Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Jack Chambers

Question:

57. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when a new chairperson for the conciliation and arbitration council will be appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52902/19]

When will a new chairperson for the conciliation and arbitration scheme be appointed? Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter? As he knows, in September 2018 the Barry report recommended that an independent and interventionist chair should be appointed. Why is this not happening? The Minister of State is ignoring the key recommendations to which the representative associations subscribe. Will he give the House a full account of why he is not implementing this recommendation?

The conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, provides an established mechanism for the two PDF representative associations to engage with the official side. The associations in question are the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the representative association for enlisted personnel, which is known as PDFORRA. In line with commitments under the public service pay agreements, members of the PDF can make representations on pay and conditions through their representative associations.

The conciliation and arbitration scheme, since its inception in the early 1990s, has provided the framework on which progress has been made on many successful agreements that have been negotiated between Defence Forces management and the PDF representative associations. In light of the many changes in the industrial relations landscape in the intervening period, I decided to initiate an independent review of the scheme, on foot of which a report was published on 2 October 2018.

The report of the review contains a number of recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency of the scheme. The appointment of an independent chairperson of the conciliation council is one of the recommendations in the review of the current scheme.

All parties to the scheme, including the PDF representative associations, are collaborating to develop the terms of a revised conciliation and arbitration scheme that incorporates the recommendations in the Barry review. Steady progress is being made. A small number of issues that require agreement are outstanding, but I expect them to be finalised shortly. This will allow for the implementation of the terms of the revised scheme, including the appointment of an independent chairperson.

The Minister of State has indicated that the Barry report recommended that an independent chairperson should be appointed by the Minister for Defence following consultation with the parties. Why is the Minister of State prevaricating and delaying the filling of this important role? He keeps saying that a new scheme will be signed off on. Has he approached anyone to become an independent chair? Why has the process not been completed? There seems to be total delay and prevarication. Will the Minister of State confirm whether anyone has been approached? The scope of the scheme should be broadened to allow all matters relating to terms and conditions of employment to be discussed. I understand that the military representative associations are concerned that the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Defence are trying to move the goalposts around what is arbitrable within the scope of the scheme, and that this is delaying the process of signing off on the appointment of an independent chair and some of the other measures that have been mentioned by the Minister of State. Will the Minister of State confirm whether he has approached anybody? What are the issues? Why is there a perception that the goalposts are being moved in a way that will undermine the key recommendations for the scheme?

I want to facilitate all parties that are involved in the scheme, including the two representative associations. The Deputy should go back and correct his information. He is incorrect in his assertions. I do not want to come in and enforce a scheme on top of the representative associations. I want to be able to say that every party has played its part. This scheme will be in place long after I have left my current role. I hope it will be able to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible. A year after I was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for defence in 2016, I felt that the conciliation and arbitration scheme was outdated, wrong and in need of improvement. That I why I brought in Mr. Barry to review the scheme and the present structures. I asked him to make recommendations. He made a number of recommendations. One or two small issues have yet to be signed off. I am absolutely confident that these will be resolved shortly. I have a number of people in mind, each of whom would make an excellent chair of the conciliation and arbitration scheme. I have told both representative associations that I will not appoint anyone until both of them have signed off on the scheme.

The Minister of State has published the recommendations of the report that he set in motion. It is accepted that he wants to restructure the conciliation and arbitration scheme. The problem is the implementation. Why is it taking so long? We are in the final weeks of 2019. The recommendations were issued in October 2018. It seems that it would be very simple for the Minister of State to act on the recommendations in his role as Minister of State with responsibility for defence, but we have not had any action on that front. This is crucially important. I understand that the reform of the scheme and the recommendations in the report are being undermined by the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform. Why is the Minister of State not approaching someone with a view to appointing him or her as an independent chair? Such an appointment would allow us to move on in the spirit of reform that was mentioned in the Barry report. The Minister of State has not explained whether he has approached anyone or why he will not proceed with this appointment. This is a crucial issue for the representative associations. The Minister of State has not provided clarity on what the "small issues" he mentioned are. How long will it take to overcome them? When will this happen?

It would be totally improper to start discussing the outstanding issues until they have been finalised by the two representative associations and the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform. I am absolutely content that those issues will be finalised shortly. The recommendation that a chairperson be appointed, which has been mentioned by Deputy Chambers, is just one of a number of recommendations in the report. I am not going to enforce any scheme. I do not want to enforce any scheme on the representative associations. I want the associations to be content and happy that this is a workable scheme. As I have said here previously, and as I have said to both representative associations, when they have accepted the recommendations and all of this has been fully worked out, I will appoint an independent chair. I will not appoint an independent chair when the scheme has not been agreed on and finalised. It would be totally unfair for an independent chair to come in and work with a scheme that has not been signed off on. I want this scheme to work in the spirit of the way it should work. I do not want either side to have an axe to grind with the independent chair. The independent chair will come in when the recommendations have been implemented. I assure Deputy Jack Chambers that if I came in here and enforced the scheme on the representative associations, Deputies on his side of the House would be challenging me in the opposite way to the way in which he is challenging me right now.

Army Personnel

Brendan Smith

Question:

58. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to change the two-brigade structure of the Army; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52757/19]

According to experienced Army personnel, the decision made by the Government in 2012 to reduce the number of Army brigades in the Defence Forces from three to two has had destructive strategic consequences for the Defence Forces' operational output, critical intelligence capability and, very importantly, recruitment and retention of personnel. The secretary general of RACO, Commandant Conor King, stated very clearly at a recent meeting of Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence that a disproportionate number of the 3,600 personnel who have voluntarily left the Defence Forces in the past three years have been from former units of the 4th Western Brigade, which was disestablished in 2012 on foot of a Government decision.

The White Paper on Defence, which was approved by the Government in July 2015, comprehensively dealt with all aspects of defence policy and was informed by a wide-ranging consultation process. The retention of the Army's two-brigade structure was among the commitments outlined in the White Paper. This involved the removal of a layer of middle and senior management associated with having a brigade headquarters, which has helped to bring the size of the current two brigades closer to international norms. The two-brigade structure led to the consolidation of previously understrength units into smaller numbers of full-strength units and a reduction in the number of headquarters with the associated redeployment of personnel from administrative and support functions into operational units. The move to the present structure eliminated the situation whereby operational units were understrength while too many personnel were involved in carrying out non-operational administrative and support functions.

The White Paper on Defence resulted from a comprehensive examination of defence requirements. It reaffirmed the Government's commitment to the Army's two-brigade structure and stated that it will remain in place.

This structure has enhanced the deployability and sustainability of the Defence Forces, both at home and overseas. It is important that these benefits are maintained as they are in keeping with measures across the public service where the focus continues to be on increasing operational outputs and reducing unnecessary bureaucracy.

Furthermore, notwithstanding the recognised recruitment and retention challenges faced, it is notable that overseas operations have continued at a higher tempo in recent years. I am satisfied that the increase in numbers serving Ireland overseas has been facilitated, since we moved to a two-brigade structure, by the focus on ensuring increased operational capacity.

I am satisfied that the current structures optimise the capacity of the Army to continue to fulfil the roles assigned by Government, and as such, there are no plans to change the current two-brigade structure of the Army.

On consultation, having spoken to very distinguished and experienced Army personnel, who have distinguished themselves both at home and abroad working for our State, non-military elements dominated the discussions that led to the decision to disband the 3rd Brigade. Before the 2012 reorganisation, there were five operational units in Dublin. After the reorganisation, there remain only two. That has led directly to the requirement for troops from barracks in Athlone, Dundalk and Donegal travelling to Dublin in rotation to carry out routine barrack duties, which before the reorganisation had been carried out by members of the five operational units stationed in Dublin. Surely it makes no common, strategic or financial sense to bring people from Finner Camp in south Donegal, Athlone and Aiken Barracks in Dundalk to carry out routine duties in Dublin? Reorganisation that has resulted in that type of transient personnel, where people work one day in Finner and then another few days in Rathmines in Dublin, makes no sense. Were anyone to suggest that was a good strategic move, I would suggest they go back to the drawing board and re-examine the organisation that people with great Army experience say had huge flaws.

The decision in 2012 was based on recommendations brought forward by the then Secretary General of the Department of Defence and the then Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces. They were aimed at ensuring the most effective operational structures in a stabilised strength ceiling of 9,500 Permanent Defence Force personnel. The reorganisation proposals at that time were developed collaboratively by senior and military management. I know well that a senior management team worked on the reorganisation and what was best for the organisation. The 2012 reorganisation has created many opportunities for people, of which one is the increased number of people who were able to go overseas on peacekeeping duties. In recent years a high number of personnel have had the opportunity to serve overseas in peacekeeping duties, which is one reason people join the Defence Forces. I am not saying there have not been challenges since the reorganisation. We have a huge number of challenges. One is retention, which is why I would like to get back up to 9,500 personnel, which the Defence Forces are fully funded for.

The reorganisation in 2012 was a political decision influenced by the officials in the Department of Defence, not military decision-making.

On the retention of personnel, I have attended many parades and different functions in Cavan over the years when we had Dún Uí Néill Barracks. I knew many of the people who served, where there were generations of families who served with distinction abroad. I quoted a figure earlier that showed very clearly that the biggest loss in personnel has been from the areas that were previously part of the Western Brigade. It is clear that towns have lost that history and the contact with their barracks, where generations of families joined the army and served the country with great distinction. The community that the Army generated is being lost. That has contributed to our losing people and to fewer people in those areas applying to join the Army.

The Army element of the Defence Forces is wrongly oriented. It is very oriented to the south, the east and the south east. We should realise that, unfortunately, there is a border in our country. It will be there for another few years, I am sure. From a Defence Forces perspective, the 499 km Border with Northern Ireland is now overseen from the headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Brigade located in Rathmines, Dublin. Dealing with the Border area needs local decision-making, with knowledge gathered and decisions made in the local area. I have spoken to the Minister of State before, asked him parliamentary questions and put it to him at the joint committee, asking him to consider once again restoring Dún Uí Néill Barracks in Cavan. The central Border area is without a military installation between Finner in south Donegal and Aiken in Dundalk.

The security of the State rests with An Garda Síochána, with which the Defence Forces have a very close relationship in this regard. I mean this in the best way that we should look forward rather than back. I take the Deputy's views on board about the lack of recruitment from areas where there were barracks in the past. It is one of the hardest decisions. The Deputy was in government, as have I been, when military barracks were closed, and it is not a nice thing for an area. One sympathises with people in areas where it happens. One sees great appetite to join the Defence Forces in those areas, and after the barracks have been gone for a few years, there is a decrease in the number of people wanting to join.

That is why we have to change recruitment and it is one reason that I have a review of recruitment ongoing so we can see how we can get it back to the communities where previously we had barracks. It has frustrated me but we must look at recruitment quite differently from how we do it now. The process is ongoing, with an independent chair looking at the review of recruitment as part of the independent pay commission. The White Paper that was published last week suggests that we need more people in the areas of cyber safety management and that the people in the areas where we had critical mass previously may not be suitable for that now. There are different security threats to the State and our decisions on recruitment and retention must reflect that.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Bríd Smith

Question:

59. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to recognise representative associations for members of the Defence Forces; his plans to allow such bodies to join a union (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53015/19]

What are the Minister of State's plans to recognise representative associations for members of the Defence Forces and to allow Defence Force personnel to join their union and be recognised as part of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions?

Section 2(3) of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990 prohibits the Defence Forces representative associations from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body without the consent of the Minister. Members of the Permanent Defence Force also cannot become members of a trade union. To compensate for these limitations, there are a range of statutory redress mechanisms available to serving members, including redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces Ombudsman, and a conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

In 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, upheld the prohibition on the right of military personnel to strike but did conclude that Ireland was in violation of Article 5 of the European Social Charter on the grounds of the prohibition against military representative associations from joining national employee organisations and in respect of Article 6.2 of the charter regarding the right to bargain collectively.

It should be noted that the basis for the complaint predates a number of significant Government initiatives. On collective bargaining, the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations was afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations that led to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020.

The findings of the European Committee of Social Rights were considered as part of an independent review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, which was completed last year. One of the recommendations from that review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with ICTU to explore the practicalities of a PDF representative association forming association or affiliation with ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service. Association with ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. I asked my officials to examine this matter further and, in this regard, defence management - civil and military - has engaged in discussions with ICTU. Defence management has also met the PDF representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to discuss this matter. I have also discussed the matter of ICTU affiliation with both RACO and PDFORRA.

I am aware of PDFORRA's long-standing ambition to affiliate with ICTU. I am also aware that RACO, the representative body for commissioned officers, has a conflicting position on this matter. The implications of possible association or affiliation are being carefully considered and engagement is continuing with PDFORRA and ICTU on this matter.

The point that jumps out at me from the Minister of State's answer is that RACO and PDFORRA cannot affiliate to trade unions without the consent of the Minister. The question is why the Minister is not willing to consent. We need to tease that out because this has gone on for a very long time. In the meantime, the Defence Forces are haemorrhaging members and finding it very difficult to retain them. Figures on the number of people who left the Defence Forces in this year alone show there were 256 discharges in the first four months of 2019, the highest figure since the reorganisation of 2012. In April alone, there were 86 discharges. It is worth reminding ourselves that each of these discharges costs the individual concerned €300.

The Minister of State is burying his head in the sand in not acknowledging that, despite the acceptance by some of a pay offer recently, the problems in the Defence Forces run very deep and are not being resolved. Soldiers, sailors and others in the Naval Service, etc., believe their best chance of representation is with their trade union and ICTU. They have committed to the understanding that they would not take strike action.

I do not accept any of the Deputy's comments. As part of the terms of reference of the review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme, I asked the chairman of the review, Mr. Barry, to look at ICTU affiliation for members of the Defence Forces. That arose from a decision in a EUROMIL case. It is incorrect of the Deputy to say I have been ignoring this issue. If she had read a little more and explored this issue, she may have found out about my activity in this area. What I will not do is rush into a decision here. I am giving this matter very careful consideration. I have the advice of military management, which I will take at face value. If there is ever an affiliation, I want to get reassurances that the Defence Forces will still have the capability to carry out their day-to-day duties. They are there to defend the State. That is of paramount concern to me.

I am sorry if the Minister of State took up my comment as suggesting he ignored the issue. I did not say that. I said he was not doing what he could do, which is to give consent for members of the Defence Forces to be part of a trade union and part of ICTU. There has been much talk about that issue. We have revisited it time and again and there have been meetings and discussions. It is within the Minister of State's gift to give such consent. PDFORRA has given a commitment that its members would not engage in strike action. Reference to RACO is disingenuous because its members are already happy with the internal procedures and forums in place to address their grievances. I want the Minister of State to acknowledge that whatever deals he has done recently, they will not address the gross underpayment and poor conditions faced by Defence Forces personnel, and that their desire and expressed willingness to become part of ICTU and their belief that they would be better represented in that way, should not be ignored, particularly while we face climate chaos. The people we will rely on most when we have flooding events, landslides, rising sea levels and unique storm events will be the members of the Defence Forces. If the Defence Forces are demoralised and haemorrhaging members, we cannot expect to get a full and proper service. The security of the State is being used an argument against allowing these workers to join a trade union. The security of the State is at risk, particularly in light of climate chaos, because we are haemorrhaging members of the Defence Forces.

I acknowledge we have major challenges in the future. To return to the issue the Deputy raised about ICTU affiliation, I noted during a debate on a Private Members' motion tabled by Deputy Jack Chambers of Fianna Fáil that all Opposition Deputies supported membership of ICTU. The motion was supported by all Members of the House at the time. As the Minister of State with responsibility for this matter, I must take into account all the concerns, specifically those of military management. I know RACO, the representative association for commissioned officers, has concerns about PDFORRA becoming affiliated members of ICTU. I agree with the Deputy that we need the Defence Forces in times of crisis. However, when it comes to negotiating, members of the Defence Forces have representative associations but they want to go a step further. I am giving that matter very careful consideration, taking into account all the concerns, specifically those of military management and the Chief of Staff who has written to me about them. I will wholeheartedly take those on board. I am in communication with the Chief of Staff and PDFORRA on these issues.

I am conscious of the time remaining. Four Members wish to contribute and only 23 minutes remain. I ask Members to ensure they comply with the time provided.

Defence Forces Resources

Jack Chambers

Question:

60. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way in which enhanced capability is being provided for the Naval Service in ongoing requirements and contingencies, including the protection of vital sea lanes of communication of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52905/19]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

62. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which he remains confident that the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps continue to have sufficient resources available in the event of a major disaster, climate or security related; if surveillance and rescue services continue to be adequately provided for; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52960/19]

I ask the Minister of State the way in which enhanced capability is being provided for the Naval Service in ongoing requirements and contingencies, including the protection of vital sea lanes of communication of Ireland, and if he will make a statement on the matter. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of an excellent article by Lieutenant Shane Mulcahy published recently in the Defence Forces Review with the title, Patrolling Below the Horizon; Addressing Ireland's Awareness of our Maritime Geospatial Domain. It is an important strategic document that deserves analysis and a response from the Minister of State.

Is my Question No. 62 grouped with Deputy Chambers's question?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 60 and 62 together.

I apologise, Deputy Durkan. I was not notified of the grouping.

My priority as Minister of State with responsibility for defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to carry out their roles as assigned by Government. The resources available to the Defence Forces to carry out their operational commitments are kept under constant review and future equipment priorities for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service are considered in the context of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and equipment priorities planning process. The allocation of more than €1 billion for the defence sector for 2020, an increase of €32.3 million on 2019, emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the resources necessary to deliver on all roles assigned, both at home and overseas.

At national level, representation on the Government task force on emergency planning by both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces ensures the fullest co-ordination and co-operation in the event of an emergency. In accordance with the framework for major emergency management, primary responsibility for responding to emergencies such as a natural disaster rests with three designated principal response agencies, namely, An Garda Síochána, the relevant local authority and the Health Service Executive. The Defence Forces provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or an emergency in its aid to the civil authority role. Major emergency plans have been developed by local and regional authorities and these plans identify the procedures for requesting assistance from the Defence Forces.

With reference to rescue services, the Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. Both the Air Corps and the Naval Service provide support to the Coast Guard on an "as available" basis in accordance with an agreed service level agreement.

With regard to security and surveillance matters, primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State, rests with An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality. One of the roles assigned to the Defence Forces is providing aid to the civil power, which, in practice, means assisting An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.

The conclusion reached in the report to which I refer is stark: "Without systems capable of subsurface detection linked to data analysis systems ashore, the Naval Service remains quite literally, lost in the dark". This was written in the context of the fact that three quarters of transatlantic cables in the northern hemisphere pass through or near Irish waters. Considering the docked naval ships like the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orla, the fact that the capacity of the naval Naval Service is collapsing and the massive economic zone adjacent to the coast of Ireland, this is an extremely serious analysis of our geostrategic location in the context of these cables. The point I raised earlier applies now. What if there is a serious terrorist incident? What if a serious event occurs and we do not have the capability to respond? This is a serious strategic risk, not only for Ireland but also for Europe. It seems that we do not have the capability to respond and not much is happening, particularly in view of the fact that two ships which the Minister of State said would be back in service in the autumn are permanently docked.

I call Deputy Durkan. My apologies for earlier.

I am seeking to ascertain whether the Defence Forces have adequate resources in any of the capacities listed in my question to enable them to deal with the emerging situation vis-à-vis the European Union and the UK's exit from it. Might it be advisable to seek assistance from the European Union with a view to establishing an enhanced role for the Defence Forces in the defence and surveillance of the western coast of Europe?

The document addresses the threat of mines and improvised explosive devices which may close ports and sea lanes and demand the protection of privately-owned cables. A key thrust of the argument is the need for the protection zones around cables. These cables are the responsibility of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. We have a responsibility in that area as well.

Regarding Naval Service capability, the document suggests that a multi-role vessel will provide the basis for developing subsea vision, although it does not explain how this will prevent anchors from breaking cables or the extraction of information from such cables. This is a key challenge for us going forward. If the Deputy listened earlier on he might have heard me speak about the different challenges we face now. I am not sure whether it was Deputy Jack Chambers or Deputy Durkan who spoke about the challenge of Brexit.

We have to look at the challenges of the situation post Brexit. One issue is the possibility of a hard border. Thankfully, it appears that the latter will not come to pass. That is good news. We have to look at these situations and the challenges we are facing.

The document to which I refer states, "So long as Ireland remains socially and economically married to the vital but delicate network of glass laying just offshore, it is high time we considered protecting it". Does the Minister of State accept that these cables are a soft military target? The analysis demonstrates that they are the digital ecosystem of the globe. For him to deflect responsibility to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is a really worrying development. He should take this document on board, look at the gaps and weaknesses it highlights and enhance the role of the Naval Service to address them. The naval diving section is at a strength of just 33%. How can that service, with docked ships, monitor important lines of communication at sea? To say that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has responsibility in this regard is a worryingly siloed approach to Government. It is not a whole-of-Government approach to Defence Forces capability. This is a serious document which reflects a geopolitical weakness on Ireland's part which could affect global communications. The fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Defence is talking about the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment shows that this is not getting the serious analysis it deserves. It should not take a terrorist incident for us to start getting serious about defence.

Again, I wish to ask whether the Minister of State intends to seek assistance from the European Union directly, particularly as this country is likely to have to undertake an enhanced defence position within the Union.

Deputy Jack Chambers always shifts the discussion. Different Departments have different responsibilities. The Deputy should be able to understand that. The security of the State is the responsibility of An Garda Síochána. Cyber risks are the remit of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. These cables are a major concern. This document in question was published recently . I will be asking my officials to look at it in depth and consider the challenges we will face in the future and the capabilities we will require. This comes down to budget considerations. It is one thing to shout from the Opposition benches that we should spend more money. However, there are other areas in respect of which we have responsibility. That is one of the reasons we have considered a multi-role vessel which will have the capability to do much more than some of our current vessels.

Deputy Durkan asked if we would seek assistance. There are several service level agreements under which Departments work with each other and we seek assistance from other bodies. For us to seek assistance from overseas would be a Government decision. The Government will not be found wanting. We have to consider our key challenges when considering assistance. We have to consider what our capabilities are and what capabilities we will need in the future.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

61. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if pay restoration for the Defence Forces is on target to be achieved in October 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53032/19]

Bríd Smith

Question:

67. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the additional resources allocated to address low pay in the Defence Forces and the expected increases in pay across various grades in 2020. [53017/19]

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

82. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on his efforts to improve pay and conditions for members of the Defence Forces; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this perceived unfairness is having an influence on the recruitment and retention of members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53011/19]

The public is very proud of our Defence Forces, whose work includes peacekeeping roles, public service and so much more. We must ensure that these people are properly resourced, paid and respected. There is very low morale in the Defence Forces, with people leaving or unable to make ends meet. Can the Minister of State outline the various steps the Government will take to address these issues?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61, 67 and 82 together.

Similar to other sectors in the public service, the pay of PDF personnel was reduced as one of the measures to assist in stabilising national finances during the financial crisis.

Improvements within the economy have provided an opportunity for the unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation, which imposed pay cuts across the public service.

Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. These increases are weighted in favour of those on lower pay.

The increases due to date under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 have been paid to members of the Defence Forces, the most recent being a 1.75% increase in annualised salaries from the 1 September last. On 1 January 2020, annualised salaries up to €32,000 will increase by 0.5%. On 1 October, annualised salaries will increase by 2%.

By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the pay scales of all public servants earning less than €70,000 per annum, including members of the Defence Forces, will be restored to pre-FEMPI levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction in allowances under FEMPI is also scheduled in the agreement.

Basic pay and military service allowance is just part of the overall remuneration package available for members of the PDF. A range of duties attract additional allowances.

At my direction, the Department of Defence brought the particular difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission. Arising from the first report of the commission in 2017 and the subsequent public service stability agreement, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with undertaking a comprehensive examination and analysis of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces.

The report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces was accepted by the Government on 4 July 2019. The report contains a broad range of recommendations, which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements. The immediate benefits include a 10% increase in the military service allowance, the restoration of certain Defence Forces allowances to pre-Haddington Road agreement levels and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures will cost approximately €10 million per annum. The increases in the military service allowance and the restoration of the rates of the other allowances, as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission, are in addition to measures relating to core pay which are in the current public service stability agreement.

I thank the Minister of State for outlining the various pay changes he proposes to introduce. Despite that, those leaving the Defence Forces continue to outnumber those who are joining. Morale is low. Action taken by the Minister of State does not seem to address the situation. There is still a net reduction in the number of serving members, which has again led to a Naval Service vessel being tied up in a harbour. This problem runs much deeper than euro. The Minister of State must address the deep-rooted issues head on.

On the issue of funding, the Minister of State is returning millions in pay savings to the Exchequer. Does he not agree that regardless of whether this is used to fund hospitals or whatever else, it is not being paid to the Defence Forces? At the same time, the Department is profiteering from members of the Defence Forces who discharge as they have paid back more than €356,000 in recent years.

I call on the Minister of State to respond.

What action will the Minister of State take to ensure that morale is raised, Defence Forces personnel can make ends meet and the Defence Forces are respected?

In recent months, I got an extra €20 million for the Defence Forces for pay and allowances, as recommended by the recent Public Service Pay Commission under the public service stability agreement. We are also looking at other retention matters.

I agree with Deputy Moynihan that this is not all down to euro. We must provide a work-life balance for members of the Defence Forces and make it a career they want to stay in and in which they are happy. We have challenges in those areas. Deputy Moynihan said I return €20 million per annum. That is totally incorrect.

I did not give an amount.

The amount returned between 2014 and 2018 was €4.5 million out of a total budget of €4.5 billion. Any savings made on pay are not handed back to the Exchequer. In fact, they are reinvested in the organisation for the benefit of all members. Deputy Moynihan understands the public service stability agreement. When his party signed up to the confidence and supply arrangement, it also signed up to the public service stability agreement on which the current public service pay agreement is based.

We know that pay has been an issue and I acknowledge the efforts that are now being made in that regard. I hope that the proposals outlined by the Minister of State will prove to be productive and effective in addressing the issues.

There is no doubt about the pride Irish people feel in the Defence Forces and their peacekeeping work and also the very visible role they have played in the various commemoration services. It is very disturbing to learn of the exodus of efficient, talented and experienced people from the Defence Forces. The Minister of State was at the event in Merrion Square to commemorate the deceased members of all the Defence Forces. The greatest tribute to those members of the Defence Forces who have lost their lives would be to ensure that the Defence Forces today are properly paid and resourced.

That is one of the reasons the Defence Forces were prioritised by the Government and the Public Service Pay Commission was asked to examine the key challenges we face in the Defence Forces. I am not saying we do not have challenges. I accept that we have significant challenges and these were addressed in the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission. I am delighted that both PDFORRA and RACO signed up to those recommendations and that they are now receiving the benefits. A high-level implementation plan is in place and a civilian and military group is working on that. One of the most important issues to bear in mind is that the Defence Forces are fully funded for 9,500 personnel. It is important we ensure that is the case. I want to get back up to that level but we are competing in a buoyant and strong economy where we have full employment in the State.

I wish to clarify that I did not put any particular figure on the amount the Minister of State is returning to the Exchequer or anywhere else. I pointed out that he is returning an amount in the order of millions. The €356,000 figure I cited relates to people buying out of their service. That is where the profiteering is occurring. It is based on people leaving the Defence Forces in such large numbers. That is continuing despite the fact that pay improvements have been introduced. It is because the issue runs deep and needs to be addressed. People in the services and their families need to know the Defence Forces will be respected. That must be reflected in their pay and conditions and across the board. The unique nature of the military services must be reflected by an independent pay commission making a complete examination of what is happening. Will the Minister of State outline what steps he will take to ensure that the public, members of the Defence Forces and their families know they will be respected by the Government?

The answer is that time will tell. The effectiveness of what the Minister of State proposes will be seen if members of the Defence Forces no longer leave in the numbers they have been leaving. Retention of experience is vital. The other way we will see the proof of the proposals outlined by the Minister of State is that young people will see joining the Defence Forces as a viable career choice and there will be an increase in the number of young people who join.

Following six months of training, a young person who joins the Defence Forces receives in excess of €28,000, plus whatever allowances he or she is entitled to. I accept that Defence Forces personnel work for their allowances. One of the issues I addressed in recent years was to give people more opportunities to go overseas. That was an important issue to address in the context of retention.

I assure Deputy Moynihan that no one is profiteering from members exiting the Defence Forces. I am not sure exactly what point the Deputy is making in that regard. It is important when we give people highly skilled qualifications that we get a fixed period of service from them. If we invest in members of the Defence Forces, it is right that they sign up for a fixed period of service to their country. Such individuals are much sought after in the private sector because of their experience, education and the qualifications they gain as members of the Defence Forces. If a person leaves before the service agreement is up, it is only right and proper that he or she must pay for the qualification he or she got. We should not just let people go without having to agree to serve for some time with the Defence Forces.

Question No. 62 answered with Question No. 60.

Partnership for Peace

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

63. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on the future relationship of Ireland with a restructured Partnership for Peace under the auspices of NATO; the way in which this could reconcile with our position of neutrality and a focus on Ireland's involvement in peacekeeping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53010/19]

Ireland's relations with NATO are set within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace. The primary aim of Ireland's Partnership for Peace participation is to enhance the Defence Forces' interoperability with other professional military forces for the purpose of engaging in UN-authorised peacekeeping and peace-support operations led by the UN, EU or NATO.

Over the past 20 years, participation in Partnership for Peace has been fundamental to Ireland being able to keep abreast of developments in areas such as training, humanitarian aspects of peacekeeping and interoperability and it enhances the ability of our peacekeepers to work alongside those of our partners. It also enables us to share our own peacekeeping skills with a wide range of countries. Ireland's involvement has delivered significant improvements for our Defence Forces in terms of capability development and operational capacity. This has enabled us to make a positive impact, particularly in undertaking more demanding international crisis-management operations.

As a result of NATO's recent reorganisation of its partnership structures, the responsibility for partners in Partnership for Peace is being transferred from the defence policy and planning division to a newly formed directorate within an operations division. This new directorate is called the Defence Institution and Capacity Building Directorate.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It will involve all partnership programmes transferring to the new directorate and that includes the planning and review process, the defence and related security capacity-building initiative, Building Integrity, the Defence Education Enhancement Programme, the professional development programme, and the military career transition programme. It becomes, in effect, a one-stop-shop for partner countries like Ireland.

One of the purposes behind the consolidation of these programmes in a single staff structure is to ensure greater coherence and co-ordination between the programmes and to ensure that the programmes are better aligned with the agreed objectives of the individual partnership relationships.

Ireland's future relationship under our Partnership for Peace role with NATO will continue as originally established, which enables Ireland to tailor its participation to reflect our national priorities and adopt activities and goals on an independent and self-selecting basis. It remains fully consistent with Ireland's policy of military neutrality, which is characterised by non-participation in military alliances.

I am satisfied that Ireland will continue to benefit as we move to the new partnership directorate. I look forward to the opportunities that this will bring to further enhance capability development and modernise our defence forces.

We have discussed this matter before. There are very real and valid concerns, however, regarding the erosion of our neutrality. Any alignment with NATO intensifies those concerns further. Issues arose in respect of Shannon. Any NATO-led initiative raises alarm bells. The restructured model and potential change in ethos under the more centralised programme is concerning. Capacity-building in the context of NATO historically very strongly suggests further militarisation. I have been hearing at European meetings I have been attending that there is an increase in NATO participation and loyalty to NATO.

I have stated on numerous occasions that I defend our traditional policy on military neutrality, even when it comes to Partnership for Peace, in which I am a very strong believer. I mean no disrespect to anyone in this House in saying that I have had the opportunity to go overseas to visit our troops, be they in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon or in the Golan Heights. I see Partnership for Peace and interoperability working for real with my own two eyes when I see countries working alongside Ireland. We joined Partnership for Peace in 1994 for a specific reason, that is, to reach out to new democracies. It is one reason Partnership for Peace was originally launched in January 1994.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.