Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Defence Matters: Statements
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The issues facing the Defence Forces are very serious and long overdue to be resolved satisfactorily for the men and women who serve in them. It is clear from the recent report by the Public Service Pay Commission that the Defence Forces will have to wait - for how long, no one knows - for the issue of core pay and allowances to be comprehensively and satisfactorily resolved. Indeed, the commission stated that its remit prohibited it from considering the issue of core pay. Why was this allowed to happen? Why is the Government dithering at a time when it needs to be responding urgently?
As a consequence of the failure by the Government to respond to the long-standing issues affecting personnel, the Defence Forces are haemorrhaging staff in significant numbers. Much of the issue centres on the fact that the Defence Forces have little or no collective bargaining and, currently, they are prohibited from joining or affiliating with a trade union and cannot strike.Sinn Féin has proposed legislation that would provide for the collective bargaining rights of the Defence Forces personnel and gardaí. The European Committee on Social Rights upheld a case taken by PDFORRA, which is representative of ordinary rank-and-file membership, for greater collective bargaining rights for Defence Forces members. It also stated that the prohibition against strike action was proportionate. There is something in that for the Minister.
The Government’s recent response falls short of what Sinn Féin has called for and I note that PDFORRA has asked for clarity on when it will it have collective bargaining rights. It is not good enough for the Government to say that it will look at the Defence Forces being affiliated to ICTU. This falls far short of what is required.
There is more evidence of dithering by the Government when it comes to ending the use of Lariam for personnel. Despite the fact that the Dáil passed a motion two years ago calling for it not to be used, we find that those Defence Forces personnel on an EU training mission in Mali are being issued with it. It is completely unacceptable that the health and well-being of the Defence Forces is treated in this offhand manner. It is interesting, however, that there appears to be lots of energy and action when it comes to risking the neutrality of the State and tiptoeing into an EU army. How else are we to understand the decision by the Dáil, which Sinn Féin opposed, when it agreed that the Defence Forces should participate in a German-led battle group? I remind the Government of what its former Minister for Defence, Deputy Seán Barrett, said at the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence earlier this year:
I ask that we revert back to what we were the best at, namely, peacekeeping ... Battle groups are not peacekeepers ... Since when do peacekeepers become involved in battle groups? With the greatest respect, we are losing our way here.