Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Defence Matters: Statements
I am thankful for the opportunity to appear before the House this evening to discuss matters of the Defence Forces with Members. I had requested some time to discuss the Public Service Pay Commission report of recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force following its publication last week. I will comment on the main aspects of the report and outline the ongoing efforts to address the current recruitment and retention challenges.
I very much welcome the report from the independent Public Service Pay Commission and it has been accepted by Government. The members of the commission, ably led by Kevin Duffy, have vast experience in the area of human resources and industrial relations. I thank them for the expertise and commitment they brought to this task.
The report contains a number of recommendations, including an increase of 10% in the military service allowance. This will boost the earnings of the majority of Defence Forces personnel by between €602 and €675 per annum. Another recommendation is the full restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of the security duty allowance and patrol duty allowance. By way of example, a 10% increase in patrol duty allowance equates to around €5 per patrol day. Other recommendations include a doubling of the premium rates for certain weekend duties and the reversal of the 10% cut in the overseas allowance. For a typical six-month deployment overseas this is worth an additional €1,400 tax free for enlisted personnel and between €1,700 and €1,850 tax-free for officers. A recommendation regarding the reintroduction of the retention loyalty bonus for Air Corps pilots is especially welcome in light of the retention problems facing that element of the Defence Forces. This will see significant increases to earnings for eligible flying officers. The estimated cost on a full basis of all these measures is approximately €10 million.
The report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment and conditions of service. There is also a recommendation that further progress be made on the review of technical pay grades 2 to 6, without compromising the stability of the Public Service Stability Agreement. The report has been presented to the Permanent Defence Force representative associations. The recommended increases in allowances will be implemented on confirmation of acceptance of the measures by their members.
A high-level implementation plan drafted with inputs from the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of An Taoiseach has been approved. Work will commence on the actions in this plan immediately. The plan will be implemented in two phases. This first phase focuses on implementing the recommendations in the report of the Public Service Pay Commission. The second phase will examine core pay in the Permanent Defence Force within the context of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2013-2018 and future public sector pay negotiations.
Several outstanding adjudication findings across the public service could not be implemented having regard to the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts. I have had discussions on the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. With his agreement, it is intended to prioritise the outstanding adjudications in respect of the Defence Forces and pay on a non-retrospective basis from 1 July 2019. Several effects will result from these measures. The Army ranger wing allowance will increase by approximately €50 to €200 per week. Cooks with the relevant qualifications will go from technical pay grade 2 to technical pay grade 3, which is an increase from €26.90 bringing it up to €40.42 per week. Those account holders currently not in receipt of the account holder allowance will each receive the allowance of €65.80 per week. Recruits and apprentices will no longer be charged for rations and accommodation. The current charge €43.63 per week.
As Senators are aware, the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, has initiated legal action regarding these adjudications. My officials will be discussing these matters further with PDFORRA before the payments are implemented. The increase in the allowances comes on top of the increases to core pay being applied to members of the Defence Forces in accordance with national pay agreements. The restoration of payscales and the unwinding of the FEMPI legislation are being done in an affordable and sustainable manner. The focus of these measures is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement. This will see restoration of public service payscales to pre-FEMPI levels for all those earning under €70,000 by the end of 2020. The restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI is scheduled to be restored as part of that agreement.Voted expenditure for Defence - Vote 35: Army Pensions and Vote 36: Defence - in 2019 provides for gross expenditure of just over €1 billion, an increase of €60 million on 2018 expenditure. The overall 2019 provision for pay in Vote 36 provides for full funding for the pay of a target strength of 9,500 Permanent Defence Force, PDF, personnel, as set out in the White Paper on Defence.
Given the unique and demanding nature of military life, there is understandably a high level of turnover among Defence Forces personnel. The Public Service Pay Commission identified significant retention issues in the PDF. The PDF comprises highly trained, skilled and well motivated individuals who inevitably will be sought after and attracted to civilian employment, especially in a buoyant labour market. The loss of key personnel places additional pressure on, and limits the capacity of, the PDF in undertaking the crucial role that it performs in service to the State. The high level implementation plan includes a commitment to initiate a review of current retention strategies taking into account the individual needs of each service and minority group members. This will build on existing work and be consolidated into the ongoing programme of HR development within the Defence Forces, part of which is aimed at ensuring that there is an appropriate work-life balance, career development opportunities and educational supports. The Government is committed to ensuring that the provisions of the working time directive are applied to the Defence Forces. The Department of Defence civil and military personnel are in discussions with the Permanent Defence Force representative associations regarding the application of the directive in the Defence Forces.
The Permanent Defence Force continues to offer excellent career opportunities for serving personnel and for new entrants. There are ongoing opportunities to undertake career development courses and the Defence Forces have made significant inroads in ensuring that major courses acquire external accreditation. There are significant opportunities for career progression and development within the Defence Forces and there were over 800 promotions in the PDF in 2018. Each promotion brings extra responsibility but also brings a pay rise. Earlier this year, 24 enlisted personnel completed a potential officers course and were commissioned as officers for the first time in over 12 years. Under my direction, further potential officers courses will be undertaken in 2021 and 2024.
The Defence Forces actively encourage and support personnel to undertake further education and training as well as to participate in physical development and sport. Members of the Defence Forces also have opportunities for diverse service, including opportunities to serve overseas. Members of the Defence Forces have full access to Defence Forces medical officers or contracted medical services. In addition, members of the Permanent Defence Force do not pay statutory public hospital charges for attendance at accident and emergency services and in patient admittance. Furthermore, commissioned officers may be referred for outpatient and inpatient treatment through private or semi-private care in civilian hospitals or private consultants' rooms, where it is deemed necessary. The provision of this range of benefits is unique in the public and indeed the private sectors and, due to changes in the Finance Act 2019, these benefits are not subject to benefit-in-kind taxation.
These are just some examples of the attractiveness of a career in the Defence Forces. While we acknowledge that there are retention issues, there are many in the Defence Forces who choose to stay and indeed want to continue to serve and further their career. In this regard, PDFORRA is seeking for the extension of contracts of enlisted personnel. RACO is looking for all officers to be allowed serve until at least age 63. The high level implementation plan provides for consideration of options to tackle barriers to extended participation in the PDF, including the possibility of extending retirement ages for members.
There is ongoing recruitment at both enlisted and officer ranks. In an effort to continually improve the recruitment process, a new recruitment model has been instigated which allows candidates to apply for general service recruitment on a continuous basis throughout the year. This new approach, aimed at both Army and Naval Service general service recruits, will maximise the Defence Forces training capacity, and will facilitate those making career decisions at any time of the year. The 2019 competition for cadetships in the Defence Forces was launched in April of this year and the assessment process for applicants, including interviews, is under way. An aircraft apprentice technician competition was launched earlier this month. There is direct entry provision for those with professional qualifications, which is utilised for the recruitment of medical officers and engineers. A working group has been established to examine the scope for greater use of such direct entry recruitment for certain specialist positions.
In addition to traditional recruitment, a range of alternative recruitment approaches are being developed, aimed at addressing vacancies in specialist areas. A scheme has been introduced which permits former officers with specialist skills to re-enter the Permanent Defence Force and arrangements are in train to provide a similar scheme for former enlisted personnel. The Public Service Pay Commission has recommended that recruitment methods should be further reviewed and I look forward to the inputs of external expertise in this regard.
There are no quick fixes to the current challenges and difficulties facing the Defence Forces, which are also being experienced by other military organisations internationally. The recommendations in the report will be quickly actioned, with increases in allowances implemented following confirmation of acceptance by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations.
Before I conclude, I want to discuss the issue regarding the Naval Service. I and the Government have acknowledged the staffing and personnel issues that currently impact on the Naval Service operations. The Naval Service fleet is managed in such a way as to ensure maximum availability to meet operational requirements. Last Friday, I received a full briefing from military management including senior Naval Service personnel about the ongoing issues in the Naval Service, including the movement of personnel from ships undertaking maintenance periods. This is a prudent step to take and I was told at the briefing that it has been reconfirmed since by the Defence Forces that the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orlaare in dock for planned maintenance and repair. This includes a period of dry dock. By placing both ships in an operational reserve capacity, the flag officer has given the Naval Service the ability to move personnel from these vessels to other ships. At no stage did I or the Government ever deny the staffing issues in the Naval Service. These issues are being addressed as a priority. Two vessels, the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orla, are docked for planned maintenance. This position was once again confirmed by the Defence Forces last night. A meeting of the joint civil and military team will take place this week to review the issues at hand and plan ahead for the autumn to ensure that we maximise operational outputs. This review will include consideration of a number of operational ships. As we deal with these issues, the safety of serving personnel must be the number one priority. I expect that a full range of options will be considered and it is clear that difficult decisions will have to be made. I am happy to explain the current status of the naval fleet. The LÉ Róisín is going through a mid-life refit, while the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orlaare going through planned maintenance and their crews will be deployed pending the return to service of both vessels. This will be kept under constant review. The three ships will be held in operational reserve or in maintenance. The remaining six vessels are fully operational. I reiterate that I and the Government are fully mindful of the staffing and personnel issues that are facing the Naval Service. That is why I have directed my officials and military management and senior naval officers to meet on Friday to fully explore all options to address the challenge in the Naval Service. My focus is on returning the Naval Service to full capacity as soon as possible.
I wish to conclude by thanking the civil and military staff of the Department of Defence who provided the data and material required by the Public Service Pay Commission to assist in its analysis. I also want to thank RACO and PDFORRA for their input in the form of written and oral submissions to the commission. The Secretary General and Chief of Staff also had the opportunity to make oral submissions to the commission. I will continue to work closely with the Secretary General of the Department of Defence and the Chief of Staff to ensure the full implementation of the high level plan and deliver solutions that address the current difficulties facing the Defence Forces.
The contributions of group spokespersons are not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators have four minutes. With the agreement of the House, Senator Ned O'Sullivan has given his permission that Senator Ó Ríordáin would go first because he has his young baby with him.
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.
The Minister of State is welcome to the House, although it is regrettable that the Minister for Defence. I am, of course, referring to the Taoiseach. As a Minister for State, Deputy Kehoe does not have full power. The Minister who does have full power, the Taoiseach, does not know enough about the Naval Service to even know how many ships we have or the number of them available for operational service.
I am deeply concerned that no one in the Government or the Department of Defence really understands the importance of a well-resourced and well-managed cybersecurity monitoring system under the defence or security services. This Government's cavalier attitude to this most important aspect of securing foreign direct investment will eventually cost our economy dearly. Is the Minister of State aware of the concerns of many of the multinationals operating in Ireland regarding the apparent lack of a clear retention and training strategy for cybersecurity experts in our Defence Forces? What is the plan? How will the brain drain be halted? An allowance of 96 cent per day will not do much to stop it. The internal Defence Forces computer incident response team, CIRT, was shut down a few months ago because the last person in this office purchased his discharge. We are now allocating up to €40,000 per month for a private contractor to provide the service if and when required. To say that this is very unsatisfactory would be a complete understatement. What does it say about our defence strategy that we now have a civilian company with eyes on military-grade communications and intelligence? I understand the Defence Forces are meant to provide two cybersecurity personnel to the interdepartmental, multi-agency, National Cyber Security Centre led by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Needless to say, these two seats are empty/ We have no spare personnel and no strategy to find them.
With regard to the Naval Service, will the Minister of State agree that we actually own nine ships? I hope he will. I hope he will further agree that only three of those ships are fully operational, rather than the six he mentioned. Two of the ships are not operational on a full-time basis because we do not have engine room artificer, ERA, personnel to look after them. I refer to P61 and P62. Will the Minister of State accept that while P31, LÉ Eithne, and P41, LÉ OrIa, are, as he stated, in for maintenance, this maintenance was not scheduled? Will he agree that, when that maintenance is completed, neither ship will be returned to the fleet in an operational capacity for the foreseeable future because of the shortage of personnel?
I now turn to the issue of Naval Service divers. There have been a number of tragedies off the coast of Ireland resulting in the need for deep-sea divers. The Naval Service's divers are trained to dive up to 60 m with mixed gases. As I understand it, they are the only professionals in the country who can provide that service. This was extremely important when Rescue 116 went down. The complement of navy divers should number 27 personnel. Will the Minister of State confirm that there are now only six qualified navy divers available?
With respect to the Air Corps, there is a reported pilot shortage of 30% but if senior officers are not included as flying that deficiency rises to 50%. Medical emergency flights, which used to be carried out by the Air Corps, are now contracted out at a cost of €7 million over two years. What would that €7 million have done for the Air Corps? What would it have done for pilot retention? Is this not a gross mismanagement of the system? We now have a plane on stand-by every night. Over the past nine months, it has only been used three times.
With respect to aircraft maintenance, AW139 helicopters and PC-9 aircraft are being sent to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and the UK for maintenance. How much does this cost? Could that money have been used to retain military personnel in technical areas?
In the context of the Army, situations have arisen in the not-too-distant past in which young officers straight out of the Curragh found themselves in command of three platoons. In one instance, a battalion was managed by three captains and one lieutenant. We have a shortage of explosive ordinance disposal, EOD, specialists. This is probably the most unfriendly place to work from a family perspective.
The Minister of State spoke about medical care a few moments ago. Is it not the case that a senior officer reported on radio recently that he funded scans for a private soldier out of his own pocket because the Defence Forces do not have access to such scans? We are cutting allowances for injured personnel. If personnel in the Army Ranger Wing, whose job is particularly physical, are injured, they lose their allowances after 28 days. We continue to fight cases relating to Lariam in the courts.What do we do at the end of the day with most of these things? We settle them. The Minister of State referred to the working time Act in his speech. We are dragging PDFORRA to the gates of the courts and we then settle the cases. What is that costing? How much are we paying for legal advice when we know this has to be resolved, one way or the other? What is the establishment? The Minister of State talks about the €10.1 million that was provided by the Public Service Pay Commission and, indeed, I compliment the chairman on his work, given the constraints he was working under. Does that €10.1 million apply to the 9,500 we are supposed to have or to the 8,300-odd we currently have?
The Minister of State mentioned overseas service. Surely the United Nations pays for overseas service and it is not coming out of the Exchequer. We cannot include that in any public service pay agreement. With respect to the allowances for duties and patrols, these allowances do not even meet the minimum wage. We are talking about soldiers, sailors and airmen who are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, when we boil it all down, the actual increase in pay is 96 cent a day for a private soldier with less than three years service and €1.30 for a captain, hardly something we should be shouting from the hilltops about.
Some time ago, I objected to the appointment of an assistant secretary general for people in the Department. The Minister of State fought his case in the House and it was accepted, by and large, for the Department. I am hearing that nobody has ever met the assistant secretary general for people. I understand he has not visited any installation or any barracks. Now that there is a story to be told with respect to pay and conditions, is the person in charge of personnel going to go out and meet soldiers, sailors and Air Corps people on the ground, explain to them how the Public Service Pay Commission arrived at its figures and explain to them how it will make a difference to their lives?
It was appalling in the last few days to hear the Taoiseach referring to our seven ships when we have nine. It is appalling to hear that the Naval Service is at 88%.The question is: 88% of what? When we take out the people who are non-seagoing and those on long-term sick leave, we are probably somewhere between 65% and 70%, in truth. When it comes to the LE Orlaand LE Eithnebeing stepped down for maintenance, ordinarily in the Naval Service this time would be used for planned leave, training courses and so on. However, for the two ships that have been stepped down, the LE Orlaand LE Eithne, the crews will be allocated to other ships in order to see those other ships at the establishment level.
Where we have arrived at is no great achievement. We are in a total mess and I do not know how we are going to get out of it. The spiral is downwards.
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.
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.
I will just briefly touch on the issue of pay and conditions because other Members have spoken very eloquently about them. It is clear from the response of PDFORRA and it is clear from the testimony and messages people have been getting, that the Government intervention will not be adequate in the context of allowances. The core issue remains about time, about wages and about having the hours worked valued and recognised. This is why the working time directive is imperative. It is one of the key aspects to this. That should not be a battle people have to fight. It should be something the State moves forward on.
These are persons who are constrained. How we constrain people in collective organisations in the expression of perspectives needs to continue to be examined. There are a number of very good persons who are committed to public service but who should also, perhaps, be supported in making sure they are able to speak up on issues such as the minimum wage, on what is considered to be adequate, and on the relationship between pay and working family payments. Those perspectives need to be heard and they should not be pushed to crisis point to be heard. I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to move on while building on the recommendations. We now need to go further and accelerate action.
I will now focus on some other issues that are also defence matters. Even as front-line pay and conditions have been allowed to deteriorate to a point of crisis for many families, Ireland still has plans for very substantial increases in military spending that are not linked to pay and conditions. There is a proposal to move over the next few years to €125 million in capital expenditure. Perhaps most crucially, at a European level Ireland is contributing to a massive increase in European spending. Again, this is not focused on pay and conditions. It is largely focused on capital spending and research. We are looking at €13 billion committed currently to the European Defence Fund at a time when the Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund, ESF, are being cut and reduced. Will the Minister of State specifically comment on Ireland's perspective on this issue? Does Ireland believe that investment in social cohesion may do more for peace and maybe more for our collective European project and the wider project? Do we think it appropriate that we would reduce social and cohesion funding to increase defence and military spending?
I am very concerned that the European Parliament voted not to have oversight of the €13 billion and has relegated this function to the European Council. This was something the Minister of State's party members voted for. Will the Minister of State comment on the mechanisms of oversight? How can the Irish public be assured that moneys given through the European Defence Fund will not be used for autonomous weaponry? How can the public be assured that funding given by us through the EU budget and through the European Defence Fund will not be used in the breaching of human rights or used outside the UN mandate? I believe, however, that we know it will be used outside the UN mandate in some cases. What is the assurance and testimony in this regard? This is important. These are not abstract concepts. When weaponry is developed, and there has been a focus on autonomous weaponry, it is designed to kill. It is lies. The public, as a neutral nation, deserves the clearest transparency around how our moneys are used and the clearest chain. I would like the Minister of State to illustrate how he intends to deliver that.
We already have serious concerns around certain parts of our funding that have been rerouted. We have spoken in the past about the Libyan coastguard and the significant human rights violations in Libya. In this context will Ireland procure with other nations weapons that might be used outside the UN mandate? This is still a question to which I have not received an answer and it was relevant even before we joined PESCO, which also presents major questions with regard to collective procurement projects. There are proto-fascist parties in some countries across Europe. If those parties come into government and into power, will we have contributed to joint procurement projects? We are aware that in recent years Austria had tanks on the border with Italy. Is there a situation in the future where Ireland may have contributed to the purchase of such weaponry, not only through the general sense of the European Defence Fund but through specific joint procurement projects under PESCO? Will the Minister indicate the safeguards under PESCO?
On Operation Sophia I will quote the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. When I challenged him back in 2017 on Ireland's move away from bilateral search and rescue to Operation Sophia, the Minister of State said: "Transferring to Operation Sophia will result in the redeployment of Irish Naval Service vessels from primarily humanitarian search and rescue operations to primarily security and interception operations." The Minister of State told this House in 2017 that we were moving away from humanitarian concerns. Those missions had been a great source of pride for many in this nation. He said we were to move into security. Now we know that Operation Sophia will not be working on humanitarian rescue at all. A representative from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ms Carlotta Sami, recently said that: "If we do not intervene soon there will be a sea of blood." These are life and death decisions. These are not decisions about readiness; these are life-and-death decisions. What steps are being taken to seek other opportunities for search and rescue, and for co-operation with other navies or civilian authorities for search and rescue in the Mediterranean Sea? I believe the Irish Naval Service has also spoken very eloquently about it. During Ireland's time in search and rescue, the Naval Service personnel, on their own and separate from any other European country, rescued more than 18,000 lives from the Mediterranean Sea. The personnel involved have spoken of this as being one of the most formative and meaningful experiences of their lives. Will the Minister of State indicate the plans for resuming that co-operation?
Concerns were raised with regard to the Libyan coastguard and Libyan human rights' violations, which are funded by Europe as a substitute for search and rescue in the Mediterranean Sea. This was one of many migrant control agreements signed by Europe. I believe there were 11 such agreements. Crucially, the one I wish to speak about is one on which I ask the Minister of State to engage with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with a view to seeking its immediate suspension. This is the funding that has been given to the Rapid Support Forces group in Sudan. Currently, even the African Union no longer recognises any government in Sudan. There is extraordinary testimony from civil society groups who will again take to the streets this weekend. Young people spoke here last week about how instead of taking up weapons, they chose to take up paintbrushes, pencils and microphones. There is a very powerful civil society movement.We have concerns that the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces group is being funded by European money in a similar way to what is happening in Libya. Funding is effectively been rerouted to groups linked with the Janjaweed militia, whose members are taking part in violent actions against protestors at a time when there is no recognised transitional government in place in Sudan.
My final question is a very specific one. We have a new nominee for President of the European Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, who is a member of the same European party as the Minister of State. She has previously spoken about her vision of an army of Europeans being in place in the foreseeable future. How does the Minister of State plan to engage with Ms von der Leyen on this issue and how will he ensure that Ireland's neutrality is strongly protected within any plans for further EU integration? What assurances or messages can the Government publicly send in this regard via its engagement with the person put forward by the Minister of State's group in Europe to become the next President of the Commission? The Irish public needs more than casual dismissals of its concerns. We need to see the Minister of State's plans for diplomatic action which offers a clear assertion of Ireland's neutrality and commitment to disarmament and peace-building.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House to take these statements. I acknowledge that he would like to have seen a lot more done on the issue of remuneration of Defence Forces personnel. What we do have is Cabinet approval for €10 million in funding for this area, based on the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission. I was disappointed by that allocation, which does not adequately reflect the recognition due to members of the Defence Forces for the security, care and assistance they provide to the State at vital intervals. They are fantastic ambassadors for the country. Their deployment abroad operates under the triple lock system, which requires a UN mandate, followed by approval by the Government and, finally, approval by Dáil Éireann. I remember clearly when I was a Member of the European Parliament attending a committee meeting where there was a clear effort by certain people to undermine the EU operation to Chad, which included the participation of Irish troops. The operation was under the command of an Irish officer and was concerned with providing security around internally displaced person, IDP, sites and refugee camps where more than 570,000 people were based. Six months after the operation was fully in place, it was interesting to hear a senior member of the British army report back to the committee that the Irish troops had achieved more in six months in establishing good relations with the general population of the area than the French army had achieved in the previous 30 years. That was a serious compliment from a member of the British defence forces and clear evidence of the commitment of the Irish Army to its overseas operations. It is important to recognise that commitment. It is not just about providing security and protection for people in conflict zones but also sending a clear message across Europe and the world that the Irish Defence Forces are there in a peacekeeping role.
One of the issues that greatly concerns me is the lack of affordability of suitable housing for members of the Defence Forces. I acted in a legal capacity in the past on behalf of a large number of ordinary soldiers who wished to purchase three-bedroom, semi-detached houses. They were able to do that on the salaries they had then. We all know how much things have changed in terms of incomes and the cost of housing, but it is important to note that even if a member of the Defence Forces has €100,000 in the bank today, he or she will not be able to buy the same three-bedroom, semi-detached house. We must examine how we can make it possible for personnel to access accommodation of the standard they enjoyed in the past and should continue to enjoy in the future.
We are facing several major challenges in this country at this time. Opposition Members have criticised the Government for the difficulties in which Defence Forces personnel find themselves, but part of the problem is that because we have full employment, we are competing with many other employers. That is the greatest challenge we face on this issue. No matter what remuneration we offer within the Defence Forces, there are competitors who are able to offer a much better level of pay and better supports. We must work out how to offer appropriate allowances while staying within the public sector guidelines on pay and conditions.
My final point is to note that we have recruited more than 41,000 additional people in the public sector in recent years. It is a bone of contention for me that 16,000 of those were recruited by the Health Service Executive. I am not questioning the need to prioritise healthcare provision, but I am seriously concerned that there is no strategy in place to ensure we get value for money in employing people. There is no doubt that we get value for money for the personnel we employ in the Defence Forces. We must see how we can further improve the offer that is on the table and ensure working conditions are attractive enough to retain people in the forces.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House for what has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I will focus on a human aspect of this issue, namely, the standard of living and working conditions endured by members of the Defence Forces. Ireland has never been a militaristic nation; we are too small for that and it has not been part of our culture. In fact, our predecessors spent much of their lives struggling against the imperial armies of our nearest neighbour. Nonetheless, we are entitled to have a solid defence corps available to the nation in a time of crisis. Fortunately, we have been spared some of the terrible atrocities that have arisen in recent decades out of the religious conflicts that are going on all over the world, particularly in the Middle East. However, we might not always be so lucky and, in such circumstances, we will be shouting for the Army and the Garda to defend our interests, as they have done before. Indeed, many members of both organisations have given their lives in the service of this country.
Defence Forces personnel may not be strong in numbers and they do not have the voting power of some of the larger organised groups such as teachers, nurses or even gardaí. Their power tends to be concentrated in areas where the garrisons are located, such as the Curragh Camp and Athlone. However, they are held in high regard throughout the country. We have all heard the sad tales related to Joe Duffy on the notorious edition of "Liveline" and on other programmes about how married men with families are trying to scrape a basic living while at the same time rendering proud service in the uniform.All of us will have taken great pride in observing the ceremonial value of the Army in 2016 and again this year. We see how Army personnel enhance all the functions they perform for An Uachtaráin in Áras an Uachtaráin. They add quality and prestige to those occasions. We have seen the way in which they have gone into our schools and talked to young people about our history, flag and so on. There is a deep-seated respect for the Army throughout the country. People are fed up with its members being pushed around.
The Minister of State has been in the wars lately and I will not add to his trials and tribulations. He has had enough of them but he is well able to deal with them. That is his role. However, the commission's report must be seen as a start, although not a great start, and it will be up to the Minister of State and future Governments to deliver on what it promises. I do not want to repeat what has been said but the publication of the report will not in itself stop the haemorrhaging of members from the Defence Forces that we have witnessed in recent years. Record numbers are continuing to leave. Senator Craughwell worked out that the pay increase will amount to 96 cent per day for some members. Will that stop people leaving the Army? The commission found that 60% of enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers had indicated they intended to leave the Defence Forces in the next two years.
The measures have cost €10 million, which is barely one third of the €29 million underspend in the Department's pay budget in 2018. There is no doubt from the report that the commission knows that its recommendations are just the beginning of what is needed. I repeat that this is only a start and people will expect the serious business to take place from now on.
From the outset, the commission was hamstrung by its very terms. The numbers serving in the Defence Forces have fallen below 9,000 and morale is on the floor. Pay and conditions are one issue but members feel abandoned in respect of a range of other issues also. We witnessed the embarrassment of the messed up arrangements for repatriating troops from abroad, which caused great upset for the troops and their distraught families. The decline has left the force with just 8,847 personnel at the end of March, which is 653 below the current agreed strength. The Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mellett, stated: "You are always going to have a churn and a churn is healthy, but I would rather it be down about 5 per cent rather than the 8.1 per cent it is at present." The UK Government declared it a crisis when the equivalent level in Britain reached 5%. That should be a wake-up call for us.
It is clear to my party that a pay body must be established for the Permanent Defence Force which would reflect the unique nature of military service in the broader context of pay and allowances. The Taoiseach has been in denial, citing recruitment campaigns when challenged during Leaders' Questions, but the commission makes it clear that current recruitment processes must be reviewed as the continued acceleration in recruitment activity in the absence of equivalent retention is kicking the can down the road.
I am proud to be one of the Senators who receives his nomination to contest the Seanad election by the Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations, ICPSA, which body represents, among others, RACO and PDFORRA. In my involvement with those individuals, I have yet to meet a finer, more upstanding body of men and women. RACO and PDFORRA should have had an input into the report because they have certainly been underwhelmed by its outcome. As the Minister of State is aware, legal proceedings are ongoing but I hope that, as he promised, the increases will come into effect immediately.
The outlays associated with developing a full range of military skills can amount to €1.4 million for an ordnance bomb disposal officer at captain rank or €1.72 million for a captain in the Air Corps. The cost of training one officer cadet is estimated at more than €100,000 per student. Recruitment is costly and even more costly when it comes without a retention policy to back it up at the other end. Retention is not only about remuneration. There are fundamental organisational and structural issues within the Defence Forces. The most fundamental retention issue is the working time directive, which many members referred to, whose protection has been denied to members of the Defence Forces. While I will not say the Taoiseach and Minister of State were not singing from the same hymn sheet in some of their recent statements, they were certainly not singing in the same key. This caused some confusion, as Senator Craughwell noted. I am not privy to the additional documentation the Minister of State presented to the House but I look forward with interest to seeing it.
The Defence Forces have been an easy target for cost-cutting. Advantage has been taken of the unreserved loyalty and professionalism of Defence Forces members. Defence policy must become more than merely fitting the Defence Forces into a budget envelope.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the House to discuss this very important issue. We have spoken many times about the great pride Irish people have in members of the Defence Forces and the great work they do on behalf of the nation both here at home and overseas, where they distinguish themselves with great honour. Regrettably, we have also spoken many times in the House about the plight of members of the Defence Forces and their families. It is safe to say that morale has never been as low as it is now. In many ways, members feel abandoned by the Government in that they keep shouting but, unfortunately, nobody seems to be listening to them.
The long-awaited report on the pay of members of the Defence Forces was published last week. I have listened to comments by both representative bodies, PDFORRA and RACO, whose members are reasonable men and women representing the views of members of the Defence Forces. If their interim thoughts are anything to go by, the theme seems to be one of disappointment rather than elation at the contents of that report. That is very disappointing because it took a year and a half or two years to compile the report and, unfortunately, the synopsis from them is that it falls a good deal short from what they had been seeking.
As the previous speaker stated, we need some kind of pay body or commission to examine the pay and terms and conditions of the Defence Forces. That is the way forward. The Garda had a similar body of work done in respect of its members' pay and conditions and it is fair to say that the majority of members of that organisation were happy with the outcome of that process. A similar body of work needs to be conducted in respect of Defence Forces members' pay and conditions. I look forward to the Minister of State's views on that proposal.
There was much speculation recently in the press about PDFORRA joining ICTU by means of some form of associate membership. I understand the Defence Forces members cannot strike. That is the way it should be, and most members of PDFORRA would be of a similar mind. What are the Minister of State's views on the speculation in the press about associate trade union membership? I look forward to his response on that.I concur with all my colleagues who have voiced their total support for the Defence Forces and the great work they do. I would like someone to grasp the nettle once and for all so that members of the Defence Forces can take pride in their work, can see a future for themselves, their wives and their children and can stay in the forces. There is no point in the taxpayer spending money to train them to a high level, only to discover that they cannot stay in the forces after their training has been completed because they are unable to put bread on the table. In many cases they cannot get a mortgage and those who are fortunate enough to be able to get a mortgage cannot repay it on the salary they get. The time for talking is over and it is now the time for action. I look forward to the Minister of State's response to the issues my colleagues and I have raised.
I thank Senators for their contributions to this very important debate. I welcome the publication of the report of the Public Service Pay Commission, which provides an independent assessment of recruitment and retention issues. The report was accepted by all members of the Government last week. It recommends a range of measures to improve recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force.
I will try to cover as many of the points as possible. Senator Ó Ríordáin spoke about allowances, which form part of the pay of members of the Defence Forces. He was in government himself for five years and had an opportunity to change that but it was not done. It is important that we increased allowances and the restoration of allowances has been highlighted to me by people over the past number of years. I am delighted that allowances were addressed by the Public Service Pay Commission. Senator Craughwell said this equated to 96 cent per day. The Senator should either go back to school or get a calculator out.
The mathematics of what the Senator would give a total of €3 million but the package of measures amounts to €10 million. There is €7 million left over, which goes to increases in allowances such as 10% in the MSA, which equates to between €602 and €675 for members up to the rank of colonel. There will be a restoration of allowances which were cut under the Haddington Road agreement. The Senator has jumped up and down in recent years about the security duty allowance, the patrol duty allowance, the Army Ranger Wing, bomb disposal, 24-hour duty and weekend duty but he did not mention any of those in his contribution. I must have done something right when the Senator did not complain about them. We have restored them and they are part of the €7 million he must have forgotten about.
Another example is the recognition of peacekeeping. The UN provides a contribution towards our costs but it does not cover all overseas allowances payable to personnel. It is the State that covers the remainder of the overseas allowance and I am delighted that it has been increased by the Government, following the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission. I am disappointed that the Senator does not recognise this. I understand there are no votes in positive publicity so the Senator has to go on the negative.
The Senator should call himself "Senator Negative Craughwell". He also spoke about the Naval Service and I have stated on numerous occasions that we have challenges in that area but there have been increases there as well. The Naval Service has huge technical expertise that we will look at in the context of the report. During a speech at the Naval Service the other day, I said that tech pay would be a priority for me and my Department.
A review of pay structures within the Defence Forces is also a matter of priority. Senator Craughwell also jumped up and down for years about adjudications. Separate from the recommendations of the pay commission, I am pleased to announce that, following discussions I and my officials held with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, we have decided to pay increases under certain allowances, determined in the course of the adjudication findings, with effect from 1 July. The Army Ranger Wing payment will increase by €50, which will bring it up to €200 per week.
Cooks with the relevant qualifications will go to the tech 2 and tech 3 pay levels with an increase of €26.90, taking it up to €40.42 per week. An account holder will receive €65.80 per week, which they are not receiving at the moment. Recruits and apprentices will no longer be charged for rations and accommodation, giving a saving to them, individually, of €43.63 per week. I have asked them to come in to negotiate with officials in the Department.
Another example is the most interesting one. Senator Craughwell asked if the assistant secretary in the Department, Mr. Mooney, had ever been on an installation. I understand that the Senator met him last week.
I will be fair to the man. He has visited installations and he does interact, but his most important job is dealing with the representative associations, PDFORRA and RACO, which he has done on numerous occasions. Last Thursday, he was at a full briefing by the Public Service Pay Commission to both representative associations. The Senator should acknowledge these things and he should make sure that, when he gets his information, it is the right information.
I am aware that Senator McFadden spoke to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, about the working family payment today. People are on the working family payment for specific reasons, related to their own and their family's circumstances. It is for a person recruited aged 22 or 23 who has two or three children.It is for all members of the private sector and public sector. I am glad that the Senator welcomes this as a start. It is a start to the pathway of recovery for members of the Defence Forces. It is important that we recognise that it is an important step forward. Both RACO and PDFORRA have made representations to me on numerous occasions about the restoration of allowances and it is important to recognise that all allowances have been restored to pre-Haddington Road agreement levels. Restoration to pre-financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, levels is covered in the public service stability agreement, which will conclude in October 2020.
Senator Higgins raised a range of matters relating to defence and others to foreign policy. The Senator might take those up with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. Operation Sophia is not rescuing migrants because an agreement could not be reached about where we could bring those rescued ashore. Ireland is participating in efforts to resolve this issue but it is outside our direct control. Efforts at European level will be central to resolving the matter. The Senator spoke about our involvement in permanent structured co-operation, PESCO. It is important that the Defence Forces participate in PESCO. We are involved in some of its many courses. It will assist in enhancing our capabilities. It is important that we are not isolated from working with other countries, whether on peacekeeping duties, PESCO, the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, or whatever else it is. Regarding Ireland's position-----
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.
The high-level implementation plan sets clear timelines and objectives aimed at implementing the recommendations in the report by the Public Service Pay Commission.
I have acknowledged that it will take time for the Defence Forces to reach full strength. We have a huge amount of challenges ahead. The implementation of the recommendations contained in the report by the Public Service Pay Commission is just a step in this process. There is much to do. The high-level implementation plan sets clear timelines and objectives that are aimed at implementing the recommendations in the report by the Public Service Pay Commission. Work has already commenced and will be actioned without any due delay.
I thank the Acting Chairman for affording me an opportunity to address all of the issues.
It is a point of order. The Minister of State has said that he addressed the issues. I directly asked about the European defence fund and autonomous weaponry, which is an issue that is related to the Department. Like others, I have stayed here a long time and some people got very lengthy replies. I asked a specific question but did not get an answer.