Thursday, 13 June 2019

Questions (1)

Jack Chambers


1. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when proposals will be brought forward to improve pay and working conditions for members of the Defence Forces; if he is satisfied that the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission relating to the Defence Forces are sufficient in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24685/19]

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Oral answers (31 contributions) (Question to Defence)

When will the Minister of State at the Department of Defence bring forward proposals to improve the pay and working conditions for members of the Defence Forces, is he satisfied that the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission relating to the Defence Forces are sufficient in this regard, and will he make a statement on the matter?

The Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to conduct a comprehensive examination and analysis of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in those sectors and employment streams identified in the defence sector. While there has been much recent reporting in the media and commentary through social media, it would not be appropriate to comment on speculation. I will wait until the report is brought to the Government by the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and published before making comment.

Members of the Permanent Defence Force continue to receive the pay increases in accordance with national pay agreements. The restoration of pay scales and the unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation is being done in an affordable and sustainable manner. The focus of increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. Increases due to date under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 have been paid to the personnel of the Permanent Defence Force. Further increases in pay are scheduled for later in 2019 and 2020. By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the pay scales of all public servants, including members of the Permanent Defence Force, earning under €70,000 per annum, will be restored to pre-FEMPI levels.

Pay is just one matter that we are addressing. There is a range of other factors that also influence a person's decision to remain in the Defence Forces. These include career progression opportunities, personal development opportunities, work–life balance, job stimulation and work environment. There are significant opportunities for career progression and development within the Defence Forces and there were more than 800 promotions in the PDF in 2018. Each promotion brings extra responsibility but also brings a pay rise. Earlier this year, 24 enlisted personnel completed a potential officers course and were commissioned as officers. Further potential officers courses will be undertaken in 2021 and 2024. There are ongoing opportunities to undertake career development courses and the Defence Forces have made significant inroads in ensuring that major courses acquire external accreditation.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

There is an ongoing programme of HR development within the Defence Forces, of which part is aimed at ensuring that there is an appropriate work-life balance. The Government is committed to ensuring that the provisions of the working time directive are applied to the Defence Forces. The Department of Defence - civil and military personnel - are in discussions with the Permanent Defence Force representative associations regarding the implementation of the directive in the Defence Forces.

There are no quick fixes to the current challenges facing the Defence Forces, which are also being experienced by other military organisations internationally. The Government will consider fully the recommendations arising from the Public Service Pay Commission.

On the Public Service Pay Commission, as the Minister of State will be aware, some reports have been leaked. It appears the Government flew a kite before the local elections and it has gone down like a lead balloon. If reports are accurate, a private with up to three years' experience stands to benefit to the tune of 96 cent per day on the military service allowance, and that is even before tax.

Before the local and European elections, the Government published billions of euro worth of announcements, whether as part of the national development plan, as the national broadband plan or for the beef sector. The one area of policy that was very much not announced was the area of defence policy and the serious recruitment and retention issues that we have.

Why is the Minister of State blatantly ignoring the recommendations from military management and when will he publish this report? Where is it at right now? Has the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, received it? Has the Minister of State read the report and will he provide more information on its contents? There are serious issues with morale of which the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, will be aware, much worse that the HR issues that he mentioned last night in this House. There are serious morale issues and total hopelessness, and Deputy Kehoe has a duty, as Minister of State, to reassure members of the Defence Forces that he is doing his level best to address the issues.

The Deputy can be assured that I am doing my best to bring these issues to the fore. I have received a copy of the pay commission report but it is not my memorandum to bring to the Government. It is the memorandum of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. As Deputy Chambers, his party and its finance spokesman will be well aware, public sector pay is a matter for Deputy Donohoe, as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and for Finance. I expect the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to bring that report to Cabinet over the next short while.

I have engaged with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, on this issue since I received the report. It would be wrong of me if I did not. As soon as the Minister brings the report to Cabinet, it will be published.

It is interesting that the Minister of State is engaging with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on a report that the Minister of State has read. Clearly, there are issues with that report and its contents. The retention and the recruitment crisis is at a systemic level. Is the Minister of State satisfied with the report he has read? What will be the outcome of it? Will the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, refer it back to the Public Service Pay Commission? Has the Minister of State consulted military management on its contents to see if its members are happy that the recommendations they submitted to the Minister of State's Department have been acknowledged within that report?

The Minister of State should deal with the serious anger and upset prevalent throughout the Defence Forces about the anaemic weak attempt to address the serious morale issues. There is a unique nature to our Defence Forces in that their members cannot strike or join a union and they need to be treated properly and with the respect and dignity that they deserve. I want the Minister of State to answer those questions about the content of the report. Why has there been such a long delay in respect of it?

It is not my report to discuss with anybody else. It is the report of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I do not know if the Deputy was listening to what Deputy Heydon said during the debate on a motion on the Defence Forces last night. During the course of the negotiations on renewing the confidence and supply agreement with respect to public sector pay-----

The Minister of State butchered their recommendations.

-----the Deputy's party spokesperson never once mentioned Defence Forces' pay, retention or recruitment.

The Minister of State butchered their recommendations.

Allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption.

Not once did the Fianna Fáil party spokesperson mention that during those negotiations.

The Minister of State totally undermined the Chief of Staff.

I would like to be shown the same respect as the Deputy opposite has been shown.

If the Minister of State were to address his remarks through the Chair, I am sure he would get that.

During the recent negotiations on the confidence and supply agreement, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, Deputy Michael McGrath, never once mentioned Defence Forces pay, retention or recruitment.

The Minister of State was not there.

Acting Chairman-----

Please proceed. The Minister of State's time is almost up.

I spoke to someone who was there and he put that on the record of the Dáil last night.

The Minister of State has shown no regard.

That shows the Deputy and his party's intent on this issue given that they had-----

The Minister of State has undermined military management.

-----an opportunity to address this important issue-----

The time for this question has concluded. I am moving on to Question No. 2.

-----and failed to do so.

The Minister of State has ignored the Chief of Staff. It is a disgrace.

I am sure what the Army personnel and their families want is to have the matter resolved. They do not want rows back and forth. I allow everybody to put their point of view but I ask Members to address their comments through the Chair and not to get into a barging match across the Chamber as it will not solve anything.

Question No. 2 is in the name of Deputy Ó Snodaigh. I take it Deputy Buckley is introducing that question.

I presume we have the agreement of the House on that. That is agreed.