Dáil Éireann - Volume 381 - 27 May, 1988

Estimates, 1988. - Vote 38: Defence.

Acting Chairman: Estimates Nos. 38 and 39 will be discussed together.

Minister for Defence (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West): I move:

That a sum not exceeding £252,144,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1988, 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.

The Defence Estimate for the year ending 31 December 1988 is for a net sum of £252,144,000 of which £200,246,000 or [541] 79 per cent provides for pay and allowances. The outturn for 1987 was £252,053,000, which means, in effect, that the 1987 level of expenditure will be maintained in 1988. The gross provision in the 1988 Estimate is £260,334,000. This includes £60,088,000 for non-pay items. The provision of £8,190,000 for Appropriations-in-Aid shows a decrease of £295,000 on the 1987 outturn.

The Estimate for 1988 is based on averages of the toal strength of 13,230 in the Permanent Defence Force comprising 1,590 officers, 40 cadets and 11,600 other ranks. The averages for 1987 were 1,583 officers, 56 cadets and 11,655 other ranks.

Even in times of financial stringency, basic security must be given priority. Events for some years past have clearly shown the need to have a strong well equipped Army available to assist the gardaí in internal security arrangements. It is a matter for satisfaction that in the Defence Forces there is available a well trained, disciplined body of men who have the capability of flexibility to permit of their being employed in a variety of demanding security tasks.

The contribution to security made by the Defence Forces is appreciable and it is essential that they should be in a position to continue to meet the demands which are made of them in the security area. While providing the necessary resources I want to ensure, particularly in present financial circumstances, that the best possible use is made of manpower and equipment at all times. The indications are that there will be no significant reduction in the demands made on the Defence Forces in the security field for the immediate future.

It is of vital importance that the Defence Forces should have the capacity to respond to requests for assistance from the Garda Síochána as the occasion demands. Deputies will recall the very extensive search for arms and ammunition which was undertaken throughout the State by the Garda Síochána, with the support of the Defence Forces, in November and December last. It was necessary that the Defence Forces were [542] in a position to have adequate numbers of trained personnel on the ground at short notice to assist in this major operation.

In the economic difficulties in which the country finds itself, it may be suggested that we should cut down significantly on expenditure in the defence area. The Government, however, because of their unswerving commitment to the maintenance of law and order and their determination to ensure that the democratic institutions of the State will prevail, have allocated the necessary resources to maintain the services which underpin those institutions.

The Defence Forces also assist the community in a variety of other ways. During 1987 59 search and rescue missions were undertaken by Air Corps aircraft and a total of 84 air ambulance missions were flown conveying seriously ill patients to specialist hospitals. Assistance has also been given by the Defence Forces on occasions in the past to maintain essential supplies and services during industrial disputes involving such areas as public transport, refuse collection, fire fighting, petrol and oil deliveries and water and sewerage.

During the recent Dublin Fire Brigade strike, which lasted from 22 January to 3 March 1988, the Defence Forces provided an emergency fire and ambulance service. This service was of a standard which exceeded all expectations. It drew tributes and expressions of thanks from many quarters for the magnificent job done by the Defence Forces personnel in protecting the lives and property of the people of Dublin during that strike.

Arising from an industrial dispute in the prison service, personnel of the Defence Forces were recently committed to duties in prisons throughout the country. The tasks undertaken by military personnel mainly involved catering and duties of a housekeeping nature generally, while custodial duties were the responsibility of the Garda Síochána. The sincere thanks of all citizens are due to both the members of the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána for the efficient and capable manner in which the difficult [543] and demanding task of running the country's prisons over a four week period was carried out.

Participation by personnel of the Defence Forces in United Nations peace-keeping operations is a practical expression of Ireland's support for the United Nations aims and ideals of maintaining international peace. This participation commenced some 30 years ago, when Ireland first sent officers to act as observers in Lebanon. Since that time, thousands of Irish personnel have seen service on a voluntary basis in the cause of peace in many parts of the world.

We now have an Irish contingent of about 750 all ranks serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. We have also eight personnel serving in staff appointments with the United Nations Force in Cyprus and 25 Irish officers serving as observers with UNTSO — the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in the Middle East. Five of the UNTSO officers are part of the observer group which is monitoring the agreements concerning the situation in Afghanistan. The request of the United Nations Secretary General for Irish personnel for this latest mission is a measure of the high regard in which our contribution to UN peace-keeping is held by the United Nations. We have been involved in a fourth UN peace-keeping operation — the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan — since September last, when Brigadier-General James Parker was appointed its chief military observer.

It is incumbent on us to support in every possible way the efforts of the United Nations Secretary General to find the basis for a settlement in the Middle East which would lead to a lasting peace. We must continue to hope that these efforts will meet with success.

I should now like to refer to some particular issues which are worthy of comment. I can assure the House that the strength of the permanent Defence Force is kept under constant review to ensure that, within the limit of the financial resources available, the strength is [544] kept at an adequate level. The current strength is 13,200 officers and men. I propose to enlist, in the near future, up to 500 recruits, to make sure that the number provided for in the Estimate is maintained for the remainder of the year.

As regards the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces, the Government are concerned to ensure that the remuneration of the Defence Forces keeps step with that of other sectors of the public service. To this end, the pay of all ranks has been increased with effect from 1 January 1988 by 3 per cent on the first £120 of basic weekly pay and 2 per cent on any amount of basic weekly pay over £120, subject to a minimum increase of £4 per week in accordance with the terms of the agreement on pay in the public service. Further increases under the agreement will be paid as they arise.

The pay of a recruit is now over £133 per week rising, after about 14 weeks' basic training, to £154. On advancement to private three star, which usually takes place within the first year of service, gross pay rises to over £160 per week, while after three years' service the gross pay of a private is over £175. In addition, allowances are also payable to officers and men who perform duties of a security nature. The rates of these allowances are kept under review to ensure that personnel are adequately compensated for the duties which they are required to undertake. I am pleased to say that as a result of the most recent review of these allowances, an increase of over 4 per cent was granted with effect from 1 January 1988. This increase brought the rates of allowances for service in the Border areas to £22.82 a week for officers and £19.81 a week for men, while the allowances for other duties in aid of the civil power, such as guard duties on vital installations, cash escorts and prisoner escorts, were increased to £9.71 for each week-day and double that amount for each Sunday or Army holiday.

As regards the Reserve Defence Force, I regret that, because of financial considerations it has not been found possible to order annual training for members [545] of the First Line Reserve in 1988. However, annual training for the FCA and the Slua Muirí at the same level as in recent years will be held. Notwithstanding the fact that annual training for the First Line Reserve has not been ordered for 1988, members who would have qualified for the gratuity in the normal course, will be eligible for the full rate of gratuity. The gratuity payable to qualified members of the FCA and Slua Muirí who complete the maximum permissible period in 1988 will also be at the full rates and not at the reduced rates which would normally apply in respect of attendance for training for the shorter period. This is the same arrangement which applied last year.

Competitions for the award of cadetships in the Army and the Air Corps were held in 1987 and 25 cadetships were awarded. Proposals for an intake of cadets in 1988 are under consideration and a decision in the matter will be made in due course. Last year 50 apprenticeships in the Army Apprentice School, Naas, and the Air Corps Apprentice School, Baldonnel, were awarded. Competitions for the award of up to 100 apprenticeships in 1988 were advertised in February last. The apprentices will commence training in August this year. As I have already indicated, the non-pay provisions for this year come to just over £60 million. This is necessary to maintain the capabilities of the Defence Forces and to meet commitments already entered into.

Late last year I was pleased to announce the placing of a contract for the supply of new rifles for the Defence Forces. These weapons will gradually replace the F.N. rifles which were first introduced into service with the Defence Forces in 1961. The initial delivery of the new rifle is expected to be made towards the middle of this year. The contract provided for countertrade arrangements whereby substantial orders for Irish goods would be arranged through a company called Steyr-Barter. Implementation of the countrywide arrangements is being handled by Córas Trachtála.

I would like to refer to the matter of [546] fishery surveillance. The Naval Service has five off-shore patrol vessels, including L.E. Eithne, which is a helicopter-carrying ship. Two maritime Dauphin helicopters are available for use in conjunction with L.E. Eithne and two Beech King aircraft are devoted exclusively to fisheries surveillance duties. The full integration of the maritime Dauphin helicopter with L.E. Eithne will greatly enhance our fisheries surveillance capacity.

The question of further increasing the fisheries surveillance capacity of the Naval Service and the Air Corps is under active consideration at present and an application to the European Commission for financial support has been presented to the Commission and is being vigorously pursued. Meanwhile, my Department have been examining, for evaluation purposes, many offers of vessels and aircraft which have been received from suppliers in order to be in a position to make early decisions in the event of a favourable response from the European Commission.

Our capabilities in the marine search and rescue area have given rise to much debate recently. The Minister for the Marine holds primary responsibility for marine search and rescue arrangements and there are quite a number of State and other agencies at his disposal in order to carry out this function, two vitally important ones being the Air Corps and Naval Service.

I know there are many people who have taken a keen interest in pursuing the possibility of locating Air Corps helicopters on the western seaboard. This is a section of our coastline which can present a hostile environment in certain conditions to those who must spend a good deal of their lives at sea. We can all recall the many tragedies which have taken place off this part of our island and we feel a great deal of sympathy for those who have lost loved ones in these incidents.

The acquisition of the Dauphin helicopters has improved considerably the resources available to us to carry out the search and rescue function and they have [547] played a vital role in the saving of many lives so far. The deployment of these very sophisticated aircraft, which represent a quantum leap in technological terms from the older Alouette helicopters, presents particular problems. With my colleague, the Minister for the Marine, I am currently addressing these problems so that maximum use may be gained from our resources, in the context of marine search and rescue, through the properly planned deployment of our helicopters.

Work has commenced on the building of a new military barracks at Cavan and it is hoped that it will be available for occupation during 1990. The old barracks there has been in existence since the early 18th century. It was built around 1710 and is the oldest occupied barracks in Europe. It is, however, no longer suitable or adequate for its purpose. The need for a modern replacement has been recognised for some considerable time but financial constraints and other priorities have intervened up to the present. I am glad to say that these problems have now been overcome and the project is proceeding. The old barracks in Cavan and the temporary accommodation at Cootehill will be vacated as soon as this new barracks is ready for occupation — sometime in the summer-autumn of 1990.

The provision of £8.8 million — which includes the financing for the new Cavan barracks — is made in subhead S of the Estimate for building and engineering works. This figure includes a total capital sum of £6 million for new buildings and major renewal works. The provision will permit the continuance of the programme of development and improvement of the accommodation and other facilities required by the Defence Forces.

The improvements encompass the construction of modern billets, the renewal and modernisation of catering arrangements, the provision of recreational facilities and the continuing betterment of administrative and operational accommodation.

In concert with the provision of much needed up-to-date accommodation, the question of disposing of properties which [548] are antiquated and surplus to requirements is being tackled. Griffith Barracks will be vacated later this year and will be handed back to the Office of Public Works for disposal. Arrangements are in hand to sell properties in Dublin, Cork and in a number of locations around the country.

A scheme for the sale to their occupants of married quarters which are located outside of military barracks is being introduced. Details of the scheme have not yet been finalised but it is expected that it will be broadly similar to the purchase scheme available to local authority tenants. A total of about 220 houses will be available for sale under the proposed scheme.

Turning to equestrian events, I am pleased to report that in 1987 Army riders and horses competed in 19 international shows. The Army riders won 16 first places, 13 second places, 11 third places and 10 fourth places and total prize money of £43,700. In addition, 70 provincial horse shows and gymkhanas were attended. A total of 214 places resulted in winnings of £11,360. Fourteen Class I horses were purchased in 1987. The school is now in possession of eleven international class showjumpers.

An invitation from the Australian Government to send Asgard II to Australia to take part in the Tall Ship's events held there in January 1988 as part of the Australian Bicentenary Celebrations was accepted. The vessel left Ireland on 15 October and was shipped from Rotterdam to Sydney where it arrived on 13 December 1987. The cruise programme in Australia extended from 23 December 1987 to 7 April 1988 and included participation in the Tall Ships' Race from Hobart to Sydney, in which Asgard II came first in her division and second in the Tall Ships Class. Asgard II participated also in the magnificent Parade of Sail which took place in Sydney Harbour on Australia Day — the 26th January, 1988.

The visit of Asgard II to Australia was a tremendous success. It was particularly appreciated by the Australian Irish Society based in Sydney that the Irish [549] were among the many nations represented by tall ships at the events in January, 1988. The full programme for Asgard II took her to many towns and cities in Australia where there are large Australian Irish communities, including Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney, and Brisbane.

The Estimate contains a provision of £1,765,000 for Civil Defence in 1988. This provision emphasises the Government's commitment to the maintenance and improvement of this essential component of national defence. I do not propose to dwell on this service as my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Vincent Brady, who is responsible for Civil Defence will cover this item in his contribution.

Some time ago, in the course of responding to a Dáil question, I undertook to make a statement in relation to the grant-in-aid of the Irish Red Cross Society when presenting my Department's Estimates for 1988 to the House

The Irish Red Cross Society was statutorily established on 1 July, 1939 in order to give effect to, and take advantage of certain provisions of the Geneva Conventions, to which Ireland had become a party. It is an autonomous body with full power to control the administration of its affairs. The accounts are audited by a fully qualified auditor appointed by the central council of the society. Agreement was reached with the society in 1974 that its books and accounts would be available for inspection by the Comptroller and Auditor General. An annual grant-in-aid from the Vote for Defence is paid to the society.

The grant-in-aid covers the following: (1) the normal activities of the society, including organisation of the society, payment of salaries of headquarters staff, general administration expenses, etc.; (2) refund of the actual expenses incurred by the society in maintaining the Naomh Aindrias Home for Refugees in Merrion Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. This work was undertaken by the society in 1957 at the request of the Government who had acceded to a request from the United [550] Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; (3) grant towards the Society's Emergency Relief Fund; and (4) payment of the State's annual contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The grant-in-aid provision for 1988 is £300,000.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but the time allocated to him under the order of the Dáil is exhausted. Perhaps he will now conclude.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick West): The Army Pensions Estimate for the year ending 31 December 1988 is for a net sum of £40,385,000, representing an increase of £678,000 for 2 per cent on the 1987 outturn. The bulk of expenditure from the Estimate falls under Subhead E1 and covers retired pay, pensions and gratuities granted under the Defence Forces pensions schemes to former members of the Permanent Defence Force and their dependants.

I might say also that, as part of the Government's decentralisation programme, approximately 200 of the staff of my Department — comprising roughly 40 per cent of the total — are to be transferred to Galway where they will occupy new offices at present being built on a State-owned site beside the military barracks at Renmore. The review of the defence area was initiated some time ago. I announced its initiation at a press conference last August and gave a detailed outline of the position on 2 December last in the course of Question Time in the House. There is a substantial amount of work to be undertaken by the members of that review group. Their work is proceeding as speedily as possible and I am satisfied with the progress achieved to date. I have no doubt but that the review process will do much to ensure that we have the most realistic and cost effective defence arrangements feasible and that all financial and other resources allocated to defence are put to the best possible use.

[551] I commend both Estimates to the House for favourable consideration.

Mr. O'Brien: On a point of order a Cheann Comhairle, if a little extra time is required at the end of this debate I presume you will allow a little.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will use the utmost discretion in that regard. Indeed I have permitted a little latitude in that regard all morning.

Mr. Connaughton: In the 15 minutes at my disposal I propose to show that all is not well within our Defence Forces. The past year has seen a remarkable slide in morale. That is a development which must be addressed in a positive and balanced way. Ironically the reason this issue came to a head recently was because our Army gave the nation sterling service in aid of the civil power with their professional display of competence and ability in manning the fire-fighting and prison services during those recent strikes. The Army put up a commendable performance in the course of those strikes. Even their most ardent critic must have been impressed by what they saw. However, many soldiers saw, at first hand, the kind of conditions that apply to civilians and could not but be envious of their pay and working conditions. Whether or not we like it, pay relativity becomes part of the equation. Army pay is streets behind that of prison officers and firemen. It is now recognised that soldiers' pay is so much behind there are suggestions that, were it not for the otherwise poor job prospects in the country, many soldiers would leave the Army overnight. One has heard of countless cases of soldiers applying for the family income supplement to the Department of Social Welfare to augment their poor take-home pay, an issue which has been raised in the House on a number of occasions recently.

As the House will be aware, Army personnel are not entitled to overtime, as such but rather to an allowance. I believe there are rumours in Government [552] circles at present that there are to be approximately 500 new recruits into the Army to replace in part — I stress, in part — the numbers leaving or retiring. I understand it is also hoped to identify areas in which overtime and-or allowances would be appropriate and to pay the personnel involved on that basis. If this were to happen it would establish a most dangerous precedent for the Army. One might well ask: where would the demarcation line being and end? I had always understood the basic concept of the Army was one of a team effort. Certainly that will not constitute a resolution of the problem of low pay in the Army.

I cannot understand why the much publicised study group at present investigating the future role of the Defence Forces were not requested by the Minister to examine Army pay and conditions when, at least, experts would be afforded an opportunity of saying what they believed to be the true position. In my opinion this review body is about to produce a mouse, the only proposals being that a few barracks here and there will be closed, a little peripheral work, nothing more.

The promotional structure in the Army is another disquieting feature. Within the Irish Army command and control are exercised by way of a clearly defined command structure. Each level of command and its subordinate units must have a commander of the appropriate rank to exercise operational and administrative command and control. On account of the present embargo on recruitment to the Civil Service that command structure is in danger of disintegrating because the State is refusing to appoint replacement commanders of the required rank, as laid down under Defence Force regulations. Normally these commanders would be replaced by way of the process of promotion which has also been suspended. What is happening is that an officer of a more junior rank is being put into the post and expected by the Government to assume the extra duties and responsibilities without holding the required rank or receiving the extra pay. For example, lieutenants are now holding captains' [553] posts, captains are holding commandants' posts, lieutenants-colonels holding colonels' posts and, in some cases, colonels filling two such posts. Clearly that is not good for Army morale.

The present lack of promotion in the Army causes considerable problems, such as the possibility of commanding officers' authority being undermined by the fact that they are now required to command officers of the same rank and, in some cases, a subordinate could be senior to a commanding officer in years experience. This is reflected throughout the various ranks, in that corporals will now be required to undertake sergeants' work, carry that level of responsibility and so on. In my view this will lead simultaneously to a serious deterioration in morale, a problem already existing, and to an exodus of senior technical personnel to civilian jobs. If the civilian jobs were more freely available this would become more apparent. There will be an exodus of young, enthusiastic officers because they will have no career prospects and they will certainly want to get out and the undermining of the military command structure will be very serious. The Minister, despite his best efforts, is not coming across as a person who can fight the case for the Army and the Defence Forces where it counts most, around the Cabinet table and, in particular, with the Minister for Finance.

The purchase of new rifles for the Army was badly botched. As we all know in this House, value for money must be our motto. As legislators, we must make and be seen to make decisions to protect the taxpayer. To provide rifles for our 11,000 strong Army is a big undertaking at any time but to provide them at this stage, given our perilous financial predicament, requires the best negotiating skills available. I understand we are about to take possession of the initial cargo of Steyr rifles from Austria. Despite my best efforts I did not get the information in the House but I am told the cost is about £2 million which is part of an overall cost of between £6 million and £8 million for the entire consignment. I want to put it on record that I have [554] nothing whatsoever against the Steyr rifle. Experts inform me that it is a very good rifle. However, I am deeply concerned that the authorities did not deal with or seem to negotiate with the Colt Corporation of America for an equally good rifle at a fraction of the cost.

I have here today a copy of the tender document submitted by the Colt Corporation together with the sales information which leads me to believe some terrible messing must have been done with the contract. I will now quote from the details which were sent to the Department by the Colt Corporation:

Reference is made to the Colt Firearms offer to the Irish Defence Forces for M16 A2 rifles submitted through your Department against your outstanding RFQ.

We wish to confirm herewith that said proposal also can be entirely or partially financed through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) funding system.

The funding could be made available in the form of grants (MAP) which would, in effect, render a purchase of M16 A2 rifles free of charge to the Republic of Ireland. Colt can assist in obtaining such grants.

The purchase could be made directly from Colt but financed gratis with the above funds.

The document then goes on to refer when arrangements could be made.

I ask the Minister directly in the House today to tell me — in fact I asked the question at Question Time — whether the lowest tender was accepted. I was told on that occasion that the lowest tender was accepted. I would like to see the details of the contract of the Steyr rifles which could be anything less than that. I understand the basic reason the Americans would want to give those type of rifles away is a particular funding system they have to protect that industry in the US. Can it be proven that we spent between £5 million and £8 million more on rifles than we should have? It is extremely difficult to expect people who have seen hospital services closed down [555] because of additional expenditure less than £.5 million to accept that this is good government.

The Minister must be asked many questions following the publication of that document. I would like to know who negotiated with the Steyr company in Austria? What factors influenced the Government to purchase the Steyr rifles, given the background? Was there an agent involved, and if so, had he any connection with our own forces? What efforts were made to investigate the Colt tender? Were the Government aware of the potential savings to the Exchequer by purchasing in the United States? I hope the Minister will reply to these questions later on today. The Minister's attitude at Question Time so far of hiding behind the so-called confidential military file will not wash on this occasion. It is important that the House and the electorate are made fully aware of the details of this scheme.

I will now deal with the Air Corps Rescue Helicopter Service. Since the Air Corps have taken possession of the Dauphin range of rescue helicopters and now that the pilots have completed their night time flying training, I strongly urge the decentralisation of the service to cover the western part of the country. The case for the placement of the rescue helicopters in the areas of greatest risk of accidents at sea speaks for itself. The Minister is displaying little regard for the lives of fishermen who battle against angry seas off the west coast. His only contribution at Question Time a few weeks ago was that financially such a move was impossible, that it would cost £3 million to provide landing and take off facilities for such a service, not to mention the plethora of staff necessary to man such a project.

This is quite ridiculous and, as every interest group from here to Donegal knows, there is very little point in having all the helicopters based at the aerodrome in Baldonnel at a time when most of the tragedies are happening 150 miles away. We already have a very fine airport network in the West, at Knock, Galway, [556] Castlebar, Sligo to name but a few. Is the Minister telling the House that these facilities cannot accommodate a rescue helicopter? The Minister could put 50 of them in Knock, 20 in Galway, — we have no shortage of space whatever.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick West): The Deputy was not much in favour of Knock at one time.

Mr. Connaughton: The Minister is not in favour of putting a helicopter where he should put it. I think the Minister is beginning to find that out. The ability to react quickly to an emergency call at sea is the hallmark of any rescue operation. Does it not make great sense to have helicopters stationed 100 to 150 miles nearer the potential tragedy? At this stage it is not a question of if, when, or how; it is a question of immediate action. In my view, this initial move should be made and announced not later than 1 October 1988.

It is with regret that I learn that the Department of Defence have suspended the purchase of horses for the Army equitation school for this year. I notice the Minister in his opening remarks referred to the numbers he purchased last year and, if I remember correctly, I complimented him on that last year. This is a serious blow and is another example of the mixed-up priorities which seem to exist in the Department at present. It is a serious blow to our bloodstock industry. Many people are very worried that the best of our blood horses will be sold outside the country and that we will not be able to retain them for future training. When you take the Army buyers out of the system this creates a problem for our horsebreeders. The decision to cut in half the participation by our Army jumping team at the International Show this year is a great blow. We paid too many millions of pounds for rifles and we reduced the funding for our appearances at the international shows which would positively support the Irish horse industry and greatly help tourism.

[557] Mr. Keating: I welcome the opportunity to talk on this Estimate. It affords us an opportunity to ask some fundamental questions. In relation to the part of the Estimate relating to marine pollution counter-measures, I am disappointed that that Estimate remained static despite the increasing threat of marine pollution and the threat to the ecological environment around us, particularly in the wake of the recent revelations that the Government are probably not getting accurate information in relation to toxicity and the radioactive material being dumped in the Irish Sea. Even within the Estimate there should be a re-examination of whether or not resources should be reassigned to that element of the Estimate because of the obvious threat and the failure of the Government to counteract in any significant way the degeneration of the environment, particularly the marine environment.

I have never understood the unnatural obsession with secrecy when it comes to trying to elicit information in this area. Deputy Connaughton referred to this difficulty. It has been a standard cant of successive administrations and Ministers to offer, on a minimal pretext, the excuse that the cause of national security disallows the answering of serious fundamental questions in this House. That excuse has been offered as a smokescreen to frustrate any serious examination of the fundamental questions which should be asked about the Defence Forces. They are not questions about showjumping representation abroad or about how a specific contract has been handled, although in their own way those questions are significant. They are more fundamental questions. The US Government, where military matters are significant for all of us, recently concluded a fundamental blue ribbon examination of their Defence Forces by an independent commission, the report of which has been sent to every nationally elected public representative in the United States. In the light of that I cannot understand how the most banal, simple [558] request in this House has to be frustrated by the reference to national security.

Will the Minister recall that he represents us in this matter and he should not be befuddled or confused by suggestions from the military or Defence Forces that aspects of information will somehow subvert the system if they are given to people who have a mandate to ask for them? That is what is happening. I stand for the peoples' right to know, unless there is an absolutely clear indication that there is some serious and fundamental danger to national security. Many of the questions, including the questions referred to by Deputy Connaughton, relating, for example, to the systems in place for handling contracts, are not about national security but about how this Government and other Governments spend taxpayers' money. In that context the public and Members of this House have a right to know. At the moment it suits the Defence Forces and the military to have things as they are and to have compliant Ministers unthinkingly offering that easy excuse any time serious questions are being asked by serious representatives whose last concern is to put at risk the national security.

The most fundamental question relates to the role of the Defence Forces in 1988. Year after year Estimates are discussed in a superfical way and are approved, in some cases having been committed or spent already. In this case, practically 80 per cent of the Estimate goes for salaries and pensions and 20 per cent for procurement, without any fundamental examination being carried out on the role and purpose of today's Army. What purposes do the Defence Forces serve? Have those purposes been determined by the Dáil or are they rooted in some form of historic evolution the genesis of which goes back to the events of 1919 and 1923? Could some of the duties be achieved by an alternative force, under, for example the Department of Justice, for considerably less than the sum of money we are voting on today? There is a need to ask a fundmental question. The role of today's Army predominantly is to defend the neutrality of the State in the event of [559] another war, to pursue and combat IRA terrorism, to provide fishery protection and to be a guarantor of last resort in the event of civil disobedience or breakdown in public utility services. In every one of those areas there is ample evidence that the Defence Forces as we know them are ill-equipped or over-equipped depending on which facet one looks at.

In terms of an international military role — I know we are not supposed to say it, but it is true, — we do not have any chance of defending ourselves against military invasion from a superior power. Dozens of countries around the world manage to order their affairs in the realisation that they are similarly deficient. We do not have the resources to prevent any superior power from occuping this country and we never will have them. If that is a facet of the basis for maintaining the Army, it is time we were a little more honest about accepting certain inevitabilities if they were to arise. That is not to say that we should not do all we can at international fora to try to ensure that that does not come about. We should bear in mind that there is also a moral question for us in asking some 13,500 soldiers to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary in the pursuit of hopeless ideals. We have an obligation to face some of these questions. For the men and women in the front line that is the ultimate question and many have given that ultimate sacrifice.

We should not easily assume that because there has been an Army at a certain strength, equipped in a certain way, aspiring to achieve certain objectives which none of us have questioned in recent years, that that is the way it will always be. Our needs for defence against terrorism and for fishery protection could in some respects be achieved more efficiently and cost-effectively by a major change in the present structure of the Department of Defence and the reallocation of some of those duties many of which are quasi-police duties, to those areas of the Department of Justice or other Departments better equipped to deal with them. Those quasi-military [560] duties could come within the ambit of the Department of Justice. That precise exercise was carried out in 1948 in Costa Rica. I am told that at the time that country had similar problems to us and apparently it improved effectiveness and public expenditure in these areas. I simply raise the question not as someone who pretends to know all the answers but as someone who believes that if we ask the right questions perhaps we will get some of the answers eventually.

All military establishments, including ours, and perhaps all Government Departments, have a voracious appetite for new equipment. They constantly order new equipment despite the fact that much of it is clearly irrelevant to our needs. It is very hard to understand what relevance the purchase of surface-to-air missiles or heavy tanks has to the objectives which are reasonably achievable by an Irish Army, apart from simply whetting the appetites of young men and women who see the Army as a career and perhaps in some cases placating the egos of some of the people at the top in military establishment who believe it is important for us to ape large military powers. That is not in any way to denigrate the importance of the job they do but simply to suggest that it is the job of this House and the Government to make these decisions because the shape, role and function of the Defence Forces are ultimately political questions and the job of the Defence Forces is to execute those decisions in daily practice. I believe that defence policy is being shaped in the reverse and that the Minister is responding to requests and accepting blindly in many cases the demands of the military for certain types of equipment without questioning their legitimacy in the context of clearly defined roles.

I am far more interested in the kind of debate which asks what is the function and purpose of the Army today, and which even asks the basic question do we need an Army today. I believe that there is an argument for an Army but I do not believe that the Army as they at present exist are properly organised or equipped [561] or have a clear set of objectives from the Government. I do not think we can blame the Army in that context. Some of the things we are doing are at odds with our total rejection of the use of military force as a legitimate means of achieving national goals and of our espousal of neutrality as a way of achieving ends both nationally and internationally. A far clearer and more succinct and refined definition for the Army, in harmony with the principle of neutrality, scaled down from the point of view of equipment to relate to the precise needs which are achievable by us would lend efficiency to the Army and lend weight to our role internationally as a neutral nation which has a full understanding both of the opportunities that are presented to us and of the limitations with which we have to deal. These are important questions because they are ultimately life and death issues.

I think the Defence Forces today have evolved from the needs of the War of Independence and the Civil War. We are basically trying to maintain, on a military scale, a traditionally organised military force which parallels those of much larger and richer states such as the UK, France and Germany. The purpose of that force and their thinking and orientation is not very clear. It is not clear to me, and I do not believe it is clear to anyone in this House, especially in the light of our policy on military neutrality. There is a lack of interest in asking these basic questions. I have not heard a debate in this House which answers those questions. This may be because two commonly held assumptions are, of course, always bathed in the inevitable reference to “the sterling work being done”. That is the kind of security vest we all wear lest we be militarily attacked from the right or left for being less than enthusiastic about the job anyone is doing.

I do not know whether they are doing sterling work. I assume they are and I commend the individual officers and the people whom I know are doing such [562] work. However, that does not mean that we do not have an obligation to ask searching questions. Because the Army consume, broadly speaking, something of the order of 1.2 per cent of GNP some people may have the idea that they are not that important. That figure is very substantial because it represents something like 36 per cent of the interest we pay on foreign debt.

I want to give examples of the role the Army have played in quasi-police duties. In one year alone the Army provided 11,000 parties for Border duties, 9,500 for check points and 15,000 for patrols. They provided 900 escorts for transporting explosives and blasting operations, 4,500 escorts for transporting cash and had 150 bomb disposal team requests. Some of these tasks, and in particular the latter one, are for the military only but others are clearly not. I want to know if someone is thinking the whole thing through.

Mr. Cooney: Would the Deputy have an armed police force?

Mr. Keating: That is a question we should ask in the context of such a debate. I want those questions to be asked and raised and we should not continue with the traditional obfuscation that occurs whenever we have a debate of this kind.

Mr. Cooney: The Deputy——

Mr. Keating: Deputy Cooney will get his chance. He had his chance to do something about it, and whether or not he did was up to him. I would be grateful if the Deputy would do me the courtesy of letting me finish and then he can speak.

Mr. Cooney: The Deputy should not just pose the questions, he should answer them.

Mr. Keating: I do not think the Ceann Comhairle would let me. I will be very happy to answer them in due course if I [563] have an opportunity from that side of the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should now bring his remarks to a close.

Mr. Keating: It seems nobody is going to oppose the figures contained in today's Estimates. However, they are not the issue. Those figures mask basic and fundamental issues, including the issues hinted at by Deputy Cooney a moment ago. Those are the questions I want answered and until we get that clarity it seems we will have more of what we have had every other year, including what we had during the past four or five years when my respected heckler had the chance to do something about it.

Mr. Spring: I welcome the opportunity of making some comments on the Estimate for the Department of Defence and on the Estimate for Army Pensions. I believe the Minister has missed the opportunity of clarifying many of the issues raised by Deputy Keating and his statement to the House did not reflect the serious situation which now exists in relation to the Defence Forces. We are talking about an Estimate of considerable value, £252 million. This is a very large figure when we consider the situation of the public finances. It represents about one-fifth of the Health Estimate. I regret that far more in-depth information was not forthcoming in relation to some of the subheads and it looks like we will not have the opportunity of eliciting that information from the Minister. I should like the Minister to give us a breakdown of the cuts in these very important subheads. I should also like to ask the reason for the 400 per cent increase in consultancy fees during the last year. Is this in line with Government policy generally? The increase in consultancy fees seem to be the only increase taking place in the Department at present.

I am very worried about the allocation [564] to the Civil Defence. The 32 per cent cut in this allocation, on top of the 9 per cent cut last year, is very serious for the Civil Defence. They play an important role and I believe they will play an even more important role in the future. This reduction could lead to the Civil Defence becoming an nonentity and this is a dangerous downturn. I ask the Minister whether he has had any liaison with the Minister for Energy in relation to this subhead because I understand that the new emergency plan for dealing with nuclear accidents which will be published shortly will contain a major role for the Civil Defence, a role which the Civil Defence exercised and displayed in the aftermath of the Chernobyl incident.

I ask the Minister to clarify to us whether there will be a supplementary Estimate which will cater for the major role the Civil Defence will have under the new emergency plan. If he has not we will have the typical situation where two Departments will be working together without any co-ordination between them. At the end of the day, while the Minister for Energy may hold out that the Civil Defence will be in a position and equipped financially and otherwise to deal with a second Cher-nobyl-type accident should it occur, the Minister for Defence will not be in a position to give the Civil Defence the resources that are necessary because he has not included them in this Estimate.

The whole substance of the Estimate is very worrying indeed. There are cuts upon cuts which were imposed last year. Every second subhead, ranging from the instore provisions, transport supplies, educational courses and monitoring of pollution, has been cut. What we are left with is a substandard military force which will have second-rate equipment. This is obviously not good for the morale of the Defence Forces, and morale is at its lowest ebb since the foundation of the State.

Promotional opportunities are limited if not excluded altogether. Numerous [565] personnel are attempting to leave the force and many are serving practically under duress because their applications for permission to leave have been refused by the Minister. This is a reflection of the inadequate provisions that have been made by the Minister for payment and promotional opportunities for the Defence Forces. It is unfortunate that many well qualified and skilled personnel want to leave. It also reflects the disparity between the public and private sectors, and this is something which will have to be attended to because there is little point in having people in the Defence Forces, particularly in the senior ranks, if they are requesting permission to leave on a weekly basis.

Army personnel are used in many roles not strictly related to defence, such as civic duties, industrial disputes etc., and we should all be very grateful to have them on these occasions. Circumstances vary from time to time but one notable aspect is that basic pay and working conditions are falling far behind the average industrial wage as time goes by, leading to many members of the Army applying for the family income supplement. This is a sad reflection on the consideration being given by the Government to the Army personnel. Has the Minister any particular plans to try to give the Army an increase, particularly the lower ranks of the Army where basic pay is very meagre indeed? This obviously puts people under a lot of pressure and, as has been said already, when people in the Army become aware of the salaries being paid to both the Garda and the prison officers they certainly feel that they are the poor relation. In addition to the lack of promotional opportunity, the cutback in educational courses is a step in the wrong direction because it limits the possibilities for Army personnel to better themselves and increase their skills. This is also a contributory factor to the present low morale.

What I find very disappointing is what the Minister said about air and sea rescue. [566] Earlier this week I sought information from the Minister's Department in relation to the ongoing debate about the location of the helicopter rescue service to the west coast. On that occasion I was informed that the Minister would be making a statement today in the course of the Estimates. I would call that the wrong lead of the year because the statement is a total non-statement which will be seen with dismay by people involved in trying to convince the Government of the necessity to locate at least one helicopter on the west coast. I would have thought that the Minister, in courtesy, could have outlined to the House the technical problems as he sees them, the financial problems and the personnel difficulties with locating a helicopter on the west coast. The lack of urgency the Minister is displaying in relation to this matter is an indictment of the system. He outlined the problem of the hostile environment on the west coast and the risks taken by fishermen and others in using boats. If the Minister's statement here today is the only amount of urgency he can give to addressing this problem it is a sad reflection on himself and his Department. I would have expected the Minister to tell us what he intends doing with the helicopters when they are fully in service and outline whether or not the Government will be locating a helicopter on the west coast. I would consider that to be the most urgent requirement at present. This matter is a serious deficiency in the Estimate.

Over all it is a serious matter for a country to run down its defence forces even though, as Deputy Keating said, its effectiveness in a general military sense is obviously quite limited. There is perhaps a need for an open debate in the House on whether or not we should consider redeployment or integration of the Defence Forces generally with the Garda. We should strengthen the naval side of our Defence Forces.

The cuts that have been made and that are to be made in the course of this year [567] have gone dangerously far. They will not improve morale which will continue to deteriorate. In fact morale has sunk so low that it will be very difficult to rebuild it. There will be no encouragement for people to join the Defence Forces when they see the finest people in the forces leaving as soon as they get the opportunity. The situation where people are trying to leave and being refused permission to do so by the Minister reflects insufficient advance planning in providing the back-up personnel required for the flying of the aircraft. It is because of this that the Minister has no option but to refuse this permission to the pilots who are trying to get out of the Air Corps. They then have no choice, because of the terms of their contract with the Army, but to stay and serve. One must ask questions about the quality of service these men will be giving when they would prefer to be out of the Defence Forces. One cannot blame these people for wanting to leave because they see far better opportunities outside. Many are men with young families who are under financial pressure and want to avail of career opportunities which exist outside the Defence Forces. The Minister should take urgent steps, by way of extra training to make more pilots available to fly the aircraft for the Air Corps to ensure that the people who are serving in the Defence Forces are doing so willingly and not because they are bound, by contract, to do so because this cannot augur well for the future of the Defence Forces.

One aspect which frequently raises its head is the question of the expense of carrying money. I would like to ask the Minister if, in the past 12 months, he has had any discussions with the banking groups in regard to them funding some of the charges which arise. The expenditure is considerable and, at the end of the day, it is a service being provided to the financial institutions and they should be asked to make a contribution to it.

The cuts are excessive. The Defence [568] Forces are being run down constantly. The back-up services are practically non-existent; training, if any, for the next 12 months will be minimal in both the reserve force and the Civil Defence. The Minister has a serious task ahead of him if he is to give the necessary support to people who are carrying out a difficult job at the best of times.

An Ceann Comhairle: I intervene to advise Deputy Spring that of the time allocated to him about one minute now remains.

Mr. Spring: That will satisfy me and I thank you for your direction. If the Minister has an opportunity perhaps he would refer to some of the points which I raised. In particular will he outline for many people living in the western coastal areas from Donegal to Kerry and west Cork his plans and his programme for the location of the Dauphin helicopters, one of which we hope to have on the west coast. Perhaps, this is the most serious matter facing him as Minister for Defence and I would like him to give some indication of the location because in his contribution today there was no indication whatever about it and it is a matter of great urgency.

Mr. McCartan: On behalf of The Workers' Party I would like to contribute briefly to the debate on the Estimate for the Department of Defence. I wish to address the question of conditions, pay and other areas within the Defence Forces today. I note the Minister's remarks appreciating the very fine corps of men and women we have in the armed forces. In the course of his speech he referred to them as well trained and disciplined people whose normal duties involve many demanding security tasks. He indicated that their commitment to duty and loyalty to him, as head of the armed forces, was very much appreciated. I wonder whether that appreciation can ever be translated into decent wage [569] and working conditions for members of the armed forces.

In that regard I speak primarily of the majority of ordinary non-commissioned members whose lot is certainly not a happy one, and is far less happy than that of their commanding officers. A very sharp distinction exists in the forces between the conditions pertaining for those at ground level as against those at command level. There is a sharp contrast of lifestyle, remuneration, facilities and of privilege that makes the position of the ordinary member of the armed forces extremely difficult to accept. While many speakers have referred at length to the morale, the discipline, the spirit, the esprit de corps, this within the forces is not something that particularly impresses me. I am a parliamentarian. I am not used to the terminologies and notions of military life and I make an assessment of all of that as a member of The Workers' Party and as a socialist.

The point has been made here that we are expecting all of these men and women to undertake the demanding security tasks that are so necessary on a daily basis within the State and, indeed, abroad for what amounts to a pittance. The Minister, in outlining the levels of remuneration, to some degree simply accentuated that point. On 11 May of this year, at Question Time, he conceded that the average industrial wage, including over-time and other duties, amounted to £199.41. The start of wage for a recruit is £113 which can rise in time, after training, to £150. After three years the maximum basic wage which a recruit can earn is £175 or thereabouts, that is, on the assumption that there will be some basic promotion, at least to a three star, which he believes occurs within the first year of service as a full recruit.

One of the problems that exists is that promotions within the armed forces, as I understand it, have been frozen and the prospects for new recruits because of the level of cutbacks and the embargo on [570] recruitment, are nil. There is general dissatisfaction amongst all Opposition parties in the House regarding the philosophy of cutbacks, simply for the sake of cutting back. Where they reflect and impinge directly on the working conditions of so many people, who are in very harsh conditions, they cannot be tolerated and will not be supported. The basic increase in overall wages allowed under the Estimate is 2 per cent over last year's Estimate. In that context it is interesting to note that the increase affordable for chaplains and clergy is 5 per cent. Perhaps the Minister would explain how he hopes to keep an even development within the small concessions of Government to pay increases in the coming months. How does he hope to achieve the targets set by him and the Government in negotiation with the national parties, given a simple across the board increase of 2 per cent on the pay allocation of the Permanent Defence Forces?

In his contribution the Minister attempted to enhance the advantages available, the way forward and the progress being made by him and his Department in the area of wages. He spent a lot of time explaining the higher percentage rates of 4 per cent and upwards in respect of special allowances, for example, the Border duty allowance etc. I suggest that that is not the way to approach pay within any area of work but most particularly within the area of defence and the armed forces. I cannot believe that the Minister will continue a policy that seeks to draw commitment to duty on the “perk” of the extra money. The way to do it is to increase and maintain at a reasonable level the basic wage and that would encourage and sustain commitment to duty including the more unsociable types of duty, for example, prison and Border duties.

In that regard I want to ask the Minister if the reports in the national media are accurate and will he respond to the report, carried in at least one of the [571] national newspapers on 3 May of this year, that the rate of pay for an ordinary soldier for special duties, Border or prison on a daily basis for a 24 hour shift, is £6.50 during the week and at the weekend rises to the magical figure — for a 24 hour unbroken shift — of £13.65. I would like to know if those figures are accurate and, if so, how can anyone justify that level of pay. I did not even bother to work out what it amounts to as a rate per hour but you are talking about pence rather than pounds. I wonder whether the reports are accurate and I ask the Minister to clarify this.

Another point which must be made concerns the disturbing increase of reliance on the family income supplement scheme. When it was introduced we were told by the Minister responsible that it was a scheme to try to help people to stay in lowly paid work as opposed to opting out and going onto social welfare benefit. It is a scheme that must have absolutely nothing to do with persons working in the armed forces because we cannot afford in a committed and disciplined Army to have people so close to the breadline as to come within the terms of a scheme designed to help them not to opt out and go on welfare. Is that the kind of armed forces we want to develop? Is that the kind of commitment we expect now of our Defence Forces?

The FIS was never designed in its inception and conception as having anything to do with persons working in the Permanent Defence Forces. It has become so much relied upon now because of the poor level of basic pay that the Minister must address himself to it to the extent, if he has to be, of finding a more equitable base of pay between the higher levels of staff within the Defence Forces and those on the ground or by redeploying resources from administration to other areas. I do not know how it is to be done but this position cannot be allowed to continue unabated much longer. I am sure the Minister cannot be [572] happy with that and I invite him to assure the House that the problem is being addressed within his Department and at Cabinet level where necessary.

Another aspect of concern which must be addressed in the Estimate in regard to employment and employment conditions is women within the armed forces. We spoke earlier on the Estimate for Labour, about the discrimination that exists in certain aspects of the employment and Manpower schemes for people signing on for unemployment assistance but not in receipt of payment. Here it is far more fundamental and basic discrimination. There has been virtually no if any recruitment of women into the Permanent Defence Forces in the last number of years. The basic grounds advanced by the Minister are put forward on three levels. First, women are considered, for some reason, to be non-combatant and there is at present a need for recruitment of combatants within the permanent Defence Forces. I ask the Minister to tell the House, beyond the isolated incidents abroad in Lebanon and elsewhere where in the pursuit of peace keeping there have been regrettable incidents of aggression shown to our Permanent Defence Force members there, where any other male member of the Defence Forces has been involved in a combatant position or posture. It just does not exist and this argument that men are needed above women just does not stand up in the argument on the need for combatants. It is also suggested that there is not an interest generally abroad among women in applying for recruitment to the armed forces. This is a myth that has to be addressed and dispelled. I do not believe the Minister has the slightest basis, statistically or otherwise, for suggesting that is the case.

The final argument being advanced incessantly by the Minister at Question Time here is that apprentices must live in and we do not have suitable accommodation for live-in recruits and apprentices. I suggest there is a scheme whereby you can allow apprentices to join up and [573] be available on the basis that they are boarded out. That has been done in respect of a number of male recruits; I do not see why it cannot apply to women. Again, I believe the Minister and his Department cannot be happy with that aspect. Why is it persistent and why can something not be done to address the whole spirit of equality in employment and the whole notion of fair play to all sectors? I hope the Minister will address that in the coming year and that we will have a change of attitude with regard to it.

I am glad I have had the opportunity to contribute before the Minister of State because I understand he will be having regard to the area of local defence. A problem that has come to my attention and that of members of The Workers' Party is that in some quarters recruits, aspirant recruits and members of the local Defence Forces are being quizzed and subjected to interrogation by their superior officers with regard to trade union and political party affiliation or membership. This is a very undesirable practice. Certainly, there is need for security, but the issue of a person's political beliefs or trade union activity should not be of concern to the officers in charge.

Finally, can the Minister advise me in respect of two items? Subhead W. 10 is in respect of hire of baths. I ask him to explain that. The figure is significant. I do not want to say any more in case we are talking about different kinds of baths; swimming or washing, I am not too sure. Could the necessity of that be explained to the House? Subhead Z. 11 relates to the repayment of sums advanced to officers for the purchase of motor cars. Is this some perk available to officers only? Could the Minister elucidate a little more on it and advise us what it is about? Is that type of scheme available for the ordinary defence member?

I have grave reservations about the whole approach to working conditions within the armed forces at the moment. I believe they are central to a proper and [574] advancing, well meaning force. It is a matter for all of us to see that proper, humane conditions exist and that the spit and polish attitude of another era does not persist as a reason for expecting our men and women to live and work in unsatisfactory conditions.

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Mr. V. Brady): Before I comment on the 1988 allocation for Civil Defence, I would like to inform the House that I was very glad to have the opportunity earlier this year of visiting the Irish contingent serving with the United Nations Interim Force in the Middle East. The visit enabled to me to see at first hand the situation and conditions under which Irish troops are required to operate. I was very impressed with their operations, expertise and the high degree of morale among the troops. I sometimes think that we here at home are not fully aware of the excellent job our troops do abroad. I have found them to be extremely conscientious and professional and I know they enjoy a very good reputation with the local people in that part of the world. They are indeed a great credit to our country.

As Minister of State with special responsibility for Civil Defence, it is my duty and pleasure to comment on the provision for the organisation. The provision of £1.765 million for Civil Defence in 1988 emphasises the Government's commitment to the maintenance and improvement of this essential component of national defence. The provision in this year's Estimate is very similar indeed to the provision last year. The amount of money spent last year was greater. The difference can be explained by an additional payment by way of grant-in-aid made to local authorities late last year for expenditure incurred in previous years. The Estimate this year is very similar to the Estimate of the previous year. There is no change; there is no cut whatever as has been suggested in the House this afternoon.

[575] The primary role of Civil Defence is to mitigate the effects of war on the civilian population. There is also the very important secondary role of assiting in the relief of distress in the event of any peacetime disaster such as flooding, fire, bizzard or train crash. The peacetime role now also includes certain responsibilities in the event of nuclear accident abroad, for which plans are being developed.

Deputies will be aware that the Civil Defence organisation are a volunteer force organised under the local authorities for the purposes of both the wartime and peacetime roles. Therefore, the bulk of the provision will be allocated to these local authorities by way of grant aid usually at the rate of 70 per cent of their actual expenditure for Civil Defence purposes. This grant goes towards local authority expenditure on administration, including staffing, publicity, training, exercises, competitions and week-end camps, maintenance of equipment and the construction and maintenance of Civil Defence county and city control centres.

My Department are very conscious and appreciative of the effective role which the local authorities play in the provision of Civil Defence services — the warden service which is vital to the warning and monitoring role, the rescue, casualty, welfare services and the auxiliary fire service, which are self explanatory.

An element of the Civil Defence provision is allocated to the purchase of equipment for the use of the various services. Deputies will be aware that substantial stocks of dose rate radiation meters and other instruments have been acquired for local authorities with a capability of reading doses of radiation likely in wartime. In addition to these instruments, a number of low level radiation meters have also been supplied to each local authority to enable the reading of low levels of radiation such as can arise from peacetime incidents involving [576] nuclear power stations. A further quantity of these latter instruments is being acquired this year.

Various other purchase programmes are also being continued this year to cater for the needs of Civil Defence services and some new equipment is being bought. A supply of sirens for the warden service warning and monitoring operations is envisaged for the first time. A third instalment of 1,250 first aid kit bags will be acquired for the casualty service, and personnel and equipment vehicles to provide replacements for existing wornout vehicles.

The purchase of higher level communications equipment for training and operations is being continued this year with the acquisition of a further 50 handportable radios, 30 mobile radios and a base repeater. Provision of modern PABX telephone systems for control centres will also continue this year and next year and, when completed, will provide a fully effective modern control network from national through regional to county level. This will be a key improvement in the method of reporting the results of any fallout monitoring by the warden service and the conveyance of appropriate warning to the public.

Significant purchases have been made in recent years to help each of the five services and each active volunteer. Newly designed uniforms have been purchased in large quantities as well as Civil Defence denims for volunteers in the field. This year money has been allocated for the purchase of showerproof suits for volunteers and for other articles of uniform. I can honestly say that Civil Defence has never been better equipped and this Government's commitment to further equipment purchases is continuing this year.

Deputies will be interested to know that other recent developments in Civil Defence include production of an updated version of the booklet Bás Nó Beatha. It is entitled Survival and provides advice relevant to householders [577] in urban and rural areas to protect themselves from the effects of nuclear weapons. The new booklet has been circulated on a limited basis. I hope also to have a TV video prepared this year on this subject.

A Civil Defence information package is currently being distributed to schools around the country and will provide material for pupils on the role of Civil Defence and its function in society.

These developments show this Government's enthusiasm for Civil Defence and the continuation of this level of spending is necessary to ensure that the optimum state of preparedness is reached and maintained and that it can perform effectively in the face of a threat of the magnitude of global nuclear warfare.

Some people might say that in view of the treaties to do away with certain classes of nuclear weapons signed in Geneva recently and the prospect of further reduction in the size of the super powers' nuclear arsenals, there is no need for Civil Defence. This is far from true. While every sane person welcomes the prospect of disarmament, even a 50 per cent reduction in the number of nuclear weapons would leave 25,000 nuclear warheads on this planet.

Let me emphasise that there is no conflict of interest between the objective of Civil Defence and the objective of global nuclear disarmament but while even the remotest prospect of nuclear war exists, this country needs an effective Civil Defence organisation which is capable of monitoring radiation and advising the public of measures for its protection.

The radiation threat to this country is not just confined to the prospect of nuclear war. I mentioned earlier the possibility of peacetime nuclear accidents. Within a few hundred miles of this country there are a number of nuclear reactors, the reliability of which cannot be regarded as guaranteed. The lessons of Chernobyl have not been lost on this country and Civil Defence must be prepared to provide an important supportive [578] role in dealing with any such future emergency.

I have mentioned the responsibilities of Civil Defence in wartime and its activities in the event of a peacetime nuclear accident. Other peacetime roles implemented recently include search-and-rescue, marshalling, first-aid at community events, rescue at gas explosions, medical aid at accidents, ambulance services, welfare service to help refugees, evacuation and sand-bagging at floods; the list is extensive. This peacetime service is not only of obvious value to the community but it is also cost effective given that all Civil Defence members are volunteers. These peacetime activities are not only worthy of our support but should be encouraged to develop further.

I would like to highlight a feature of this organisation that goes beyond the merely material or financial and I want to focus on personal commitment. I am talking about the personal commitment of the 20,000 active volunteers in the organisation who give of their free time to perform a task for their community. We often tend to look at the negative aspects of the world today, the evils of materialism, the breakdown of the old community spirit and the growth of the “what is in it for me” type of society. We have an example in Civil Defence of people who put the good of the community before personal comforts and who give of their time and effort without asking anything in return.

This is something in which we can all express pride and I know that Deputies will join with me in thanking and congratulating the members. This membership includes, of course, many members of the voluntary aid societies, the Red Cross, Order of Malta and the St. John Ambulance Brigade to whom the thanks of all of us is also due. I congratulate the many thousands of volunteers who, weekend after weekend, take part in exercises and attend functions. The purpose of all this is to aid members of the community and the [579] Government give Civil Defence their fullest support.

Mr. Cooney: This form of Estimate debate is unsatisfactory as far as the allocation of time is concerned. It is totally inadequate and does not enable me to give answers to the questions which Deputy Keating posed. However, I am eating into my own time.

I am not given to making wild or exaggerated statements and when I say that the morale of the Army is at its lowest point since the demoralisation following the widespread demobilisation at the end of the Civil War I am reflecting the present state of morale in the Defence Forces. Let me immediately say, however, that the loyalty of the Defence Forces is still, as high as ever, and though clearly interlinked we should not confuse loyalty and morale.

The reason for the current poor morale in the Defence Forces is quite simple. The Government have treated the Defence Forces quite disgracefully. It is ironic that the Minister in the course of his speech today said that the Government have allocated the necessary resources to maintain the services which underpin those institutions. They have not done so.

There are three areas in which the Government are guilty, areas which are fundamental to building a good morale. First, the numerical strength of the Defence Forces must be adequate to the tasks they are asked to do. Secondly, they must be provided with equipment of a quality and in a quantity adequate to their needs. Thirdly, the career structure they are offered when they join must be maintained during their service. The question of pay would, of course, be another factor but the Defence Forces come under the national pay agreement like the rest of the public service and to that extent they are not special. However, other Deputies [580] have made statements that I would sympathise with in regard to the level of pay for the Defence Forces.

The numbers of other ranks in the Defence Forces, privates and non-commissioned officers stand, according to the current Book of Estimates, at 11,600. That is a reduction of 850 since 1986. It also includes approximately 800 men who are serving in Lebanon. A reduction of 850 is proportionately a severe reduction in numbers but there has been no corresponding reduction in the duties to be carried out. The same number of cash escorts, explosive escorts, Border patrols, garrison duties, security duties in the prisons and whatever may arise by way of emergency, still have to be carried out by a smaller number of men. I am glad the Minister has indicated that he intends to recruit 500 personnel in, to quote his words, “the near future”. I should like to ask the Minister to say when the recruitment campaign will start because, as I understand it, the pay subhead of his Estimate provides for the numbers referred to in the Estimate and not for the extra 500. Will the personnel be recruited this year and, if so, how does the Minister propose paying for them? Those recruits will be very welcome to the Army.

The inevitable result of not having enough men — even the extra 500 will not bring the number back to the 1986 level — is that the incidence of duty on the individual soldier is becoming intolerably heavy. In some garrisons that are small in number — there are two such garrisons in my constituency; I am excluding Athlone which is a Command headquarters — the incidence of duty is as high as one in three. I understand that means that a soldier goes on patrol or escort duties for a 24-hour shift, has then 24-hours resting off, goes back to the barracks on the third day for ordinary duties which may be a 12-hour day and on the fourth day he is back on the 24-hour duty cycle again. That level of duty is not uncommon — in fact, it is common [581] — and a moment's reflection will show that it leaves very little room for a normal social or domestic life. It is driving men out of the Army in spite of the dire unemployment situation in civvy street.

Matters have become so bad that I understand that the group of Army chaplains, uniquely, — I use that word advisedly — have made representations, I do not know whether to the Minister or the military authorities about the level of duties. Army chaplains in the discharge of their welfare role, a very important part of their function, see the damage being done to the family life of soldiers and the personal and domestic difficulties it is causing. It is imperative that the Minister increase even further the numbers in the Defence Forces. He should increase the numbers further than the 500 he intends recruiting. We should recruit those people immediately because there are extensive lists of excellent applicants waiting to be called up. When we reach the stage that the chaplains have to make representations because of the damage the Army incidence of duty is doing to the social lives of soldiers we are at a sorry state indeed.

The morale of an army also depends on having an adequate amount of modern equipment and having available specimens of all military technology for instruction or training purposes. These items are normally purchased under subhead H, Defensive Equipment, and I note there is a reduction of 33 per cent in the provision for 1988 as compared with 1987. From my experience, and I have had a number of years experience, this would enable only essential maintenance and carry-over contracts to be paid for. It would not, in my opinion — I would like the Minister to comment specifically on this — make any provision at all for new equipment in 1988. This is soul-destroying for a professional army. Its members must when they meet their peers from other countries on Middle East or other service be in a position to [582] have at least a passing acquaintance with modern military technology.

I also note that for the second year in succession the estimate for mechanical transport has been reduced and that a mere £990,000 has been made available for new vehicles. Having regard to the immense demands made on the Land Rover fleet in carrying out all the escort duties, and having regard to the overall age profile of that fleet, it is essential that it is updated and modernised. The fact that it is running at all is now, and was in my time, a great tribute to the personnel of the Supply and Transport Corps. I am afraid that the Minister, because of the low level of money for new vehicles, is in grave danger of putting the Defence Forces in the position that it found itself in in 1969 when it had to hire private transport to move into new positions along the Border. That was shameful and a disgrace and it should never be allowed to happen again.

When a private or a cadet enters the Defence Forces he has an expectation of a career structure available to him on merit and in accordance with the normal passage of time. Due to the heavy-handed application of the public service embargo in the Defence Forces on filling vacancies the normal promotion opportunities are not now available. So far as I can ascertain there are approximately five vacancies in the rank of colonel, something like 15 or 16 in the rank of lieutenant-colonel and nearly 40 in the rank of commandant and proportionate vacancies in the rank of captain. This is leading to ludicrous results and I understand that in one Command if things are not changed that within a month or a couple of months we will have the General Officer Commanding and the next highest officer in rank will be a commandant.

Officers are filling appointments normally filled by higher ranks. The saving is marginal because the pay of an officer at the highest grade of his rank very nearly equates to the pay of the lowest level of the next succeeding rank. In [583] addition in the NCO ranks, there are hundreds of vacancies in the rank of corporal and sergeant and the frustration from lack of promotion opportunities, added to the unreasonably heavy incidence of duty, is a great worry.

I had a number of questions to the Minister recently to try to establish what precisely was the position in regard to the impact of the embargo and the denial of promotions to officers and men. I regret to have to say that I suspect his answers were framed to try to conceal the true position, contrary to the spirit which normally surrounds parliamentary questions and the answers to them. For example, on 24 November 1987 I was told that the strength of the commandant rank at 31 October 1987 was 372. Deputy Enda Kenny was told on 20 April that the strength of that rank on 31 March 1988 was 435, an increase of 63. I am quite certain that there were not 63 promotions to the rank of commandant in that period. I call on the Minister to clear up the discrepancies in the replies he has given to various statistical questions regarding Army strength and vacancies in various ranks.

The Minister was aware that I was trying to ascertain the effect of the embargo and it is a measure of his embarrassment on how it is affecting the Defence Forces that he tried to conceal the position from the Dáil. I regret having to say that. I cannot blame the Minister for being embarrassed because the position in the Army in regard to the lack of promotion opportunities is scandalous and is verging in the ludicrous.

The Defence Forces do not have any associations, representative bodies or trade unions and when the Chief of Staff gives an order it is obeyed and there is no question of any group of members going to the High Court looking for an injunction. We have taken the loyalty and efficiency of the Defence Forces for granted and have been able to do so with total confidence in a whole myriad of [584] disparate tasks over the past number of years. They have provided sanitary services for the citizens of Dublin and Cork, they have provided fire brigade cover, have dealt with the consequences of an outbreak of fowl disease in Monaghan, have manned our prisons and have even enabled mental hospitals in the west to be maintained. At the same time they have carried out their military and security duties with distinction and efficiency both at home and abroad. They are deserving of the best attention of the Government because in the absence of associations — I hope there will never be associations in the Defence Forces and it is up to the Minister to ensure that a climate conducive to their growth does not emerge — members of the Defence Forces have to depend on the Government, and in particular on the Minister, and to a lesser extent on Members of the House, to speak for them. That is why I am publicising these facts today.

I regret to say that the Minister, and the Government, have not treated the Defence Forces as they should have been treated. I repeat that their loyalty is beyond question but if their morale continues to be eroded at the rate it is happening at the moment then even the question of loyalty has to come into focus and the present murmurings about representative bodies are, regrettably, understandable. I urge the Minister not to confuse loyalty and morale.

I know from my experience that when he is visiting the troops loyalty and discipline will cause them to give favourable responses to his questions about their well being, but he should not confuse that loyal response with the underlying morale. I live in a garrison constituency and officers and men are punctilious about not approaching me; yet I cannot live in the middle of that society and remain ignorant and unaware of the drastic position pertaining in the Defence Forces.

Members of the Defence Forces serve [585] alongside other units connected with State security who are paid far more than they are. Nevertheless the Army personnel who served in Portlaoise in the recent emergency in the prison there have not yet been paid their special allowance for that difficult and unpleasant service, whereas the members of the Garda, who earn as an extra, four or five times per day what the Army personnel get by way of extra allowance, have long since been paid. That is not good enough. The Army know that they have been treated in an inferior fashion in comparison with the other forces. This does not help their sense of morale or self-esteem.

We should never forget that the Defence Forces are the ultimate defenders of our democracy and we must accord them the respect and the tangible and material recognition their role deserves. There is an urgent problem facing the Minister and the Government in restoring conditions in the Army so as to ensure that the morale of that important unit of our society is kept at the level it should be.

An Leas Cheann-Comhairle: Because of your reputation in the House I did not interrupt you at a point where I was not too sure whether you were accusing the Minister of having misled the Dáil but I took it that “concealing the truth” was your presentation of it.

Mr. Cooney: Not concealing it but not exposing it as fully as he might have wished or as I would have liked.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Thank you.

Mr. McGahon: The figure in the budget of £250 million illustrates the price we as a nation pay for the presence in our midst of the IRA. That is the real justification for having the Army. It illustrates once again how deeply this nation has been hurt and injured by the presence in our midst of that despicable band, [586] irrespective of which grouping they come from. As a Border Deputy, I want to pay my tribute to the Army and to their committment to the defence of this country. Living as I do in a garrison town, I have seen their dedication and commitment at first hand at all hours of the day and night in constant surveillance along the Border. I have to be grateful on behalf of my constituents for their presence there, very often in the face of threats from paramilitaries of differing hues on the other side of the Border who have on occasion threatened to bomb the town of Dundalk and other Border towns.

The role of the Army needs to be redefined. I should like to see the creation of special units trained to react in a national emergency and to take over as wardens in the jails so that this country would not be held to ransom by the intemperate demands of various groupings or irrational trade unionism.

There is one matter about which I have complained over the past few years and I want to make my annual complaint once again. I object to the use of Army escorts for the transportation of cash for banking institutions. These institutions are awash with money taken from the backs of the Irish people and they should not be given this facility. They should have to pay for it. When we go into a bank we are charged for blinking an eye. Perhaps much-needed money for the Defence Forces could be garnered in this way. There is no bank here which has not a healthy balance sheet and it is ridiculous to expect this facility at a time when we are closing hospitals and people cannot get a bed in which to die with dignity. This is an imposition which should be stopped immediately.

I do not often agree with anything The Workers' Party have to say but I have to agree with Deputy McCartan that the scale of pay for ordinary privates and corporals is very low and should be upgraded. I have seen these people on Border duty right through the night [587] standing shoulder to shoulder with gardaí who are paid handsomely. While I do not begudge their rates of pay, the soldiers are very poorly paid. They get a ridiculous gratuity and some equality must be introduced.

I also agree with Deputy Cooney's suggestion that these people should be treated humanely by the Department and the Minister. I echo his hope that we will never be faced with trade unionism within the ranks of the Army. The way to prevent that is to ensure that they are well looked after.

I want to identify a problem which has occured in the Border area in recent times and which has caused me to table several questions to various Ministers. I refer to the appearance of 24 observation posts on the Border, particularly in County Armagh. I am concerned at the risk to health caused by the fact that these posts are emitting radiation which I understand to be extremely dangerous, possibly more dangerous to the people of County Louth and other Border countries than the threat posed by Sellafield.

These are death beams and unfortunately they are beamed directly into the South. They are monitoring devices used to pick up conversations, even in cars, deep into County Louth and the South and they pose a definite risk to health. They are known as X-band radiation. They were the subject of an international incident in 1970 when it was discovered that a number of personnel in the US Embassy in Moscow successfully sued the US State Department for damage to health caused by Soviet microwaves. One marine took action for genetic damage caused to his child which was born later in the US. Statistics have proved that virtually every one of the personnel serving in the US Embassy in Moscow were affected to some degree. These are serious problems and I would like the Irish Government to address them.

I have put down questions on this [588] matter to the Minister for Health and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs I asked what action was being taken to ascertain the degree of danger posed by the presence of British Army observation installations in South Armagh, adjacent to County Louth, and the reported use of radiation-based systems for monitoring purposes and if the Minister was consulted in advance by the British authorities about the use of these systems. While that might not necessarily come within the ambit of the Defence budget, nevertheless it is a subject for concern. I ask the Minister for Defence to make some investigation into my claim. I am very thankful for the few minutes I have got and I would like to share my remaining time with Deputy Mervyn Taylor.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Taylor has approximately eight minutes.

Mr. Taylor: I would like to express my appreciation to Deputy McGahon for allowing me a few minutes to comment on the Estimate for the Department of Defence. I want to make a few brief comments on the role of our Army in the Middle East and Lebanon. Our soldiers are performing a first-rate international task, a task that is extremely difficult to perform under any circumstances. It is the role of the peace-maker, the person who tries to keep the peace between conflicting and warring factions, and that is always a difficult role. Great care should be taken by the Irish Government to do nothing that would in any way affect or prejudice the ability of our soldiers to play out and enact that role. They are working in Lebanon, an area where there are innumerable conflicting armies and militias of all descriptions, the Israelis, the South Lebanon Army, the Hezbollah, the Amal, the Maronites, to name but some. That is not a comprehensive list. I am leaving aside the Syrian army and I will say a word about that in a moment. [589] Our soldiers are placed in a very delicate position. We have to be careful that we are not seen, as a Government, to be partisan in any respect as far as any of the conflicting interests of that part of the world are concerned. I am afraid that some Ministers in this Government have not lived up to their responsibilities in that regard.

I refer, first to the response of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs in this House last night. In replying to an Adjournment Debate he gave what could only be described as a totally biased and prejudiced account of events on the West Bank and in Gaza. Other similar statements have also been made. It does not understate the position to say that loose or careless talk of that nature possibly puts the lives and limbs of our soldiers in Lebanon at risk. This is not just a matter of neutrality; it is a matter of peace-keeping and impartiality. The issues in Lebanon and in the West Bank and Gaza are not as simple as the Minister, Deputy Calleary, or other Ministers would have us believe. They are extremely complicated. There is no question that one side is all right and the other side all wrong. This is not the time to go into the merits or demerits of that situation. That will arise on the Department of Foreign Affairs Estimate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is in sympathy with the Deputy's contribution in so far as he is basing it on his concern for the members of the Defence Forces. I am quite sure that, while he points the finger of criticism at the Minister of State in respect of what he has said, the Deputy will also be cautious that he will not say anything which would similarly prejudice, as he would think, the position of our Defence Forces.

Mr. Taylor: I would certainly never do that and never have done. That matter is far too important. I would never do anything that would put at risk the lives and limbs of our soldiers who are fulfilling [590] such an important, delicate and difficult role. How much more so do the Ministers of this Government have a responsibility to exercise extreme caution in the comments they make on anything affecting that area? The Syrian army are now invading Lebanon. The news media describe that as a measure to possibly release the hostages but I do not think that is the intent of the Syrian invasion of Beirut. I think they have other purposes in mind. I highlight that point to illustrate how complex the situation is in that part of the world.

I was extremely concerned to read the reports of the Minister, Deputy Calleary, yesterday. If those kinds of one-sided comments were to be seen, as no doubt they will be, by the Israeli authorities they could be forgiven for calling into question the impartiality of the Irish Government in that part of the world. It is very serious that that should arise when our soldiers are out there in the firing line. I make a special appeal to the Ministers in any future pronouncements they would make, in the interests of the position that we have in maintaining troops in an international role in the Lebanon, to exercise extreme care in what they say and to remember that it is a complicated situation. To attempt to put the entire blame for conditions there on one side, or to say that it is the Israelis, and they alone, who carry the responsibility for events in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is totally untrue and bears no relationship to the facts. It was a totally unsympathetic statement — at least the parts that were reported in the paper but I have not seen the transcript.

Mr. Cooney: In Lebanon Israel should withdraw to the international borders.

Mr. Taylor: Maybe they should but should not Syria and the Iranian's Hezbollah withdraw to the international borders too? That comment by Deputy Cooney is typical of the sort of comment that is made. People say that the Israelis [591] should withdraw. What about all the others who are there and who have no equal right——

Mr. Cooney: The Deputy should read the UN resolution under which UNIFIL are present.

Mr. Taylor: It is quite right for the Irish troops to be there. That is very important. When the Deputy says that the Israelis should withdraw, should he not couple with that a statement that the Syrians should withdraw?

Mr. Cooney: The Irish soldiers are in southern Lebanon.

Mr. Taylor: Yes, and so are the Syrians. I have just read reports that they are invading Beirut and that is not very far from the southern border. I am not saying that the Israelis are angels, or that there have not been some excesses in their army. I do not know of any army that, on occasion, has not been guilty of some excesses. Many of them have been taken to task by courts martial and by other means. They are facing extremely difficulty situations in which stones and petrol bombs are thrown and three or four soldiers are responding to large crowds of insurrectionists. I do not say they have done that but I am not going into the merits or demerits of this because that would take a long time.

In conclusion, the kernel of the contribution I want to make is that there are rights and wrongs on all sides. We are in a particularly delicate position when we send our forces there. We must maintain a strictly neutral, impartial and balanced position and not let ourselves fall into the trap of being guided by the propaganda battle that has been heavily won by one side in this dispute. We should not allow ourselves to be drawn by that but we should stick to the neutral and impartial position. That is absolutely essential.

[592] Minister for Defence (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West): I want to express my thanks to those Deputies who contributed to this debate and to re-echo their tributes to the personnel of the Defence Forces. As I said before, there is no doubt that these people deserve this praise. They are a body of men and women whose commitment to their country manifests itself in the day-to-day discharge of their duties. That is patriotism in its truest sense. We have an excellent Army and it is only right and proper that this should be recognised and expressed in the central forum of our democracy. Long may we have the opportunity to do that.

I would like to address a number of points raised in this debate. The question of the members of the Permanent Defence Forces being paid family income supplement was raised by a number of Deputies. Members of the Permanent Defence Force are eligible for family income supplement on the same basis as other members of the community. However, out of a total of 11,700 non-commissioned officers and privates, only a very small number with large families, who have short service and are serving in the lower ranks, are eligible and qualifying for this benefit. The number in receipt of this benefit is very small — 29 out of a total of 11,700 non-commissioned officers and privates. These figures compare very favourably with other sectors of the community. That is not to say the situation should be ignored, but I just want to put this matter into proper perspective.

The high incidence of duty was also referred to. I am aware that the level of duties in the Defence Forces is high due to a number of factors — Border patrols, cash escorts, bomb disposal, prison and barrack security, fisheries patrol, air and sea surveillance and so on, and the security of a number of installations as well as the security of this building. To offset this, I am making arrangements for an intake of 500 recruits in the very near [593] future. This should help to alleviate the incidence of duty and I want to tell Deputy Cooney I hope these 500 recruits will be in training by 1 July.

The question of promotion in the Permanent Defence Force was also raised. The restriction on the filling of vacancies in the public service has been applied to the Permanent Defence Force since April 1987. Not more than one in ten of all vacancies are filled. Having regard to the nature of the Permanent Defence Force, it is necessary to maintain the rank structure and to fill all key appointments. That was pointed out by a number of Deputies, including Deputy Connaughton and Deputy Cooney. I have prevailed on the Government to modify the restrictions in the case of the Permanent Defence Forces and I am glad this modification will take place. At the moment I am discussing this matter with military personnel and I hope to have the modification brought in very shortly.

Deputy Connaughton referred to the number of new rifles. When Deputy Connaughton gets information I wish it were accurate. I am particularly pleased it was possible to arrange the contract to buy new rifles, notwithstanding the restrictions on spending imposed by the Government. The new weapon was ordered after a very lengthy and extensive process of technical testing in all commands. Each command examined each type of rifle over a long period — upwards of two years — and carried out exhaustive field trials of a large range of modern assault rifles. Tenders from a number of manufacturers had to be evaluated. The weapon order was the choice of the technical experts and was regarded as the best available from the point of view of safety, which is important, effectiveness and, above all, value for money. Deputy Connaughton said we could purchase the colt rifles without paying any money. That is not so. The information Deputy Connaughton has is completely incorrect.

[594] Mr. Connaughton: Is that on record? I have that information here.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick West): I do not know what paper the Deputy has but I am giving him accurate information. As I said, these rifles were tested for up to two years and only then was the contract put out to tender. I am not at liberty to disclose the contract price because of the secrecy surrounding the tendering system. As I said, value for money was taken into consideration and, for the first time ever, there was counter trade to a value in excess of £1 million to this country. That was significant. I can reassure Deputy Connaughton there was no waste of finances.

I agree with Deputy Spring when he spoke of the importance of careers in the Army. For that reason I have introduced modifications with regard to promotions. Applications for permission to retire from the Permanent Defence Force were received from pilot officers of the Air Corps in recent months. In the case of a number of applications I have had to refuse permission because the retirement of the officers concerned would have had serious consequences for the operation of the Air Corps at present. Some of those officers hold important appointments in the helicopter service, particularly the training programme to bring the Dauphin helicopters to full operational capacity, and to provide the maritime control service. I am doing something to ensure that we will not have a repeat of the position in which we find ourselves; in other words, I hope to increase the number of cadets in the Air Corps. I have sympathy for the personnel concerned. Deputy Spring must appreciate my problem and that of the Department.

As regards locating some of the Dauphin helicopters along the western seaboard, this point was made by a number of Deputies. We have only a limited number of aircraft to cover all the national territory and our seas and to [595] respond to search and rescue calls. A redeployment to Shannon would undoubtedly shorten travel time to large areas of the west coast, but not to the bulk of the Donegal coastline. It would also dilute cover to the east coast where there is a high incidence of passenger traffic. I am discussing this matter with the Minister for the Marine and some solution will be found but it will not be easy. This problem did not arise today or yesterday.

The welfare of members of the Defence Force has at all times been the special care of successive Governments, and we are looking at that area as well. This is being kept under constant review and will be considered more fully in the future.