Thursday, 11 July 2019
Public Service Pay Commission Report on the Permanent Defence Force: Statements (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. I have read the report and it would be churlish of me not to welcome the package. However, as has already been mentioned, the package can only be judged in the context of the géarchéim or the emergency on the ground. This certainly was not a proactive action by the Government and I am struck by the Minister of State's statement that there are no quick fixes to the current challenges. I would not be looking for a fix but rather recognition of the Defence Forces as an essential part of our democracy. These forces keep the peace at home and abroad, and in that context to say there are no quick fixes is insulting. This is the third report of the Public Service Pay Commission and way back in May 2017, it openly recognised there was a problem with recruitment and retention. That problem has worsened.
The package of €10 million is welcome but RACO put this in perspective by saying that the pay rise is worth approximately 96 cent gross per day for a private soldier. I can only go on what I am being told and what I read. It is €1.30 for an officer and approximately €1.70 for a non-commissioned officer. RACO argues that there is a widespread feeling of disappointment and so on. The foreword of the report by the chairman, Mr. Kevin Duffy, states:
A career in the [Permanent Defence Force] is not comparable with that of any civilian occupation. It is well established that there are special disadvantages associated with military life. They include unsocial hours of duty, prolonged periods of separation from family, exposure to danger and restrictions associated with military discipline. It is clear from the research undertaken in the preparation of this Report that those who join the [Permanent Defence Force] do so for a variety of reasons, but most are motivated by a desire to serve their country, which they do with pride and dedication.
That is the chairman of the commission and I will come back to those details.
A submission from Óglaigh na hÉireann points out that Ireland ranks as the fourth-highest country in Europe with respect to national level of trust in its armed forces, with a score of 85%.
The Defence Forces also have the highest average trust score, which is important because, on every level, the people of this country have lost trust in the banking and political systems, the medical profession, consultants and so on. The Defence Forces are being pushed to the edge and they have the highest average trust score of all the public services surveyed with a consistent score of 82%, yet they continue to be the lowest paid public sector body.
The public service stability agreement restored allowances to many others, including gardaí, prison officers and firefighters, but not to the Defence Forces. We know, from parliamentary questions, that a substantial number of members of the Defence Forces rely on social welfare to survive and some of them are sleeping in their cars. That is the background to this €10 million package.
Page 17 of the report shows that the estimated pay bill for the Permanent Defence Force this year is €408 million, which accounts for just over 2.5% of the total public service pay bill. The members of one of the remaining organisations in which the public has utter trust are paid the least and treated with the least respect and dignity. I welcome the package but it is unacceptable for the Minister of State to tell us there are no quick fixes.
The body of the report is divided into the Army, navy and Air Corps. The figures are stark and there is no need to exaggerate them in any way. They point out that the Army is the largest component of the Permanent Defence Force and explain how it is divided and so on. It has an establishment of 7,591 and a whole-time strength of 7,243. There was a shortfall of 85 in 2013 and that has worsened. The Minister of State has told us there are no quick fixes but that shortfall was in 2013 and we are now in 2019. In 2018, there was a shortfall of 276. While the Army is experiencing a proportionately lower number of vacancies than applies elsewhere, there is a wide variation within that. The strength of non-commissioned officers, NCOs, remained consistently below establishment.
In the report's conclusions, we learn there is a shortfall of 348, which is 4.5%, and where existing enlisted personnel are upskilled to fill technical vacancies elsewhere, which is a positive, this creates general consequential vacancies that must be backfilled. Evidence presented to the commission indicates that the ranks of captain, sergeant and corporal have been consistently below establishment across the Permanent Defence Force generally, with a strength of 77%, 87% and 88% at the end of 2018.
I refer to the navy and Air Corps. We have commitments under permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, which we joined without much discussion some years ago, notwithstanding the fact that we begged the Government for a proper discussion about it. It is interesting that the Minister of State outlined the minutiae of the €10 million now allocated to the Defence Forces but there are none to explain what it means to be a part of PESCO. We know there is a commitment to increase our spending on defence from 0.3% of GDP, €960 million per year, to 2%. We are talking about Monopoly money here. The Government has not given the detail of it but, from what I can figure out, that amounts to €2 billion overall, to which we will contribute our percentage. There is a European Defence Fund of €13 billion into which we will also put millions of euro. We do not have the minutiae of any of that but we have the minutiae of this €10 million.
It is worth examining the section of the report on the Air Corps because it makes for fascinating reading. The establishment of the Air Corps remained at 887 at the end of 2018, a shortfall of 18.3%. There is an acute challenge in retaining flying officers. I could go on but my time is limited so I am just picking out the kernel of the issues fleshed out in detail by the commission. It has been said that the hands of the commission were tied and I agree. It was not allowed to consider core pay. It was allowed to fiddle at the edges, as it were, and make recommendations within its terms of reference.
The White Paper on Defence confirmed the establishment of the Naval Service at 1,094. In 2018, the strength was 989, a shortfall of 105, which is 9.6%. The Naval Service has operated at below establishment since 2016 with a shortfall of 9.6% and so on.
One can be blinded with figures and it is important to read and understand the report before drawing out the message. It is a tiring time of day, we are all tired and looking forward to going home, but we must stand up and use our voices for those who are restrained because of the jobs they have. These people are dependent on social welfare. Our Defence Forces have no problem with money when it comes to warmongering and peace enforcement - a lovely twisting of language - yet when it comes to looking after our own men and women at home, upon whom we are dependent to defence us, we hide behind language.
I will ask for no more comments from the Minister of State today. I ask him to go back and read the report and take on board the crisis that is there. I welcome that there is an implementation body. There is an absence of dates and times within which the recommendations must be implemented. There is no hope that our Defence Forces will be seen as an essential part of our democracy and given the proper remuneration so they do not have to beg us to stand up, they do not have to sleep in their cars and depend on social welfare.