Thursday, 1 April 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. M. Smith: To be eligible for enlistment in An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, potential recruits are required to meet the eligibility requirements as regards age, height and medical standards as prescribed in Defence Forces regulations. The determinants governing medical classification of FCA recruits include the applicant's year of birth, constitution, military fitness, keenness of vision, colour vision and keenness of hearing.
The medical examination of potential recruits is, where practicable, conducted by a medical officer of the medical corps at military medical centres where audiometry facilities are available. The diversity of FCA recruitment centres makes it impossible to have all medical examinations conducted by medical officers of the medical corps and where this is not possible, local general medical practitioners may be engaged to medically examine potential recruits. In such cases, a medical examination sheet is completed by the general medical practitioner in respect of each potential recruit examined, and is then forwarded to the medical officer of the relevant brigade for decision as to whether the examinee is of the required medical standard for enlistment. On being found otherwise medically fit for enlistment in the FCA, all potential recruits must then have a screening audiogram to ensure their hearing meets the required standard.
Audiometry facilities are available in Defence Forces medical centres in Dublin, in the Defence Forces training centre, Curragh Camp, and in  Baldonnel, Athlone, Cork, Galway and Limerick. It is proposed to extend the facilities to Monaghan in the near future. Potential recruits may be conveyed by military transport to the nearest centre for their screening audiogram.
Mr. Timmins: It has come to my attention that some of the FCA centres have difficulty in having medical examinations carried out, vis-á-vis the availability of a doctor. Is it still the practice that a general medical practitioner can carry out the medical examination?
Mr. M. Smith: Yes. Given that there are approximately 2,000 new entrants to the FCA each year and that there are ongoing audiometric programmes, there is a huge demand on the existing service. If we add to it the litigants and the normal demands in medical service for these resources generally, general medical practitioners are needed.
Mr. M. Smith: This is an interesting question. When I came into office I made a slight change in favour of reducing by one inch the requirement for women to five foot four inches and for men to five foot five inches. Different practices apply in different countries. The general view in the military here is that because of the exercises and the amount of weight that has to be carried a certain height and weight requirement is essential for these demands. The practice in other countries is not to have minimum height or weight requirements. The training programmes are then adjusted in terms of the weights carried and people carrying below certain levels do not participate in various exercises. In Ireland men and women are expected to perform equal duties and carry equal weights. However, I am not an expert on this area.
Mr. M. Smith: The argument in that area is slightly different. A number of female applicants were just short of the line and I considered that there could not be a huge difference between five foot five inches and five foot four inches in height in that context. Rightly or wrongly, I discriminated in favour of the ladies.
Mr. Stanton: Has the Minister taken any measures to make it easier for applicants to the FCA who are working or attending college to avail of medical examinations at night rather than during the day? Have the people who failed audiometric tests been offered an opportunity to be retested?
Regarding the Deputy's second question, the alarming failure rate in the southern command last year disturbed me greatly. However, I am happy a re-examination of all the applicants who failed was allowed and my recollection is that 63 passed and nine failed. This made the statistics regarding successful medical examinations in the audiometric area in the southern command equivalent to those in the rest of the country. I am glad people in Tipperary and Cork are able to hear as well as those in other parts of Ireland.
Mr. Timmins: I disagree with the Minister regarding the height assessment. The Minister's recollection of the figures regarding the re-examinations in the southern command shows a powerful recall ability, but I raised this matter on the Adjournment a year ago – unfortunately the Minister was unable to attend the debate – and I have evidence from research carried out that—
Mr. Timmins: Research carried out in the University of Limerick shows there is no correlation between height and the ability to carry certain weights. The Minister said he discriminated positively in favour of females. However, I must disagree because the differentiation in the average height between males and females is greater than one inch. Therefore, a greater percentage of females are excluded from applying for membership of the Defence Forces on the basis of the current height requirement. Will the Minister consider reducing the female height requirement by a further inch?
Mr. M. Smith: We had this argument previously. It has been said that I am excluding females from contributing to the Defence Forces, but the Deputy's party presided over a situation where many more of them were excluded because the height requirement was five feet five inches. I am prepared to re-examine the matter. As I said to Deputy Dukes, I am not an expert in this field and I do not know the right answers in relation to height and the ability to carry weights.
However, in my playing days a person who was five foot three or four inches tall injured me as much as somebody who was six feet tall when they hit me at 30 miles an hour. I will undertake to re-examine the area and consider whether further changes can be made. I do not pretend to be an expert on this area, but my advice is based on sound military and medical experience.
Ms Fitzgerald: No, but there is an issue of equity in the height requirements. I congratulate the Minister on the changes he has already introduced, but he is in a position to make further changes. The training schedules should be adapted to facilitate these changes.
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