and that Department is currently considering, in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality and my Department, the most appropriate legislative method by which to bring about the necessary amendments.
A consultation process is underway with the Representative associations to consider the implementation of such changes for members of the Defence Forces and it is not possible at this point to outline the precise impacts. However, the implementation of these changes will have implications for patterns of work related to such issues as daily and weekly rest periods, breaks, maximum weekly working time, annual leave and recording of time worked.
I believe that all of the processes in train will enhance work-life balance and deliver a more effective, energetic and sustainable Organisation into the future.
Question No. 12 answered orally.
13. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of his Department’s preparations for Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20213/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): The outcome of the vote of 23 June 2016 in the UK will have implications across all aspects of the business of the European Union. While the vote does not give rise to fundamental strategic issues for Defence Forces operations or for Ireland’s continuing engagement within the EU in the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), it is expected that Brexit will have an impact on future developments in the Defence sphere.
Structures have been put in place in the Department of Defence to address the potential challenges arising from Brexit including the assignment of responsibility to a senior official at Assistant Secretary General level in relation to Brexit related matters. The senior official is leading the Department’s input to deliberations within the framework established across Government and is supported in their role by a number of branches in the Department. The senior official represents the Department on the Interdepartmental Group on EU-UK Affairs which is chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is engaged with the identification of key strategic, operational and policy issues arising from Brexit. In addition, the Management Board is acting as a clearing house for Brexit and maintains oversight on an ongoing basis.
In respect of the border, the potential implications in this regard will emerge during the course of the negotiations. It is this Government’s stated goal to try to ensure that the current on-island border arrangements are maintained to the greatest extent possible. Responsibility for the security aspect of border control rests with An Garda Síochána, while the Revenue Commissioners also have responsibilities relating to their particular mandate. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of Aid to the Civil Power which, in practice, means to provide support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. The Defence Forces also provide support to the Revenue Commissioners on request. The Defence Forces at all times keep operational plans under constant review and there will continue to be ongoing close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters, including through regular coordination and liaison meetings.
My Department, together with the Naval Service and the Air Corps are working closely with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA), who are the competent authority on this matter, in relation to Brexit. Ongoing liaison with the European Fisheries Control Agency and with other Member States, will continue as appropriate.
In addition, the Government Task Force (GTF) on Emergency Planning has been briefed on potential emergency planning implications/issues that may arise from Brexit. The GTF will continue to monitor any future impacts on emergency planning that may arise as the Brexit negotiations unfold.
The Government is under no illusions about the complexity of these negotiations. In that regard, I wish to reassure the Deputy that my Department is monitoring the ongoing situation to ensure that my Department and the Defence Forces are fully prepared to address any potential issues arising in the defence area on foot of Brexit.
14. Deputy James Browne asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the supports provided for members of the Defence Forces who undergo traumatic experiences while serving on UN mandated missions. (Question 20397/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Taoiseach and Minister for Defence (Deputy Leo Varadkar): I can assure the Deputy that the Defence Forces are fully aware of the importance of providing robust supports for personnel who require them, whatever the reason.
A range of medical and non-medical services are provided to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them and to treat any medical condition that may arise.
As a matter of policy, psychiatric and psychological services, as well as the Defence Force Personnel Support Service (PSS) are available to members of the Defence Forces. These provide for the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric or psychological disorders through to counselling and critical incident stress management.
Defence Force personnel preparing for deployment overseas undergo a rigorous programme of training designed to help them carry out their peacekeeping mission and provide for their protection. As part of the mission readiness process, all such personnel are provided with briefings by qualified PSS staff, on Critical Incidents and their effects along with stress management and wellness. Personnel are also issued with the Defence Force guide to Critical Incident Stress Management which provides useful information including how to manage stress associated with such incidents.
In response to any significant operational incidents at home or overseas, PSS personnel trained in Critical Incident Stress Management are deployed to provide both one-to-one and group psychological support. In addition, prior to deployment, PSS trains a cross section of personnel in Critical Incident Stress Management Peer Support which enables them to provide initial psychological support (Psychological First Aid) to any personnel who may be affected by a traumatic incident. Such support would include normalising the reactions, enhancing individual stress management and where appropriate referral of personnel to additional resources such as the unit medical officer.
Defence Force personnel have, both while on a tour of duty and following their return home, access to a Primary Carer Medical Practitioner, either military (Medical Officer) or civilian (GP), whose role it is to assess, diagnose, treat and refer individuals as necessary. Personnel experiencing psychological issues can be referred by their Primary Carer to the Defence Forces Psychiatric and Psychological Service for assessment and treatment with onward referral to the civilian service if required.
While I am satisfied that these measures provide comprehensive supports to individuals in the Defence Forces who may require them, I can assure you that all such supports are kept under review.
15. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Defence Forces involvement in peacekeeping missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20290/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): This year marks significant anniversaries in relation to Ireland’s United Nations peacekeeping role. It will be the 60th anniversary of Ireland’s first participation in a United Nations peacekeeping mission and it is the 40th anniversary of our first deployment to Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL mission.
Commemorative events are being planned to mark this year’s important milestones in the history of Ireland’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations by the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána. Planning for these events is in the early stages of development. My Department is engaging with the Defence Forces, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Garda Síochána, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of An Taoiseach in this regard. Full details of proposed events will be announced once the programme has been finalised. That said, I can confirm that there will a State ceremony in Dublin Castle on Sunday 24th June 2018 to mark the occasion.
This event will be about celebrating and marking Ireland’s service and commitment to the UN since 1958. It will also be an occasion to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice of serving their country while on United Nations service. It is important that we remember those who died and their families as this time. 86 Defence Force personnel and 1 member of An Garda Síochána have lost their lives in the service of peace overseas.
Ireland has always been a strong supporter of the United Nations and participation in overseas peacekeeping missions is a key element of Ireland’s foreign policy. Ireland’s participation in United Nations missions is a tangible demonstration of our commitment to the pursuit of international peace and security.
16. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to change the need for compulsory medical examinations for serving Defence Forces members over 40 years of age; the rationale for compulsory medical examinations for persons over 40 years of age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20435/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Taoiseach and Minister for Defence (Deputy Leo Varadkar): I can assure the Deputy that the health and safety of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a high priority for me. Given the robust nature of military life and the unique physical and psychological demands it places on individuals, it is necessary that the members of the Defence Forces are physically and mentally prepared to meet the challenges of all military operations. The State has a duty of care to ensure that each individual has the ability to perform the duties expected of them.
Defence Force Regulation A.12 Medical Treatment (Paragraph 75) provides that all members of the Permanent Defence Force shall undergo an annual medical examination. The Defence Forces have advised that some such examinations have occurred outside of the 12 month period but this has not been the case of any personnel over the age of 40 years. In addition, it is necessary to ensure that both new entrants and those deploying overseas are given priority for medical examination. There is no difference in the examination that is carried out before and after attaining the age of 40 years. The outcome of a medical examination may lead to the medical re-classification of the individual concerned by a Medical Board.
The medical examination and classification process within the Permanent Defence Force is important given the challenging nature of the job and the duties associated with military service. It ensures that that operational capability and effectiveness are not compromised in any way. I am advised by the Military Authorities that medical decisions are arrived at with the well-being of the individual being a key concern.
The medical examination is an important health and safety feature and there are no plans to change the current requirements as this could impinge directly on the health and well-being of the individual and, by extension, the capabilities of the Defence Forces.
17. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to scrap or lower intelligence tests which are used to select recruits to the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20387/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): I am aware of recent media reports that Psychometric Tests may be scrapped for Defence Forces recruitment and that the Department of Defence is “looking at dropping or lowering the bar on psychometric testing”. This is factually incorrect and misleading.
The Defence Forces utilise Psychometric Tests, as distinct from intelligence tests, during the recruitment process. They have advised that, according to the latest research, psychometric testing is the most valid selection tool that can predict performance in the workplace. The three most common metrics used to assess workplace performance are: Performance on the job, Training performance and Learning on the Job. Psychometric testing scores highest across all three measures for validity.
The Defence Forces rely on psychometric testing of all applicants and tailor ‘test batteries’ to the requirements of each competition, for example:
The approach used will be kept under on-going review to ensure that it delivers an appropriate methodology to determine suitability for entry to the Defence Forces.
18. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to mark the 40th anniversary of Ireland’s participation in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20424/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): This year marks significant anniversaries in relation to Ireland’s UN peacekeeping role. It will be the 60th anniversary of Ireland’s first participation in a UN peacekeeping mission and it is the 40th anniversary of the first deployment of Defence Force personnel to Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL mission.
Ireland has made a huge commitment to supporting peace and security in the Middle East region and has participated in the UNIFIL mission since its establishment in 1978. There are currently some 370 personnel deployed to the mission.
My recent visit to Lebanon in March, coincided with the official UN commemorations in Naqoura to mark the 40th anniversary of the UNIFIL mission’s establishment. It was an occasion to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of UN peacekeepers who have served together with local communities for peace in South Lebanon. It was a great honour to be present while a veteran Irish Peacekeeper delivered a poignant and emotional tribute to fallen peacekeepers at the ceremony. The respect and high regard that is held internationally for the professionalism displayed by our Irish Peacekeepers was clearly evident.
Ireland’s long service with the UNIFIL mission over the last 40 years means that the names of towns and villages in Southern Lebanon are familiar to the Irish people. The forty thousand Irish soldiers who have served with UNIFIL since 1978 have brought back stories and great memories of the UNIFIL mission. Sadly, Irish soldiers have also died and are remembered monthly in a ceremony in Tibnin, Lebanon. I revisited the monument in the course of my recent visit and it was an opportunity to remember and honour the sacrifice made by Irish soldiers.
Appropriate commemorative events are being planned to mark this year’s important milestones in the history of Ireland’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations by the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána and civilian personnel.
A State ceremony will take place in Dublin Castle on Sunday 24th June 2018. Arrangement are currently being finalised and details of this event will be announced shortly. It is intended that the ceremony will be an occasion to show our pride in those who have served in our name with the U.N. while also calling to mind those who gave their lives so that others might know the gift of peace.
19. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of Defence Forces personnel deployments both nationally and in County Louth with reference to Storm Emma. (Question 20425/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): In accordance with the Framework for Major Emergency Management, primary responsibility for responding to a severe weather event rests with the three designated Principal Response Agencies, namely the relevant Local Authority, An Garda Siochána, and the Health Service Executive. The Defence Forces provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or an emergency in its Aid to the Civil Authority and Aid to the Civil Power roles. Major Emergency Plans have been developed by local and regional authorities and these Plans identify the procedures for requesting assistance from the Defence Forces.
Such support was requested throughout the period of Storm Emma and I can confirm that the total number of Defence Forces personnel deployed in support of the Principal Response Agencies was 2,637 in response to 622 requests for support. The number of personnel deployed in County Louth was 13 in response to 3 requests for support. The support provided in County Louth involved transporting hospital staff in various locations in the Louth area, a patient transfer to Louth Hospital and the transport of bottled water in the Dundalk area. These supports involved the use of 6 Defence Forces vehicles.
All of the available resources of the Defence Forces were made available to support the Principal Response Agencies during this severe weather event and all requests were responded to positively. The overall extent of support was considerable with deployments in multiple locations around the country.
I wish to assure the Deputy that the full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment are available for deployment to support the Principal Response Agencies in response to any emergencies that may arise.
20. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of progress on items included in the work programme of the Curragh forum for 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20382/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
29. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of the establishment of a new lands management team for the Curragh Plains to be put in place for 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20383/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): I propose to take Questions Nos. 20 and 29 together.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Curragh Forum was established to provide an opportunity for key stakeholders to consider and progress a wide range of issues regarding the use and management of the Curragh Plains.
The most recent meeting of the Forum took place in January 2018. It was attended by representatives of the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, Kildare County Council, Curragh Racecourse Ltd, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association and Horse Racing Ireland. The issues discussed included legislation, traffic, signage and parking issues, illegal encampments, sheep grazing rights, and the ongoing land management and maintenance of the Curragh Plains. It was agreed that progress in all of these areas requires Forum members to take ownership and work collaboratively in identifying and working towards implementing solutions.
A number of key actions were agreed by the members of the Forum to assist in addressing some of these issues. A work-programme was established for 2018 that builds on the progress made in the areas under discussion and will be supplemented by new issues arising.
On the work-programme, work has been undertaken in identifying suitable locations for the construction of car parking spaces on the Curragh, thus reducing damage to grasslands. The design and associated costings will be progressed in 2018. The new lands management team that the Deputy refers to will be finalised in 2018 and as part of this team a new Curragh Maor was recently appointed. This team will oversee all activities on the ground including, but not limited to, litter, sheep branding, patrolling, monitoring users of lands, inspection of property boundaries, illegal encampments and engagement with the public.
A new environmental maintenance contract will be sent to tender shortly. There will be ongoing review of the legislation governing the Curragh in parallel with the use of other legislation that can more immediately address relevant issues.
In addition, Kildare Co. Council has agreed that in conjunction with Kildare Fáílte, it will produce a Vision document for the Curragh that will be presented to the next meeting of the Forum for discussion.
All of these actions form part of the Curragh Forum work-programme for 2018.
21. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he is satisfied that the public and the Houses of the Oireachtas were sufficiently informed in regard to overseas missions (details supplied) as to the make-up of the Defence Forces contingents serving on those missions in view of the fact that in cases in which motions pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1960 were passed approving the despatch of Defence Forces members on overseas missions did not refer to Army Ranger Wing involvement. (Question 20412/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
42. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the role of the Army Ranger Wing that was stationed as part of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan on several occasions since 2006; the reason Dáil Éireann was not alerted to the fact that Irish special forces members were deployed there contrary to the neutrality of the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20217/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): I propose to take Questions Nos. 21 and 42 together.
The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) are the Special Operations Forces of the Defence Forces.
Defence Forces personnel, including ARW personnel, are deployed to United Nations peacekeeping missions in accordance with the provisions of the Defence Acts.
The statutory authority for the despatch of contingents of the Permanent Defence Force for service overseas is set out in Section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) (No.2) Act, 1960 as amended by the Defence (Amendment) Act, 2006.
Personnel from the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) served in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from October 2006 to March 2007 and from September 2014 to March 2015. They also participated in the follow-on mission, Resolute Support Mission (RSM). There was a total of 7 Defence Forces personnel deployed operationally in ISAF at any one time some of whom on occasion happened to be members of the ARW. This provided those personnel with an opportunity to serve overseas, similar to personnel from other parts of the Defence Forces such as the Air Corps and Naval Service, which heretofore, did not often get the opportunity of overseas service.
All ARW personnel deployed to ISAF were employed in similar Staff appointments to those from the rest of the Defence Forces located in ISAF Headquarters in Kabul. Ireland is no longer participating in this mission.
Members of the ARW have also served in the following missions:
United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNISOM) in 1993;
International Force East Timor (INTERFET) from October 1999 to February 2000;
United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) from February 2000 to June 2000;
United Nations mission in Liberia (UNMIL) from July 2003 to March 2004;
European Union Force (EUFOR) Chad in 2008;
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from 2016 to date.
With regard to the above listed missions, Dáil Éireann approval was sought for all of the