Reserve members of Defence Forces to be allowed to serve overseas for first time

Minister removes restriction as membership down 60 per cent on 4,000 target

There are 8,500 people in the Defence Forces, 1,000 below the established figure, SF told the Dáil. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

There are 8,500 people in the Defence Forces, 1,000 below the established figure, SF told the Dáil. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

Reserve members of the Defence Forces will for the first time be allowed to serve on overseas missions where there is a shortage of particular skills and expertise, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has told the Dáil.

Reservists have up to now been prohibited from serving overseas but Mr Coveney made a pledge to remove the restriction following appeals from TDs.

Membership of the Reserve Defence Forces is down some 60 per cent on its optimum target of 4,000 personnel.

The Minister expressed confidence that the move would “significantly widen the opportunities for members of the Reserve Defence Force”.

Amending the 1954 Defence Act, he said that a member of the Reserve Defence Force may “on a voluntary basis, be deployed on military service” where there is a “particular deficiency in skills and expertise in the Permanent Defence Force”.

He added that any such deployment could only take place where a reservist has consented and that consent will include “the nature and duration of military service that he or she is prepared to render”.

The Commission on the Defence Forces is reviewing the role of the reserves including the issue of deploying reservists with special skill sets on overseas missions.

But Mr Coveney said the change does not “preclude the Commission from examining comprehensively the role of the Reserve Defence Force, nor do they prejudice any possible recommendations from the Commission”.

The Minister was speaking as the Dáil debated the Defence (Amendment) Bill, technical legislation

Mr Coveney said he had given a commitment to Independent TD and former member of the Defence Forces Cathal Berry and others, that he would deal with the restrictions, adding that they had “taken quite a lot of legal advice to make sure we do it properly”.

He added that the Government would look at employment protections for reservists serving overseas but this was a matter for another Minister.

If they have a full-time job somewhere else “there should be an understanding with his or her employer that he or she could serve their country as a reservist, at home or overseas”.

Sinn Féin spokesman John Brady welcomed the move but pointed out that the Permanent Defence Force “is well below the established figure of 9,500, with membership currently in the region of 8,500”.

The situation was even worse for the Reserve Defence Force. “The established figure is 4,169 but there is a 60 per cent shortfall. There is a huge gap that needs to be filled and I hope this important legislation will go some of the way to addressing it.”

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae welcomed the change and paid tribute to the “excellent reputation our Defence Forces have had overseas going back decades and the respectability that they and the Irish flag carry when they go abroad on peacekeeping missions”.

The Kerry TD highlighted the numbers of personnel leaving the Defence Forces because of low pay and remuneration and said that “this is an issue that must be addressed”.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Howlin said the issue of deploying reserve personnel and employment protection could not be separated and should be dealt with together.

“In enacting this legislation, we are providing for something that really cannot be achieved until those other steps are taken.”

He also asked if the Government is considering a recruitment driver for reserve personnel with “bespoke skill sets” either for domestic duties on foreign missions.