The military authorities have advised that the strength of the PDF across all services on 30 September 2019 was 8,654 personnel. While I am very much aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment, I remain committed to restoring the strength of the Defence Forces to 9,500 personnel.
The 2019 recruitment campaign for the Defence Forces is ongoing, with 528 new entrants having been inducted so far this year. The Defence Forces recruitment process is subject to continuous monitoring and appraisal to ensure that it remains fit for purpose.
The Government has acknowledged that there are recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces that must be addressed. It is a fact that members of the PDF are being attracted to jobs elsewhere in a buoyant labour market. In light of the particular difficulties faced by the defence sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of recruitment and retention issues in the PDF.
The commission's report, which has been accepted by Government, contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the PDF as well as initiatives that will lead to further improvements. Immediate measures include a 10% increase in military service allowance, MSA; the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances; the restoration of premium rates for certain weekend duties; and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps.
I very much welcome the fact that both RACO and PDFORRA have accepted these recommendations, which are being implemented.
The report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment and conditions of service. The report also provides for an examination of pay structures in the PDF and identifies further retention measures within the context of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations.
The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out timelines and objectives, indicating the commitment to deliver on the pay commission's recommendations. Work on implementing the plan is under way and, under my direction, is being prioritised by civil and military management.
I am confident that all the measures contained in the plan, coupled with pay benefits being delivered by the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the most recent being a 1.5% increase on 1 September, will address the recruitment and retention challenges experienced by the PDF.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
It should be noted, however, that as the Government's plan contains short-, medium- and long-term measures, the full impact of these measures will take time to determine. There are also a range of external variables which impact on recruitment and retention and which can change. The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake the tasks assigned by Government will continue to be carefully monitored, having regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the pay commission and other actions which are under way.