Public Service Pay Commission Report on the Permanent Defence Force: Statements

I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to discuss the report of the independent Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force. I welcome the report. It is an independent assessment following the work of the pay commission, as well as inputs from my Department, military management, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the two official representative associations, the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. The report was accepted in full at last week’s Cabinet meeting, at which an extensive implementation plan was also agreed to. The report represents a €10 million package which will result in immediate and future benefits for members of the Permanent Defence Force. It’s main conclusions are that the Defence Forces face a range of challenges in meeting their full strength and retaining certain skilled and experienced personnel. The report also contains a broad range of recommendations aimed at improving recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force.

Among the proposals contained in the report is a 10% increase in the military service allowance which will boost the earnings of the majority of Defence Forces personnel by between €602 and €675 per annum. The overall estimated cost of this measure is €4.8 million per annum. Several allowances will be restored to pre-Haddington Road agreement levels, returning to members of the Defence Forces the 10% cut. They include the patrol duty allowance, the security duty allowance, the Army Ranger Wing allowance and the explosive ordnance allowance. The overseas peace support allowance and overseas armed peace support allowance will also be increased. This means that, for a typical six-month deployment, enlisted personnel will receive between €15,300 and €16,100 and officers, between €19,000 and €20,400. This represents tax-free increases of between €1,400 and €1,850. The premium rates of certain allowances for duties performed at weekends are being reinstated. The rate for 24-hour security duty performed on a Sunday will more than double from €47.59 to €105.79. This is paid in addition to basic pay and the military service allowance. The return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps is also recommended and welcomed. While the details of the scheme still have to be worked out from the previous scheme, when commenced, it will provide annual payments of €18,000 for the majority of pilots, with an additional lump sum payment at the end of the commitment period. It will see significant increases in yearly earnings for eligible Air Corps pilots. The total cost of all of these measures is €10 million per annum.

The recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission will build on the increases in core pay for members of the Defence Forces in accordance with national pay agreements. In the past two years it has included the phased unwinding of the FEMPI legislation, the restoration of pay scales and improved pay scales for new entrants to the Defence Forces. The increase in the military service allowance and the restoration of the rates of certain other allowances are in addition to measures related to core pay in the current public service stability agreement. They will deliver pay benefits of between 6.2% and 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement.

All Defence Force personnel earning less than €70,000 will have their pay scales fully restored by the end of the agreement in October 2020. Civil and military management will progress the review of technical pay for more than 2,500 specialists in the Defence Forces. I have asked my officials to prioritise the Naval Service in the review and, together with the military authorities, identity other areas for prioritisation.

Preliminary discussions have taken place with PDFORRA. The increases in the allowances as recommended by the commission, will be implemented on confirmation of acceptance of the measures by the representative associations.

Separate to the recommendations arising from the Public Service Pay Commission, there are a number of outstanding adjudication findings across the public service, which could not be implemented having regard to the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Acts, 2009 to 2015. I have had discussions on this matter with my colleague, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. With his agreement, it is intended to prioritise the outstanding adjudications in respect of the Defence Forces and pay the awards on a non-retrospective basis from 1 July 2019. The effect of these measures is that the Army Ranger Wing allowance will increase by around €50 to €200 per week. Cooks with the relevant qualifications, will go from tech pay 2 to tech pay 3, which is an increase from €26.90 to €40.42 per week. Those account holders currently not in receipt of the account holder allowance will each receive the allowance of €65.80 per week. Recruits and apprentices will no longer be charged for rations and accommodation, saving each individual €43.63 per week. The annual value of these measures will be in the region of €1.5 million. PDFORRA has initiated legal action on these adjudications and, in this context, my officials will discuss these matters further with the association and I have asked its officials to enter into dialogue with my officials. This Government is committed to delivering incremental improvements to pay for our public servants, including military personnel. It behoves us to only do so to the extent that is affordable and sustainable. With such uncertainty in the international environment due to Brexit and other factors, it is necessary that we continue to manage public pay in a careful and responsible manner.

The commission identified significant retention issues in the Permanent Defence Force. The current challenges we face in filling certain posts arise due to specific circumstances. As with many other areas of the public service, challenges in the recruitment and retention of personnel have arisen in a buoyant economy, with many personnel or potential personnel, including pilots, air traffic control staff and Naval Service technicians, having scarce and highly marketable skills. In addition, many personnel who leave have accrued a pension entitlement and this can add to the attractiveness of external employment.

There are no quick fixes to the current challenges facing the Defence Forces. Returning them to full strength will take time. A high-level implementation plan; strengthening our Defence Forces, has been developed with inputs from the Departments of the Taoiseach, Defence, and Public Expenditure and Reform and military management. The plan sets out clearly how the recommendations in the report will be implemented. The implementation plan includes a commitment to initiate a review of current retention strategies. The implementation of the recommendations in the report will build upon the programme of HR development within the Defence Forces.

Before I conclude, I want to take this opportunity to set out exactly what the wide range of recommendations will mean for serving members of the Permanent Defence Force. If the report is accepted by the representative associations, pay scales for enlisted ranks, including military service allowances for line Army personnel following the implementation of a 10% increase in military service allowance will be as follows: a private, 3 star, post-2013 entrant, will earn between €28,110 and €39,023; a corporal, pre-2013 entrant, will earn between €38,233 and €39,940; a sergeant, pre-2013 entrant, will earn between €40,880 and €43,296; a company sergeant, pre-2013 entrant, will earn between €47,257 and €50,254; and a sergeant major, pre-2013 entrant, will earn between €51,829 and €55,253. The pay scales for commissioned ranks, including military service allowances, for line Army personnel will be as follows: a second lieutenant will earn between €36,087 and €39,721; a lieutenant will earn between €41,039 and €51,118; a captain, PRSI class C, will earn between €49,689 and €61,471; a captain, PRSI class A, will earn between €52,206 and €64,610; a commandant, PRSI class C, will earn between €61,825 and €74,805; a commandant, PRSI class A, will earn between €64,988 and €78,608; a lieutenant colonel, PRSI class C, will earn between €73,766 and €81,516; a Lieutenant Colonel, PRSI class A, will earn between €77,517 and €85,674; and a colonel, class C PRSI, will earn between €83,857 and €100,314.

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. Specialist officers such as doctors, engineers, and pilots receive higher rates of pay. On top of these increased rates of pay, members of the Defence Forces will continue to benefit from increases in core pay under the public service stability agreement. On 1 September, there will also be a pay increase of 1.75% for all annualised salaries, a 0.5% increase on 1 January 2020 on annualised salaries up to €32,000 and a further pay increase of 2% on all annualised salaries on 1 October 2020. In addition, the 5% FEMPI cut in allowances will also be restored by the end of the agreement.

The Minister of State will have five minutes at the end of the debate to contribute further.

Can I finish?

The Minister of State is way over time.

With the agreement of the House I will be finished in two minutes.

Can we all get two minutes?

The Minister of State will have five minutes at the end.

Last week presented a good opportunity for this Government to bring the current recruitment and retention crisis away from the cliff edge and away from the contagion that we are hearing about on a nearly daily basis. It presented an opportunity to provide hope, to provide a future and to provide certainty to the cohort of personnel who are the worst paid in the public service. The Government has maintained that status quo with a miserable increase for the members of the Permanent Defence Force. It has exploited their respect and loyalty to this State with its superficial rhetoric and its downright disregard as the hollowed-out Defence Forces structure is at breaking point. The Defence Forces are being dismantled and its personnel are demoralised.

This long awaited report has gone down like a lead balloon and it is highly unlikely to stem the ongoing exodus from the Defence Forces. Despite the Government's ongoing rhetoric about record levels of recruitment, there is an increasing gap between the White Paper target of 9,500 and the establishment strength of the Defence Forces. As of the end of May, there were 8,751 personnel and if it is taken into account that more than 500 of those were in training, we are accelerating towards the strength of the Defence Forces falling below 8,000 under the watch of the Minister of State. That is a worrying establishment strength. Record numbers are purchasing their discharge, record numbers are leaving en masse, record numbers are double and treble-jobbing to keep the lights on, there are record turnover percentages and there are record numbers who could not even cast their vote in the recent local and European elections because of the disorganisation under the Minister of State's watch. This has all crystalised to a point of crisis.

When military management made a comprehensive submission as part of the Public Service Pay Commission process, the Minister of State and his Department butchered the recommendations, which would have helped to improve the recruitment and retention crisis. The Minister of State did not show any leadership, and instead of fighting for the recommendations to be implemented, he removed them. He has spent months deflecting the recruitment and retention crisis, saying he was awaiting the report. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The irony of the commission report is that the Minister of State and his Department will still be handing millions of euros back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to be blown on the €3 billion broadband plan and the national children’s hospital. How much respect does that show to the worst paid public servants when the Government is giving them these miserly increases?

This report provides no substantive additions to current expenditure for Defence Forces personnel based on the defence Estimates, which demonstrates the disregard this Government has for their work and for their loyalty to the State. I have been told that the Air Corps, like our Naval Service, is at breaking point. Bomb disposal units, the Army Ranger Wing and many other units are working completely understaffed since 2013. The emergency aeromedical senior service pilots have not even been paid their duty allowance since 2013 on the Minister of State's watch. The report, however, provides shocking information from its own survey of Defence Forces personnel. More than 60% intend to leave in the next two years.

Some 70% frequently think about leaving the PDF, while 81% of specialists think of leaving all of the time. These are damning statistics for the retention crisis. More than 84.5% are dissatisfied with pay and allowances. There has been a near doubling of turnover under the watch of the Minister of State. It highlights the drivers which are contributing to the exodus, none of which will improve with this report.

There is greater commuting pressure owing to the disastrous reorganisation implemented on the Minister of State's watch. There have been poor training and promotional opportunities on his watch, as well as high burn-out. Last week he said people would take their hand off to get this increase, but I am not sure how workers who have been given 96 cent a day before tax which will see them continue to breach the national minimum wage would be grateful for it. Again, it is spin and deflection. The Minister of State is more than happy to waltz around the Curragh camp or Haulbowline inspecting Defence Forces members or attend commissioning ceremonies, but actions speak louder than words.

I have been told that 83 members were discharged from the Defence Forces, excluding officers, in the month of June, 21 of whom were recruits. That means that we are haemorrhaging over 25% of those we have just recruited. We are on a trajectory to potentially lose over 1,000 this year, which would be Armageddon. The retention crisis is compromising the capacity and capability of the Defence Forces and the Minister of State has continued his dismissal of it in all Dáil debates. What alarmed many was what he did to Commodore Michael Malone whose letter to Defence Forces personnel gave an honest assessment of the extraordinary burden being carried. However, the Minister of State contradicted the Taoiseach and the commodore. The Taoiseach gave a very honest assessment in saying we would not be able to send ships to the Mediterranean again. That was the first indication of the manpower issues that were affecting overseas missions. The irony in the Government's pursuit of a seat on the UN Security Council is that, based on the current exodus, Ireland and the Defence Forces will not even be able to fulfil future commitments to UN-mandated missions.

Vice Admiral Mark Mallet highlighted that it was very difficult to fill management positions because of the recruitment difficulties. I have been informed that the retention crisis in the Naval Service means that, even with the existing ships and level of redeployment, the diving section is at 33% strength, while the communications operations section is at 50% strength. Commodore Malone's letter was confirmed by the Defence Forces press office. When the Minister of State was given the opportunity last week, he said no ships were tied up owing to manpower issues. He contradicted and undermined Commodore Malone. He publicly and disrespectfully sought to drag Vice Admiral Mellet into the controversy via Twitter. Instead of acknowledging the manpower issues, he sought to undermine such a senior officer. That is Trump-style fake news propaganda. The Minister of State accused media outlets of inaccurate reporting. He contradicted the Taoiseach and sought to camouflage the facts.

Last Thursday there was considerable anticipation of the report. There was genuine hope it would contain something that would restore the morale of the Defence Forces. They are the men and women who defend this and other countries and intervene when we have crises. Sadly, that hope was not fulfilled. When we had an opportunity to read the long-overdue report, a number of things were very striking. The terms of reference were far too narrow and limited. The military management recommendations were removed, which was completely wrong. The figure of €10 million proposed within the report is one third of what was sent back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform by the Department of Defence. This suggests the 8,500 members of the Defence Forces are worth only one third of what was sent back in terms of what is needed to try to stem the recruitment and retention crisis. The most disturbing aspect is that 60% indicated that they would leave within two years, on top of the 37% who have left in the past four years, of whom 82% left prematurely, with 86 alone leaving in April. Will we have an army left? A mere 96 cent a day would not even buy half a bar of chocolate. Morale is on the floor and we can understand why.

The Public Service Pay Commission has highlighted specific disadvantages associated with military life such as unsocial hours and prolonged separation from family. Because of this we need a permanent independent Defence Forces pay body to be established. The Air Corps and the Naval Service are in jeopardy. Respect and loyalty to defend the State should be reciprocated with proper pay and conditions, but that is certainly not contained in the report.

Like my colleagues, I was very disappointed with this deal. While some might say €10 million is a lot of money, the Army has been allowed to disintegrate so badly by this and the previous Administrations that €10 million is a drop in the ocean. I calculate that there are about 800 men and women from my constituency of Roscommon-Galway in the Defence Forces. Like other Deputies, I have received many representations about their conditions. A private's starting pay of €28,000 is too high in most counties to get a local authority loan and too low to get a mortgage. They are immediately in trouble with housing, which is a major issue for many members of the Defence Forces. Through and through, they tell me that they have several bits and pieces of jobs just to keep bread on the table. The matter will need to be revisited and addressed properly as we need to do better for the Defence Forces. The Air Corps and the Naval Service are vital along the coastline. What is going on is tragic and outrageous and I am giving the same message as everybody else. While the deal is something, it is not enough and is not going down well with the Defence Forces.

I welcome the long-awaited report of the Public Service Pay Commission which examined the recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces. I also welcome the implementation plan which will deliver some benefits to some members of the Permanent Defence Force. I sought this debate because I felt that in the context of the report it was vital to have a discussion in the House on future of the Defence Forces.

Dár ndóigh, tá mé sásta go bhfuil fir agus mná Óglaigh na hÉireann íoctha i gceart, nó go bhfuil muid ag dul sa treo ceart ar a laghad, agus go bhfuil siad ag fáil aitheantas ceart ar an obair a dhéanann siad. Tá ualach breise tar éis a bheith orthu le blianta toisc an cruachás atá cothaithe ag an Aire Stáit agus an Roinn. Níor éist siad le fadhbanna na saighdiúirí agus a gclanna agus anois tá na saighdiúirí sin ag éalú chomh tapa agus is féidir leo as Óglaigh na hÉireann mar nach bhfuil siad sásta cur suas leis an mbochtanas nó an easpa measa ón Aire Stáit agus an Roinn a thuilleadh. Tá aiféala orm nach ndéanfaidh na hathruithe beaga i bpá, nó na liúntais, go leor chun an taoide dóibh siúd atá ag fágáil Óglaigh na hÉireann a chasadh, ach tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh. Tá cruachás ann agus tá sé thar am don Aire Stáit aitheantas a thabhairt don chruachás sin agus obair a dhéanamh dá bharr.

The men and women of the Defence Forces are proud of the role they undertake in the service of the State and only ever expected that they would be appreciated in kind, to such a degree as to allow them to continue in that role. However, in recent years they have felt devalued and unappreciated, especially given their vital and often times dangerous role. Cuts to their wages and allowances, as well as extra duties and responsibilities, with no extra pay, made it more and more difficult for many to stay in their chosen career. Poverty drove many out of the Defence Forces. Their role in the public sector is totally different from that in other sectors. Their distinct role was recognised in the past but not of late when they have been expected to accept their lot without complaint, but the Government has abused their loyalty to the State. However, they reach breaking point when they cannot feed their family; when they are doing three jobs or working three shifts because others have left the Defence Forces; when they find the person near them can get overtime for doing guard duty in the Phoenix Park because he or she wears a different uniform and can go home at night but they cannot; when they are left stranded in the Middle East because of a bureaucratic fuck-up, not once but twice; when their voting papers are not delivered because of a bureaucratic cock-up; when they have to sleep in their car near the barracks to save money on petrol; when their partner has to apply for family income supplement to sustain the family and so much more.

Serving the country with pride and distinction, as the Taoiseach stated, is what the Defence Forces personnel wanted to do, and still want to do, but they cannot because they have eyes and are distracted by the chaos around them. The empty places in every rank means more duties, longer shifts, being tired and no additional income for them. A total of 34.7% left the Defence Forces between 2014 and 2018; 82% of those were premature voluntary retirements. There is a turnover rate in the Defence Forces of 9%. In England there is a crisis because it is at 5%. For the navy it is 14% and counting. There was an unprecedented rate of departures and discharges in the first four months of this year, when 256 personnel left. That continued into May and June and I am told the number is 90 this month.

When RACO surveyed its officers, 80% of those inducted from 2013, only six years ago, said they intend to leave well in advance of their too low retirement age. The Defence Forces strength is 672 below the establishment number of 9,500. The Army is short 334 personnel; the navy, 136, of which 25 are officers; the Air Corps, 138, of whom 45 are officers; and there is a 30% shortfall in pilot positions. The lack of air technicians threatens the ability to deliver for the State and for those in training in the Air Corps because they cannot train those coming up behind. The number of technicians and other personnel in the navy is so low that ships cannot put to sea. Three of the nine ships are out of service the LÉ Róisín, LÉ Orla, LÉ Eithne - and I am told the LÉ Ciara and LÉ Niamh are scheduled to be out of service in September. That leaves four. The Minister of State's excuse of necessary maintenance has not stood up. Some of these are the best maintained ships in the world but having four out of a total of nine ships available is a crisis and it is not just a matter of getting recruits in or a matter of pay. Technicians who can do the work are needed and that takes years of training. Pilots, air traffic controllers and technicians are needed in the Air Corps, just to survive at the existing levels in the navy and the Air Corps.

Maintenance and refits being brought forward because the numbers are not available and the boats do not have full crews setting off. The Minister of State has said we would not have been able to take part in rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea again. They cannot even do the security work in our seas, dealing with incidents such as that at Rockall a few weeks ago, fisheries protection, drug smuggling and so on. The Air Corps cannot provide top cover transports for organ donations. There is a list of duties that the Defence Forces were able to carry out on behalf of the State and will not in the future. Unless the Minister of State halts and reverses the exodus, the sustainability of the Defence Forces is in question.

The Minister of State is losing people left, right and centre. I welcome the Public Service Pay Commission's report but it does not go far enough. PDFORRA has had to take the Minister of State and the Department to court to force delivery of awards for members. So much for respecting the men and women who are serving the State. Will the Minister of State engage with PDFORRA in a constructive manner rather than the adversarial way he has been doing so in the courts? Several legal actions could be short-circuited if he would engage with them through their representative organisations, and perhaps the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. I do not know what stage that issue is at.

When will he conclude on the issue of the Defence Forces representative organisations' access to ICTU? When will he constructively deal with the other issues that have added to the low morale in the Defence Forces, caused by low pay and extra work? I accept there is no quick fix for the current difficulties and that is not only pay but conditions, promotion, overtime and compliance with the working time directive, housing, shifts, the increased rate of suicide within the Defence Forces, poverty, the use of Lariam and the denial of the poisoning of Air Corps personnel in the past and much more. The Defence Forces are not sustainable if this exodus continues.

If the Minister of State declared an emergency and performed public relations stunts every morning as the Taoiseach did when there was a storm coming, even he as the Minister for Defence might put on the hard hat and the high visibility jacket and say we have a crisis. We have a crisis if one in 12 members of the Defence Forces has left and continues to leave and where the Defence Forces are not sustainable. The Minister of State and the Department need to take this seriously and to act, otherwise there will be no Defence Forces, Army, navy or Air Corps. That is the scale of the crisis at the moment and we will see that in the next few months because I do not believe the actions he has taken through the Public Service Pay Commission are enough to stem the tide and he needs to act much more quickly to do that. Otherwise, he will be known as the Minister for no defence because there will be nothing left behind.

Debate adjourned.