I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this important topic. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Ireland has always played a part in international peace and stability missions. The Department of Foreign Affairs currently has 11 Irish mission members seconded to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe as part of the special monitoring mission to Ukraine. They have been on this mission for the last seven years. The 11 secondees receive no remuneration from the State. Instead, they are paid a board and living allowance directly from the OSCE. There are a number of problems with this.
First, Ireland has the distinction of being the only state which does not pay its secondees in Ukraine. For example, UK members are paid a salary on top of their board and living allowance. For the last seven years, Irish secondees have been paid no salary and, therefore, have made no PRSI contributions. When they return to Ireland, they will have a major gap in their PRSI contributions with all the attendant consequences for accessing unemployment benefits and the State contributory pension later in their lives despite having been employed. The Ukraine mission is considered a high-risk mission and while an additional small daily stipend is paid to Irish secondees by the OSCE for those in very high-risk areas, the Irish State pays nothing.
Second, members of the mission have been trying to raise this issue with the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs since 2016 and no answers have been forthcoming apart from stating that it was under review. It beggars belief that it has taken the best part of five years to make such a decision. We are either going to pay them or not. The very least the State could do would be to dignify their question with an answer. The case submitted in 2016 had the support of both the ambassador and the assistant secretary general in the Department. I am aware the case was submitted by Ambassador O’Leary to the Secretary General and the Minister on 4 November 2016. Subsequently, the case was submitted to the management board meeting of the European neighbourhood and policy division, ENP, on 11 July 2017. This made a very reasonable suggestion that monitors be given a payment of either €2,000 or €3,000 per month, to a maximum of 12 monitors. The case provided a detailed rationale for a payment, including how out of step Ireland was compared with other EU and non-EU counterparts. I have heard anecdotally that the Department of Foreign Affairs believes there may be a legal issue in ring-fencing payments to this cohort, but other nations do not have the same problem.
Third, I have a very serious concern about the lack of support being given to these secondees who remained in place on the mission during the most serious pandemic this world has ever seen. I find it upsetting that no one from the Department of Foreign Affairs contacted these Irish citizens at any stage over the last two years to see whether they were okay. Again, this contrasts sharply with the experience of mission operatives from other states, who received high-level or direct engagement from the sponsoring authorities in their countries of origin. This included being contacted during the pandemic regarding their safety, as well as directly arranging their repatriation. I cannot imagine how these loyal and faithful Irish people feel when their international colleagues were treated so well by their countries, while all the Irish team received was a deafening silence. We are very quick to say how proud we are of those who represent this country overseas on peacekeeping and stability missions, but it would appear we are not so quick to treat them with the common decency and respect they deserve. We should, as a nation, be ashamed.
I hope the Minister of State has some good news and that he will take what I have said on board.