Friday, 27 March 2020
An Bille um Bearta Éigeandála ar mhaithe le Leas an Phobail (Covid-19) 2020: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha - Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
I am glad the Minister is in the House. Amendment No. 47 has been ruled out of order because it would impose a cost on the Exchequer but there are very simple things that need to be done to put the Defence Forces on par with the HSE. The HSE has been able to suspend abatement in pensions. It has been able to pay student nurses a full wage. Cadets, recruits and apprentices, who comprise a very small group, are at the front line. Our cadets are handling the tracing calls for the HSE. It is extremely onerous and tough having to ring people to tell them they may have been in contact with somebody with Covid-19 and may be infected and to listen to the horror stories coming back.These are young people. We ask that the military service allowance be paid to those people. They are in front-line, full duty work at this point, the same as any other soldier, naval personnel or anybody in the Air Corps. They are doing full duty. The military service allowance must be paid to them for no other reason than equality with all other sectors in the economy. Pension abatement has been waived within the HSE and it should be waived for members of the Defence Forces returning. With regard to the period of time that people are expected to return for, we cannot tie them to six months or three years. These are people who have left the Defence Forces and who have good civilian jobs. They are currently available to the State because of the situation that we find ourselves in and many will be happy to return, but we must give them an assurance of two things. One is that they can leave without any cost to themselves when the economy changes or the virus is beaten, and the second is that their jobs will be protected. The Government did that for members of the Reserve Defence Force last night. We need to do it for members of the Permanent Defence Force too. The buck stops at the Minister's desk. I ask the Minister to treat the Defence Forces with the same degree of respect that we have given to the health service. Last night, we stood and applauded all front-line workers. We did the same thing again today in this House. I ask that we deal with the Defence Forces with the same degree of respect. Respect is measured by how we treat them. If we treat them the same way that we treat everybody else, I think that is fair.