Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Defence Forces Strength

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

6. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the actual operational strength of the Defence Forces or strength in station is lower than the official figure of 8,800 when personnel in training, those on leave of absence and those on overseas service are taken into account and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24567/19]

Could the Minister of State advise regarding the actual operational strength of the Defence Forces as reported and whether it takes into account those in training or on leave of absence and overseas service?

The White Paper on Defence of 2015 commits to maintaining the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel. This strength provision includes those in training and there is no separate training establishment for recruits to the Permanent Defence Force. This strength provides for all roles assigned to the Defence Forces, at home and overseas. The strength of the Permanent Defence Force on 30 April 2019 stood at 8,828 personnel. This strength figure excludes those on a career break or seconded.

The Permanent Defence Force is actively deployed on an ongoing basis and Defence Forces units provide personnel for overseas service and deployments at home. Personnel are drawn from units across the organisation and posted on the basis of operational needs. Personnel also engage in training on an ongoing basis and this is a key aspect of maintaining and developing capability. This is not a new development and units have always had personnel posted on such activities.

The suggestion that such individuals should not be considered part of the strength of the Permanent Defence Force would appear to be based on the premise that only the strength of personnel in units in barracks matters. This is not the case. The ongoing deployment of personnel highlights the valued contribution that the Defence Forces make to international peace and security and in a wide variety of roles at home. The training of individuals also represents a continued investment in capability.

As I have previously outlined, particular recruitment and retention challenges exist in the Permanent Defence Force. I understand that many military forces internationally are experiencing difficulties, including with specialists such as pilots, and that this is not unique to Ireland.

Despite recent highly negative media and political commentary, it must be highlighted that the Defence Forces offer an interesting, varied and rewarding career. Starting pay for both enlisted personnel and officers is competitive when viewed against other career choices with similar entry requirements. There is also a range of allowances paid in addition to basic pay.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

There is also significant ongoing work aimed at making the Defence Forces an attractive career for those currently serving. There are ongoing promotion opportunities. The Defence Forces offer significant opportunities for personnel to develop skills and earn qualifications throughout their career, while receiving full pay. There are opportunities to gain unique experiences, including on overseas service. There is also ongoing work to enhance work-life balance.

Clearly the Government’s goal is to meet the strength target of 9,500 personnel. There are ongoing challenges in this regard. The independent Public Service Pay Commission has been tasked with examining such recruitment and retention issues. I expect that the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform will bring its report to the Cabinet in the near future. The Government will consider any recommendations made.

I thank the Minister of State. According to the latest figures we have, to the end of March, the overall extent was 8,847. However, this figure does not appear to take into account those on leave of absence. I believe the Minister of State said that people in training are counted. Is that right? It is misleading, in a sense, as to whether they are all counted. The issue has been raised with us repeatedly through the Defence Forces representatives. Current reported strength, low as it is in comparison with previous times, is not a true representation of the strength on the ground. Those in training cannot be deployed on operations. Is that true? Those on leave of absence are possibly not being replaced. We are told this could be up to 1,000 additional personnel. Is that true?

As I have stated, the strength of the Defence Forces on 30 April 2019 stood at 8,828 personnel. This strength figure excludes those who are on career break or secondment from the Defence Forces. As the Deputy knows, in an ideal world we would have a strength level of 9,500 personnel. This would cover all aspects of the organisation. I accept we have many pinch points within the organisation and have acknowledged it on numerous occasions. We are competing against a very buoyant economy. There is funding in place for 9,500 personnel, however. About 12 or 18 months ago, a recommendation from military management was brought to me to the effect that we would be able to backfill and send about 140 or 150 extra personnel to UNIFIL. They will be returning at the end of this year and will be extra personnel back in the system.

Does the Minister of State consider that there is a need to ensure that the data reported reflect the reality and that there may be a case for providing the figures in a way that reflects actual capacity in the Defence Forces in real terms? The Minister of State mentioned the figure of 9,500. The strength figure was previously 10,500. I see we have lowered the bar a bit. Surely collecting more realistic data would give a much more accurate picture and would be reflective of the current retention crisis faced by the Defence Forces. It is helpful information in terms of monitoring the crisis and its impact on the ground. Will the Minister of State look at this and consider how the official strength of the Defence Forces should be calculated in the future?

In the White Paper on Defence 2015, it was recommended that we would have a Defence Forces strength of 9,500 personnel. That was after the reorganisation. As the Deputy well knows, everybody was very much involved in the preparation of the White Paper on Defence 2015, including all Opposition party Members, many stakeholders, military management and everyone in the Department. A massive amount of work was put into that and it was recommended that we would have a force strength of 9,500. There is ongoing recruitment into the Defence Forces at officer and recruit level. I would absolutely like to see it get back up to 9,500 personnel. I look forward to the publication of the independent pay commission to address some of the challenges we are dealing with at present.

Defence Forces Personnel

Jack Chambers

Question:

7. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on claims by the former head social worker for the Defence Forces that he was ignored repeatedly when he warned the Minister of State's officials regarding increased poverty levels being endured by serving military personnel and their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24478/19]

I ask the Minister of State his views on the worrying claims by the former head social worker for the Defence Forces, which were ignored repeatedly. Officials in the Minister of State's Department were warned regarding the increased poverty levels being endured by serving military personnel and their families. We have recently heard about the state of accommodation within various barracks. Can the Minster of State make a statement on the matter?

As Minister of State with responsibility for defence I take the welfare of members of the Defence Forces very seriously. The Defence Forces have a range of personnel supports in place to assist individuals who are experiencing difficulties. This includes social workers who provide very valuable supports and services. The circumstances in which personnel find themselves in economic difficulty can vary significantly and the State also provides a range of supports for individuals and families, should this be required. Members of the Defence Forces experiencing difficulties are assisted in accessing these supports.

The salaries of all public servants were reduced in the aftermath of the economic crash. Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with the public service pay agreement. The focus of increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement. Increases due to date under the agreement have been paid to the personnel of the Permanent Defence Force. Further increases in pay are scheduled for later in 2019 and 2020. By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the pay scales of all public servants, including members of the Permanent Defence Force, earning under €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI is also scheduled in the agreement.

Pay rates for newly qualified members of the Defence Forces are comparable to other areas within the public service, having regard to entry requirements. A newly qualified three-star private can expect to earn €27,759 gross per annum, including military service allowance but excluding duty allowances. This starting pay is subject to incremental progression and increases to €38,388 per annum at this rank. A range of duty allowances are also payable.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

A newly qualified school leaver entry officer can expect to earn €35,614 gross per annum, inclusive of military service allowance, after initial training. A graduate entry officer can expect to earn €40,566 gross per annum, inclusive of military service allowance, after initial training. The maximum for the lieutenant pay scale is €50,645 per annum, inclusive of military service allowance.

These earnings relate to Army line ranks. In many cases Air Corps and Naval Service personnel receive additional remuneration per equivalent rank arising from additional allowances for duties performed. Defence Forces personnel also receive tax free payments for certain overseas deployments and duties.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Defence Forces are experiencing recruitment and retention challenges. This is reflective of the economic growth that has been experienced under the current Government and the associated buoyant labour market. The Public Service Pay Commission has been tasked with examining recruitment and retention challenges in the Defence Forces. The Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform will bring that report to Government in the near future.

The former head social worker for the Defence Forces stated he was ignored repeatedly when he warned Department officials about the increasing poverty levels being endured by serving military personnel. Mr. Mervyn Ennis, who was head social worker, stated it was obvious to everybody how serious this situation was. The two schools at the Curragh have been classified as DEIS schools by the Department of Education and Skills, as they were deemed to be in serious areas of economic disadvantage. There is a very high concentration of children coming from military families at those schools. Mr. Ennis said that one chap who was a senior NCO was sleeping in a car. He said another lad was sleeping in a barracks and could not get access to his children because they could not come in there. This man was referred to a homeless unit. Mr. Ennis has said that others did not have money for food, and that the chaplaincy knew this too and was saying so. He says he was told by a Department official, "at least they have a job." He says the Department simply does not care and that because the issues are constantly being ignored, morale in the Defence Forces is at an all-time low and is getting lower each day. He says that is why the lads are voting with their feet. It is a shameful account, as is the attitude of the Department. The Minister of State needs to clarify how he feels about those remarks, over which he is presiding.

In respect of the person to whom the Deputy is referring, I only have hearsay of this in media reports. It is very easy to say something in the media. To my recollection, and I have looked for this, there has been absolutely no correspondence between this person and my Department. This person would actually have no contact with officials in my Department. He would have been dealing with the Defence Forces rather than officials in my Department. There has been no correspondence whatsoever between this guy and my officials, to my recollection. I have been looking for this and there has been no trace of this person. As I have stated, this person was employed in the Defence Forces during the absolute crash for which the Deputy's party was responsible. He was there when there were massive pay cuts.

Now we are trying to reverse this by giving pay increases to the lower-paid members of the Defence Forces. It is important to note that they will have full pay restoration by 2020.

I have had no contact with the person in question whatsoever. I also do not believe there is any correspondence between the person and my Department.

I was going to ask the Minister of State for his reaction to the serious issues the person in question outlined. Instead the Minister of State questioned the integrity of what he said. That is an unbelievable reaction from the Minister of State in his bunker of denial when it comes to issues facing our Defence Forces. We all need to learn that it is not about attacking the individual who raises legitimate concerns but acknowledging and trying to deal with those issues.

I am sure Mervyn Ennis can provide information and details about the officials and the departmental correspondence he mentioned in media reports. Why would he make it up for sensationalist reports? I am sure he can document the issues around DEIS and those Defence Forces members sleeping in cars. These issues were also in the University of Limerick climate survey report. Accordingly, some of the remarks in Mervyn Ennis’s public iterations are mirrored in other reports presided over by the Minister of State. Does the Minister of State believe what Mervyn Ennis said? The fact the Minister of State is questioning his integrity and what he has put on the public record is not a prudent response. Instead, he should acknowledge it and seek to help the personnel in question.

The person in question was employed during the financial crash when there were a significant number of pay cuts. When I was appointed in 2016, the University of Limerick climate survey report was one of the first matters put on my desk. It was also carried out during the financial crash when there were no pay increases. We had to recover from this financial crash for which the Deputy’s party was responsible. We now have pay restoration for lower-paid members of the Defence Forces.

The Minister of State should publish the pay commission report on Defence Forces pay.

The independent pay commission report will be published shortly. It is good there are positive developments occurring. While I would like to see them happening faster, we must stick within the realm of the public sector pay agreements. Fianna Fáil signed up to this under the confidence and supply agreement.

I have not seen any correspondence from the gentleman to which the Deputy referred. If the Deputy has the correspondence, I would have no issue with him bringing it to my attention. However, his employment by the Department was previous to my coming into it

There are important issues involved and I have allowed a run over of time. I seek Members’ co-operation with the next set of questions as seven will be taken together

Defence Forces Remuneration

Mick Wallace

Question:

8. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the recent comments by the former head of the elite Ranger Wing in Chad that poor rates of pay and allowances for enlisted personnel, rather than officers, were driving personnel out of the Defence Forces; if he has discussed these issues with the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24574/19]

Clare Daly

Question:

13. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the fact that almost 90% of Defence Forces personnel earn below the average public sector wage; the steps he will take to address same; and the reason it has not been addressed to date. [24343/19]

Mick Wallace

Question:

15. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces are having a negative effect on morale levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24573/19]

Brendan Smith

Question:

24. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to improve pay and conditions for members of the Permanent Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24353/19]

Clare Daly

Question:

26. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the comments of a former deputy commander of the Army Ranger Wing (details supplied) on the ongoing crisis of pay, morale and retention in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24342/19]

Jack Chambers

Question:

28. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the engagement he has had with the Defence Forces representative associations on the report of the Public Service Pay Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24477/19]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

29. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which the review of the Defence Forces pay and conditions has progressed with particular reference to the need to stabilise the strength of the forces and achieve a higher degree of retention of personnel in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24559/19]

Recently the former head of the elite Ranger Wing in Chad, Cathal Berry, said that poor rates of pay and allowances for enlisted personnel, rather than officers, were driving personnel out of the Defence Forces. He also said:

The sense of absolute betrayal is palpable. It is visceral. I have not seen anything even remotely like it in 23 years’ service.

Has the Minister of State discussed this issue with the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 13, 15, 24, 26, 28 and 29 together.

I have ongoing discussions with the Chief of Staff regarding the full range of defence issues. The current turnover level in the Defence Forces is 8.1%, which is above the long-term average of 6.3%. This turnover level is posing difficulties for the Defence Forces. Other military organisations internationally are also experiencing similar, and in some cases higher, overarching turnover levels, particularly among specialists. As the rate of turnover within a military organisation can differ across functional areas, the impact of turnover can vary accordingly. This leads to particular challenges in certain areas. I have previously acknowledged that the Defence Forces are experiencing certain difficulties in recruitment and retention and highlighted these issues to the Public Service Pay Commission.

The economic recovery has provided the opportunity to restore pay to all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces. This is being done in an affordable and sustainable manner in accordance with national public service pay agreements. Members of the Permanent Defence Force have received the pay increases due from recent national public service pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. Further increases in pay are scheduled in 2019 and 2020. By the end of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the pay scales of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning under €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI is also scheduled as part of that agreement.

The structure of the Permanent Defence Force differs significantly from that of other organisations. The Defence Forces have a hierarchal structure with almost 50% of personnel at the entry level rank of private. In addition, there are high numbers in training. This makes average pay an inappropriate indicator of comparative pay rates. Although direct comparison can prove difficult due to the differing roles and duties undertaken, the pay package available to members of the Defence Forces remains competitive when compared with other public service jobs with similar educational and skills requirements. Pay rates for newly qualified members of the Defence Forces are competitive when compared with other areas in the public service and the private sector. A newly qualified three-star private can expect to earn €27,759 gross per annum, including military service allowance but excluding duty allowances. This starting pay is subject to incremental progression up a salary scale and increases to €38,388 per annum at this rank. A newly qualified school leaver entry officer can expect to earn €35,614 gross per annum, inclusive of military service allowance, after initial training, and a graduate entry officer can expect to earn €40,566 gross per annum, inclusive of military service allowance, after initial training. These are entry level salary scales. With promotion, individuals receive higher pay. For example, a corporal starts at €37,632 per annum and rises to €39,338 per annum, a sergeant starts at €40,277 per annum and rises to €42,694 per annum, a sergeant major starts at €51,188 per annum and increases to €54,611 per annum. For officers the annual salary scale for a line captain ranges from €49,239 to €61,021, a commandant ranges from €61,348 to €74,328, and a colonel from €83,389 to €99,846. These salary scales are inclusive of military service allowance but exclude duty allowances which are paid for a range of duties performed.

These earnings relate to Army line ranks. In many cases Air Corps and Naval Service personnel receive additional remuneration per equivalent rank arising from additional allowances for duties performed. Where members of the Defence Forces acquire technical qualifications and-or fill associated appointments, there is also associated technical pay. Defence Forces personnel also receive tax-free payments for certain overseas deployments and duties.

There are a range of other factors which influence a person's decision to remain in the Defence Forces. These include career progression opportunities, personal development, work–life balance, job stimulation and work environment. I will continue to work closely with the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff in furthering management responses to address current challenges. There are significant opportunities for career progression and development within the Defence Forces with more than 800 promotions in the Permanent Defence Force in 2018. Each promotion in effect results in a pay rise.

In recognition of the wealth of talent in the enlisted personnel of the Defence Forces, a potential officers course was established last year. This course offered enlisted personnel a clear route to becoming commissioned officers in our Defence Force. Some 24 enlisted personnel completed this course and were commissioned as officers in March of this year. This was the first time in ten years that the course was offered to enlisted personnel.

I welcome this and all other opportunities for personnel to develop their careers in the Defence Forces. I have ensured that further potential officer courses will be undertaken in 2021 and 2024.

The Government is committed to introducing the working time directive in the Defence Forces. Discussions are taking place with the PDF representative associations on this matter. A range of human resource, HR, initiatives aimed at improving work-life balance and job satisfaction are also being progressed by the Defence Forces. The Public Service Pay Commission has concluded an examination of recruitment and retention challenges in the Defence sector. The Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has indicated that he will be bringing this report to Government shortly.

Some of the Deputies who submitted questions for this session are otherwise engaged this morning with committees etc. We do have three of the relevant Deputies present, however. I will commence with Deputy Wallace and then move to Deputies Jack Chambers and Durkan. The Minister will have time to reply and then the Deputies will have an opportunity for a second question. I will also let in Deputy Broughan, if there is time. I call Deputy Wallace.

I have two questions. Do I get extra time?

No, the Deputy has one minute.

What? I have one minute to ask two questions?

That is how these proceedings work. Deputy Wallace has one minute and he will then have a further opportunity to ask a second question.

The Minister of State and the Taoiseach yesterday acknowledged that many members of the Defence Forces are leaving for jobs in the private sector. The Taoiseach, however, was adamant that he was not going to fast-track pay restoration, even given the current conditions. All of the spiel that the Minister of State has just given out is technical. I am sure it is accurate. It does not, however, address the comments made recently by retired Commandant Cathal Berry. The Minister of State said yesterday that it would not be fair to single out one group in the public sector above another. The members of the Defence Forces are being singled out, however. Figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, show that members of the Defence Forces are the lowest-paid workers in the public service. Some 85% are earning less than the average industrial wage. That does single out the members of the Defence Forces.

If we listen to the comments of retired officers who speak out, what comes through strongly is that they feel that their profession is under attack. They also feel that the lack of progress being made and the fact that things have been allowed to deteriorate this far is actually intentional. We can understand the notion that this is a betrayal. The members of our Defence Forces do their work and risk their lives in trying to uphold our reputation for peacekeeping as best they can. They do that because of a sense of pride and loyalty in their country. It is a relationship that is being disrespected by the Minister of State and the Department of Defence. It is going to get worse if the concerns of the members of the Defence Forces are not addressed. They are not making these issues up.

As Deputy Wallace stated, the recruitment and retention crisis has got so serious that the Minister of State is now ignoring military advice and recommendations that were submitted to him as part of the Public Service Pay Commission process. Those recommendations have been ignored and butchered from the report. That is what undermines the integrity and the independence of the pay commission process. The submission from that group contained a recommendation that would allow for the restoration of allowances. The Minister of State's Department butchered and diluted the report and then gave it to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to take total control of it. The Minister of State is now again deflecting and deferring this issue to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is a concern that he is doing that because the Minister of State has read the report.

Throughout today's debate, I have mentioned that there are serious levels of poverty among members of the Defence Forces and that some members require social welfare payments. I also referred to the mass exit of members of the Defence Forces and the historically low levels of morale that the Minister of State is presiding over. There is also the decimation of capability. The effective strength of the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army is on a path to destruction. The situation is poised on a cliff edge. We need to have restoration of allowances to address these issues. The Minister of State has his head in the sand. The fact that he is sitting on the report makes it even worse.

The Defence Forces are in a unique position given the important role thrust upon them regarding national security. They are also tasked with the responsibility of responding to national emergencies and disasters such as flooding, isolation caused by heavy snow etc. Given that unique position, has it been possible, in the context of the review now taking place, to identify some means whereby the most serious issues of the case presented by the members of the Defence Forces might be addressed in the shortest possible time?

I congratulate Deputy Wallace on his recent success in the elections to the European Parliament. I wish him the very best of luck. I will miss our debating here in the Chamber. I am glad that the Deputy has an interest in this issue. I applaud him for that. I agree with him when he states that the members of the Defence Forces risk their lives. I believe, however, given some of his stated policies, that if Deputy Wallace had his way he might not have the Defence Forces participating in any overseas duties.

I would. I would just not have them in the Golan Heights where they are protecting Israel.

I respect the Deputy's views. That is the way it is and I have no issue with that whatsoever. I am also glad that Deputy Wallace mentioned the figures from the CSO. Those figures on low pay differ from time to time. That was one of the reasons why I asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to prioritise the defence sector as a matter of urgency. I requested that the case of members of the Defence Forces be examined by an independent pay commission. I asked the Minister to do that. He has the report and I have the report. It is now the responsibility of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to bring that report to Cabinet. It is not my report and it is not my memo.

As I have stated, and I address this point to Deputies Jack Chambers and Durkan as well, public sector pay is a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I do not have that responsibility. Different countries differ in how they organise things. I am awaiting the outcome of the report, for the contents to be seen and then for a decision to be made.

I ask the three Deputies who have already spoken to keep their next questions as brief as possible. I want to allow Deputy Broughan to ask a short question as well. I call Deputy Wallace.

A sum of €60 million extra was given to defence in the budget last year. It materialised into a 4% increase in pay for personnel but a 37% increase in spending on equipment. That is where the money is going. Instead of addressing the issues that are driving people out of the Defence Forces, the Minister of State is throwing money at things like new ships for the Naval Service. The national development plan includes a provision for an enormous €541 million capital investment in defence over the period 2018-22. The Naval Service plans to increase its complement of ships from eight to nine, with the LE George Bernard Shaw due to come into service in 2019. That ship cost €67 million.

This is despite the Naval Service not having enough personnel last year to crew eight ships, let alone nine. In addition, there is also a plan to spend €200 million on a multi-role vessel. The reasons for doing that have less to do with the Naval Service being able to fulfil its day-to-day duties and much more to do with trying to impress our European colleagues in the Mediterranean. The multi-role vessel will be capable of carrying a battalion of soldiers along with landing craft. It will also have freight capacity for military vehicles. What in God's name do we need that for? The Minister of State would be better off paying the Defence Forces personnel.

The Minister of State said that he asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to prioritise the defence sector. There were, however, serious delays during Public Service Pay Commission process. The Minister of State had the report but now the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has it. Will the Minister of State tell us what is going on between him, the Department of Defence and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? It is highly unusual that we have this vacuum and this delay when there is such an urgent need to address the issues of allowances. That is especially the case when there are such concerns about the report.

The Minister of State needs to show some leadership in the area. If he is not happy with the report, then he should state that on the record here. He should take on the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. The Minister of State should actually deal with this issue of pay and allowances instead of referring to a circle of bureaucracy involving memos and which Minister is responsible for bringing this report to Cabinet. The Minister of State should show some leadership. He should represent the Defence Forces personnel and give them some respect and dignity rather giving us this cycle of waffle about a memo and who has it. The Minister of State has read it and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has read it. They should now deal with the report.

The Defence Forces have responsibilities that include national security, and perhaps even international security, and overseas deployments. I note what the Minister of State said regarding bringing forward the recommendations made in the report. Notwithstanding that, however, could he see a situation arising whereby the continued erosion of the strength of the Defence Forces and of the morale of the Defence Forces might result in an issue that might need fairly urgent treatment? I refer to addressing the most potent issues as identified by both sides in this debate.

One of the fundamental problems is that defence is not at the Cabinet table and the Minister of State is not a full Cabinet Minister. There is no reason we should not have a Minister for Defence and perhaps for security generally with An Garda Síochána.

I want to raise very briefly, in case I do not get another chance, the incredibly low level of pensions and gratuities for Óglaigh na hÉireann. For example, after ten years pensionable service the pension for people on an income of €42,000 would work out at the princely sum of €2,141 a year and the gratuity would work out at €15,000. After 20 years pensionable service, with pensionable pay of €45,000 a year, the pension would work out at the princely sum of just over €5,000 a year and the gratuity would be just over €35,000. Compared to the rest of the public service these are incredibly low figures. They reflect the general fact the Defence Forces are the Cinderella of public service levels of pay. The Minister of State read out the figures throughout the ranks but they are totally unacceptable.

We have had almost 18 minutes of debate so far.

I will answer-----

I ask the Minister of State to keep it as brief as he can.

I will answer Deputy Broughan first. He will receive a comprehensive reply that will answer all of his questions.

Deputy Chambers spoke about the report that went from military management and the civil submission that went to the pay commission. Nobody was muscled in any way. In actual fact, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces had an opportunity to address the pay commission. He had the opportunity to say whatever he wanted to the pay commission. I arranged that through the independent pay commission to allow it. There was nobody muscled in any way.

Did somebody go in and state people could not say this or that? He had free will to say whatever he wanted to say along with the Secretary General of the Department. Whatever they wanted to say, along with PDFORRA, RACO and all of the representative associations, they had the opportunity to speak face to face with the Pay Commission and I understand they did so.

Deputy Wallace spoke about the investment, of which I am very proud, in equipment, ships, planes and the refurbishment of MOWAGs.

It should not be at the expense of Defence Forces personnel.

The Deputy did not recognise the €6 million in budget 2019 for pay increases. He failed to recognise that.

I did not. I acknowledged it.

I did not interrupt the Deputy in any way. There was €6 million in pay increases and the Deputy failed to acknowledge that.

To answer Deputy Durkan, we are expecting the report of the pay commission very shortly.

The Minister of State has it.

As soon as it comes to Cabinet it will be considered. I have a copy of the report. The report is being brought by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

The Minister of State has the report.

I do not have responsibility for core pay throughout the public service.

Tell us what is in the report.

The Minister of State has the report.

It is a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is the responsibility of the Minister, Deputy Pascal Donohoe. We will look at the report and consider its findings and implement the recommendations. Whatever has to be considered after that we will do.

Will the Minister of State clarify in one word whether he has the report? Members have asked.

In my first reply I said I have a copy of the report but it is not my report.

Deal with it then.

The Acting Chairman asked me a question.

In one word, does the Minister of State have the report?

It is not my report to bring to the Cabinet. It is the report of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Pascal Donohoe.

That is fair enough, I just wanted clarification. I thank all Members and the Minister of State for their co-operation on this issue. It is a difficult issue and I must keep within the time constraints. I appreciate everybody adhering to what I am trying to do.

Defence Forces

Bernard Durkan

Question:

9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps have access to training and equipment on par with other Defence Forces throughout Europe and with a high degree of capability in dealing with unforeseen emergencies, such as a terrorist attack; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24560/19]

This is at variance with Deputy Wallace's submission. An opinion I hold strongly is that the Defence Forces need to be properly equipped with modern telecommunications, armouries and all aspects of the equipment used on a daily or monthly basis at home and abroad. Given that it is important to keep the Defence Forces up to date I ask the Minister of State the extent to which he proposes to so do.

Primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power which in practice means to provide assistance and support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. The Defence Forces retain a wide range of specialist skills which can be deployed in such circumstances, including for terrorist incidents.

There is ongoing and close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters, including aid to the civil power deployments, and a wide variety of military training activities are specifically designed to counter or respond to possible security emergencies. Regular co-ordination and liaison meetings also take place between the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána on aid to the civil power issues.

The full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment are available for deployment in response to any security and other emergencies that may arise. Within the Defence Forces, both the Ordnance Corps and the Army Ranger Wing specialise in providing an immediate response to emergency incidents that might require their highly specialised capabilities.

The Ordnance Corps consists of a number of explosive ordnance disposal teams which are on stand-by 24-7 to respond when a request for assistance is received from An Garda Síochána to deal with suspect devices.

The Army Ranger Wing is an integral unit of the Defence Forces whose roles include provision of specialist aid to the civil power support to An Garda Síochána. The need for a high level of preparedness to deal with any requests for special forces operations is inherent in the unit's mission. Members are trained to the highest levels of motivation, physical fitness and skill at arms for their specialist role. The Army Ranger Wing is on stand-by 24-7 to be called upon to undertake duties in any part of the country.

I can confirm that the Defence Forces keep their operational plans and response capabilities for dealing with a wide range of threats under constant review. It is my priority as Minister of State with responsibility for defence to ensure the operational capacity of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible and I work closely with the Chief of Staff to this end.

Is the Minister satisfied the standard of training and level of equipment available to the Defence Forces when serving overseas is comparable to the best available for a variety of reasons, including self-preservation and having the ability to support each other in emergency situations that arise? Similarly, with regard to emergencies that may arise at home, whether the potential of a terrorist attack, search and rescue, surveillance or whatever the case may be, is the Minister satisfied that we have available to our Defence Forces the best equipment and training available to others throughout Europe?

I thank the Deputy. I have been advised by military management that all training, retraining and exercising is carried out. This is a matter for the military. With regard to equipment, I assure the Deputy that over recent years, there has been a huge increase in the budget for investment in equipment in the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army. Whether for new ships, planes, the refit of armoured personnel carriers or investment in barracks, there has been huge investment in this area. It is only right and proper that we train and equip our personnel to the highest standards possible and that we are able to match other countries when we are on peacekeeping duties overseas, whether in UNIFIL, UNDOF or whatever, and that we have specialist training and equipment and the capability and capacity to operate in whatever situation arises. It is important that we continue to invest in training and equipment.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: I thank the Deputy. I have been advised by military management that all training retraining and exercising is carried out. This is a matter for the military. With regard to equipment, I assure the Deputy that over recent years there has been a huge increase in the budget rrevofor investment in equipment within the Air Corps, the Naval service and the army whether for new ships, planes, the refit of armoured personnel carriers or investment in barracks, there has been huge investment in this area. It is only right and proper that we do so because we train and equip our personnel to the highest standards possible and we are able to match other countries when we are on peacekeeping duties overseas, whether you live, under or whatever and have specialist training and equipment and that we are able to operate and have the capability and capacity to operate in whatever situation arises. It is important that we continue to invest in training and equipment.

Does the Minister of State remain satisfied that adequate provision has been made to ensure the ability to respond to national emergencies whether they be natural or inflicted disasters and the degree to which the military authorities can respond in their role of assisting An Garda Síochána in such emergencies and to do so precisely and promptly?

As an example of that, I recently approved a request for the Defence Forces to host another counter-marauding terrorist attack course, which will take place later this year. Previous iterations were hosted by Ireland and the positive feedback has been instrumental in developing further courses and seminars. The numerous terrorist attacks around the globe in recent years have highlighted the need for increased synergies between civil and military agencies in respect of counterterrorism strategies and this proposal addresses this need. The Defence Forces have an excellent reputation internationally in counter improvised explosive devices, CIED, capability and regularly contribute to host CIED training courses and workshops here. The course will bring together civil and military groups to examine, analyse and assess lessons identified for terrorist attacks, including motivation, financing, and social and economic implications. The objective of the course is to develop a graded system of attacks and to apply that to the development of comprehensive plans.

It is only right and proper that the Defence Forces continue to have joint training exercises with An Garda Síochána because we never know when an incident might happen, and both forces have to be ready whenever that happens. I am content and happy with the training and equipment that the Defence Forces have and I have been advised by military management that they are content.

Defence Forces Pensions

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

10. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to improve the levels of pay and timing of pensions and gratuities in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24358/19]

Yesterday, we debated a Private Members' motion calling for the restoration of military allowances and the supplementary pension for post-2013 entrants and to allow members join the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. Earlier, I recited extracts from documents presented to me by Óglaigh na hÉireann in my constituency and from other constituencies. The figures for the annual pension are very stark, with a discharge rate of €42,000 after 20 years and a gratuity of €31,500. The 55 to 60 retirement age was addressed but it seems we are dealing with the group of public servants most affected by austerity, which the Public Service Pay Commission has not addressed.

I take it the Deputy is referring to the levels of pension and gratuity benefits paid to members of the permanent Defence Force, PDF, on retirement. 

Military pension schemes operate within the broader context and framework of public service pension policy, as determined by Government. The specific occupational pension scheme terms of members of the PDF, which depend on factors such as the date a person first joins the public service, fall into the following three distinct categories, the terms of which are quite different from each other: those who joined the PDF before April 2004; those who joined on or after 1 April 2004 and before 1 January 2013; and those who joined on or after 1 January 2013 as members of the single public service pension scheme. For operational and human resources policy reasons, PDF personnel have faster accrual pension arrangements, along with lower pension and retirement ages or, where applicable, upper service limits than is the norm elsewhere in the public service. Personnel who joined before April 2004 have atypical fast accrual pension scheme terms, under which there is no minimum pension age or provision for deferred benefits. Instead, pension and gratuity are payable immediately on retirement after relatively short periods of service, and regardless of age.

We all want to know when the commission's report will go to Cabinet and when the Minister of State will give us positive news on restoration of pay and conditions for the armed forces. He has given me a detailed response on inductions and discharges from 2002. However we look at that, it makes shocking reading: year on year from 2002 to 2009 just over 4,000 people entered the Defence Forces but 4,974 were discharged. In the period since the financial crash, from 2010 to this year, 4,893 were inducted and 5,869 were discharged. We all have had experience of different organisations before coming into this House but none of us could manage an organisation where 10% of staff are coming and going. How can that be done? I have asked the Minister of State more detailed questions about the turnover rate among the officers and leadership and the different units around the country. That seems a shocking situation. We should restore the defence portfolio to a full portfolio with a full Cabinet Minister.

I assure the Deputy that I sit at the Cabinet table and defend the Defence Forces and advocate on their behalf.

The Taoiseach is the Minister.

If the Deputy had not left the Labour Party, he could have been there. In 2007, he could have highlighted all these issues.

I might be there yet.

The Deputy could reconsider that.

There was always a high turnover in or around 8%. That is the international norm.

It is for armies. There is always a high turnover in armies. That is normal. I highlighted that in some of my earlier responses. We are dealing with a high turnover at the moment but we are competing with a strong economy. History shows that when the economy is strong, the Defence Forces suffer. Unfortunately, that is the case. The Deputy referred to the Public Service Pay Commission. That is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. I expect that report will be brought to Cabinet shortly.

Questions Nos. 11 and 12 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 13 answered with Question No. 8.

Defence Forces Reserve

Jack Chambers

Question:

14. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if members of the Reserve Defence Force are being paid on average 18% less than the rates being given to their counterparts in the Permanent Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24480/19]

This question is about the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, pay, which is 18% below that of the PDF. Its strength is less than half the target in the White Paper. This is another shocking example of the decimation of numbers in our Permanent and Reserve Defence Forces. What is the Minister of State doing to address the serious issues that the representative association has outlined?

Prior to the financial emergency, the pay scales applying to the PDF also applied to the Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve. The pay cuts that applied to the PDF also applied to the RDF. The rates applicable to the Army reserve and Naval Service reserve were also subjected to a reduction of 10% under the Haddington Road agreement or the public service stability agreement, PSSA, 2013-2016. The restoration of pay is ongoing and is being conducted in accordance with PSSA 2013-2018 and PSSA 2018-2020 and with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Contact is ongoing between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that the correct pay restoration is applied to both the Army reserve and Naval Service reserve. I have asked my officials to expedite this matter. 

The Minister of State did not respond to the issue of the decimation of numbers within the reserve and the fact that the pay difficulties are undermining its core strength. Due to the reorganisation of the RDF, there has been massive geographical dilution and a removal of members in large areas of the State. What is the Minister of State doing to address that and to rectify the difficulties?

We will not have a reserve within a decade unless the Minister of State reverses some of his White Paper targets and increases numbers.

I have always encouraged Members to apply to join the Reserve Defence Force. In some parts of the country it is strong and in other parts of the country it is weak.

Deputy Chambers has raised an exact issue with me. As I have stated, there is ongoing contact between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that the correct pay restoration is applied to both the Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve. I have asked the officials in my Department to have this matter expedited as soon as possible. I understand that it is a matter of urgency. I have been in contact with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the matter as well. I raised it directly with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, at one of my most recent meetings and sought to have this issue addressed as soon as possible.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.