Thursday, 1 February 2007
Defence Forces Reserve.
Question 7: To ask the Minister for Defence if he will make provisions for retiring members of the Reserve Defence Forces to receive an honorarium in recognition of their years of voluntary service to their country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2810/07]
Question 258: To ask the Minister for Defence if he will make provisions for retiring members of the Reserve Defence Forces to receive an honorarium in recognition of their years of voluntary service to their country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3316/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 258 together.
Service in the reserve is rendered on a voluntary part-time basis. I am aware of the time and effort that its members give freely by participating in training and other activities in their own time. Their willingness to serve in a voluntary capacity and the dedication and enthusiasm they display consistently is appreciated in their local communities throughout the country and by the Government.
In recognition of their valuable service, medals and bars are issued to members of the Defence Forces as prescribed in Defence Forces regulations. Members of the Defence Forces Reserve are awarded the service medal on completing seven years satisfactory service. This recognises their service and contribution to the Defence Forces and the State. A bar is added to the medal on completing 12 years satisfactory service and a second bar on completing 21 years satisfactory service.
Members of the reserve receive payments in respect of attendance at specified courses of training or instruction or for undertaking particular authorised duties. The pay and allowances are at the same rates and under the same conditions as those of members of the Permanent Defence Force with the exception of the uniform allowance.
In addition, reserve personnel who undergo a total of seven days annual training or an aggregate of seven days training plus duties receive a week's pay at the relevant regimental rank rate as well as a tax free gratuity appropriate to their ranks. The gratuity is a measure of reimbursement on account of losses, expenses and disabilities incurred by them consequent on their obligations.
As Deputies will be aware, the White Paper set out a blueprint for a new reserve. It has a clearly defined role, an enhanced relationship with the PDF, better equipment and training and will have the opportunity to serve on overseas peace support missions. The Reserve Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan, which was formally launched in July 2004, is on schedule. My primary focus has been on meeting the challenges presented by this ambitious plan for the new reserve.
There are, therefore, no plans to change the relevant regulations to provide for an honorarium for retiring members of the reserve. The current provisions give recognition to the excellent service of such members and provide an appropriate reward, given the voluntary nature of that service.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Members of the reserve are appreciative of the seven year bar and second bar medals, but I put it to the Minister that he is referring to a voluntary service provided for a long period. People who go about their ordinary business in their communities volunteer a great deal of their time and are not in receipt of remuneration for the time spent in training, on exercises or at meetings or for the service they provide. They are the country's second line of defence.
As the period in question is long and includes the FCA, we are speaking about tens of thousands of citizens who were prepared to give up their time loyally and patriotically to provide a service. Now that there is an integrated approach to the Permanent Defence Force and the reserve, the latter's members' status has been enhanced. An honorarium or ex gratia contribution made by the State would, alongside the medals, be an appropriate token of appreciation and recognition for service provided during an extended period. We are not discussing a large sum of money, but a relatively small sum. I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision.
Strictly speaking it is incorrect to say they are not remunerated for what they do. They are not remunerated for weekly training, which they do in their spare time, but when they attend their annual training camp, if they are there for a minimum of seven days, they will be paid for the seven days at the relevant regimental rate up to a maximum of 14 days.
They are also paid when they go on specific training courses and on specific security duties.
According to the figures available to me, the Reserve Defence Force personnel may be paid for up to a maximum of 42 days in a year for attending under the headings I outlined. There are, however, exceptions to this on sanction by the Department. In 2006, 25 reservists completed an average of 50 days, with a minimum of 43 and maximum of 64 days for which they were paid.
Service in the Reserve Defence Forces is voluntary, these people are interested and giving voluntarily of their time. I am unaware of any other country where such a gratuity or redundancy payment is paid to a member of the defence forces reserve. In deference to Deputy Costello raising the issue, a case for a payment on retirement or cessation of membership of the Reserve Defence Forces has never been made to me by any of the representative organisations. If they want to make a case, that is fine, I will listen. I do not want to raise expectations unnecessarily but I will hear those who want to make a case.