Seanad debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

3:30 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I constantly restate Ireland's policy position on neutrality and ensure that it is reflected in European policy, which respects every country's position. I will continue to do this. The Senator spoke about the new President-elect of the European Commission, Ms von der Leyen, who has recently been appointed. I know her well. She is a former defence Minister. If there is to be a European army, that will not be a matter for the Government but for the Irish people. It is provided for in the Lisbon treaty. I have constantly stated that that is provided for in the protocols to the Lisbon treaty.

In response to Senator Colm Burke, this is a suite of measures under the public service pay agreement. It is a start and it comes from an independent pay commission. I acknowledge that there was a €1.5 million increase in outstanding adjudications.

Some of the matters highlighted by Senator Ned O'Sullivan were why the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, prioritised the Defence Forces personnel to be looked at by the Public Service Pay Commission. I understand the Senator's frustration that it took so long for the report to be compiled and published but there was substantial work to do for this report. It was the same for the health sector, which was the first area to be looked at by the commission while the second was defence. I am delighted that it is complete. The Senator acknowledged the positive inputs for members of the Defence Forces. I acknowledge that we have a pathway to follow. A significant number of non-pay issues arise from the report, including the review of pay structures in the Defence Forces. This will pave the way for the next round of negotiations under the public service stability agreement, which concludes in 2020. There have been pay rises under the public service stability agreement, which concludes in 2020, of between 6.4% and 7.2%. In December, Defence Forces personnel will again receive a pay increase of 1.75%, as with all members of the public service.

Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Gallagher spoke about a number of issues that I have already covered. Senator Gallagher asked me specifically to address an issue related to ICTU. A review was carried out under the conciliation and arbitration scheme last year. I received the report in the third or fourth quarter of 2018. There was a recommendation that my Department's officials would talk to ICTU. My officials have already done that, along with Defence Forces senior management. They are in conversation with ICTU specifically about that issue. I have spoken with the representative association about this. It is an ongoing exchange between ICTU and my departmental officials.

With regard to the recommendation of increases and restoration of certain allowances, on top of the measures already provided for in the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the measures are weighed in favour of those on low pay. The increases due to date have been paid and further increases are due on 1 September 2019 and 1 January 2020. The last one will be on 1 October 2020, when the Government will negotiate a new public service stability agreement with the trade unions. By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the pay of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning less than €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-FEMPI levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction in allowances cut under FEMPI is also scheduled to happen with that agreement, as I have stated. Revised measures relating to pay scales of new entrants who joined the Defence Forces since 2011 were also introduced with effect from 1 March this year. With a combination of all of these measures, a private, 3 star, on completion of six months of basic training, will earn €28,110 per annum. That includes a military service allowance, MSA. This point on the payscale will have increased by 30% since the end of 2015. This equates to an increase of €120.39 on starting pay and MSA for a private, 3 star. I do not think that anyone here could say that this is not a significant increase. This is starting pay with MSA. There are incremental adjustments from years of service, with opportunity for additional duty-based allowances also being included on top of that.

We will move quickly to implement the recommendations in the report. This report is available on the Department's website. A high-level implementation plan for the recommendations in the report has been approved and work will commence immediately. It might have been Senator Craughwell who said that this will be left on a shelf. I assure him and all Senators that these recommendations from the Public Service Pay Commission will not sit on a shelf. There is a high level implementation group with officials from my own Department, Defence Forces personnel and senior management and officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of the Taoiseach. The group will provide a report. The increase in allowances will be implemented following confirmation of acceptance by the Defence Forces representative association.The report also makes recommendations that include the following: progress on the review of tech pay; commence a review of pay structures in the Permanent Defence Force; consider incentivised long-service agreements for certain officer and NCO ranks; review current retention initiatives; undertake a review of recruitment; and introduce a new approach to workforce planning in the Defence Forces. I think Senator Higgins mentioned the last item.


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