Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Defence Matters: Statements
I welcome the Minister of State and am grateful to Members for facilitating me. I do not intend to speak for long. This comes in the overall context of what could be classed as wasted recovery.When one hears the Taoiseach, who is the actual Minister for Defence, taking every opportunity at Fine Gael events to announce his intention to cut taxes to the tune of €3 billion or so - €600 million a year over the coming years - while the best our Defence Forces can get is €10 million, it really sticks in the craw. We are proud of our Defence Forces and our military personnel. We know what they do; they protect people and save lives. We are all proud to see the work they do across the world. Having served in government with Fine Gael, it is remarkable to hear members of that party bellyaching about allowances. Those individuals completely misunderstand the nature of public service. When we went into government together, we had a five-a-side a club which included the current Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. He railed against things such as allowances in the public service. Fine Gael is aided and abetted by people in the media who belittle the type of arrangements in place in the public service for people who do difficult work. The idea was to get rid of all of these allowances because they make no sense. What the Minister of State has done here is a classic "Bertieism". He has gone back to the idea of allowances rather than core pay in order to fix an immediate problem.
A sentence in the Minister of State's script jumped out at me, namely, "Given the unique and demanding nature of military life, there is understandably a high level of turnover among Defence Forces personnel." There is a high level of turnover among Defence Forces personnel because the pay is so poor. The suggestion is that it is down to the unique and demanding nature of military life and that if the pay was better, the issue of retention would not be as great. This is a plaster over a very serious issue in respect of which people contact us all the time. They cannot do it themselves. We have to accept that this is the reason they do not get fair play. They cannot do it themselves because they are not entitled to unionise. As a result, their partners and spouses make contact with us, often in an emotional state, and ask us to do something to restore pay and provide decent wages. Those who contact me are generally, though not always, speaking for their husbands. They want the recovery that is spoken about to be brought into their lives.
The Minister of State has found a sticking plaster to cover his immediate problem. In the context of the €600 million his Government is willing to throw at those who earn higher incomes over each of the next three years, this really does stick in the craw. This attack on public service and public servants over a long period by people in the Minister of State's party, aided and abetted by people in the media, has to stop. He is using this complete misunderstanding of allowances and what they are for to get himself out of this particular hole. This issue comes down to pay, conditions, and decency and dignity at work. It is not good enough to stand shoulder to shoulder in saying how proud we are of our Defence Forces and military personnel if we are not willing to pay them. We all know the reason they do not get fair play is that they do not have the capacity to raise their own voices in trade union negotiations. I expect these measures to be accepted in the short term but it is absolutely no substitute for the restoration of pay as a proper and dignified recognition of the worth of the work of the brave men and women who wear our colours all over the world.