Tuesday, 12 October 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
30. Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence his proposals to increase the Army’s ranger unit; if this will be accompanied by a review of its weaponry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24270/04]
There is an existing policy of ongoing recruitment to the Army ranger wing. Selection courses are held periodically and successful candidates are then taken into the Army ranger wing. A planned selection course is in progress. It is not known at this time how many personnel are likely to be successful on this course. The military authorities advise that the number of personnel serving in the Army ranger wing is less than 75. For security reasons it is not the policy to disclose the type of equipment available to the ranger wing.
Mr. McGinley: I was under the impression that the strength of the Army ranger wing was approximately 100 and I am surprised to hear it is as low as 75. I believe there was some intention to increase the number of personnel to 120. Does the Minister agree that if the country was under attack, the ranger wing would be the first line of defence against terrorists? Are there plans to increase the number of personnel from 75, which is very low? Are those personnel who are currently in training additional to the 75?
Mr. O’Dea: Those personnel being trained at present are to maintain the complement of 75 and are not extra personnel. I will discuss the matter of possible increases in the numbers serving in the ranger unit with the military authorities. To my knowledge there are no plans at present to increase the numbers above 75 personnel. I will discuss Deputy McGinley’s concerns with the appropriate military authorities. If it is necessary to make changes in that regard, I will present proposals to the Government.
Mr. Gormley: I understood the Defence Forces had been lobbying for an increase in the numbers to 120. Is the unit specifically trained to deal with a siege such as happened in Beslan? As well as a review of the number of personnel in the unit, will the Minister also review the equipment supplied? In reference to an earlier question, would the ranger unit be part of the EU headline goal contingents which the Irish Government is pledging to assist?
Mr. O’Dea: In answer to Deputy Gormley’s questions, I do not know if the military authorities are lobbying for an increase in the number of personnel; they have not lobbied me as yet but I have only been in the Department for ten days and perhaps it will happen down the road.
The ranger unit is specifically trained to deal with a siege. Its level of training is very high and its personnel are very well equipped. I will discuss the question of equipment with the military authorities when I am discussing the size of the unit, as suggested by Deputy Gormley, because that is a logical decision.
Mr. Stanton: Is it true that the ranger wing operates overseas and is the Minister satisfied that there are sufficient numbers of its personnel present in the State to cope with any emergency that might arise?
Mr. O’Dea: I forgot to answer Deputy Gormley’s other question about whether members of the ranger wing can be part of the EU headline force. My understanding is that it can include members of the ranger wing. Deployment abroad of members of the Army ranger wing and the consequent size of the force remaining in this country are under review at all times. The Government will ensure that there are sufficient personnel in the country to deal with any emergency or contingency that may arise.
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