Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Department of Defence
Defence Forces Personnel
5. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way in which he plans to reverse the retention issues in the Defence Forces and the issue of skilled and experienced officers leaving the Army; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4077/20]
Joint civil-military work on implementing the recommendations included in the Report of the Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC) on Recruitment and Retention in the Defence Forces has been ongoing since last July. Temporary re-assignments of resources to meet the challenges of the Covid response has impacted on aspects of this work.
The PSPC report contains a broad range of recommendations which provided immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) totalling some €10m, as well as initiatives that will lead to further improvements.
Immediate benefits included a 10% increase in military service allowance; the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances; the restoration of premium rates for certain weekend duties and the restoration of a service commitment scheme for Air Corps pilots.
The Report provides for an examination of pay structures in the PDF and the identification of other retention measures, which are due to be progressed within the framework of the Public Service Stability Agreement and future public sector pay negotiations. The Report also contains a range of other recommendations including a review of recruitment methods, enhanced workforce planning, enhanced professional military education, bespoke leadership training, development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy, a review of barriers to extended participation in the PDF, the development of further non-pay retention measures and consideration of the provision of additional specialist posts in certain areas.
The scheme which I announced on 1 April last, for the re-enlistment of former personnel with the relevant skills and experience represents one of the recent actions being pursued to address the skill shortages in the PDF. It is a medium to long term initiative which pre-dates the COVID crisis, but will support the Defence Forces in responding to, and sustaining their response to, the current COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
The scheme allows for initial re-enlistment for a minimum of six months and up to 3 years and I'm pleased to report that there has been a very positive initial response to the scheme for re-enlistment with over 500 expressions of interest. The focus of the scheme is on those former members of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) with the skills and expertise to fill specialist vacancies that currently exist in the PDF. These shortages of personnel include a number of specialised posts such as technicians, fitters, chefs, communications and IT specialist, naval and avionics experts.
Separately, I introduced a scheme for re-commissioning former Officers last October. This scheme facilitates the re-entry of former officers to the Permanent Defence Force and has seen 5 former pilots return to serve in the Air Corps to date. There is also scope to recommission officers in other specialist streams across the Defence Forces and I understand a number of expressions of interest in the scheme have been received recently.
The PDF continues to offer excellent career opportunities for serving personnel, new entrants and those wishing to re-enter.
6. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has examined the possibility of extending contracts past 50 years of age for members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4079/20]
The age and fitness profile of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) was an issue of serious concern during the 1990's and was the subject of severe criticism in a series of external reports. One of the key areas identified for urgent action was the development of a manpower policy with an emphasis on lowering the age profile of PDF personnel. As a result new terms and conditions were introduced for personnel enlisting after 1 January 1994 and new contracts for enlisted personnel were for a period of five years' service. Since that time, the maximum period of service was extended out to twenty-one years for Privates and Corporals.
Arising from an adjudication in 2015, the adjudicator recommended that a review be conducted on the service limits for Privates and Corporals recruited to the Defence Forces post 1 January 1994. This adjudication resulted from a claim from PDFORRA seeking extensions in the service of these personnel to age 50. While the adjudicator did not rule in favour of PDFORRA, he did recommend an extension of service limits for Privates and Corporals in receipt of Tech Pay Group 3 or higher pending completion of the review.
This recommended review is now being subsumed into a broader review of service limits for all enlisted personnel, as provided for in the White Paper on Defence and more recently in the "Strengthening our Defence Forces – Phase One” high level implementation plan (HLIP). The HLIP provides that consideration be given to options to tackle barriers to extended participation in the PDF, including the possibility of extending retirement ages for members of the PDF. Given the complexities involved it was decided to approach the HLIP project in two phases as follows:
- Phase 1 – Review of Mandatory Retirement Ages (MRAs) for Officers
- Phase 2 - Review Contracts of Service for Enlisted Personnel.
The review of MRAs for officers is currently on-going, with the review of contracts of service for enlisted personnel due to commence later in 2020.
Pending completion of the review (of contracts of service for enlisted personnel), the service extension for Privates and Corporals, enlisted post 1 January 1994, has been revised, to the end of December 2022, provided the individual meets certain criteria, including medical grades and fitness tests and does not exceed 50 years of age in that time frame. This measure was agreed with PDFORRA. Following further discussions, it was also agreed that Sergeants enlisted in the PDF would also be allowed continue in service to the same date, subject to their meeting agreed criteria in the interim period.