Dáil Éireann - Volume 280 - 15 May, 1975
Vote 44: Defence (Resumed).
Debate resumed on the following motion:
That a sum not exceeding £48,946,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1975, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Defence, including certain services administered by that Office; for the pay and expenses of the  Defence Forces; and for payment of certain grants-in-aid.
—(Minister for Defence.)
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister has 30 minutes left.
Minister for Defence (Mr. Donegan) Patrick S. Donegan
Minister for Defence (Mr. Donegan): On the last occasion I was dealing with the promotion of an FCA officer and a certain trepidation in regard to that promotion on the other side of this House and in Cork. I want to be quite specific about this. The fact is that there is a difference in promotion procedures in the FCA and promotion procedures in the Defence Forces. As far as the Permanent Defence Forces are concerned, promotions are on the basis of establishment. If there are no vacancies, there are no promotions. It is as simple as that. In the case of the FCA, because of the changing strength of the FCA from year to year, there is a different procedure followed. Certain qualifications have to be fulfilled before a man is recommended for promotion. He must have attended in each case —there are variations from lieutenant to captain and captain to commandant —his summer camp in successive years. It is a different number of years in each case. He must have attended his various parades. When he has fulfilled these requirements he can be recommended for promotion by his commanding officer.
In the case of this particular member of the FCA no recommendation was made in respect of the man who might have been promoted. As I told the House on the last occasion, I was not aware that a man had been posted to Cork. The matter was raised with me, because of trepidation in the FCA in Cork about it, by the Minister for Transport and Power and by Deputy Meaney, who was spokesman on defence at the time for the Opposition. I immediately inquired and I found that, while no recommendation had come in respect of anybody else and nobody was, therefore, being blocked, in fact a Dublin man was posted to Cork. I took it up with the military authorities and, so that there would be no doubt in anybody's mind and everybody would accept there was  fair play and no blocking of promotion, the officer in question was posted back to Dublin as supernumerary. That was done for no other purpose than to indicate to the House and the people of Cork in particular that there was no blocking of promotion. At the time there was no recommendation with the military authorities. Had there been a recommendation with them that would, I presume, have been followed by recommendation to me. No recommendation was with me to make a promotion in respect of anybody else.
I understand the present position is that there is now a recommendation with the military authorities and I am awaiting a recommendation to me. At that point of time I shall have the greatest pleasure in promoting the person involved. That is the position and it is right that the House should know this, because one of the most important things is the maintenance of a high morale in the Army and there cannot be a high morale in either the Army or the FCA if there is a feeling that the Minister or anybody else is doing something incorrect, improper or unfair. I want to be quite clear on this and assure the House that both the Minister for Transport and Power and Deputy Meaney know all the facts. They had discussed it with me and they know what the situation was and is.
Mr. Dowling Mr. Dowling
Mr. Dowling: I fully accept what the Minister has said, but does he not think it looked a bit irregular transferring a man to Cork and then back to Dublin?
Mr. Donegan Mr. Donegan
Mr. Donegan: I could not agree more, but I did not know anything about the matter until a question was put down here. Deputy Meaney came up and saw me in my office and good for Deputy Meaney, he said he did not want to raise it as a matter of contention, or anything else, but he did want to see the position straightened out. Morale is what he was worried about and morale was what I was worried about. It was immediately dealt with by me. It looked irregular but it had nothing to do with me.
Mr. Dowling Mr. Dowling
Mr. Dowling: I fully accept it had  nothing to do with the Minister but I think the position is even worse now in that the Chief of Staff created this irregularity.
Mr. Donegan Mr. Donegan
Mr. Donegan: I do not want to enter into a dialogue across the floor of the House on this matter.
Mr. Dowling Mr. Dowling
Mr. Dowling: He is being blamed for it.
Mr. Donegan Mr. Donegan
Mr. Donegan: I do not want to blame the Chief of Staff or anybody else. The Chief of Staff does things in the name of the military authorities and I do things as Minister for Defence. There was trepidation. I straightened the whole matter out within 12 hours to the satisfaction of everybody and it is not a good thing for morale in the Army, which is so important at the present time, that this matter should be raised again. I want to be quite clear: at no time was anybody blocked from promotion because no recommendation ever reached my desk and no recommendation has yet reached my desk, but I understand a recommendation does reside with the military authorities and I hope it will come down to me in due course.
Deputy Dowling raised the question of withdrawal of weapons from FCA units. We live in dangerous and difficult times. Within four miles of my own house 17 rifles were stolen some time ago from the FCA hall in Drogheda. It is absolutely essential that there should be the greatest security applied to weapons. My advice is that subversives do not need a large number of weapons; they do not need hundreds of rifles. All they need are tens of rifles of a sophisticated type and the House must, therefore, accept that I cannot have responsibility for weapons in the homes of FCA members because the best and most loyal FCA member might find himself one night with his house raided, he up against a wall and his weapon taken away. I have to ensure the highest degree of security possible, and that I shall do. I am sorry if it is a disincentive but there is no other way out. There is no other way in which we can ensure weapons  are in safe keeping. That is not to say I do not accept that the FCA are a fine body of men.
Mr. Dowling Mr. Dowling
Mr. Dowling: Could they not be stored locally?
Mr. Donegan Mr. Donegan
Mr. Donegan: This is a military decision and I must accept a military decision in this matter. I think I told the House already that the matter is so closely examined at the moment and so carefully dealt with that the loss of one round of ammunition is reported to me. I note it and put it on a Defence file. I wait and find out at a later date if that round of ammunition is found. That is how tight security is in the Army and that is how it has to be in 1975.
I take Deputy Dowling's point in relation to difficulties with employers. This is in relation to reservists who wish to go for their period of training. It is a difficult situation, and if Deputy Dowling were over here in my position I think he would find it as difficult as I do. You can do what you like. You can write to employers and you can request them to release those men. I had a case where I had to ask a supermarket to release a young lady who was in the Civil Defence competitions in Sligo. The position at the time I rang up was that this supermarket, one of national chain of supermarkets, had told her that if she did not turn up to work on Saturday morning she would be dismissed. They brought the thing to the stage in their organisation where even if a person was getting married on Saturday morning and did not turn up he or she was dismissed. I succeeded in getting that young lady off and they did quite well at the competition.
If the employer does not want to release a man it can be quite difficult. Officially, to the Army and the Minister for Defence, he might be quite fair in his approach but when the man goes back he might find that he is not so popular in his job, as a result of going away for training. All I can do to help there is to entreat employers to realise that this is a national service, that this is something people are doing for the country, and we want  them to release those men and do it with the best of heart so that those people will go back to their jobs, if anything, more appreciated because they went away to do their reserve training.
Reference was made to the Army School of Music. I am very pleased with the standard of performance of the Army bands and the service they are providing. They sign on for 12 years as distinct from the ordinary soldier who signs on for three years. They are taken in from the ages of 14½ and 15 years of age. They are trained in music and at the same time are given educational opportunities. They are all given an allowance of £2.55 a week. Sergeants get £3.01 and five corporals get £2.17 per week as instructors. There is a problem here as there is in any Army or police force. When you go into a specialised situation, to some extent, you put yourself up a cul-de-sac. The opportunities for promotion are limited in that particular place. One example of this is a weights and measures sergeant in the gardaí. He very often achieves that position early in his career and there is no such thing as an inspector or superintendent of weights and measures so that the man can find himself, to some extent, up this blind alley.
The School of Music is a little bit like that and I do not know what I can do about it. You cannot make everybody a corporal or a sergeant. That is the reason why this extra allowance is given. The establishment is also generous in that there is one company quartermaster-sergeant, five company sergeants, 11 sergeants, 40 corporals and 147 privates. The ratio of non-commissioned officers to men is fair and generous and there is the extra allowance. It is matter for discussion as to whether that allowance should be more. I will keep the matter under review. It would be rather ludicrous, however, to have everybody in the School of Music at non-commissioned rank rather than privates.
The new barracks and the disposal of Cathal Brugha barracks were mentioned. I am pleased to say that on  Wednesday next the tenders will have arrived for the new barracks at Monaghan which will accommodate over 200 all ranks. It will be a great help to us there. In fact, in relation to subversion I feel, because we have acquired the Prior School in Lifford and installed troops there and acquired the vocational school in Manorhamilton and installed troops there also, that of the north-western area of the Border, the area covered in their help for the gardaí by the 28th battalion based on the headquarters at Finner, we have cooled off subversion in that area.
One of the reasons why this was possible is that the number of crossings in that area is fewer. If Clady bridge was closed, as was at one time on the cards—we have now a permanent post there—people who are working on the Republic side would have to go into Lifford and out a distance of 15 miles. When the British blew up a bridge at Kiltyclogher the position was and still is—there is now a footbridge there as I saw recently in the course of my inspection—if a man wanted to bring hay to his cattle or wanted to go across with his car for business reasons, he had to go 20 miles to get to the other side of the Border. Obviously, if you live on one side of the Border you get involved on both sides of it. You may be married or your business extends to both sides of the Border. On that area of the Border there are fewer crossings and the Erne and the various lakes and rivers help in that regard.
On the other section of the Border, when you think about checkpoints in the event of a bank robbery or an act of subversion in Dublin, the best you have in a blockage situation is the River Boyne. It is a great help but it is very far from the Border. From Narrowwater at Omeath to Castleblaney, if my memory serves me right, there are 96 crossings. That places on the superintendent in Dundalk garda station and Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Hogan in Dundalk Army barracks a very difficult task indeed. If an act of subversion was committed in Dublin, in Drogheda or any place along that borderline, such as the killing of  the late Senator Billy Fox, and the people involved decided at that time to rush for one of those crossings to get into the North of Ireland they are able to do so because they have 96 places to go to. It is a very difficult job to block all those up.
The Monaghan barracks will be a great help. The backing up of the gardaí by the Army is a most important factor in our security arrangements at the present time. You have only to think of one incident. Would gardaí who had their uniforms stripped from them have been treated as they were in Ballinamore if they had Army people with them? It is absolutely necessary, when we have an unarmed police force, with subversion as it is, that there is backing up from the Army.
I am delighted with the proposed barracks at Monaghan. It will be a fine barracks and the first built for a long time. I believe it will be the pride and joy of the Army. I now want to move on to Cathal Brugha barracks. I know of only three slices of Dublin that are in this category. They are Guinness's brewery, the RDS and Cathal Brugha barracks. Cathal Brugha barracks stands on 47 acres in the middle of Rathmines. I would hate to have the job of estimating the value of that property. The project is that the number of Army personnel, approximately 900, accommodated in Cathal Brugha will be accommodated first in other barracks in Dublin and secondly in a new barracks to be built, probably at Gormanston, County Meath. There is no Government decision on the site of the new barracks as yet but there is a Council of Defence decision that it be at Gormanston, County Meath.
I am convinced that Ballymun to some extent has been accepted as something that was not done well. The people of Dublin and of Ireland will have a considerable say, as apart from politicians, in what happens in Cathal Brugha Barracks. I do not think that the people of Dublin are going to see another mess made of what is probably the last slice of land there is for development in the city of Dublin. The development at Cathal  Brugha Barracks will not be a Defence job. My job if I am still Minister for Defence will be to look after the new barracks and the accommodation of the men who are now in Cathal Brugha Barracks and this I will do to the best of my ability. The people involved in the development of Cathal Brugha Barracks will be the Minister for Local Government, Dublin Corporation and the Minister for Finance. They will have pressed home on them the demand of the people of Dublin for a really good job on the 47 acres, that the proper amenities will be provided, and that the result will be something of which we can all be proud. I could not see the job being done in any shorter time than four-five years. Soldiers cannot be pushed around. We have to build a barracks. We do not want soldiers who are happy in Dublin being pushed out to Gormanston or even the Curragh. We want to do our job in the right way, to maintain morale.
I am very pleased with Civil Defence. The enthusiasm of the people in Civil Defence has to be seen to be believed. They are extremely good. One starts off on the basis that they are concerend about radioactive fall-out but when the bombs went off in Talbot Street the Civil Defence personnel came in. In any situation like that, I have no doubt that Civil Defence will be available. As chairman of Louth County Council, I was involved when a large number of refugees were crossing the Border. One of the main reception points was Dundalk. I have seen the way that Civil Defence personnel looked after the refugees. That had nothing to do with radio-active fall-out. It was a national problem dealt with by Civil Defence.
Civil Defence personnel are trained to cater for a large number of people, given the basic equipment of aluminium trash cans, a lorry load of bricks and timber from hedges. I have been fed at Ratra House on soup, roast beef, apple tart and coffee and there was no equipment there except bricks and trash cans and timber. I had the most marvellous meal. Britain  got rid of its Civil Defence force in 1963. It was a wise decision in this country to maintain ours.
The United Nations give a medal for service in the Middle East, for which the qualifying period is 90 days. The Government had the unpalatable decision to make to bring our people back from the Middle East after a period of service of two or three weeks. Therefore, the men did not qualify for the United Nations medal. I cannot do anything about that except to say that when things get better at home we will send out troops again. Any service that has been given would count. It is not proposed that we should issue the medal. It is not a Department of Defence medal.
Overseas allowances are reasonable. There are only 20 to 30 officers at the moment with UNTSO. We made a change in the allowance for the men who were serving in the Middle East, in the desert as distinct from Cyprus. They needed to buy six or seven bottles of minerals or beer every day because of the hot, dry climate. We increased the allowance by 47p per day on that account. That was in addition to the allowance paid by the United Nations.
Deputy Bermingham raised the question of the heating of houses. We built 50 houses in the Curragh and the plan is to build 450 houses there over the years. I will be very disappointed if the next 50 are not started in July—I hope at the latest they will be started next month. The first 50 houses were heated by gas fired central heating and there was no open fireplace provided. Then we had to consider the cost of gas in view of the trends in the meantime. In the 50 houses that we are now building we will have an open fireplace in the sitting room and there will be a solid fuel range in the kitchen with provision for domestic hot water.
I shall conclude by referring to the role of the Defence Forces. In other countries, in Britain, for instance, every member of the population has a relative who has been killed in a war. This develops close contact between  the Army and the people. Thankfully, there has not been a war situation here. There have been times when our Army was regarded as the poor relation and in time of economic stringency the Estimate for the Army was the first to be cut. That could be related to the fact that people had not had the traumatic experience of having a relative killed in armed conflict. The sad events since 1969 have brought home to the ordinary person the necessity for an army. If there is an unarmed police force, and long may we have an unarmed police force, then in times of subversion and times when life is very hard for that police force, times when members of that police force have been assassinated, there is a necessity for a back-up by the Army. Our framework of providing that back-up is, in my view, ideal. The 1954 Defence Act and regulations specify how the Army shall back-up the police force. Our role, therefore, as I see it, is, first of all, to be ready to defend the State against external aggression. There is no justification for anybody saying: “You would not last five minutes” or, alternatively: “Who is going to attack you?” The fact is that the army of a sovereign democracy must be available to back up that democracy. That goes all the way back to the ballot box. The majority of people in a sovereign democracy must have the power to defend themselves against external aggression.
That being so and accepted, we then come to the question of internal aggression of any kind. The people who throw democracy aside and who would, perhaps, define our Army as bully boys are the same people who did not get the majority at the ballot box and who by means of subversion try to get their way without that majority. There must be an army to see to it that those people cannot succeed. We must have the fire power to see to it that we are stronger than they are. Our Army is doing that job and doing it well. I would hesitate to conjecture what would be the situation, so far as the police force is concerned, if it had not got 12,000 of  an Army standing behind it. I want to again emphasise to the House that this is not a question of a decision by the Taoiseach or by anybody else. This is a question of majority rule and it goes straight back to the ballot box. The curbs that are put on the Defence Forces by the 1954 Act are proper and right. There can never be any sort of Greek colonels' situation here because we have laid down under the 1954 Defence Act exactly what our role is and how we shall help the police force against subversion of any kind.
The Army will aid the civil powers. It will assist the Garda Síochána. It will maintain public peace and will maintain internal security. That is the serious job that faces the Irish Army of today. It will aid Civil Defence in anything that might arise such as a flood or a major fire. In any calamity it will be available to do its job. We will proudly undertake peace-keeping missions on behalf of the United Nations. The Irish Army will do its job there. It has been spectacular and accepted as first-class in its roles with the United Nations from the days of the Congo right through Cyprus and up to the present day. It is a matter of regret that we cannot at this time be more involved. In fact, if recruitment goes on and if the service we must give the police force and the civil power allows it, it will be a proud and happy day when Irish soldiers again can be with the United Nations, as distinct from the force of 20 odd officers with UNTSO.
We will undertake fishery protection and in this regard we are at a crossroads. The Law of the Sea Conference at Caracas followed by the meeting in Geneva this year did not produce any final result. As I understand it from the Attorney General and from my readings in this regard, the position is that every nation was looking for just what suited itself. The result was a multifarious number of demands and no decision. It is quite clear that we could, at this point in time, proceed on the solid basis that we will have a 12-mile limit at least. What we want is another matter. We can certainly say that the minimum  that will emerge from this, unless things change, will be a 12-mile limit at least. I am not, on behalf of the Government or as Minister for Defence, saying that is what we desire.
We desire, I am sure, far more but but it may be taken that that is about the minimum we can possibly be granted. On that basis the military appraisal is that we would need five vessels of the capacity of the Deirdre. At present Irish Shipping are negotiating with Verolme in Cork towards the building of a second vessel. We have three minesweepers as well. Five vessels of the capacity of the Deirdre mean a lot of money. I cannot indicate what the new vessel will cost. The old one cost £1.2 million. The new one with inflation, will cost far more. There is also the question of surveillance by aircraft. The Deirdre some years ago cost £1.2 million. The normal crew of the Deirdre is either 34 or 36 and, so that people can have their leave, the number of sailors, all ranks, required is around 60. That means 60 salaried men and a vessel costing millions and five vessels is the requirement. There is an argument as to whether the value of the catch on the pierhead is £8 million or £10 million. Let us call it £10 million. The processed fish may be worth about double that. Therefore, the GNP at this point on fishery is about £20 million. There could be a requirement of five vessels that would not cost much less than, say, £15 million.
Mr. Wilson Mr. Wilson
Mr. Wilson: Is the Minister getting that one for Clogherhead?
Mr. Donegan Mr. Donegan
Mr. Donegan: This is a financial problem that has to be faced up to. It is one this Government will face up to but it is pretty large. We will have to do what we can.
In respect of the surveillance by aircraft the present legal position is that to be sure of a conviction you must, if necessary, fire a ceremonial shot across the bows, board the vessel, bring the vessel to port and charge the skipper. That is the only way you can be absolutely sure of getting a conviction for poaching. There was one instance abroad in which a helicopter  hovered over a poacher and insisted that he stay where he was until the fishery protection vessel arrived but that did not change the legal situation because if he had put on steam and left the area nothing could have been done as it was still a question of arresting and charging him. One of the things the Law of the Sea Conference will have to look at is the manner of arrest and whether, if it is possible with a plane to have surveillance over a large area of sea, it is similarly possible to identify the boat, to identify the position of the boat with radar and various other instruments, and to charge that person without bringing him to port. That is away off in the future. I hope we will get more teeth so that we can stop poachers but let us face the fact that no decision has been made either in Caracas or in Geneva and that it will be, perhaps, a year or more before decisions are made. We can accept that the minimum limit will be a 12-mile one. While I use the word “minimum” our desire would be for a much wider limit.
We will continue with the other duties we undertake—search, rescue, helicopter and ambulance services and assistance in the event of transport strikes or natural disasters. Perhaps the greatest arm of democracy is the Army. People who vote in a majority Government know that there will be an Army to undertake whatever tasks are appropriate for them to undertake. I am thankful to the House for their approach to the Estimate and I hope I have covered most of the points raised.
Gratuities on retirement will now be paid to single men. Deputy Dowling raised the question of an unmarried officer leaving the Army on pension after 1st December, 1974, who would receive a lesser gratuity than his married counterpart. This situation is in accordance with the present state of equalisation of pay as between single and married officers. When the pay levels of both are the same the gratuity will also be the same. I might mention that only one single officer has retired since 1961 and he was looked after.
 Equalisation of pay as between single and married soldiers has been achieved in toto since 1st January, 1974. Therefore, a single soldier leaving the Army on pension after that date receives the same gratuity as a married soldier.
Deputy Power raised the question of the maximum number of years to be taken into account for pension purposes. Again, I would point out that Army pensions are different because Army service is different from that of other categories. One can look at the matter in two ways and ask why should not a soldier be compensated by way of pension for each year that he serves after the maximum number or one can say that we have been generous and have given the full pension after a certain number of years so that whichever way one considers it, one can always produce a reason why something else should be done to the benefit of the person concerned. A public servant qualifies for maximum pension, which is 50 per cent of pay, on completion of 40 years' service and in the case of a garda the number of years' service is 30 while for the Army man it is 31 years.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but we are governed by a time limit and his time has expired.
Mr. Dowling Mr. Dowling
Mr. Dowling: May I refer to one matter before the Minister leaves?
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: I would remind the Deputy that we are governed by a time limit, but he may put a question.
Mr. Dowling Mr. Dowling
Mr. Dowling: I merely want to ask the Minister whether he would be prepared to comment on something that occurred since the debate on the Estimate began. I refer to an effort by the “7 Days” team to degrade the Army on a recent programme screened by RTE. A one-man image was projected in relation to a member of the Naval Service and the Minister was harassed by the interviewer during the programme. I agree with the attitude adopted by the Minister on that occasion and I condemn the station's  and the interviewer's handling of the situation.
Mr. Donegan Mr. Donegan
Mr. Donegan: I think we handled him all right.
Vote put and agreed to.
Dáil Éireann 280 Vote 44: Defence (Resumed).