Seanad Éireann - Volume 176 - 06 May, 2004
Defence Forces Accommodation.
Mr. P. Burke Mr. P. Burke
Mr. P. Burke: I welcome the Minister for Defence and thank him for coming in to take this motion. As Fine Gael spokesperson on defence, I have been requested by a number of members of the Defence Forces to ask the Minister about the accommodation used for the May Day demonstrations. It has been brought to my attention that the accommodation used for the Defence Forces from the Western Command was inadequate and of a poor standard. Approximately 300 men had to sleep in a hangar with no heat. The washing facilities were poor and at quite a distance from the sleeping quarters. Health and safety regulations were breached and soldiers had to boil their water by gas in the sleeping area.
We consider Ireland to have a modern Defence Force and the May Day demonstrations were well flagged in advance. Therefore, adequate time was available for the planning of proper accommodation for the Defence Forces. No expense was spared on the European Presidency yet our Defence Forces did not get, and do not always get, the best treatment. I am particularly disappointed for the people of the Western Command who had to move base to the Dublin area because of the May Day demonstrations.
The Minister must agree that it is inappropriate to use gas to boil water in an unheated area being used as sleeping quarters by up to 300 men. I urge the Minister to ensure that in the future more consideration is given to our forces. The facilities for this occasion should have been well planned as it was not a spur of the moment decision. It would be different if immediate plans had to be made for such an occasion.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I hope he can throw some light on the situation and that this is the last time we see such inadequate facilities being provided for some of our Defence Forces.
Mr. M. Smith Mr. M. Smith
Mr. M. Smith: I am extremely proud as Minister for Defence to note the dignity which the Defence Forces added to the very special and significant events in the Phoenix Park on 1 May. The professionalism with which they performed their duties over the weekend is a credit to them.
In Ireland, the Garda Síochána has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. However, among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces is the provision of aid to the civil power, meaning in practice to assist the Garda Síochána when requested. There has been a long history of the Defence Forces being called upon to support the Garda in its various duties, particularly during the course of the Troubles in the North.
The level and demand for Defence Forces assistance depends on security assessments undertaken by the Garda and the Defence Forces, and there is ongoing consultation between then in this regard. The Defence Forces are usually deployed only in the specific circumstances of a particular situation and then for a limited period. However, the primary responsibility for the maintenance and restoration of the public peace always rests with the Garda Síochána, with the Defence Forces acting in support of the Garda.
In the case of the recent deployment of the Defence Forces on 1 May, a significant amount of preplanning was undertaken by the Garda and the Defence Forces regarding the deployment and the respective roles of the deployed personnel. Defence Forces were mainly deployed at Farmleigh and on the periphery road inside the Phoenix Park. Extensive preparations were put in place by the Defence Forces to provide additional training in riot and crowd control and more than 2,500 personnel were deployed in various roles. In addition, the Naval Service was on patrol in the Irish Sea and the Air Corps provided air traffic control capability and support to operations both at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel and in the Phoenix Park. The Garda air support unit was also very active on 1 May providing top cover support to Garda operations. A temporary restricted flight area was in place over Dublin and the Air Defence regiment provided air defence cover for Dublin Airport, Farmleigh and Casement Aerodrome and Baldonnel in this regard. The Defence Forces EOD units, its chemical biological, nuclear and radiological units and its engineering and communications specialists also provided support for the operation. I am glad to say there was no requirement to call on the Defence Forces to provide additional support to the Garda in the maintenance of public order in this instance and that the Garda was able to fully contain the actions of a relatively small number of troublemakers who endeavoured to breach the security cordon.
Where the Defence Forces are deployed in an ATCP role, it is usually only in very specific circumstances and then for a limited period. In the case of the 1 May events the major deployment was from 6 p.m. on Friday, 30 April to midnight on Saturday, 1 May. Defence Forces personnel to support this operation were drawn from across the country and all permanent accommodation available within the Eastern Brigade area was used. The numbers involved also necessitated the use of tentage for a limited period. However, the majority of this tented accommodation was set up close to permanent shower blocks and canteen facilities and each member of the Defence Forces would have been provided with a camp bed and would have had an all-weather sleeping bag.
The Defence Forces are trained and available to respond to the demands placed on them in the various roles assigned by Government. Their primary responsibility is to respond in an effective manner and to deploy where and when they are called upon. The issue of their accommodations comes second to the task in hand. To operate in any other manner would render the force moribund, ineffective and thus superfluous.
In the case of 1 May, the appropriate level of accommodation was provided having regard to the short duration of the deployment. Moreover, I am not aware that any members of the Defence Forces or their representative associations have complained about the arrangements made in respect of their accommodation and deployment. I can only assume that a very small number of personnel who are not representative of the wider Defence Forces who performed their duties professionally on the day and, in the course of the flag raising ceremony, with great respect and dignity, are seeking to create trouble where none exists. I suggest that they consider what contribution, if any, they have to make to the modern Defence Forces. We should remember that Army personnel are trained to operate in the field in all conditions.
I again extend my thanks and gratitude to all those in the Defence Forces who contributed so well to a wonderful celebration over the May bank holiday weekend.
Mr. P. Burke Mr. P. Burke
Mr. P. Burke: I thank the Minister for his reply. I have the height of respect for our Defence Forces and the work they carry out throughout the world. However, I would like the Minister to ensure that health and safety regulations are not breached in terms of accommodation.
The Seanad adjourned at 4.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 7 May 2004.
Seanad Éireann 176 Defence Forces Accommodation.