Priority Questions

Air Corps

Lisa Chambers

Question:

28. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he plans to take on foot of the recent review (details supplied) of Air Corps whistleblower claims; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44189/17]

I wish to ask the Minister the action he plans to take on foot of the recent review of the Air Corps whistleblower claims. I ask him to outline to the House what exactly was the purpose of that exercise, given that we now know Mr. O'Toole, who conducted that review, was not in a position actually to carry out the review as per the terms of reference. I further ask the Minister to confirm that Mr. O'Toole flagged that fact with him.

I thank Deputy Chambers for her question.

The health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces are priorities for me which is why I ensured that protected disclosures alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances were investigated by an independent third party. The reviewer’s report has indicated that he felt that given the breadth of the remit of the terms of reference, he could only comment in general terms on the Defence Forces' safety regime.

It must be remembered that prior to the receipt of the disclosures, litigation had first been initiated in respect of the subject matter of the disclosures. This complicated the approach to be taken in developing any parallel process. Notwithstanding this significant challenge, I put in place just such a parallel process. In light of the legally complex situation, I believe it was appropriate that an experienced legal professional was appointed.

It was the view of the independent reviewer that the courts are best placed to examine issues regarding allegations which were already subject to litigation. This is particularly so given the historic nature of the complaints and the fact that they potentially affect the reputation and good name of individuals. What the report shows is the difficulty in putting a parallel process to the courts in place. The report also notes that the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations. I have furnished the report to those who made the protected disclosures and, before considering any further steps, I will await their views.

Separately and in parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps has continued to work with the HSA to improve its health and safety regime. I have been informed by the military authorities that the HSA has formally noted the considerable progress made to date by the Defence Forces towards implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances. Subject to completion of the improvement plan the HSA investigation is closed. However, it must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.

Is Question No. 28 grouped with Question No. 29, because Deputy Ó Snodaigh has tabled a similar question?

I believe I must take them separately because they are Priority Questions. That is my understanding, at least.

That is fine, although they can be grouped.

I am happy to group them if that is not a problem.

I am happy to have the questions dealt with separately, if that is okay with Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

We will deal with them separately.

Do I take it that the Minister of State proposes to take no action on foot of this report? When the Minister of State was asked in this House to conduct a health review of all potentially affected personnel, he said he would await publication of this report before deciding what action to take. What action is he going to take now?

I wish to read out a couple of sections of the aforementioned report, which are quite shocking. The terms of reference of the review were to look into the disclosures made to the Minister of State by three individuals. Mr. O'Toole says the following in his report:

it was my intention to examine compliance by the Air Corps with the relevant law and regulation. I was not in a position to consider the substances in use or any implications for human health arising from such use as these issues are outside my competence.

The Minister of State appointed a lawyer to conduct this review. We all have our limitations in terms of our competences and expertise but surely the Minister of State knew, in advance of this, that this individual was not going to be able to examine the health implications of those particular toxic substances. This review does not actually look into the allegations made by the three whistleblowers. Mr. O'Toole goes on to say, "it is my view that a review of the kind envisaged by the terms of reference set out above is impractical". The Minister of State has not answered the question as to whether Mr. O'Toole flagged this to him in advance of completing his report. If he did, why did the Minister of State not appoint somebody else with the competence to look at the toxic chemicals in question and assess their impact on the health of those soldiers? That is exactly why we are here talking about this today. Mr. O'Toole goes on to say, "it is not appropriate for me to pass judgement on compliance with legal regime which is a matter for the HSA". He also makes reference to the fact that his is an "informal" review. He suggests that the litigation will no doubt involve the issue of past compliance and that the courts are best placed to examine this matter. The Minister of State has touched on the issue of past compliance and the courts being in a position to analyse this but that does not deal with the toxic substances, the impact on those soldiers' health and what the Minister of State is going to do to address the health implications of what those people went through.

I must repeat that these issues were before the courts before the protected disclosures were made to my Department. When I was appointed as Minister of State in May 2016, I was briefed on the protected disclosures issue. I felt that the best way forward was to appoint a reviewer to look at those protected disclosures. The reviewer furnished his report to me, which I then forwarded to the military for comment. I also sought legal advice on the issue. Once I received that legal advice and received the comments back from the military, I then sent the report to the people who made the protected disclosures. I also put a copy of the reviewer's report on my Department's website for everybody to see. I am hiding nothing here and am being very straight up with the people. Once I receive back the comments of the people who made the protected disclosures, I will then decide on what further action to take.

The Minister of State has still not answered a very basic question. Did Mr. O'Toole tell him that, given the terms of reference, he was not in a position to examine the protected disclosures as requested? Did he flag this in advance of completing his report? It strikes me as quite improbable that he did not. The Minister of State asked whether we can proceed to look at the toxic chemicals and the effect on the health of those soldiers while litigation is ongoing. There may well be litigation in train but that does not preclude us from investigating the toxic chemicals to which they were exposed and the likely impact on their health of that exposure.

Will the Minister of State authorise an independent and comprehensive health assessment of the informants' claims and of the Defence Forces' health and safety record in dealing with hazardous chemicals over the past 25 years? Ultimately, we must ensure that this inquiry takes place and that we look into the real impact on the lives of the individuals that were affected. As I have stated previously in this House, if the State is in some way responsible for a negative impact on the health of serving and former members of the Defence Forces, then we need to stand up, take ownership of that, not hide behind the litigation and put in place a proper health package for those people. Will the Minister of State do that?

I assure the Deputy that I will not be hiding behind anything, anybody or any document.

I will be very straight with the people who made the protected disclosures and I will give them the opportunity to meet me. Two of them have already taken up that offer. I met them and gave them ample opportunities to raise these. Parallel to the actions of the independent reviewer, the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, also visited the Air Corps and issued a list of instructions and procedures. The Defence Forces have been in constant contact with the HSA and are carrying out all of these required actions. One thing I was not going to do was to limit the reviewer's terms of reference which I set out to be as broad as possible so that he would be able to investigate all aspects of any allegations made.

Defence Forces Investigations

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

29. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a commission of investigation into serious allegations of an ineffective or non-existent health and safety regime in the Air Corps will be established in view of the fact that a person (details supplied) stated in their report that the allegations made by the three whistleblowers could not be adequately dealt with in the type of informal review they were tasked with carrying out. [44083/17]

Given that the Minister of State has now received the O'Toole investigation report, he is clearly attempting to fudge the issue as the report clearly states that the issues raised by the whistleblowers could not be adequately addressed. In light of this, will the Minister of State now set up an inquiry into the virtually non-existent health and safety regime in the Air Corps? In the past this absence of a regime exposed hundreds of Air Corps members to highly toxic, dangerous, corrosive and cancerous chemicals, compromising their health and possibly causing numerous cases of premature death and disability.

The health and welfare of the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann are a priority for me which is why I ensured that protected disclosures alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances were investigated by an independent third party. The reviewer’s report has indicated that, given the breadth of the remit of the terms of reference, he could only comment in general terms on the Defence Forces' safety regime.

It must be remembered that prior to the receipt of the disclosures, litigation had been initiated in relation to the subject matter of the disclosures. This complicated the approach to be taken in developing any parallel process. Notwithstanding this significant challenge, I put in place just such a parallel process. In light of the legally complex situation, I believe it was appropriate that an experienced legal professional was appointed.

It was the view of the independent reviewer that the courts are best placed to examine issues in relation to allegations which were already subject to litigation. This is particularly so given the historic nature of the complaints and the fact that they potentially affect the reputations and good names of individuals. What the report shows is the difficulty in putting a parallel process to the courts in place. The report also notes that the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations. I have furnished the report to those who made the protected disclosures and, before considering any further steps, I will await their views.

Separately and in parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps has continued to work with the HSA to improve its health and safety regime. I have been informed by the military authorities that the HSA has formally noted the considerable progress made to date by the Defence Forces towards implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances. Subject to completion of the improvement plan the HSA investigation is closed. However, it must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.

The courts should not prevent the State or indeed the Minister of State from investigating what we have been discussing here and what has been brought before the courts by a small number of current and former officers. Let me set the scene: a dilapidated mechanics workshop; oil everywhere; carcinogenic chemicals spilt on the floor and around the sink; highly dangerous long-life chemicals poured into the outside grass area; chemicals mixing and causing plumes of toxic smoke; broken equipment; no storage area; and most importantly, no respirators, overalls, gloves and so forth that might be capable of protecting those ordered to handle these dangerous chemicals. On top of this there are no wash facilities so chemically stained clothing is being washed at home in the same load as children's clothes. Men who have been falling around due to inhaling toxic chemicals are disciplined for being off sick; others develop headaches; and finally, most seriously, we get clusters of highly complicated medical conditions, miscarriages and birth defects among those working in such conditions. This is what the whistleblowers asked the Minister of State to look into and this has been going on for years. There was and still seems to be a cover-up here. The health and safety recommendations might have dealt with these working conditions had they only been acted upon at the time.

When will the Minister of State set up the full forensic inquiry deemed necessary by Mr. Christopher O'Toole to establish the veracity of the whistleblowers' statements? Is he going to wait for the courts to force him to act?

This issue has been much discussed here in the last few months, and rightly so. It is an ongoing matter. As I told Deputy Chambers, I met two of the recipients who brought up a range of concerns to me. The respectful treatment of these whistleblowers is something that I have prioritised in the Department. The reviewer has given me a copy of the report which I have in turn passed on to the Defence Forces. I also took legal advice on this report and then sent it on to those who made the protected disclosures. I now await the reviewer's feedback before considering my next move.

The health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces are my absolute priority and I have ensured that protected disclosures alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances were investigated by an independent third party. It is only fair that we ask an independent party to come on in this and that we give the terms of reference. I specifically looked to have these terms of reference as broad as possible so that the independent reviewer could do his work without being limited in any way.

Earlier the Minister of State called the reviewer in question incompetent for not having raised issues with him. Whatever the reviewer's remit, he seems to have not deemed himself competent to carry out the work and the Minister of State seems to have agreed as no extension or broadening of that remit was sought. If I were to say to the Minister of State that 100 premature deaths were possibly caused by this chemical exposure, would he agree that there is an urgent need for the State to immediately set up an inquiry? There are not 100 cases before the courts, but there are thousands of people who might potentially have been affected by this. These include students who worked in the complex; children, some of whom were in State care when they started in the Air Corps; and officers' families who were also exposed because of chemical transfer. This, surely, is a scandal in need of the kind of investigation that has taken place in other jurisdictions lacking in appropriate health and safety regimes. Will the Minister of State once and for all accept that this is a scandal that needs to be addressed? First and foremost we have to ensure that the survivors of this get the medical care and protection they need immediately, regardless of what is before the courts.

I have every confidence in the independent reviewer. I have never questioned his authority and I do not want Deputy Ó Snodaigh to put words into my mouth in this regard. I have every confidence in the work carried out by the independent reviewer. He is a professional and carried out the review within the terms of reference set out for him.

A number of the issues raised by Deputy Ó Snodaigh are subject to prior litigation. These relate to the period 1991 to 2006.

As such, it would be totally inappropriate for me to comment further on the detail of these cases. The report states that because litigation commenced before the protected disclosures were made, the court system is the appropriate forum for consideration of these historic matters. The view of the independent reviewer was that the courts are the best place to examine these matters. Given the questions involved and the historic nature of the complaints-----

Thank you, Minister of State.

Significantly, it potentially affects the reputations and good names of individuals. When I have the views of those who made the protected disclosures, I will consider any appropriate action. I will take further steps after I have heard back from the people who made the protected disclosures. As I did not want to be accused of hiding behind anything, anybody or any document, I decided to put the independent reviewer's report up on the website for every Deputy in this House to see.

Thank you, Minister of State.

In conclusion, it would have been very easy for me to decide to hold back the report to prevent people from asking questions on this matter. I did not want to do this. I wanted to be very open and transparent and to give people an opportunity to see exactly what the independent reviewer had said.

I do not like to interrupt Deputies when I am in this Chair. We have spent almost 20 minutes on two questions. We have exceeded the amount of time we should have taken by nearly eight minutes. I accept that 40 seconds were lost when clarification was being sought. I timed it. I appeal to the Minister of State and to all other Deputies to try to observe the time limits so we can move on promptly.

When I ask speakers to conclude, I will give them a few seconds to do so.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Lisa Chambers

Question:

30. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence how he plans to address the concerns regarding working conditions in the Defence Forces raised at the recent PDFORRA conference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44190/17]

I note and commend the work of Defence Forces personnel in responding to the damage inflicted by Storm Ophelia and in assisting citizens across the country. The work of the Defence Forces should be commended, particularly in light of the diminished numbers and resources with which they are dealing.

A number of issues of concern were outlined at the recent PDFORRA conference. I know they were not new to the Minister of State in any way. What are his plans to address the concerns about the working conditions in the Defence Forces that were raised at the PDFORRA conference?

I join Deputy Chambers in complimenting everyone in the Defence Forces, the Civil Defence, the Irish Red Cross and all the voluntary organisations. I would like to thank the officials in the Office of Emergency Planning and the various Departments for all their work in recent days.

I thank PDFORRA for its invitation to attend and address its annual conference, which was held in Cavan just over two weeks ago. The conference gave me an opportunity to listen to the concerns expressed by individual members and the executive of PDFORRA. The conference agenda and the various speeches covered a wide variety of issues, including pay, allowances, recruitment, retention, accommodation and the working time directive. I set out my perspective on various issues of concern to the members of PDFORRA in my address to them. The finalisation of negotiations with PDFORRA earlier this year under the Lansdowne Road agreement, followed by PDFORRA's acceptance of the agreement, allowed for the implementation of pay increases. It was appropriate that those increases were weighted in favour of those on lower pay. I was particularly pleased that the deal negotiated between the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform and PDFORRA saw significant adjustments to the payscales of post-2013 general service recruits and privates.

The negotiations for an extension to the Lansdowne Road agreement that followed the publication of the report of the Public Service Pay Commission in May 2017 resulted in the public service stability agreement, which contains proposals for further pay increases of between 5.75% and 7.25% over its lifetime between 2018 and 2020, with the proposed increases being focused on the lower paid. The stability agreement provides that the Public Service Pay Commission will conduct a comprehensive examination and analysis of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention. This flows from the commission's report, which identified that certain areas of the public service are experiencing difficulties in retaining personnel, particularly in specialist streams. The defence sector was highlighted as a priority. It is anticipated that further work by the Public Service Pay Commission will commence soon. I have initiated a review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme. I hope to finalise the terms of reference shortly. I will circulate them to the representative organisations for their information. I met the representative associations in advance of the official publication of the report of the climate study focus groups to hear their views. I have listened carefully to the feedback that was received. Work is well advanced on providing for the encompassing of the Defence Forces within the Organisation of Working Time Act. This particular item has the potential to change dramatically the manner in which the day-to-day work of the Defence Forces is monitored.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Government remains committed to ensuring the Permanent Defence Force reaches its strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel. Recruitment is ongoing. As announced in last week's budget, the Government has increased the defence capital allocation. This will see additional investment in equipment and infrastructure over the coming years. All these measures will enhance the capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake all roles assigned to them.

Is it not the case that as a result of the consistent neglect of the Defence Forces by this Government and its predecessor, things have reached the stage where minuscule pay increases and apparent improvements in working conditions will not be sufficient? The Minister of State and I have been doing this dance for quite some time, so we know that things are getting worse. Since I took up my position as Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on defence, I have been raising directly with the Minister of State issues like pay and conditions, the lack of a retention policy to bring an end to the mass exodus of members, the low levels of morale and the general crisis in our Defence Forces. I commend PDFORRA on its work in consistently highlighting to the Minister of State and every Member of this House the severe difficulties being faced by its members who are unable to pay their bills or put a roof over their heads. Increasing numbers of Defence Forces personnel are availing of family income supplement. There are huge problems. Many members of the Defence Forces are so disillusioned that they are looking to buy their way out. They do not want to wait until the end of their full terms. I accept that there has always been a certain level of turnover, but the number of people leaving the Defence Forces at present is unprecedented. The recruitment campaign is not plugging the gap because people are leaving at such a fast rate.

There is no retention policy to hold on to the personnel we have. When will the Minister of State put a concrete plan in place to address retention in our Defence Forces? When will he deal with the issue of morale in our Defence Forces? When will he provide for proper pay and conditions?

Deputy, please. You will have another minute for a further supplementary question.

The members of our Defence Forces are the lowest paid workers in our public service.

I ask Deputies not to exceed the amount of time available to them.

I would encourage Deputy Chambers to mix with members of the Defence Forces to see how morale has changed over the last while.

On a point of order, I meet them on a regular basis.

I am not surprised that the Deputy is carrying on like this about public sector pay.

Sorry, Minister of State. Stick to the answer.

I am replying. I think I should be allowed the opportunity to reply.

I am not surprised that Deputy Chambers is speaking about public sector pay. I would love to open the chequebook, but I am responsible. Those of us on this side of the House are taking a responsible approach to the country's economic future. When the Deputy's party and my party reached agreement on a programme for Government and a relationship for Government, the progress of the public pay talks was one of the issues we discussed. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both bought into that. As I made clear at the PDFORRA conference, we have to be responsible in this regard. I am happy that a young recruit who comes into the Defence Forces now gets €27,000 after six months of training, compared to €22,000 previously. This represents an increase of €5,000. Defence Forces personnel can get further increases if they sign up to the extended Lansdowne Road agreement. I decided to address a number of issues at the PDFORRA conference. This was very much welcomed by the members of PDFORRA. For example, I announced a review of the entire conciliation and arbitration system. I will appoint an independent chairperson to review it. As I said in my reply, I have almost signed off on the terms of reference. I will give them to PDFORRA and the Defence Forces to be finalised. The contracts that were initiated by Fianna Fáil-led Governments in 1994 and 2006 are also to be reviewed.

You have gone way over time.

They are ludicrous and I can understand the frustrations of the members of the Defence Forces.

They are resulting in the Defence Forces losing the services of young men and women. I want to review the whole contract system.

The Minister of State's party has been in Government for over six years. I accept that the Minister of State has a budgetary responsibility to the Government, but I remind him that as a Minister of State who essentially takes all the responsibility for the defence portfolio, he also has a duty to the men and women who are the members of the Irish Defence Forces. I do not believe he has advocated for them adequately in the context of next year's budget.

The Minister of State suggested that the contracts are prehistoric, but he has been in this Department for over six years. These issues have been highlighted to him for years, but he has not dealt with them. He is here now talking about the conciliation and arbitration process. I highlighted the deficiencies in that process months ago, prior to the pay talks. It is only now that an independent review is being conducted. I put it to the Minister of State that if the independent review is anything like the Air Corps review he conducted, we should not be holding our breath because that review did not work. The Minister of State needs to give assurances that this review will be conducted properly and that the person appointed to conduct it will have the competence and expertise to do so. We will need to see progress and results from it.

I have no doubt that the RACO conference will send a similarly strong message about the crisis in our Defence Forces.

While the Minister of State can say he has made progress, the facts remain the same. The numbers are diminishing and the strength is the lowest ever. We are nowhere near the 9,500 requirement, and we should really be at 10,500. There is no retention plan in place. While the Minister of State can talk about pay, he has not addressed conditions and the diminishing numbers in our Defence Forces.

I do not accept any of the accusations that the Deputy has thrown across the floor at me. It is interesting to note that the Deputy left out the contracts of 1994 and 2006 in her questioning.

I mentioned them.

There were issues raised at the PDFORRA conference, which I committed to address and delegates were very happy that I did so. They asked previous Ministers, including some from Fianna Fáil, to carry out a review of the CNA process. I have committed to doing that.

I considered the best way forward over the past number of months. I was not going to announce that I was going to review the CNA process following my appointment. Rather, I wanted to consider the best way forward and review other defence forces across Europe in terms of how they carry out their CNA processes. I was delighted to announce that we will have over 300 NCO promotions, some of whom are already in place.

Defence Forces Strength

Bríd Smith

Question:

31. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to address the chronic staff shortages in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44188/17]

The Minister of State will probably repeat much of what he said to other Deputies. I ask him to outline how he will try to improve the chronic staff shortages in the Defence Forces. What steps will he take to ensure more recruitment takes place and staff shortages are addressed?

The White Paper on Defence, published in 2015, sets out the Government’s defence policy for the next decade. Any discussion on Defence Forces capability, numbers of personnel and so on needs to be framed in the context of the White Paper on Defence which commits to maintaining the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel, comprising 7,520 Army, 886 Air Corps and 1,094 Naval Service personnel.

The strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 30 September was 9,062 personnel and further inductions have been ongoing since that date. There is significant ongoing recruitment at enlisted and officer level, and it is anticipated that 800 new personnel will have been inducted into the Permanent Defence Force during 2017. This includes general service recruits, apprentices, cadets and direct entry officers. A further recruitment campaign is under way with a closing date of 27 October 2017 and will provide a panel for recruit inductions in 2018.

A range of recruitment methods are being employed, including direct entry competitions for specialist positions, and the scope to further expand direct entry is being considered. I have also directed civil and military management to develop terms and conditions to allow former members of the Defence Forces with sought after skills to return to service. I expect to be in receipt of these shortly.

The fact that further consideration by the Public Service Pay Commission of recruitment and retention issues is provided for under the public service stability agreement 2018-2020 is also a welcome development. We must also not lose sight of the fact that Defence Forces personnel join up of their own free will and I believe great efforts are being made, within that context, to maximise the numbers coming into the Defence Forces.

The actions I have described are actions which are currently being carried out. It is also necessary to plan for the future on a longer-term basis. With this in mind, I have directed that some White Paper projects be brought forward. This work will help in identifying where gaps will occur for particular skill sets and allow for more targeted manpower planning.

I remain committed to maximising recruitment to the Defence Forces and ensuring that, where possible, the terms and conditions of service ensure that the Defence Forces remains an attractive career choice. With the support of the Chief of Staff, and within the resources available, the Government is committed to retaining the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and to undertake the tasks laid down by Government at home and overseas.

I have to reject the idea that what the Minister of State has proposed will work. A second recruitment campaign took place this year and, as other Deputies have pointed out, there is an exodus from the Defence Forces, as well as significant staff turnover.

I refer to conditions. The Public Sector Pay Commission reported that there was a reduction in expressions of interest in the Defence Forces, from 10,000 in 2012 to 5,000 last year. That must be very worrying for the Minister of State, as the man in charge.

I and others, including many sailors and soldiers, would acknowledge that this is due to the poor pay and conditions. Those in the Army have a maximum career of 21 years. The working time directive does not apply to them. Many work over 70 hours a week for no extra remuneration as they do not receive overtime. In other words, they are not appropriately paid for the number of hours they work.

They are excluded from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and have no right to strike. When gardaí received remuneration in respect of rent because they refused to endorse the Lansdowne Road agreement, that decision was applied to prison officers and firefighters but not members of the Defence Forces. We congratulate them for the wonderful job they do, but they are not being given their rights.

There were pay increases for members of the Defence Forces in the Lansdowne Road agreement, which they signed up to. They now have an opportunity to sign up to the extended Lansdowne Road agreement. The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, announced yesterday that the Public Service Pay Commission will begin work shortly. It will examine a number of areas. The Defence Forces were specifically mentioned in the Minister's press release, as well as certain areas of the health sector and professional posts within the Civil Service. The Minister has recognised that there are pinch points in terms of retention in the organisation, and I would be the first to recognise that.

The men and women who are defending human rights throughout the world, whether it is in the Mediterranean, Mali or the Golan Heights, are being denied their human rights by the Government due to the level of inappropriate pay for the amount of hours they work, the lack of access to proper trade union organisation and a range of other complaints which have been brought before the Minister of State to date. There is a high level of staff turnover.

Low pay is being addressed only because most members of the Defence Forces are in receipt of family income supplement, FIS. A significant number rely on the payment in order to pay hectic rents and for the extra travel they have to engage in because of relocation following the closure of barracks. The Government has failed entirely to deal with the issue.

Women are being targeted because only 6% of Defence Forces' members are women. The Minister of State has not indicated how he can attract women into such low paid and bad conditions where there is a disregard for their rights.

The Deputy and other members of her group have often thrown out the line that significant numbers of members of the Defence Forces are in receipt of FIS. That is totally incorrect. I will send on information on the number of people within the Defence Forces in receipt of FIS. She will be quite surprised to learn that the numbers are not as large as she and her colleagues have spoken about in the Chamber and outside. I will clarify the position for her.

Any level is unacceptable.

I have to stay within the confines of public pay and the extended Lansdowne Road agreement. I would love to be able to take out the public pay chequebook and start giving people pay increases across the board. However, I do not have the power to do that. I have to work with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform when he sets out public pay for all sectors within the public service.

I understand that the Deputy has her own frustrations, as do I. I was honest with members of the Defence Forces when I addressed their conference. I have fought and will continue to fight for them. That is why I was able to secure an extra increase of €5,000 for new trained regular members of the Defence Forces.

EU Bodies

Clare Daly

Question:

32. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself that all correct procedures were followed prior to the nomination of a person (details supplied) for election to the position of chair of the European Union Military Committee. [44216/17]

My question is about the procedures followed in making the decision to nominate the Chief of Staff as chair of the European Union Military Committee. The decision was taken on 18 September, two days before we resumed after the summer break, without any consultation with the Dáil. There was an arrogance in the timing and the fact that the House had not been consulted. No doubt the Minister of State will tell me that, strictly, no rules were broken, but it was an affront to our long-standing policy of military neutrality.

I am fully satisfied all correct national and EU procedures were followed in the nomination of Vice Admiral Mellett, the current Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, for appointment as chair of the European Union Military Committee, the most senior military establishment within the European Union. It was established under Council Decision 2001/79/CFSP. When meeting in chiefs of defence format, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces attends. However, on a day-to-day basis, at its meetings, Ireland’s EU military representative who is attached to Ireland’s Permanent Representation to the European Union attends meetings of the committee on his behalf. Ireland has participated in the European Union Military Committee since its establishment.

Pursuant to Article 3(1) of Council Decision 2001/79/CFSP, the chair of the Military Committee of the European Union is appointed by the European Council on the recommendation of the European Union Military Committee meeting at the level of chiefs of defence. Accordingly, the next chair of the European Union Military Committee will be selected by secret vote by the chiefs of defence of the member states at a meeting scheduled to take place next month in Brussels. On the basis of that vote, the chair will then be appointed by the European Council for a fixed period of three years.

The Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 provides in section 3(1)(a) that a contingent or member of the Permanent Defence Force may, with the prior approval of and on the authority of the Government, be despatched for service outside the State for the purposes of carrying out duties as a military representative or filling appointments or postings outside the State, including secondments to any international organisation. Pursuant to this provision, the Government, at its meeting on 19 September, decided to nominate Vice Admiral Mark Mellett as chair of the European Union Military Committee, consistent with the provisions of the Defence Acts. Following that approval and on the authority of Government, Ireland’s nomination of Vice Admiral Mark Mellett for election to the position of chair of the European Union Military Committee was formally communicated when nominations opened. The nomination for appointment as chair of the European Union Military Committee further demonstrates Ireland’s ongoing commitment to remaining at the core of the European Union's Common Security and Defence Policy.

The Minister of State's response is largely technical, whereas the issue is probably broadly political. I have no problem whatever with the individual involved, which is not at issue. There are implications for Irish neutrality in this nomination to one of the European Union's permanent political and military structures which sits snugly beside the European Defence Agency. Let us not kid ourselves as the European Union Military Committee is exactly what it says on the tin; it is a military committee. Its recent chairman indicated that for the European Union soft power and hard power went hand in hand. In an address in Estonia in February the EU global strategy was described, with a key element being the establishment of permanent planning and conduct capability for military missions and operations. They were the most pressing priorities. We are looking down the barrel in having the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, if elected to the role, take on the position and driving forward in the operational military headquarters of the European Union. That is quite simply incredible in a country with a policy of neutrality. The triple lock mechanism should have been invoked and it is in place for a reason. It is incredibly disrespectful that there has not been a debate in the House on the matter.

The timing of the decision coincided with the opening of nominations for the position. The decision does not call into question our policy on neutrality. Ireland has been a member of the European Union Military Committee since its inception in 2001. It was supported by successive Governments comprising Fianna Fáil and Independents; Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats; Fianna Fáil and the Green Party; Fine Gael and the Labour Party; and Fine Gael and Independents. All of these Governments over many years supported our commitment to being a member of the committee. It shows the standing of personnel within the Defence Forces that they are capable of being nominated for such a position as chair of the European Union Military Committee. I would be the first to respect our neutrality, but that does not mean that we should not engage at an international level. I can absolutely stand here and say the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces is an excellent candidate. He has proved himself in the Naval Service and the Defence Forces as a whole. He can stand shoulder to shoulder with colleagues, including previous Chiefs of Staff, and personnel across Europe.

I never said he could not. Previous Chiefs of Staff might have something to say about that as they were also capable of being nominated, but that is not at issue. It is not about a skill set but about a political decision. The Minister of State is correct in that the decision is completely in line with other policies adopted that have chipped away at our neutrality. They include the US military's use of Shannon Airport, NATO warships in Irish ports, sending Irish ships to global arms fairs and committing them to involvement in operations such as Operation Sophia, exporting arms and joining EU battle groups. We have done all of that and now want our man at the helm to be chair of the European Union Military Committee. The Minister of State knows that its current chairman has been glad-handing the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army which is known for extra-judicial killings and widespread human rights abuses. Do we want the Chief of Staff to be engaged in this also? It seems to be quite clear from the Minister of State's response that this is a prestige project which for some reason is being driven either by the Government or sections of the Defence Forces; I am not sure which. It seems that they want to be big boys playing with the fellows with big toys, but it would not be welcomed by most citizens.

It was a Government decision. The Deputy mentioned Operation Sophia. It came within the triple-lock mechanism as it is a UN-mandated mission. It received Government approval and the approval of this House. I have never been afraid to bring decisions to the Chamber, knowing that I could walk out the door saying the Dáil and the Government had made the right decision. This is good for the Defence Forces and Ireland. I hope the Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, will get the nod and win the vote. I wish him the very best. The Government and the diplomatic corps have given him help. It sends a very strong message that we have people who are capable of holding a position such as this.