Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Public Service Pay Commission Report on the Permanent Defence Force: Statements

 

2:00 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)

Last week presented a good opportunity for this Government to bring the current recruitment and retention crisis away from the cliff edge and away from the contagion that we are hearing about on a nearly daily basis. It presented an opportunity to provide hope, to provide a future and to provide certainty to the cohort of personnel who are the worst paid in the public service. The Government has maintained that status quowith a miserable increase for the members of the Permanent Defence Force. It has exploited their respect and loyalty to this State with its superficial rhetoric and its downright disregard as the hollowed-out Defence Forces structure is at breaking point. The Defence Forces are being dismantled and its personnel are demoralised.

This long awaited report has gone down like a lead balloon and it is highly unlikely to stem the ongoing exodus from the Defence Forces. Despite the Government's ongoing rhetoric about record levels of recruitment, there is an increasing gap between the White Paper target of 9,500 and the establishment strength of the Defence Forces. As of the end of May, there were 8,751 personnel and if it is taken into account that more than 500 of those were in training, we are accelerating towards the strength of the Defence Forces falling below 8,000 under the watch of the Minister of State. That is a worrying establishment strength. Record numbers are purchasing their discharge, record numbers are leaving en masse, record numbers are double and treble-jobbing to keep the lights on, there are record turnover percentages and there are record numbers who could not even cast their vote in the recent local and European elections because of the disorganisation under the Minister of State's watch. This has all crystalised to a point of crisis.

When military management made a comprehensive submission as part of the Public Service Pay Commission process, the Minister of State and his Department butchered the recommendations, which would have helped to improve the recruitment and retention crisis. The Minister of State did not show any leadership, and instead of fighting for the recommendations to be implemented, he removed them. He has spent months deflecting the recruitment and retention crisis, saying he was awaiting the report. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The irony of the commission report is that the Minister of State and his Department will still be handing millions of euros back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to be blown on the €3 billion broadband plan and the national children’s hospital. How much respect does that show to the worst paid public servants when the Government is giving them these miserly increases?

This report provides no substantive additions to current expenditure for Defence Forces personnel based on the defence Estimates, which demonstrates the disregard this Government has for their work and for their loyalty to the State. I have been told that the Air Corps, like our Naval Service, is at breaking point. Bomb disposal units, the Army Ranger Wing and many other units are working completely understaffed since 2013. The emergency aeromedical senior service pilots have not even been paid their duty allowance since 2013 on the Minister of State's watch. The report, however, provides shocking information from its own survey of Defence Forces personnel. More than 60% intend to leave in the next two years.

3 o’clock

Some 70% frequently think about leaving the PDF, while 81% of specialists think of leaving all of the time. These are damning statistics for the retention crisis. More than 84.5% are dissatisfied with pay and allowances. There has been a near doubling of turnover under the watch of the Minister of State. It highlights the drivers which are contributing to the exodus, none of which will improve with this report.

There is greater commuting pressure owing to the disastrous reorganisation implemented on the Minister of State's watch. There have been poor training and promotional opportunities on his watch, as well as high burn-out. Last week he said people would take their hand off to get this increase, but I am not sure how workers who have been given 96 cent a day before tax which will see them continue to breach the national minimum wage would be grateful for it. Again, it is spin and deflection. The Minister of State is more than happy to waltz around the Curragh camp or Haulbowline inspecting Defence Forces members or attend commissioning ceremonies, but actions speak louder than words.

I have been told that 83 members were discharged from the Defence Forces, excluding officers, in the month of June, 21 of whom were recruits. That means that we are haemorrhaging over 25% of those we have just recruited. We are on a trajectory to potentially lose over 1,000 this year, which would be Armageddon. The retention crisis is compromising the capacity and capability of the Defence Forces and the Minister of State has continued his dismissal of it in all Dáil debates. What alarmed many was what he did to Commodore Michael Malone whose letter to Defence Forces personnel gave an honest assessment of the extraordinary burden being carried. However, the Minister of State contradicted the Taoiseach and the commodore. The Taoiseach gave a very honest assessment in saying we would not be able to send ships to the Mediterranean again. That was the first indication of the manpower issues that were affecting overseas missions. The irony in the Government's pursuit of a seat on the UN Security Council is that, based on the current exodus, Ireland and the Defence Forces will not even be able to fulfil future commitments to UN-mandated missions.

Vice Admiral Mark Mallet highlighted that it was very difficult to fill management positions because of the recruitment difficulties. I have been informed that the retention crisis in the Naval Service means that, even with the existing ships and level of redeployment, the diving section is at 33% strength, while the communications operations section is at 50% strength. Commodore Malone's letter was confirmed by the Defence Forces press office. When the Minister of State was given the opportunity last week, he said no ships were tied up owing to manpower issues. He contradicted and undermined Commodore Malone. He publicly and disrespectfully sought to drag Vice Admiral Mallet into the controversy via Twitter. Instead of acknowledging the manpower issues, he sought to undermine such a senior officer. That is Trump-style fake news propaganda. The Minister of State accused media outlets of inaccurate reporting. He contradicted the Taoiseach and sought to camouflage the facts.

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