Estimates 1986. - Vote 3: Department of the Taoiseach (Revised Estimate) (Resumed).

Thursday, 3 July 1986

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 368 No. 10

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

That a sum not exceeding £5,632,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1986, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of the Taoiseach, including certain cultural and archival activities and for payment of certain grants-in-aid.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Deputy Skelly is in possession. He has 17 minutes.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  Before the Adjournment I was speaking on the area of justice and [2388] social welfare. Due to a lack of time during the recent debate on the Estimate for the Department of Defence I was unable to flesh out my contribution, which was to question the role of the Army. I only succeeded in attracting towards myself a lot of criticism. I tried to stimulate thought on the political responsibilities of the Dáil regarding the role of the Defence Forces and I should like to continue along those lines. To an outsider it would appear that this question has not been examined in detail for some time. The Defence Forces have evolved based on needs of the War of Independence and the Civil War. Today the State is attempting to maintain, on a miniature scale, a traditionally organised military force which parallels those of much larger and richer states such as the UK, France and Germany. What purpose such a force is to serve is not very clear, especially in light of our policy on military neutrality.

There do not appear to be any recognisable experts on defence policy in the Dáil, at least, none that I can think of. The apparent lack of interest on defence matters may be due to two commonly held assumptions about the Defence Forces; that they must be maintained in their current traditional form to combat terrorism and that they only consume 1.5 per cent or £252 million of the GNP, which is acceptable to us.

The Minister of State at the Department of Defence recently described the activities of the Army during the last year during his explanation of the budget estimates for the year. It is apparent from reviewing the activities he chose to explain that the Government see the primary role of the Defence Forces as containing terrorism.

There are 11,000 parties for Border duties, 9,500 checkpoints, 15,000 patrols, 900 escorts for transporting explosives and blasting operations, 4,500 escorts for transporting cash and 150 bomb disposal team requests. It is extraordinary that we accept these statistics without questioning.

It is remarkable that a force of only [2389] 16,000 members, 750 of whom are serving overseas with the UN, could provide 11,000 parties for the Border, man 9,500 checkpoints and send out 15,000 patrols in the year. It should also be noted that all the functions listed by the Minister are properly police and not military functions in other countries, such as France or Spain. If the primary role of the Defence Forces is to contain terrorism, are unarmed jet trainers, artillery batteries and tanks essential to succeeding in such a role? If not, why do we have them? Was their purchase reviewed by the Dáil? I never get an opportunity to consider them.

While it is true that the Defence Forces consume only 1.5 per cent of the GNP and 70 per cent of their expenditure goes toward pay and allowances, this sum of £252 million represents 36 per cent of the interest we pay on the foreign debt which amounts to £700 million. Surely these questions merit serious discussion here.

The role or mission the military are to play must be clearly defined in order for the military to procure material and establish manning levels to accomplish that mission. The determination of the role they are to accomplish is a political decision. Only after the political decisions have been taken should the military establishment, the Department of Defence, be asked how they would go about implementing these decisions. They should tell us what specific equipment is needed, what manning levels are needed and what skills are required to operate and maintain the equipment. The failure of politicians properly to define the role of the military will result in unstructured growth, perhaps in support of totally unrealistic roles or missions.

Unfortunately, military establishments tend to maintain a momentum of their own, procuring some specific items of equipment such as tanks or unarmed jet trainers simply because their professional pride demands them. Everyone else has them so we must have them too. The critical question to be considered is what purposes do the Defence Forces serve in 1986? Have these purposes been determined by the Dáil or are they rooted in the [2390] historical events of 1919-23? Could these purposes be achieved by an alternative force under the Department of Justice for considerably less than the £252 million per annum that we spend? Some functions the military are expected to perform at present include defending the neutrality of the State in the event of another war, combating terrorism and providing fishery protection.

I would like to put forward four conclusions I have come to in this regard for the consideration of the House. First, we will never have sufficient resources to prevent any State from occupying Ireland should they wish to do so. Why do we maintain an Army for this purpose if the outcome is inevitable? We should have very serious moral qualms about asking 16,000 soldiers to die for their country for no purpose. Secondly, our existing needs for defence against terrorism and for fishery protection can be achieved much more efficiently and cost effectively by abolishing the Department of Defence and creating in their place a force of gendarmes and a coast guard. These quasi-military organisations would come under the purview of the Department of Justice. As an example, Costa Rica did this in 1948. It has been very successful even though they also face very active terrorist threats both internally and from adjacent states.

Thirdly, all military establishments have a voracious appetite for new equipment. We would do much better to concentrate our efforts on essential goals which are both attainable and affordable instead of squandering very limited resources. Fourthly, abolishing the Department of Defence would give us immense moral standing internationally. Our total rejection of the use of military force as a legitimate means to achieve national goals would give tremendous reinforcement to our voice as a neutral nation, lending great credibility to our criticism of those who abuse their power.

Finally, I would like to recommend that a committee be formed to examine the role of the Defence Forces and determine if that is the politically desired role. If any productive result is to be obtained from this examination it is essential that [2391] this question be addressed with an absolutely open mind. Every mission must be justified entirely on its own merits. Trite expressions and the fact that everyone else does it should not suffice. The committee should examine all the budgets for the Department of Defence simultaneously, most especially the 30 per cent or £76 million concerned with procurement. They should also address the ratio of civil servants in the Department of Defence to military personnel which, as far as I can gather, is about one to every 18 soldiers. I mentioned this before but did not get a great welcome from the people who have high regard for the Army and Army personnel. It was nothing personal on my part. I was just looking at it as I think all Departments should be looked at from time to time. I thought it necessary to do that research in order to place it on the record in the hope that it would be considered.

I participated in and read the Estimate debates on the Department of Defence over the past few years. It is embarrassing to read them when we consider the contributions from spokespersons on Defence as well as from the Minister. We have an Army occupying 27 buildings around the country with huge staff and personnel gobbling up money which we cannot afford. I do not like armies because soldiers can get killed. That should not be a long term objective. I hope it will be maturely picked up at some time in the future.

At a time like this I am tempted to review two things. The first is our society and where we are going. I would like to have time to talk about job creation and emigration, to remind us of how awful it is to have high unemployment. I would also like to have time to talk about the environment. Obviously I will not be able to talk about any of them in detail. I am very disheartened that the gaming problem has not been sorted out. We brought in a Bill recently to increase the stakes in gaming. I am also disheartened that the National Lottery Bill has been brought in. It will encourage gambling. It is a tax on the poor. We will not find [2392] this out for a few years. Other countries have got out of that situation.

If anything is worth doing, it is worth taxing people for it. It it is not worth taxing people for, it is not worth doing. The lethal combination of gaming, lotteries, gambling and drinking and the young population we have in this country will have a devastating effect. This Government are encouraging that. I know their intentions are good but that is the way it will work out. I feel very badly being a part of that. I have tried to show my objection to it during the course of the debates. When we have a situation such as that, we should not be surprised that we have marriage breakdown, battered wives and a need for divorce legislation which we tried to put through last week. Last week's result will enable us to see us as we are and not as we think we are. We still believe that this country is better than other countries.

Irish society has a tendency to sweep things under the carpet and not to face up to them. People live in a cloud. The valley of the squinting windows has been replaced by something equally as sinister, as narrow-minded and as intolerant as that. Yet the great thing in society is sex. That is all we worry about. We face the 21st century, albeit not depending as much on cling as we used to. We managed to pass legislation on contraceptives because we did not have to have it passed by referendum. At least there are enough mature people to see the social need for that in our society.

The Minister for the Environment made a good start in trying to tackle environmental problems. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works recently launched a policy programme for the Phoenix Park. The Phoenix Park was set up for the people of Dublin. It is being eroded by giving pieces of it over to buildings. The memorial park already has a school; a new school is proposed for it; and a highway runs through it. At a cost of an extra £5 million an unnecessary highway has been laid through the long meadows part of the memorial park which was once part of [2393] the Phoenix Park. There are too many buildings in the park. Lodges were allowed in the park as a way of getting around the Act which prevented buildings in it. The President, the American Ambassador and the Nunciature take up one-third of the Phoenix Park, about 400 acres. That is a disgrace. Those grounds should be opened up to the people of Dublin.

The four-lane highway that was supposed to go past St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the enabling Bill that was supposed to be introduced, have been held up, but they should give us room for thought. The new streets were to cost £10 million, and I do not know how much the highway would have cost, but I suggest that money should be put into job creation, giving a great boost to the capital city. I said before that the city is like a doughnut with an awful hole in the middle. That hole could be turned into the jewel of Dublin. We could do that by investing in the city's infrastructure, but that is not being taken up though we are prepared to spend something like £20 million cosmetically to beautify the city at a cost of 4,000 or 5,000 new jobs.

It is disgraceful that we are allowing emigration to solve the unemployment problem. It does not solve any problem but it takes the cream of our youth out of the country once again because we are not creating the necessary jobs. I have put forward schemes of job creation linked with the rebuilding of Dublin and other centres throughout the country, but they have fallen on deaf ears. I am sorry to see the plight of middle aged professionals throughout the country having to skimp and try to contain large overdrafts in order to survive in their professions as engineers, architects and designers. They were all employed in the construction industry but they cannot get going even though we provide money through CTT. Any pleas we make fall on deaf ears because the Government and those in the top echelons in the Civil Service do not have the perspicacity or the wit to see ways to help them.

Debate adjourned.

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