Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 617 - Search and rescue service [6782/08].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 617 - Search and rescue service [6782/08]. (19 Feb 2008)

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617. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if it is intended to increase the strength of coastal surveillance and defence with particular reference to the need for increased air and sea rescue services and coastal surveillance to combat drug trafficking. [6782/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea): The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force, comprising 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army.

The strength of the Permanent Defence Force on 31 December 2007, as advised by the military authorities, was 10,434. This comprises 8,512 in the Army, 845 in the Air Corps and 1,077 in the Naval Service. It is intended to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at a level required to meet military needs and as set out in the White Paper i.e. 10,500 Permanent Defence Force all ranks. The Government remains fully committed to the policy of ongoing recruitment to ensure that an overall PDF strength of 10,500 is maintained.

The Naval Service provides the maritime element of the Defence Forces and has a general responsibility to meet contingent and actual maritime defence requirements. The Naval Service operates eight general purpose patrol ships. All eight ships are involved in coastal and offshore patrolling and surveillance for the State in that part of the seas where State jurisdiction applies. The Naval Service provides a fishery protection service in accordance with the State’s obligations as a member of the European Union. The Service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of the Exclusive Fishery Limits. At present, fishery protection activity accounts for roughly 90% of all Naval Service patrol time. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels may be deployed to other duties such as aid to the civil power, search and rescue, drug interdiction operations and assistance with pollution control. The current Exclusive Fishery Limits extend to 200 miles offshore and cover an area of 132,000 nautical square miles. The Naval Service currently patrols the entire 200 mile limit and periodically patrols beyond these limits to protect specific fisheries. These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed to all areas of Irish waters as necessary. The number of Patrol Vessels on patrol in Irish waters at any one time varies between three and seven. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone at any one time. Naval Service patrols are complemented by assistance provided by the Air Corps. The Air Corps Maritime Squadron carries out aerial surveillance of territorial waters using the two CASA maritime patrol aircraft.

The Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of maritime Search and Rescue services within the Irish Search and Rescue region. In accordance with the roles assigned to them by Government in the White Paper on Defence, the Defence Forces are committed to providing support to the civil authorities including in relation to Search and Rescue. In this regard, the Naval Service and Air Corps provide support to the Coast Guard as the need arises and within their available capability.

Responsibility for the prevention of drug trafficking rests primarily with An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners. However, the White Paper on Defence provides for a security role for the Naval Service and the Air Corps to assist and support the civil authorities in this important work. Government measures to improve law enforcement in relation to drugs, including the establishment in 1993 of a Joint Task Force involving An Garda Síochána, the Customs Service and the Naval Service, have helped to maximise the effective use of Naval Service resources in combating drug trafficking. The Air Corps provide air support and, on occasion, carry the Customs National Drugs Team in an observational capacity for the purpose of monitoring vessels suspected of drug trafficking and other illegal activities. There is close co-operation between the civil authorities and the Naval Service and the Air Corps in discharging this important mission. I am satisfied that the Permanent Defence Force is fully resourced to meet all its operational requirements.

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