Dáil Éireann - Volume 531 - 22 February, 2001

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Reserve.

77. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Defence if, further to Question No. 172 of 30 November [436] 1999, he will state if deductions are based on marital status in accordance with the Equality Act, 1998. [5231/01]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Members of the Permanent Defence Force who are single and reside in barracks are charged for rations and accommodation. Personnel who normally reside outside barracks are not deducted on those occasions when their duty requires them to stay in barracks. As members of the Reserve are part-time and do not reside in barracks, the question of deductions for rations and accommodation should not have arisen. I had the anomaly where members of the Reserve were being deducted for rations and accommodation rectified last August. Such deductions no longer occur and appropriate refunds have been made.

78. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Defence if, further to Questions Nos. 114 and 119 of 24 October 2000, the FCA will be replaced; if all FCA personnel serving at the time of replacement will automatically transfer to the new Army Reserve; and if they will hold their rank on transfer. [5232/01]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): The overall strategy for the future development of the Reserve Defence Force will be based on the report of the special steering group, which I established in January 1998. That group reported in September 1999. A thorough, comprehensive and in-depth study of the Reserve was undertaken, involving a very considerable amount of work both by a military board, established by the then Chief of Staff, and latterly by the steering group itself. The steering group met each of the Permanent Defence Force representative associations and also met on three occasions with the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association.

I formally launched the steering group report on 25 November 2000 at a special briefing for the southern region in Thurles organised by the military authorities for serving members of the Reserve. A similar briefing for the western region took place in Athlone on 2 December 2000. A third briefing was held in Dublin on 14 December 2000. I am pleased that the various recommendations contained in the steering group report have been broadly accepted as providing a general foundation on which the development of the Reserve Defence Force can proceed in the future.

I am advised by the military authorities that a board has been set up at Defence Forces headquarters to formulate specific plans for the implementation of the steering group recommendations. I am further advised that, under the aegis of this board, structures have been put in place in each brigade and in the Naval Service to facilitate consultation with FCA and Slua Muirí personnel throughout the country. Given the dependence of the Reserve on voluntary service, I am anxious that there should be an ongoing process of con[437] sultation before proposals are finalised. The military authorities have now started upon that process by way of the series of three preliminary regional briefings late last year and by the launch of the steering group report. The military authorities have also advised that rank restructuring, a transition strategy for rank imbalance and qualification convergence will be considered as part of the overall restructuring plan for the Reserve Defence Force.

The White Paper on Defence recognised that a notable and important feature of the existing FCA organisation is its countrywide geographical spread. This particular aspect will, in general terms, be retained in future. The full organisational and establishment details of the new Reserve Force as envisaged by the steering group will be determined in the course of a detailed implementation process. That process will comprehend the drafting and development of a Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan which will be based on the steering group's report. The implementation of the structural and organisational changes will require about six years to bring to completion. The military authorities will consider and recommend detailed proposals for the restructuring of Reserve units within each brigade area and in the Naval Service.

So that senior Reserve Defence Force officers can serve and influence reserve activities at the highest level, the steering group recommended the creation of four new lieutenant-colonel appointments within the Reserve, these appointments being part of the integrated element of the Reserve.

In general terms, the blueprint for the new Reserve Defence Force will involve replacing An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil with an Army Reserve consisting of two elements. One element will provide personnel who will integrate with Permanent Defence Force units. Personnel who opt for a period of integrated service will be provided with enhanced military training. The larger element will provide the overall Army Reserve, organised into three Reserve brigades.

I emphasise that the steering group was particularly mindful of the need to preserve and to retain the very many traditional and well established strengths of the current Reserve system, not least the admirable spirit of individual voluntary commitment, close social links with local communities and a good depth and scope as regards nationwide geographical spread.