Thursday, 30 September 2021
Department of Defence
97. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the current strength of all branches of the Defence Forces; if further recruitment is required to bring each branch of the Forces up to optimum strength; if issues regarding salary, pay and conditions are being addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47105/21]
99. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the measures being taken to reach the approved threshold of 9,500 in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47121/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 97 and 99 together.
As at 31st August 2021, the strength of the Permanent Defence Force was 8,550 personnel comprised of 6,927 Army personnel, 723 Air Corps personnel and 900 Naval Service personnel. While the Government remains committed to returning to, and maintaining the agreed strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel, there are a number of factors, many of which are hard to predict, which will impact on the timeframe within which this will be achieved.
I have acknowledged the on-going staffing challenges in the Defence Forces and these have been well-documented. Initiatives to counter those challenges and play a role in restoring and retaining capacity and boosting specialist numbers include:
- Continuing Recruitment, which has resulted in a total of 406 personnel being inducted as at 27th September. A further 95 General Service recruits have accepted offers and will commence training on the 4th October. The Cadet competition is at offer stage and the process is expected to close on the 22nd October. Further inductions are also anticipated.
- The scope of direct entry competitions was expanded in 2021, from 10 competitions, to also include a new Air Corps Aircraft Technician competition which resulted in 3 recent inductions. Additionally, direct entry terms and conditions continue to be revised to further improve intakes. In 2021, the maximum age of entry for Technicians was increased to 29 and flexibility in the starting rate of pay of some Naval Service specialists was progressed.
- The re-entry campaign for former members of the PDF continues and has resulted in 1 re-commissioned officer and 28 re-enlisted personnel, to date, in 2021.
- The sea-going service commitment scheme and an extension of a tax credit, both for sea-going Naval Service personnel, are examples of targeted measures that I have introduced which are aimed at retaining experienced personnel. This follows the reintroduction of a successful service commitment scheme for Flying Officers in the Air Corps.
There has been significant progress on pay arising from increases from recent pay agreements, the most recent of which was a 2% increase on annualised salaries from 1st October 2020. The new public service pay agreement “Building on Momentum” provides for an increase in annualised basic salary for all public servants of 1% or €500, whichever is greater, on October 2021, with further increases to follow.
I am confident that the pay benefits delivered by the Public Service pay Agreements, in tandem with the implementation of the PSPC's recommendations will improve recruitment and retention challenges currently being experienced by the PDF. 15 projects, most of which are now complete, were undertaken to facilitate the implementation of the PSPC’s recommendations. These included projects focused on a broad range of non-pay measures and also included 4 projects relating to immediate pay which have provided immediate benefits to PDF members totalling some €10m, as well as initiatives that will lead to further improvements. I have recently received the final report for the Review of Recruitment project and the Workforce Planning Project is being progressed through the joint civil/military Strategic Human Resources Group. These projects will inform recruitment and retention policy.
Additionally, the independent Commission on the Defence Forces is examining a range of recruitment and retention matters and I look forward to receiving their recommendations, which will be considered and implemented as appropriate.
My focus remains on retaining and restoring the PDF to its full capacity but there is no quick fix to the challenges facing the Defence Forces today. As I have outlined, there has been significant work undertaken to date, and such work continues, but it will take time to see the full effect of the measures introduced.
More information is available at the following link: Ranks
98. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has had any recent engagement with the representative organisations from the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47125/21]
The Defence (Amendment) Act 1990 and Defence Force Regulations S6 provided for the establishment of Representative Associations for members of the Permanent Defence Force. The Associations that have since been established are RACO (for commissioned officers) and PDFORRA (for enlisted personnel).
The scheme of Conciliation and Arbitration (C&A) for members of the Permanent Defence Force provides a formal mechanism for the determination of claims and proposals from the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations relating to remuneration and conditions of service.
Civil and military personnel from my Department continue to work with the Representative Associations in a positive and collaborative process within the C&A Scheme to resolve issues. There is also ongoing engagement on a regular basis between the Official side and the Representative side on a range of items which are processed through C&A.
Since my appointment as Minister for Defence, I have met with the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers (RACO) on three occasions: 17 July 2020, 20 October 2020 and 17 December 2020 and with the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA) on four occasions: 17 July 2020, 20 October 2020, 17 December 2020 and most recently on 24 May 2021. I have also met with the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association on two occasions on 23 November 2020 and 14 July 2021.
I have further meetings scheduled with both Permanent Representative Associations, namely PDFORRA and RACO on 13 October next. In addition I am also looking forward to engaging with the associations at the upcoming PDFORRA Annual Delegate Conference on 6 October 2021 and the RACO Biennial Delegate Conference on 23 November 2021 and hearing the issues of interest and concern to their members.
100. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the efforts that are being made by him and his Department to address the retention of post-94 personnel, some of whom face discharge from the Defences Forces in December 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46606/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 124 together.
Military life places unique demands on individuals and it is necessary that Defence Forces personnel are prepared to meet the challenges of all military operations. To this end, it is vital the age and health profile of personnel be such as to ensure that operational capability and effectiveness are not compromised in any way. For this reason compulsory retirement ages for ranks in the Permanent Defence Force are considerably lower than in other employments.
The Public Service Pay Commission in their report on recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force, included in their recommendations, the need to consider options to tackle barriers to extended participation in the Permanent Defence Force, including the possibility of extending retirement ages for members of the Permanent Defence Force.
A review of contracts of service of personnel who enlisted in the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 1994, is currently being conducted by civil and military staff. The Review is considering appropriate mandatory retirement age limits for Privates, Corporals and Sergeants, as well as senior Non-Commissioned Officers.
The Review is taking into consideration the recommendations from an Adjudication in 2015, arising from a claim PDFORRA made through the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.
In 2019, agreement was reached with PDFORRA that all Privates and Corporals recruited post 1994, be allowed to continue in service to 31 December 2022, (or until they reach the age of 50), provided these personnel meet certain criteria, including medical grades and fitness tests, during the interim period. This agreement was subsequently extended to include Sergeants recruited to the Permanent Defence Force, post 1st January 1994, who can also continue in service to the same date, subject to their meeting agreed criteria in the interim period.
This agreement with PDFORRA provides for such personnel to continue in service to allow for this review to be completed in an extended timeframe.
A draft report of the review has been submitted to me. There will be consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform prior to discussions with PDFORRA on the recommendations arising from the Report.
Personnel leave the Permanent Defence Force for a number of reasons including on age grounds, at the end of contract and voluntary discharges. More than 50% of those who leave the Defence Forces do so with some form of pension. This can make taking up a position in the private sector very attractive where a full-time position, even at the same rates as those in the Defence Forces, could lead to an increase in an individual’s earnings.
In that context, I have fully acknowledged the retention issues affecting both officers and enlisted personnel. A range of actions have been taken to address these issues which includes the 15 projects undertaken to facilitate the implementation of the PSPC Report on Recruitment and Retention. Most of these projects have been completed with others being considered in the context of wider public sector pay arrangements. These include:
- 4 projects relating to immediate pay have provided immediate benefits to PDF members totalling some €10m, as well as initiatives that will lead to further improvements.
- Also completed are projects on non-pay retention measures, enhanced professional military education; bespoke leadership training, development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy, , the consideration of the provision of additional specialist posts in certain areas and a review of technical pay groups.
- A project to examine workforce planning in the Defence Forces has been progressed through a joint civil/military Strategic Human Resources Group and will inform recruitment and retention policy.
Other measures undertaken, aimed at retaining capacity, include:
- The Service Commitment Scheme for pilots, introduced in 2019, which has had a stabilising effect on Air Corps pilot numbers, with 25 officers currently participating. A further iteration of the Scheme is scheduled in Q4 2021.
- A Naval Service Sea-going Service Commitment Scheme, aimed at retaining experienced personnel and incentivising sea going duties, was also introduced this year with 81 applications received to date. .
- A sea going naval personnel tax credit of €1,270, which was applied in the 2020 tax year, has been extended for the 2021 tax year, and has been increased to €1,500.
Complementing these retention measures, the following recruitment initiatives are playing a role in countering the current staffing challenges:
- Ongoing General Service recruitment, maximising the Defence Forces training capacity.
- The expanding scope of direct entry competitions along with reviews of direct entry terms and conditions to further improve intakes.
- The re-entry campaign for former members of the PDF which resulted in 1 re-commissioning officer and 28 re-enlisting personnel in 2021.
The Deputy will be aware that as part of the terms of reference of the Independent Commission on the Defence Forces, the Commission is considering appropriate turnover and retention approaches, having regard to work undertaken to date and international best practice, to deliver the capabilities required of a modern military force. I look forward to receiving the Commission’s recommendations.
With the support of the Chief of Staff, I remain committed to maximising recruitment and retention of both men and women to maintain the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and to undertake the tasks laid down by Government, both at home and abroad.
More information is available at the following link: Ranks