Wednesday, 27 February 2019
Defence Matters: Statements
Albert Einstein is attributed with defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Today I will do something over again that I have done scores of times previously. I was hoping the Minister of State would rescue my sanity by providing us with a different outcome.
Since becoming a Member of the Oireachtas almost five years ago, I have referred to the Defence Forces on 324 occasions. On a number of these occasions, I have thanked them for the great work they have done in times of difficulty, such as the support they gave us while we were helping victims of flooding or snow. On other occasions I commended them on their fantastic peacekeeping work overseas.
However, on the vast majority of those occasions it was to raise some aspect of the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces. Whether it was parliamentary questions, Dáil debates, committee debates, Seanad debates, Order of Business, Commencement Matters, statements such as today, or even letters to the Minister of State or his Department, I seem to be asking the same basic questions. I have been asking for movement on the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces. The wages of many ranks are poor and the hours of work are often much longer than those specified in the working time directive. I have been calling for an increase in the military service allowance, which is payable to all Defence Forces personnel, but which would not have a knock-on effect on the remainder of the public service.
I have been raising issues about recruitment, retention and recommissioning. Every time I raise these issues, I get the same result: an answer written, with respect, by civil servants and designed to concede nothing. They reheat the same speech over and over again, referring to the White Paper, which, I remind the Minister of State, is now more than four years old. They make vague promises that there may be some reward over the rainbow of the Public Service Pay Commission. Like the rainbow, the end of the pay commission seems to get ever further away.
There have been promises that a sub-committee of the conciliation council would examine working hours but many months later, the Department has still not produced the terms of reference. We have got a vague statement about the pride and esteem in which we hold these brave men and women. However, esteem will not pay anybody's electricity bill and it is not possible to do the weekly shopping with a pocketful of pride.With a family background in military service and having grown up looking over the parade ground at Custume Barracks, I have a particular grá for those who serve our country and its flag in the Army, Naval Service, Air Corps, Reserve Defence Force or Civil Defence. They provide a diverse range of specialist capabilities across all service branches to support citizens and the State in security and crisis situations. Their professionalism and dedication in the face of demanding challenges is unique to military service and should be acknowledged by the Government. I take no pleasure in complaining to the Minister of State here today. My comments are not intended to be personal. However, the Department has given up on these fine men and women and it is the reason many of them are now leaving the Defence Forces. We must ensure that military service is an attractive career option for young men and women. Currently, enlisted recruits are among the lowest paid public employees and the fact that many must rely on family income supplement and other State supports speaks for itself. Unlike other public servants, they cannot and will not strike and we should not use that fact to treat them less favourably than other public servants.
As we move towards the centenary of the establishment of the National Army in 1922, we must put in place the structures and funding to ensure Óglaigh na hÉireann is motivated and resourced to commence its second century ready to meet the needs of a changing Ireland. Throughout the history of the State, we have seen many occasions on which the Defence Forces have refused to give up. I refuse to give up on them. I will keep going. I will keep doing the same thing over and over and I will continue to raise these issues until we get a different result. If only to give himself some peace from my pestering, I ask the Minister of State to please offer the House some different outcome. Can he tell us anything positive that has changed since the last time we had statements in the House? If he could, it would help his sanity and mine. More importantly, it would finally demonstrate that we support the Army founded by our party's predecessors. It would be the first step towards providing our personnel with the recognition and absolute respect they deserve.