Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

We commence with questions for oral answer to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Kehoe. Before we start, I want to make reference once more to the fact that we are 12 minutes late commencing business. It is not good enough. People are looking in and it sends out the wrong message. I am not criticising those who are here - I am grateful to you who have turned up. This is a message to those who should be here.

Defence Forces Expenditure

Jack Chambers

Question:

59. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the percentage increase for current defence expenditure in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48530/18]

What was the percentage increase for current defence expenditure in 2019, and will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter? There is serious concern that the stagnant level of defence expenditure is having an impact the ability of the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army. Despite our being a neutral country, we are falling behind in the context of the overall budgetary expenditure. Will the Minister of State outline the budgetary allocation?

The provision of current expenditure for the defence sector for 2019 is €888 million, which is an increase of 2.1% on the 2018 provision. This comprises €639 million in current funding for Vote 36 - Defence and €249 million in current funding for Vote 35 - Army Pensions. Capital funding of €106 million has also been provided. Overall, the increase in funding for the defence sector for 2019 is 5%.

I am delighted to take this opportunity to set out the 2019 funding position which shows this Government’s commitment to defence, as evidenced by the increased allocation provided for 2019. The total defence sector allocation, including Army pensions, will be €994 million in 2019, an increase of €47.5 million over 2018. This allocation of almost €1 billion emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the resources necessary to deliver on all roles assigned by Government, both at home and overseas.

Defence Forces pay is continuing to increase in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay, ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over its lifetime. The 2019 allocation includes €6.3 million to meet the commitments for next year. Further increases in pay are scheduled for 2020.

The Government has ensured that full funding has been provided for 2019 for the target strength for the Permanent Defence Force of 9,500, and I continue to engage with the military authorities to ensure that retention and recruitment continue to be prioritised. An additional €2.2 million has been allocated to meet other current costs in the Defence Vote, and a further €10 million has been allocated to the Army Pensions Vote to meet the retirement costs of ex-members of the permanent Defence Force and certain dependants.

In accordance with the national development plan, the capital allocation for defence has been increased to €106 million for 2019, an increase of €29 million. The national development plan provides for a total of €541 million over the period 2018 to 2022. This level of capital funding will allow the defence organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, as identified and prioritised in the Defence White Paper, and builds on the significant investment programme over recent years.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In summary, the allocation for current expenditure, including pay and pension costs, in the defence sector for 2019 has increased by €18.5 million, an increase of 2.1%. This, combined with the increased capital allocation, will give an overall provision of almost €1 billion for next year, illustrating the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the capabilities necessary to deliver on all their assigned roles.

I am aware the Minister of State has outlined his explanation, but of real concern is an internal document from the finance branch of the support division from the Defence Forces Ireland, Óglaigh na hÉireann which has outlined an analysis of the budgetary allocation that he has secured. It says that the defence group expenditure for 2019 represents 1.49% of total Government spending. The group expenditure ceiling as a percentage of GDP last year was higher. We have a lot of spin around recruitment and retention, but the bare facts show that his Department has the lowest percentage increase in allocation in a Government context. Year on year, for example, as a percentage of GDP, the allocation for next year has dropped. It is 0.291% versus 0.292% this year. The gross national income has dropped to 0.479% for next year, which is again a percentage reduction.

All the key metrics point to a reduced defence budget in real terms. In this internal document, which is from the military authorities themselves, it is stated that an evaluation utilising a number of key statistics would indicate that defence spending is reducing or remaining stagnant in real terms. How can the Minister of State stand over a stagnant budgetary allocation when we have such a recruitment and retention crisis and issues around morale? It is important that the mandarins in his Department secure a greater allocation from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

I missed what the Deputy said. What did he call the people in my Department?

I am giving no more time. I am going to very sharp on time today. The Minister of State has one minute to reply.

I take great umbrage at the Deputy's comments. Did he call them mandarins? It is total ignorance to call a civil servant a mandarin. It is beneath the Deputy and anybody in this House. I will say no more. It is up to the Deputy to correct the record if he wants to proceed in that manner.

Almost €1 billion is being allocated for defence spending in 2019. That is a €47 million increase, which equates to a 5% increase in 2019.

The conclusions reached in the internal document that the Deputy talks about are completely contradicted by its own analysis. It describes a 5.7% increase of €48 million and also states that there is an increase of €48 million in defence spending or 5.07% of the 2018 gross expenditure ceiling. This document was prepared internally.

I will stand over the increase and I am delighted that we gained the increase in this year's budget for defence spending. We will be able to carry on with the ongoing capital investment within the Department and the Defence Forces. The Deputy knows the real capital expenditure and investment that we are putting into the Defence Forces. On the current side there was an increase of 2.1% and an increase of 37.7% on the capital side. There is ongoing investment within the Defence Forces.

The Deputy referred to recruitment and retention. The most important thing here is that the Government has provided resources to the Defence Forces for a full personnel complement of 9,500 members.

I ask the Minister of State and the Members to keep an eye on the clock. I do not want to be interfering and interjecting all of the time.

The conclusion is very clear. Defence spending in all of the key metrics is reducing or remaining stagnant in real terms. He can spin it whatever way he likes to and so can his Department officials. The reality is that under his leadership, his Department is beefing up its own internal management.

The Minister of State has created a new assistant secretary position while we are haemorrhaging massive numbers in a recruitment and retention crisis. This is happening under the Minister of State's watch. He secured the lowest percentage increase relative to other Departments. He is the Scrooge of the Government when it comes to allocations and securing funding for military personnel in the State. There will be a Public Service Pay Commission report next year, but there does not appear to be much hope in the budgetary allocation for that year. If the Minister of State rejects the internal note made by military management, it is on him. It looks at gross national income, gross domestic product and the key metrics in budgetary allocations and the allocation is stagnant. Management also made a notable point in its report. When compared to the Minister for Justice and Equality, military management states An Garda Síochána is receiving an additional €60 million in 2019 to fund Garda reforms and the introduction of 800 new recruits. Similarly, the overseas aid allocation has been increased by €110 million in budget 2019. Management is comparing the Minister of State's allocations negatively with those for the Department of Justice and Equality.

Please allow the Minister of State to respond.

It reinforces a serious morale issue in terms of the spend on defence. It is a low allocation relative to that for other Departments.

The Deputy should show respect for the Chair.

To compare it with other Votes, the defence group expenditure ceiling was increased by 5.07%, while the education and skills group expenditure ceiling increased by 4.9%, the health group expenditure ceiling by 6.2% and the justice group expenditure ceiling by 5.9%. That confirms that the increase in the defence Vote was comparable with the increases in other Votes. The Deputy says I am a Scrooge when it comes to negotiating a budget for the Department of Defence. Since I was appointed to the Department, the budget has increased year on year. The Deputy has an internal document. It is quite worrying that it has been leaked from the Defence Forces, which it is presumed are secure. I am disappointed that an internal document has been released into the public domain. There was an increase of €48 million, or 5.07%, in the 2018 gross expenditure ceiling. I am quoting from the same document the Deputy has in his possession.

It is in the conclusions.

I am also looking at the comparable figures for other Departments.

There can be no further debate.

I am quite happy with the budget I negotiated.

It is almost 10.55 a.m. and we have only got through one question.

Naval Service Operations

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

60. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Naval Service cannot fulfil its commitments on fisheries protection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48474/18]

This question relates to the failure this year and in previous years of the Naval Service to fulfil its service level agreement with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority because it cannot get its ships out to sea and the dangers that poses to the fishing industry, as well as the ability of gangs to smuggle goods into the country via the sea.

The Naval Service is the State's principal seagoing agency tasked with a variety of defence and other roles. While the main day-to-day role of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union, it also carries out a number of other non-fishery related tasks. I pay tribute to the significant security role the Naval Service routinely carries out. By its nature, often that security role goes unrecognised or unacknowledged, but it is vital to Ireland's national priorities and interests.

Regarding its sea fisheries protection role, the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 established the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, as the competent authority for securing efficient and effective enforcement of sea fisheries protection legislation and the sustainable exploitation of marine fish resources from the waters around Ireland. A service level agreement is in place which underpins the relationship between the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority and the defence organisation. The agreement provides for the development of an annual control plan and agreed reporting and training arrangements. It also provides a forum for sharing information between parties and dealing with fisheries control and enforcement issues.

Departmental officials, members of the Naval Service and the Air Corps have met officials of the SFPA at formal and informal meetings throughout the year and enjoy a collaborative relationship on sea fishery protection matters. I am advised that, notwithstanding challenges encountered in the Naval Service this year, the projected number of patrol days in 2018 will be 98.2% of the target agreed with the SFPA. The SFPA has been kept fully informed of developments in sea fishery protection.

I am assured by military management that the Naval Service continues to carry out its maritime, security and defence operational responsibilities.

Just because a ship is at sea does not necessarily mean that it is patrolling. There is a huge difference. Ships are leaving Haulbowline and anchoring off the coast in order that it can be said they are operational. That is a disgrace and must be addressed. The Minister of State and the military authorities must admit that they cannot fulfil the duties they undertake with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority because they cannot get ships out to sea. That would be an honest admission. Some 138 patrol days had been lost by August this year and I doubt that they have been made up since. The likelihood is that by the end of the year the annual control plan figures which range from 1,090 to to 1,267 will not have been achieved. Will the Minister of State admit that the lack of recruits and the exodus of personnel are causing major problems for the Naval Service in delivering the service everybody wants? What will he do to ensure ships are at sea patrolling and protecting the coastline?

As I said, the annual control plan is agreed with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority and sets out the strategy for achieving sea fisheries control targets each year. In accordance with the agreement, the 2018 annual control plan has a target range of between 1,090 and 1,267 patrol days. Notwithstanding the challenges encountered in the Naval Service this year, the projected number of patrol days in 2018 is 1,070, or 20 days short of the original target. These are the figures I have received from the Naval Service. The number of patrol days on fisheries and security duties in 2014 was 1,127. In 2015 it was 1,204; in 2016, 1,367 and in 2017, 1,408. At the end of October the figure was 1,345. We have an excellent relationship with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. Discussions with the Naval Service on its fisheries protection service have focused increasingly on the quality of inspections undertaken, rather than the quantity of inspections. It is important that we continue to have that relationship and maintain the number of patrol days.

When the Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, appeared before the joint committee last week, he tried to explain the loss of sea days by saying boardings were made more efficiently and so forth. That may well be the case, but it does not explain the fact that in 2005 there were 1,681 patrol days, while the Minister of State is now talking about a figure of 1,000. That does not compute. As we now have more ships than we had in 2005, there is something wrong. The Minister of State should admit that there is a major problem with retention in the Naval Service and that he cannot get ships out to sea to carry out full operations as it did in the past.

We are operating the same number of ships as we operated this time last year. We also have similar commitments to those we had last year in the Mediterranean. The Deputy referred to what the Chief of Staff said last week at the committee meeting. He said that in all his years in the Naval Service days at sea had been lost for a variety of reasons.

Five per cent of the days lost at sea were due to personnel reasons. That has always been the case and there is nothing new in it. I have spoken about the challenges faced in the Naval Service. We are considering our commitments in 2019. However, this is one of our main commitments to the Sea-Fisheries Protection Agency and it will continue to be the case in 2019. We have an excellent relationship with it. I have instructed senior officials in my Department to meet its chief executive officer. The letter came from a more junior person within the agency; it did not come from the chief executive officer and I want to get to the bottom of it. We will continue to prioritise our commitment to the agency.

I did not raise the issue of a letter.

Defence Forces Strength

Jack Chambers

Question:

61. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the target date for the Permanent Defence Force to reach its approved strength of 9,500; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48531/18]

I ask the Minister of State at the Department of Defence the target date for the Permanent Defence Force to reach its approved strength of 9,500 and if he will make a statement on the matter. Despite the Government's White Paper which outlines a target strength of 9,500 personnel, the numbers in the Defence Forces have been at an historical low. They have dropped to below 9,000 and will continue to drop.

The Deputy has posed his question.

I reinforce the point I made about the mardarins in the Minister of State's Department. A new position, that of assistant secretary to deal with staff, has been created. The Minister of State is beefing up internal bureaucracy, while the numbers in the Defence Forces are falling year on year. He needs to address that matter.

The Government remains committed to achieving the strength target of at least 9,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force, as set out in the 2015 White Paper on Defence. There are a number of factors, some of which are hard to predict, which will impact on the timeframe within which this will be achieved.

Recruitment has continued in 2018, with the running of two general service recruit competitions, a cadet competition, apprentice competitions, an instrumentalist competition and direct entry streams. They have resulted in more than 600 personnel being inducted to date in 2018. The most recent figures, provided by the military authorities, give the whole-time equivalent strength of the Permanent Defence Force as just below 9,000 personnel. Further inductions are scheduled in November and final figures for the numbers inducted in 2018 and strength will not be available until the end of the year. Progress in recruitment will be reviewed in the coming weeks and inform future plans.

As I have outlined previously, there are particular challenges in recruiting and retaining certain specialists such as pilots, air traffic controllers and certain technicians. These specialists can prove difficult to retain where, as in current economic circumstances, there are ongoing lucrative private and commercial public sector job opportunities. I understand the retention of such specialists has proved challenging for many military forces internationally and is not unique to Ireland. A range of alternative recruitment approaches are being developed, aimed at addressing vacancies in specialist areas. My Department has introduced a scheme 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. Currently, there is direct entry provision for those with professional qualifications which is utilised in the recruitment of medical officers and engineers. A working group is examining the scope for greater use of such direct entry recruitment to fill certain specialist positions.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Public Service Pay Commission has been tasked with examining recruitment and retention issues in the defence sector and requested material has been forwarded to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. When the Public Service Pay Commissions reports, its findings will be considered.

The Permanent Defence Force continues to offer excellent career opportunities for serving personnel and new entrants. Ensuring the terms and conditions of serving members of the Permanent Defence Force are fair and balanced is also a key consideration.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

There are a range of actions outlined in the 2015 White Paper on Defence which are aimed at advancing this goal. The criteria for extending service beyond 12 years have been revised and an examination of contracts for enlisted personnel has been prioritised. A gap analysis of skill sets in the Permanent Defence Force has also been brought forward. In addition, the military authorities have introduced further initiatives to enhance work-life balance, which is also to be welcomed.

The Government is committed to retaining the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and undertake the tasks laid down by it, both at home and overseas.

The Minister of State mentioned the Public Service Pay Commission. We know that last week the Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mellett, had to offer his perspective and unique insight because all of the recommendations he had made to the Minister of State and his Department had been completely ignored in the Minister of State's submission, which represents a complete failure of the Government. The Public Service Pay Commission potentially may come back next year with recommendations that will not address the serious issues in recruitment and retention. As of this year, 30% of recruits who left purchased their discharge. That represents a doubling of the practice in two years. There has been a massive exodus from the Defence Forces. In addition, the Minister of State did not clarify when the target strength set out in the White Paper would be reached. It was set by Deputy Coveney when he was the Minister. Under the Minister of State's leadership and during his tenure the numbers are moving in only one direction - away from the target strength - because of the Government's failure to address recruitment and retention policies.

The loss of expertise and experience in the Defence Forces is also an issue and it is not possible to address it by way of recruitment. Personnel are leaving the Defence Forces year on year and their experience which cannot be replaced is being lost to the organisation. Even the recruits who are entering the Defence Forces are purchasing their way out under the Minister of State's leadership. It is pity that he ignored all of the recommendations made by the Chief of Staff and that he has had to make such public pleas.

I have full confidence in the Public Service Pay Commission, to which I understand the Deputy's party signed up in the confidence and supply arrangement. Presumably, he is on the same page in the sense that he would not go against-----

Why did the Minister of State not make recommendations?

Please allow the Minister of State to continue.

The reason there were no recommendations was the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform came back to us to state it did not want recommendations.

The Minister of State made recommendations for the Air Corps.

Yes. It come back to us directly because there was too much in the public domain. A document was put into the public domain and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform stated it did not want recommendations to be made, that it wanted hard data. That is exactly what it got in the joint submission, namely, the data analysis it had sought. I am delighted that both the Department and the military came up with a joint submission. The Chief of Staff described the submission to the Public Service Pay Commission as being very robust. I look forward to the commission reporting back in due course. The Government can then consider its findings.

The Minister of State mentioned hard data. I will give him some hard facts. Sixty-six members of the Naval Service are sleeping on Naval Service vessels while onshore because they cannot afford to rent a home. They are the bare facts and data. Recommendations were made by the Chief of Staff to shine a light on issues in the organisation, but they were dropped by the mandarins in the Minister of State's Department. "Mardarins" is an appropriate word to use, but it can be replaced with bureaucracy. The Minister of State will not shut me down or tell me what is in the confidence and supply arrangement. He contradicted his previous statement when he said no recommendations had been made when, under his leadership, he made recommendations for pilots in the Air Corps. His policy is completely contradictory. He allowed recommendations to be made in one instance and then ignored recommendations made by the Chief of staff's office. That is a complete contradiction. I will define what is in the confidence and supply arrangement and will not have the Minister of State or the Government tell me what it is. Fianna Fáil is clear that we are absolutely committed to the Defence Forces and dealing with the pay and conditions of personnel and retention issues. During the Minister of State's tenure in the Department the numbers are moving in one direction - away from the target strength of 9,500 as outlined in the White Paper. He even failed to indicate when he would achieve that target.

That is very interesting because in Fianna Fáil pre-budget submission neither the Defence Forces nor the Department of Defence was even mentioned. That shows the Deputy's commitment to the-----

That is not true.

It is. I saw the document.

What is the Minister of State talking about?

The Deputy's party signed up to the confidence and supply arrangement which deals with public sector pay. Presumably, the Deputy has signed up to what is set out in it on public sector pay.

The Minister of State should deal with the recommendations made.

The Deputy's party is part of that arrangement. I want us to get to the full establishment figure of 9,500 personnel as soon as possible, but, unfortunately-----

Are we looking at a period of 20 years?

I do not believe it will take 20 years, but I will not put a timeframe on it.

That is very worrying.

It is a priority for me to make sure we reach the full establishment figure of 9,500 as soon as possible. I am working with my military colleagues to make sure we will get to that number. The Government has provided the financial resources for Defence Forces management to reach the full establishment figure of 9,500 personnel. It has my full support in that regard. I have stated on numerous occasions that we will broaden recruitment capacity. We are in discussions on expanding capacity at Gormanston and considering providing additional instructors.

I have given Defence Forces management full support in terms of whatever is required to get to the full establishment of 9,500 personnel.

Defence Forces Personnel

Bríd Smith

Question:

62. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the measures he is taking to deal with the crisis in the Defence Forces in respect of the retention and recruitment of staff, for example, the basic operations of the Naval Service in its fishery protection role; and if he will review the policy in respect of recognition of representative associations in the Defence Forces as a mechanism to deal with some aspects of this crisis. [48587/18]

I think the Minister of State is probably trying to acknowledge, without using the word "crisis", that there is a crisis in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces, including the Naval Service and Air Corps. If he used the word, he could at least start to deal with the crisis in a realistic way. Talking about recruiting specialists and the financial resources being available to bring the numbers back up to 9,500 is not looking reality in the face. I want to ask about pay policy, recognition for the Defence Forces and how the Minister of State intends dealing with the crisis in a realistic, meaningful way.

The Deputy's question relates to the Naval Service in its fishery protection role and so on.

That is given as an example.

That is the question the Deputy asked.

I used the term "for example".

The Minister of State to reply.

As I have previously outlined, the Naval Service continues to carry out its sea fishery protection duties. The most recent figures provided by the military authorities give the whole-time equivalent strength of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, as just below 9,000 personnel. The establishment for the Naval Service is 1,094 personnel. The current strength of the Naval Service is just below 1,000 personnel. The number of personnel departing the Naval Service can fluctuate year on year. While the level of turnover may exceed other areas of the public service, this is a feature of military organisations.

Recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force has continued in 2018 and, as I have previously outlined, particular challenges exist in recruiting and retaining certain specialists. I understand that the retention of such specialists, for example, pilots, has proved challenging for many military forces internationally and it is not unique to Ireland. A range of alternative recruitment approaches are being developed aimed at addressing vacancies in specialist areas. My Department has introduced a scheme which permits former officers with specialist skills to re-enter the PDF and arrangements are in train to provide a similar scheme for former enlisted personnel. Currently, there is direct entry provision for those with professional qualifications which is utilised for the recruitment of medical officers and engineers. A working group is examining the scope for greater use of such direct entry recruitment for certain specialist positions.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Public Service Pay Commission has been tasked with examining recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces organisation and requested material has been forwarded to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I am very much in favour of allowing the commission to undertake its analysis objectively and independently, and I do not wish to pre-empt that process. When the Public Service Pay Commission reports, its findings will be considered at that point.

With regard to other retention measures, there are a range of actions outlined in the White Paper on Defence of 2015 which are aimed at enhancing the capabilities of the Defence Forces.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

These include human resources initiatives which impact on retention such as providing career development opportunities and accreditation. The criteria for extending service beyond 12 years have been revised and this has ensured that personnel who would have had to depart could remain. An examination of age profiles for enlisted personnel has been prioritised and this is being progressed. A gap analysis of skill sets in the Permanent Defence Force has also been brought forward. In addition, the military authorities have introduced further initiatives to enhance work-life balance and this is also to be welcomed.

The conciliation and arbitration, CA, scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force provides an established mechanism for the PDF representative associations to engage with the official side. The scheme has provided the framework to progress many successful negotiated agreements between defence management and the PDF representative associations. I initiated a fundamental review of the scheme and have recently received the report from the independent chair. Currently, the parties to the scheme are considering the process for implementing the recommendations contained in this report. 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 both at home and overseas.

I cited sea fisheries as an example. The Minister of State should have read the question carefully. Whoever called his officials mandarins was correct. My question is about the retention and recruitment of staff and the current policy in respect of recognition of representative associations of the Defence Forces.

PDFORRA recently took the Government to court over the Organisation of Working Time Act. Is the Minister of State not ashamed and embarrassed that he had to be taken to court for the Defence Forces to have their basic working rights enforced? Imagine that. The Government has legislation on workers' rights but will not implement it for the Defence Forces or members of the Naval Service and Air Corps. How demoralised does the Minister of State want to make these people? The figures are available for the number of people who are buying their way out of the most demoralised, low paid job in the public sector, and the Minister of State sits in denial as if he was going on his holidays somewhere. What is going on here is an absolute scandal. Members of the Naval Service, Army and Air Corps are being treated like dirt by the Government in many aspects of how they have to live their lives. They cannot acquire homes. They are being pushed out of married quarters in the most awful conditions in barracks such as Cathal Brugha Barracks. I refer in particular to low pay and the lack of recognition for the trade union, PDFORRA. The Minister of State's continued denial of the right to union recognition is not serving him well.

On the recognition issue, if the Deputy read the published report on the new CA scheme, she might be able to educate herself around rights. She spoke about pay. Members of the Defence Forces, like all members of the public service, have received pay increases under the Lansdowne Road agreement and the public service stability programme. There is no use the Deputy nodding her head when I am only telling her the facts. Further pay increases took effect on 1 January and 1 October this year and by 2020 all those on a salary in excess of €70,000 will have their pay fully restored to pre-FEMPI levels. In parallel, I increased salaries to address the disparity between pre and post-2013 entrants. We are entering into negotiations on the adjudications in the public service stability programme. In addition, a joint submission was made to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for consideration in respect of the Public Service Pay Commission. I hope to see the commission's report in the first or second quarter of 2019 but I want to allow it the time and space to do its work. It has reported on the health sector and is already meeting members of the Defence Forces regarding the submission we have made.

The Minister of State is fully aware that under the pay deal, Defence Forces pay will eventually return to 2008 levels in 2020. Yahoo. He should look at the increases in the cost of living and rents. What a great thing that members of the Defence Forces will have their pay brought back to 2008 levels. They are among the lowest paid public sector workers in the country. It is disingenuous of the Minister of State to refer to those earning €70,000 because they are not the majority in the Defence Forces.

When will the Minister of State give recognition to the members of PDFORRA, as recommended by the European Committee on Social Rights? That is my core question. It is interesting that the Government is able to recommend introducing certain things the European Union says we must have in this country, for example, water charges, but refuses to recognise workers' rights. These workers need recognition. They need to be members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and they do not need to be taking the Minister of State to court because they were threatened with legal action for taking part in a march outside the Dáil over low pay and conditions a couple of months ago. That was a shocking thing to do to those people and it will embarrass the Government when the case for freedom of assembly becomes public knowledge when it comes to court. The Defence Forces should be given the right to free assembly and decent pay and conditions. Failing that, the Government will face the consequences.

There is a civil military group working on the working time directive. On the matter of ICTU, I ask the Deputy to read the report into the review of the CA scheme, which is published on the Department's website. It was carried out by Mr. Gerard Barry. He recommends that my Department officials talk to ICTU on the issue the Deputy raised. I welcomed the report. I am disappointed the Deputy has not read it and I encourage her to do so.

I am disappointed the Minister of State has not recognised the Defence Forces representative associations.

I am asking the Deputy to read the report. I have accepted its findings and recommendations and instructed my Department and the military side to implement the recommendations arising from the review of the CA scheme. One of the issues is membership of ICTU. I am allowing my Department officials to talk to ICTU and I welcome that. We will see what the outcome is.

Defence Forces Expenditure

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

63. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the concerns that Ireland must make commitments to military spending under PESCO; and his further views on whether extra resources should be prioritised in areas other than military hardware in view of the discontent among some members of the Defence Forces in relation to pay and conditions. [48344/18]

My question is to ask the Minister of State his views on the concerns that Ireland must make commitments to military spending under PESCO; and his further views on whether extra resources should be prioritised in areas other than military hardware in view of the discontent among some members of the Defence Forces in respect of pay and conditions.

With regard to defence spending, Government policy is defined within the parameters of our national budgetary process and the role of Dáil Éireann. Within the European Union, it is accepted that defence and security is a national competence, including national spending on defence and security. We alone continue to decide on defence investment and deployment of our Defence Forces.

As part of Ireland's participation in Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO, which we joined in December 2017, Ireland has committed to increase our defence budgets regularly in real terms.

It should be noted that "regularly" does not mean "annually" but in the medium term. The allocations for defence announced in budget 2019 mean that Ireland's defence expenditure will increase in real terms in the coming three years.

Joining PESCO does not involve an additional cost to the Exchequer. Additional costs may arise in respect of participation in specific PESCO projects similar to the case where the Defence Forces participate in European Defence Agency projects. The projects where Ireland has confirmed our participation relate to the ongoing development of Defence Forces' capabilities for peace support and crisis management operations. Costs associated with participation in these projects will be incurred in the normal course and will, therefore, be met from within the defence Vote.

Similar to other sectors in the public service, the pay of Permanent Defence Force personnel was reduced as one of the measures to assist in stabilising the national finances during the financial crisis. The recovery in the economy has provided the fiscal resources to provide for a fair and sustainable recovery in public service pay scales. Pay is being restored for members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The focus of the increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. Members of the Permanent Defence Force have received the pay increases due under the Lansdowne Road agreement. In addition, in 2017, following negotiations with PDFORRA, improved pay scales for general service recruits and privates who joined the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 2013 were implemented.

In 2016 the Government established the Public Service Pay Commission to provide objective advice for it on public service pay policy. Following the publication of the Public Service Pay Commission's report in May 2017, the Government initiated negotiations on an extension to the Lansdowne Road agreement. The public service stability agreement 2018 to 2020 provides for increases in pay, ranging from 6.2% to 7.4%, over the lifetime of the agreement. The focus of the increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. The increases due from 1 January and 1 October 2018 have been paid to Permanent Defence Force personnel. Further increases in pay are scheduled for 2019 and 2020.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

By the end of the current public service pay agreement the pay of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning under €70,000 per annum will have been restored to pre-FEMPI legislation levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction in allowances cut under the FEMPI legislation is also scheduled in the agreement. New entrants who joined the Defence Forces since 2011 will also benefit from the measures recently announced on interventions at points 4 and 8 of the relevant pay scales for all such new entrants to the public service. This measure, should it be accepted by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations, will be effective from 1 March 2019.

I acknowledge that there are some positives in the reply of the Minister of State, but it was rather vague on PESCO spending. I want to go back to a report that was debated in the European Parliament in May on strengthening EU-NATO relations. It was adopted by the Parliament by 439 votes to 183, with four Irish MEPs voting against it and six abstaining, including the four Fine Gael MEPs. The report emphasised PESCO's complementarity with NATO and that EU member states should be capable of launching autonomous military missions where NATO was not willing to act. The EU army, also known as PESCO, is a proxy of NATO policy. When we look at those calling for a European army such as President Macron and Mrs. Merkel, they are major or senior NATO players. The increase in spending could mean that we would spend as much as NATO countries contribute, but the ethos of our armed forces is peacekeeping, humanitarian operations and the preservation of life and it contributes to our international reputation. Will the Oireachtas have an opportunity to debate the same report as that debated by the European Parliament? There is a contradiction, as there are concerns the increase in military spending will not benefit our military. When we look at the overall EU budget, €200 billion is spent annually on defence, of which we could be part.

It is a matter for the House, not me, if Members want to debate a document. I have no problem in coming before the House. Ireland's participation in the Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO, arrangement has no implications for its policy on military neutrality. It is very important that I point this out to the Deputy. The PESCO projects in which we are participating will not require me to seek additional money from the Government. The money will come from existing resources. The projects in which we are participating are the European Union training mission competence centre project, TMCC, which aims to improve the availability and interoperability of specific skills and the professionalism of personal trainers for EU training missions in participating member states and the project to upgrade maritime surveillance which aims to integrate land based surveillance systems. These projects will improve the capability of members of the Defence Forces.

I thank the Minister of State. It would be good to have the debate because the matter is central to our policy on neutrality. Are these issues raised when the Minister of State attends meetings at European level? The figure of €200 billion being spent by the European Union on defence is staggering. When we campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council, we use our neutrality as a selling point. We have a reputation that is far greater than our size or population would indicate. We need to be a stronger voice on defence matters and in pointing to where extra finance is really needed. We played a huge role in drawing up the sustainable development goals and getting agreement on them. It will take huge resources to implement them and make them realisable. Our EU partners that are calling for a European army are those with the biggest arms trades. They are the ones that will benefit from increased defence spending. We know what bigger armies lead to. We only have to look at what happened in Germany in the 1930s. They lead to war and do not prevent it.

The Deputy mentioned a European army. No such proposals will come from this side of the House. The Deputy knows what is provided for in the Lisbon treaty on a European army. It would have to be subject to a referendum in Ireland. The Government is not stating we will join a European army. This has been a huge debate in Europe for many years, particularly when comments were made at Armistice ceremonies last week and the week before. We are using our position on neutrality when it comes to winning a seat on the UN Security Council. I was at the launch of our campaign earlier this year in New York. We are looking at the work done by the Defence Forces on blue hat and overseas peacekeeping missions. Members of the Defence Forces have a long and proud tradition of participating in blue hat missions. Long may this continue because they do the country proud. They serve Ireland with distinction and pride.