Military life places unique demands on individuals and it is necessary that Defence Forces personnel are prepared to meet the challenges of all military operations. To this end, it is vital the age and health profile of personnel be such as to ensure that operational capability and effectiveness are not compromised in any way.
The age and fitness profile of members of the Permanent Defence Force was an issue of serious concern during the 1990s and was the subject of severe criticism in a series of external reports. One of the key areas identified for urgent action was the development of a manpower policy with an emphasis on lowering the age profile of Permanent Defence Force personnel. As a result, new terms and conditions were introduced for personnel enlisting after 1 January 1994 and new contracts for enlisted personnel were for a period of five years service. This was agreed with PDFORRA at that time.
Since then, the maximum period of service has been extended following further claims received from PDFORRA. Personnel enlisted after January 1994 now have a maximum service of 21 years unless, they have progressed to the rank of sergeant or above in the interim. Service to 21 years is subject to an individual meeting specified criteria as set out in Defence Forces administrative instructions.
PDFORRA submitted a claim through the conciliation and arbitration scheme for a further extension to the service contract limits in order to allow enlisted personnel to serve until they reach 50 years of age, subject to their meeting fitness, medical and other criteria. The Department did not consider a further extension appropriate, given the manpower policy of maintaining a satisfactory personnel profile. It did, however, propose that in recognition of the investment on training for specialised personnel, privates and corporals in receipt of technical pay group 3 and above would be eligible to serve up to 50 years of age. This is subject to these individuals meeting annual medical and fitness tests and other specified required criteria. PDFORRA did not agree with these proposals.
As agreement could not be reached, this matter proceed to adjudication in 2015, where an independent adjudicator made specific findings which were accepted by both official and representative sides. The adjudicator did not recommend extending the service limit to the extent in the claim from the representative side.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The adjudicator did, however, recommend that there should be a further review of the service limit for line corporals and for privates and corporals in the technical grades 1 and 2. He did not make any recommendation regarding the service limits for current line privates. In fact, the adjudicator accepted that a moderate increase in service for corporals could be balanced by a revised maximum 15 years service for new entrant line privates.
On foot of a proposal from the Department of Defence during the adjudication process, and purely as an exceptional and temporary arrangement, line corporals and both privates and corporals in technical group 1 and 2 appointments were allowed to continue to serve until the expiry of the following two promotion panels, subject to the individual meeting annual medical and fitness tests and other required criteria, such as not exceeding the age limit of 50 years during this period. This temporary arrangement is currently in place.
The Department of Defence and military management are continuing to analyse the matters raised by the adjudicator. Any continuance in service beyond the current maximum periods must not have any adverse impact on operational effectiveness and military outputs. PDFORRA will be consulted on any proposals arising.
In addition a broader review of contracts of service for Defence Forces personnel is provided for in the White Paper on Defence, which was published in 2015. This will be progressed as part of the White Paper implementation process.