Thursday, 28 May 1987
Dáil Eireann Debate
That a sum not exceeding £260,270,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1987, 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.
Mr. McGahon: As a Deputy who lives near the Border I am glad of this opportunity to say a few words on an Estimate which has very definite implications for my own county. The budget for the Department of Defence at £296 million is an unbearable burden for this very small nation and comprises 10 per cent of our gross national product. This is in stark contrast to Japan which spends less than £1 million on defence. The size of the budget shows the appalling burden which the IRA have inflicted on this country. An illegal army masquerading as defenders of the Irish nation, they have committed crimes on an horrific scale in the North and along the Border, crimes which make me ashamed of being Irish. It is not just in the wanton taking of life that the IRA have hurt the nation, they have also hurt it economically to an unacceptable degree. At present, a new terror is stalking the land, the terror of getting sick and having to pay for a hospital bed. Yet, this tiny nation allocates £296 million to its defence budget.
Having said that, I wish to thank the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána for the surveillance they carry out right along the Border but I would like to pose a question: who is the enemy? Is the enemy without or is the enemy within? In recent years, 14 Irish policemen have been murdered in this State by various shades of IRA armies — I include the Official IRA among them — and one has  to come to the conclusion that the real enemies are the forces of subversion within the State.
While there is always the threat of a Protestant or Unionist backlash from the army of the UDA, the real enemies of this State are here in our own State. I must deplore the absolute waste of money on Border surveillance. While I am very thankful that the Irish Army have a divisional headquarters in Dundalk and thankful also for the efforts of the Garda Síochána, I must ask the question: is Border surveillance money spent in the right way? It is time for us to look at the Irish Army. This country has an Army of, I think, 14,000 soldiers. It is structured in the conventional way, with air forces and land forces. Has the time not come to look at the restructuring of the Army? I do not believe that the expenditure of large amounts of money on planes and tanks is justified. The justification for the Irish Army is to keep this country safe from the enemies of this State — the IRA. The Army should be geared to fight the IRA. Part of that should include the prohibition by the Government of paramilitary displays at IRA funerals.
Recently we had the unhappy spectacle at Emyvale in which a policeman, I believe, was so terrified when confronted by a group of people that his gun went off in his hand. There was a lack of police and Army presence in Emyvale. Conversely, four or five months prior to that, at the funeral in Dundalk of two IRA gangsters of the INLA variety who were shot in the holocaust at Rosnaree, the authorities allowed the INLA to stage manage a funeral that took almost two hours to pass through Dundalk. Gangsters wearing balaclavas were allowed to strut through the streets of the biggest town in Ireland and take the coffin out repeatedly and do their double shuffle through the town, instead of being told to get out of Dundalk and out of the State by the back door as quickly as possible. They were watched by a large force of the Garda Síochána. This is part of the ambivalence shown by the Irish State and Irish Governments to subversion in this  country. Until we come to grips with the forces of terror, we will always be held to ransom by various shades of the IRA.
The massive cost to the Irish taxpayer for providing escorts for banks, if you please, moneylenders, for the transportation of cash I believe is in the region of £1.5 million. We are providing this service for banks that would screw “Maud Frickert” if they got the opportunity while we are charging people to be sick in hospital beds. This is an outrage. I call on the Government to do something about it. The banks have had a licence to do what they like and the last Government, which I supported, provided a back-up facility for the AIB. Whatever justification there was for that, there is no justification whatsoever for the provision of a large part of the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána in escorting these cash convoys around the country. Every so often there is a convoy of gelignite brought to the Border en route to County Antrim and that is covered all the way by a large convoy of police and soldiers. How long will this continue? How long can the Irish taxpayer be asked to subsidise this? It is not only the banks we are subsidising; we are subsidising insurance companies because the attitude of the banks is that if they are requested to provide this facility and do not do it, the insurance corporations will have to pay. The insurance companies are hardly a poor sector of our community.
I do not want my remarks to be taken as criticism of the efforts of either the Army or the Garda Síochána. They have done a good job in protecting towns like Dundalk and Clones against possible threats. I suggest that there is extreme waste in the Border region in the carrying out of Border surveillance. For the last 20 years the people of Dundalk have witnessed a road block at Lisdoo Corner on the main Dundalk-Newry road. That block has inhibited business activity in the town but has not resulted in the capture of any criminal or any subversive, nor has it resulted in the capture of any cache of arms. Yet we have seen the economic life of the town brought to a virtual standstill  by the use of this surely outmoded and outdated form of surveillance.
The Army should be used for this purpose. Up to about five years ago they were used but then because of some Government decision they were more or less withdrawn to barracks. Very seldom would one see Army personnel at a roadblock. The Garda Síochána took over. With that came a resultant bulge in the expenses because the Garda had to be paid for this work whereas the unfortunate soldiers got no overtime at all. The function of the Garda Síochána should primarily be to fight and control crime here and the role of the Army should be to combat terrorism. Much money has been misused and wasted in this area and the efforts of the ordinary Army privates and corporals have not met with the monetary reward they should have. People who do overtime duties in the Border region, particularly poorly paid soldiers, should be given some monetary recompense. I ask the Minister to consider using, to a greater degree, the Armed Forces based in Dundalk and Castle-blayney and releasing the Garda Síochána for their real role of fighting crime.
Minister for Defence (Mr. Noonan: , Limerick West): I take this opportunity of thanking Deputies for the tributes they have paid to the personnel of the Defence Forces. I wish to join in these tributes. In the short time that I have been Minister for Defence but having had the opportunity to observe and appreciate at close quarters the operations of the Defence Forces, I realise how deserved such tributes are in terms of recognising the dedication, diligence and loyalty with which the personnel of our Defence Forces discharge their duties both at home and abroad.
The opportunity for discussion on the role of the Defence Forces only presents itself once a year. It is fitting that the House should avail of the opportunity to express to the Defence Forces its appreciation and that of the public generally of the work they do. I consider myself honoured to hold the position of Minister  for Defence at this stage and to be associated with a body of men and women who have served and will continue to serve the country and its elected Governments with such commitment and unswerving loyalty.
I want to refer to a number of points raised during the course of this debate. Deputy Connaughton referred to the various roles of the Defence Forces and rightly stressed the need for their continued participation in UNIFIL. The safety of the Irish troops serving with the United Nations in Lebanon is kept constantly under review. I would like to remind the house that troops selected for this service undergo a very rigorous programme of training. This programme is designed to assist them in carrying out their peacekeeping duties and, more importantly, to provide for their protection. They are issued with a modern range of weapons and equipment. Having spoken to Defence Forces personnel both on their way out to Lebanon and on their way back I am satisfied that the training, weapons and equipment of our troops are adequate to ensure maximum safety, consistent with the performance of their duties. The Government will continue to monitor developments in south Lebanon with a view to taking whatever measures may be necessary at any time to ensure the safety and welfare of our troops.
Deputy Connaughton referred also to recruitment to the Permanent Defence Forces during 1987. I assure the House that no decision has been taken to suspend recruitment to the Defence Forces in 1987. There is a financial position in the Estimate for an intake of about 400 recruits. Therefore, the question of an intake of recruits will be examined later in the light of the strengths and commitments of the Defence Forces and in the context of the overall budgetary situation.
I am satisfied that the present strength of the Defence Forces is adequate to meet the existing operational commitments of the force. I am keeping this under constant consideration in view of their existing, continuing and perhaps increased commitments. Not alone am I reviewing the position but I am observing it at first hand. I have visited a number of Border posts and spoken to the men involved. I am fully aware of their problems. These are being considered very carefully and a decision will be reached in due course.
Deputy Connaughton referred to the FCA and to the fact that there were cutbacks in recruitment to the FCA. I want to remind the Deputy and the House that recruitment generally to the FCA has been committed to the extent necessary to replace wastage. This includes the numbers posted to the non-effective list in January of each year. Those same conditions will apply during 1987.
The strength of the FCA was 14,447 on 31 January 1984. On 31 January 1987 the strength of the FCA was 14,522. The Deputy need have no fears in relation to this because the strength of the FCA will be kept up to the level required and necessary.
Deputy Connaughton referred, too, to the adequacy of Army transport. Vehicles are added to the fleet from time to time where necessary and in the light of operational requirements. The vehicles in the fleet are fully maintained and repaired to ensure that they meet normal standards of road worthiness. I am satisfied that the level of provision in the Estimate for mechanical transport for 1987 is adequate to meet the operational needs likely to arise.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): There is  an answer to every question. Road tax payments in previous years were made to the Department of the Environment but with a view to eliminating unnecessary interdepartmental transfers of funds, road tax is no longer payable on military vehicles. That accounts for the reduction in that subhead. Instead of being made available through the Department of Defence the necessary funds are now being transferred from the Exchequer to the Department of the Environment.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): I suppose not. Deputy Connaughton raised also the question of neutrality. This has been discussed extensively in the recent past so I do not intend to go into it in detail now. The policy of neutrality has been supported by successive Irish Governments and Ireland is not part of any military alliance. There are implications other than military ones in neutrality. Economic considerations are involved as well as international relations.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): These escorts are provided by the Defence Forces as an aid to the civil power. They are supplied at the request of the Garda to prevent large sums of money falling into the hands of people who would use it to our disadvantage. The escorts provided are supplementary to the security already provided at the expense of the banks.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West):——but I will let the Deputy have it if it is available. I welcome the general tone of the contributions to the debate. The tributes paid were well deserved and I fully support them. The Defence Forces carry out their functions and duties and it is my ambition as Minister for Defence to ensure that the conditions of service and the general provisions for the Army are maintained at an adequate level so that they can continue to function as an extremely valuable part of our national structures.
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