Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Defence Matters: Statements
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. When I was speaking about Defence Forces pay and conditions last week, we did not have the full detail of the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission. Now that we do, I believe that much of what myself and Senator Craughwell said last week is still relevant. I understand that some colleagues in the House are referring to myself and Senator Craughwell as a duo who only know one tune. However, I have an enormous grá for Óglaigh na hÉireann and I will continue, as best as I can, to campaign for them. Whether it is aid to the civil power, security duties, counter-terrorism, support for An Garda Síochána, rescuing refugees, engaging in ceremonial duties or supporting communities in time of need or, indeed, in peacekeeping overseas, the brave men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann provide a service that is vital to us all, and they deserve to be properly treated.
In previous contributions, I have raised issues regarding delays in promotions, long distances to travel for those affected by brigade rearrangement, pension entitlements, obligatory discharge ages, treatment for those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, implementation of the adjudicator’s findings for post-1994 soldiers and other issues, all of which are having a negative effect on morale within the Defence Forces. However, the issue which has consistently been raised is that of pay. Last week’s report does not, by any stretch of the imagination, solve all the problems. Having said that, it would be meant-spirited not to welcome the fact that progress has been made. In particular, I welcome the increase in the military service allowance, the restoration of all allowances cut in 2013 as part of the Haddington Road agreement and the restoration of premium weekend rates. Defence Forces personnel have always been heavily reliant upon allowances and I know from talking to members that this cut was particularly hard felt. Concentrating available resources first on increasing allowances rather than giving percentage increases to basic pay was wise, and is proportionately of most benefit to the enlisted members. At the PDFORRA annual conference in Castlebar last year, its general secretary, Ger Guinan, asked for exactly this. I am glad the Government has listened to his call.
I acknowledge that many sectors of the Defence Forces are currently running below their establishment figure. In particular, as has been said, we are having problems in the Naval Service and in regard to holding on to pilots and others with specialist skills in areas such as bomb disposal, operational command, marine and electrical engineering, medicine and IT. That is why I welcome the loyalty bonuses being put in place, the review of pay for those with specialist or technical skills and consideration of incentives for long service. However, I also believe we need to ensure that we do more for enlisted members and recruits. I believe that nobody wearing an Irish uniform should earn less than the living wage. I call on the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, once the current measures have been accepted and implemented, to make this their next priority. Nobody wearing an Irish uniform should have to rely on working family payments. That said, I am keen to ensure that none of the 90 or so military families currently in receipt of this allowance will lose out on this as a result of the increases announced last week. I have spoken with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and asked her to consider this issue for me. She has agreed to look at it and to come up with a solution.
The elements of this package are things for which I and others have been calling for a long time and, therefore, I welcome them. I know they are not everything that Defence Forces members had hoped for, but I would urge them to accept this much for now and work with the Government to make further improvements. In return, I would call on the Government to take the next steps in a matter of weeks, as soon as acceptance is confirmed, rather than letting it drag on into next year. Last week’s report should not be the end of the process but, rather, the first step of the next section - perhaps a smaller step than many of us wanted but a welcome step nevertheless.
Defence is the ultimate guarantee of freedom. If we truly value freedom, then we must ensure that military service is an attractive career option for men and women. We must give them a reason to stay. With just three years to go to the centenary of the establishment, by our predecessors, of the National Army in 1922, we must put in place the structures and the funding necessary to ensure that the members of Óglaigh na hÉireann are motivated and resourced and can start into their second century ready to meet the needs of a changing Ireland.