Thursday, 17 January 2019

Questions (8)

Bríd Smith


8. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the details of the planned increase in defence spending for 2019 in all areas; the details of the increase planned to deal with issues of pay and work conditions suffered by Defence Forces members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2005/19]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Defence)

I am taking this question on behalf of Deputy Bríd Smith. Will the Minister of State provide the details of the planned increase in defence spending for 2019 in all areas? Will he also provide the details of the increase planned to deal with issues of pay and work conditions of Defence Forces members?

The total gross provision for the defence sector for 2019 is €1.007 billion, which is an increase of over €60 million or 6.4% on the 2018 provision. This comprises €758 million for Vote 36 - Defence, an increase of over €50 million, and €249 million for Vote 35 - Army Pensions, an increase of €10 million. Overall, approximately 77% of the defence sector provision relates to pay and pensions.

The 2019 provision for pay in Vote 36 is €529 million, which provides for the pay and allowances of over 10,400 public service employees, including 9,500 Permanent Defence Force personnel, 550 civilian employees and 355 civil servants. The Government has ensured full funding has been provided for 2019 for the target strength for the Permanent Defence Force of 9,500.

Pay is continuing to increase in accordance with public sector pay agreements. Following on from increases paid under the Lansdowne Road agreement, further increases were paid in 2018 under the Public Sector Stability Agreement 2018-2020, with additional increases due in 2019. The allocation includes €6.3 million to meet the additional commitments for 2019. Further increases in pay are scheduled for 2020. In accordance with the provisions of Public Services Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the Government has tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with conducting a more comprehensive examination of recruitment and retention challenges in the Defence Sector. The work of the commission is ongoing. The Government will give due consideration to the findings and recommendations that arise from the work of the commission.

The non-pay allocation, including capital, for 2019 for Vote 36 is €229 million and this provides for essential and ongoing Defence Forces standing and operational costs, as well as the provision of essential procurement and upgrading of defensive equipment and infrastructure. The non-pay allocation has increased by €31 million over the 2018 level.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In accordance with the national development plan, NDP, the capital allocation for defence has risen to €106 million for 2019, an increase of €29 million. The NDP provides for a total of €541 million over the period 2018 to 2022. This level of capital funding will allow the defence organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, as identified and prioritised in the defence White Paper, and builds on the significant investment programme over recent years.

The Government is committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces built infrastructure continues to be enhanced and modernised and to that end the defence Vote makes provision for increased investment in this area, with over €28 million allocated for 2019, an increase of almost €5 million or 20.6%. I have also secured an additional €10 million for Vote 35 for 2019. The allocation of €249 million will provide for the payment of pension entitlements to former members of the Permanent Defence Force and certain dependants.

The allocation of over €1 billion for the defence sector for 2019 emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the resources necessary to deliver on all roles assigned by Government, both at home and overseas and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the capabilities necessary to deliver on all their assigned roles.

It is not an exaggeration to say that there is a major crisis in our Defence Forces with regard to pay, retention and conditions. There is also a crisis of low morale and non-recognition of army personnel regarding PDFORRA. Large numbers of members of the Defence Forces are leaving. Many of my constituents in Dublin Mid-West are in the Defence Forces. I know from them that force morale is extremely low. It was incredible that in September 2018, many Deputies joined members of the Defence Forces in a protest about pay and conditions. It is indicative that serving and retired members of the Defence Forces have to protest against the Department. PDFORRA has also had to bring the Department to court with regard to basic pay and the working time Act. It is indicative of what the Department is doing to the Defence Forces.

The Public Service Pay Commission was established to provide objective advice to the Government on public service remuneration policy. In 2017, under my direction, the Department of Defence brought issues of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission. As a result of that initiative, the commission is now beginning and in-depth and advanced examination of these issues. In 2018, the average earnings for enlisted personnel were: €37,529 for a three-star private; €41,076 for a corporal; €44,622 for a sergeant; €49,605 for a company quartermaster sergeant; €53,606 for a battalion quartermaster sergeant; €54,817 for a sergeant major. The Department of Defence has provided data as requested to the Public Service Pay Commission for its consideration. This was sourced by the civil and military working group. The commission's work is ongoing. I am aware it has surveyed some members of the Defence Forces and interviewed them face to face regarding pay and conditions.

There are other Members waiting. I call Deputy Gino Kenny for his final supplementary.

That is not the reality facing those in the Defence Forces. They will tell Members that is not the case. If 20% of Defence Forces' members are applying for working family payment, there is something seriously wrong. This is mirrored across the public service. Some of the statistics are quite incredible. On average, Defence Forces personnel are working 64 hours per week. That is unsustainable both mentally and physically, yet army personnel are meant to work these hours for a low wage. This issue will not go away. It has to be addressed through pay and conditions and also by recognising the union, PDFORRA, which represents rank and file. Army personnel need to be recognised as a union because they are just as important as any worker in society.

There have been salary increases from 1 January 2018 and 1 October 2018. There will be further increases this year under the public service stability agreement.

I am not making up the figures I provided. They were the gross average earnings in 2018. I have highlighted the work of the Public Service Pay Commission. I have taken the Deputy’s concerns on board and acknowledge there are challenges with regard to Defence Forces pay and conditions. It is now up to the commission to examine the data that the civil and military management have submitted to it. I want to give it time and space. As I informed Deputy Jack Chambers earlier, I am hopeful that the people who drew up the submission will have an opportunity to address the pay commission. However, that is entirely up to the commission.