Thursday, 11 July 2019
Public Service Pay Commission Report on the Permanent Defence Force: Statements (Resumed)
It is deeply ironic but maybe typical of Fine Gael that this report has been published at a time when it pushes ever harder to abandon Ireland's traditional military neutrality and deploy Irish troops in extremely dangerous missions, such as that in Mali, or push us into greater involvement with the emerging European army and its relationship with NATO. Mali is effectively a French colonial project in a very dangerous and volatile area. There is an ambition in Fine Gael to break our neutrality and put our troops in danger but our Defence Forces are beginning to disintegrate. That is ironic as the Government does not respect the personnel and skills involved with the Defence Forces. Fine Gael has all the political ambition but none of the respect for the Defence Forces, which are really in a sorry state.
The report confirms this sorry state. I am sure the small increases in the allowances will be welcomed but as many people have said, they are absolutely paltry against a background of the Defence Forces being on the lowest rung of a public sector that has been hammered by austerity and where people are still getting paid less than they were in 2008. Is it not incredible that public sector workers in general are still being paid less than they were 11 years ago and the Defence Forces are on the bottom rung of that ladder? We have seen consequences in the health service, where there is an unprecedented crisis in recruitment, retention and all the impact this has on services. It is exactly the same scenario of disintegration.
There are nine vessels in the Naval Service and three are fully operational. There are two that will not be operational for the foreseeable future and others will only be semi-operational. We have six specialist divers in the Naval Service and we are supposed to have a complement of 29. It is quite extraordinary. There is a pilot shortage of 30% and if we include senior officers, this goes to 50%, and we are now outsourcing to private companies medical emergency flights. As has been said, we are well below the complement numbers recommended for the Defence Forces generally and they continue to spiral down. It is incredible that according to the commission's report, 60% of enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers have indicated they plan to leave the Defence Forces in the next two years, with 57% of officers in specialist positions also saying they plan to leave. It is absolutely extraordinary.
Senator Craughwell pointed out to me an issue with cybersecurity. The Government loves to talk about this as the new front line in defence and security, and there is much chatter about our involvement with it in Europe. The Defence Forces computer incident response team was shut down a few months ago because the last person in the office purchased their discharge. It is quite incredible and I understand that operation will be outsourced, so cybersecurity for the State will be done by a private company. That is brilliant.
This is an absolute mess. As Deputy Barry has said, the only reason we even have this report and the paltry, albeit welcome, increases in allowances is because of the agitation of the wives and families of Defence Forces personnel, as well as their supporters. It also comes as a result of Defence Forces personnel being willing to speak out. It is the only action they can take if they want to achieve full pay restoration and increases in core pay that will be necessary to recruit and retain the skills and number of personnel required to have Defence Forces that are capable of carrying out their duty. The Defence Forces make extraordinary efforts to carry out their duties but they are being completely undermined by a lack of resources and respect. They are being demoralised by a Government that hammers them with austerity and does not understand the basic need to pay people enough to survive and have a proper existence.
The Defence Forces and their supporters should keep up their battle and continue the protests in order to force this Government to listen. The Government could save them all that trouble, of course, if it just got rid of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, cuts and raised core pay to a level where we could genuinely recruit and retain the people we need.