Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
John Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
What we have witnessed in the budget is an attempt to pay lip service to the effort that is required to address the single biggest issue affecting the Defence Forces, that is, the retention of personnel, many of whom have been subjected to intensive and expensive training programmes to high levels of skill. The loss of even one of these skilled personnel can have a significant effect. Witness the recent inability of the LÉ Eithneto conduct a patrol due to the illness of one single communications officer. Amid the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, when we will rightly applaud the service, sacrifice and selflessness of our front-line heroes, let us not forget that the rank and file of our Defence Forces will be on that front line, primed, ready and willing, like all our front-line staff, to serve in the interests of the citizens of the State.
The Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, has previously indicated in the House that he is open-minded on the issue of association with ICTU. I ask and encourage him to proceed to lay the groundwork for that to occur and to offer the members of our Defence Forces a meaningful gesture to show that gratitude can mean more than platitude. The pay and allowances outlined in Tuesday's budget were scheduled increases under existing agreements. While I welcome the extension and increase of the seagoing naval personnel tax credit from €1,270 to €1,500, this goes nowhere near the need that must be met in order to retain personnel.
Although the extra funding for capital spending is inadequate to meet the totality of the needs of the Defence Forces, I welcome the increase in capital spending. It is fair to say there are some types of military equipment more in need of repair and replacement than others. The citizens of this country have enough to cope with at the minute without having to dodge falling helicopter doors. We are left with the inescapable feeling in the aftermath of this budget that the Government concerns itself more with the durability of military equipment than with the welfare of the men and women who make up the ranks of the Defence Forces.
Again the Government has completely failed to live up to its responsibilities to members of the Defence Forces on the issue of exposure to dangerous chemicals, including Lariam. The continuing failure of the Department to furnish former members of the Defence Forces with documentation relating to the issue, which it has been ordered to do by the courts, raises serious questions. I put the Minister for Defence on notice that I will make sure that this issue is not allowed to be swept under the carpet.
I welcome the additional €30 million being allocated in the budget to overseas development aid. The work to bring our ODA budget towards the target of 0.7% of gross national income by 2030 must continue and that target must be met. A combination of Covid-19, the continuing effects of climate change and political instability has disproportionately impacted many poorer nations. Ireland's upcoming role on the UN Security Council behoves our nation to provide an example of moral leadership in the world. The Government must back its financial commitment to ODA with the kind of political action the global stage demands of it.
The Government must recognise the State of Palestine.
I call on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, to outline the detail of how he will proceed to utilise the extra funding he has received in the budget to fulfil Ireland's moral obligation to offer assistance to the victims of the fire at the Moria refugee camp. Up until this point we have failed to live up to our obligations and commitments, particularly in bringing over unaccompanied minors. In 2015, we committed to bring over 36 unaccompanied minors and to date we have brought over a mere nine. This funding is therefore welcome but, more important, it must be spent to ensure that those vulnerable citizens who are caught in refugee camps like Moria are brought here, something to which we have already committed.