For Oral Answer on : 18/11/2021
Question Number(s): 114 Question Reference(s): 56186/21
Asked by: David Stanton T.D.
To ask the Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 373 of 15 September 2021, the efforts being made by his Department to increase the strength of the Reserve Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The White Paper on Defence is clear that there is a continued requirement to retain and develop the Reserve Defence Force (RDF). A key ongoing challenge for the RDF is to recruit and retain personnel and I am aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment.
As outlined in the previous PQ referred to, the regulatory establishment of the Army Reserve (AR) and Naval Service Reserve (NSR) is 4,069 personnel, as provided for in Defence Force Regulation CS4. The current effective strength is 1,504 personnel, as of 31 October 2021. The strength of the First Line Reserve at that date is 263 personnel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a very significant impact on Defence Forces recruitment, including to the RDF and has resulted in a reduction of most collective induction processing and training activities. The pandemic resulted in the enactment of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020 and the subsequent delays in Defence Forces applicant processing are now being addressed, including for RDF applicants.
The Military Authorities have advised that a revised Defence Forces framework for living with COVID -19 is in place and is reviewed on an ongoing basis. This revised framework, I understand, affords more scope for RDF training and induction within the parameters of Government guidelines. This of course, will be subject to continued guidance from Government on easing of restrictions.
While the Government remains committed to restoring the strength of the RDF, given the competing recruitment demands at present, where Permanent Defence Force (PDF) recruitment is and should remain a priority, it should be noted that the same personnel and resources are utilised for both PDF and RDF recruitment.
Nonetheless, RDF recruitment will also be progressed to the greatest extent possible and an additional 29 new RDF members have been inducted as at the end of October this year, with 17 inducted into the AR and 12 inducted into the NSR.
I also had the pleasure this week of attending a Commissioning Ceremony where a cohort of 29 officers were newly commissioned into the Army Reserve. These 29 personnel, men and women, received their commissions following their successful graduation from a Potential Officers Course.
Additionally, I understand that measures are currently under consideration by the military authorities with a view to streamlining elements of the induction process. The outcome of a pilot initiative in this regard is awaited and will further inform next steps.
The Independent Commission on the Defence Forces, which as the Deputy will be aware, is due to report at the end of the year and, in line with its Terms of Reference, is expected to include proposals on the role and contribution of the RDF. I very much look forward to the Report from the Commission.
The Deputy will also be aware that the Defence (Amendment) Act 2021 has now been signed into law and this will serve to update the Defence Legislation on the use of the RDF on a voluntary basis, on-island and overseas in support of the PDF. The amendments contained in the Defence (Amendment) Act do not prejudge any possible recommendations from the Commission, but will facilitate the implementation of any recommendations the Commission may make, which would, of necessity, require legislative amendments.
Finally, I wish to assure the Deputy that the Government appreciates the service of the RDF and recognises its important contribution to Ireland’s defence capability.