Thursday, 13 June 2019

Questions (8, 13, 15, 24, 26, 28, 29)

Mick Wallace

Question:

8. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the recent comments by the former head of the elite Ranger Wing in Chad that poor rates of pay and allowances for enlisted personnel, rather than officers, were driving personnel out of the Defence Forces; if he has discussed these issues with the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24574/19]

View answer

Clare Daly

Question:

13. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the fact that almost 90% of Defence Forces personnel earn below the average public sector wage; the steps he will take to address same; and the reason it has not been addressed to date. [24343/19]

View answer

Mick Wallace

Question:

15. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces are having a negative effect on morale levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24573/19]

View answer

Brendan Smith

Question:

24. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to improve pay and conditions for members of the Permanent Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24353/19]

View answer

Clare Daly

Question:

26. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the comments of a former deputy commander of the Army Ranger Wing (details supplied) on the ongoing crisis of pay, morale and retention in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24342/19]

View answer

Jack Chambers

Question:

28. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the engagement he has had with the Defence Forces representative associations on the report of the Public Service Pay Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24477/19]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

29. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which the review of the Defence Forces pay and conditions has progressed with particular reference to the need to stabilise the strength of the forces and achieve a higher degree of retention of personnel in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24559/19]

View answer

Oral answers (43 contributions) (Question to Defence)

Recently the former head of the elite Ranger Wing in Chad, Cathal Berry, said that poor rates of pay and allowances for enlisted personnel, rather than officers, were driving personnel out of the Defence Forces. He also said:

The sense of absolute betrayal is palpable. It is visceral. I have not seen anything even remotely like it in 23 years’ service.

Has the Minister of State discussed this issue with the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 13, 15, 24, 26, 28 and 29 together.

I have ongoing discussions with the Chief of Staff regarding the full range of defence issues. The current turnover level in the Defence Forces is 8.1%, which is above the long-term average of 6.3%. This turnover level is posing difficulties for the Defence Forces. Other military organisations internationally are also experiencing similar, and in some cases higher, overarching turnover levels, particularly among specialists. As the rate of turnover within a military organisation can differ across functional areas, the impact of turnover can vary accordingly. This leads to particular challenges in certain areas. I have previously acknowledged that the Defence Forces are experiencing certain difficulties in recruitment and retention and highlighted these issues to the Public Service Pay Commission.

The economic recovery has provided the opportunity to restore pay to all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces. This is being done in an affordable and sustainable manner in accordance with national public service pay agreements. Members of the Permanent Defence Force have received the pay increases due from recent national public service pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. Further increases in pay are scheduled in 2019 and 2020. By the end of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the pay scales of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning under €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI is also scheduled as part of that agreement.

The structure of the Permanent Defence Force differs significantly from that of other organisations. The Defence Forces have a hierarchal structure with almost 50% of personnel at the entry level rank of private. In addition, there are high numbers in training. This makes average pay an inappropriate indicator of comparative pay rates. Although direct comparison can prove difficult due to the differing roles and duties undertaken, the pay package available to members of the Defence Forces remains competitive when compared with other public service jobs with similar educational and skills requirements. Pay rates for newly qualified members of the Defence Forces are competitive when compared with other areas in the public service and the private sector. A newly qualified three-star private can expect to earn €27,759 gross per annum, including military service allowance but excluding duty allowances. This starting pay is subject to incremental progression up a salary scale and increases to €38,388 per annum at this rank. A newly qualified school leaver entry officer can expect to earn €35,614 gross per annum, inclusive of military service allowance, after initial training, and a graduate entry officer can expect to earn €40,566 gross per annum, inclusive of military service allowance, after initial training. These are entry level salary scales. With promotion, individuals receive higher pay. For example, a corporal starts at €37,632 per annum and rises to €39,338 per annum, a sergeant starts at €40,277 per annum and rises to €42,694 per annum, a sergeant major starts at €51,188 per annum and increases to €54,611 per annum. For officers the annual salary scale for a line captain ranges from €49,239 to €61,021, a commandant ranges from €61,348 to €74,328, and a colonel from €83,389 to €99,846. These salary scales are inclusive of military service allowance but exclude duty allowances which are paid for a range of duties performed.

These earnings relate to Army line ranks. In many cases Air Corps and Naval Service personnel receive additional remuneration per equivalent rank arising from additional allowances for duties performed. Where members of the Defence Forces acquire technical qualifications and-or fill associated appointments, there is also associated technical pay. Defence Forces personnel also receive tax-free payments for certain overseas deployments and duties.

There are a range of other factors which influence a person's decision to remain in the Defence Forces. These include career progression opportunities, personal development, work–life balance, job stimulation and work environment. I will continue to work closely with the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff in furthering management responses to address current challenges. There are significant opportunities for career progression and development within the Defence Forces with more than 800 promotions in the Permanent Defence Force in 2018. Each promotion in effect results in a pay rise.

In recognition of the wealth of talent in the enlisted personnel of the Defence Forces, a potential officers course was established last year. This course offered enlisted personnel a clear route to becoming commissioned officers in our Defence Force. Some 24 enlisted personnel completed this course and were commissioned as officers in March of this year. This was the first time in ten years that the course was offered to enlisted personnel.

I welcome this and all other opportunities for personnel to develop their careers in the Defence Forces. I have ensured that further potential officer courses will be undertaken in 2021 and 2024.

The Government is committed to introducing the working time directive in the Defence Forces. Discussions are taking place with the PDF representative associations on this matter. A range of human resource, HR, initiatives aimed at improving work-life balance and job satisfaction are also being progressed by the Defence Forces. The Public Service Pay Commission has concluded an examination of recruitment and retention challenges in the Defence sector. The Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has indicated that he will be bringing this report to Government shortly.

Some of the Deputies who submitted questions for this session are otherwise engaged this morning with committees etc. We do have three of the relevant Deputies present, however. I will commence with Deputy Wallace and then move to Deputies Jack Chambers and Durkan. The Minister will have time to reply and then the Deputies will have an opportunity for a second question. I will also let in Deputy Broughan, if there is time. I call Deputy Wallace.

I have two questions. Do I get extra time?

No, the Deputy has one minute.

What? I have one minute to ask two questions?

That is how these proceedings work. Deputy Wallace has one minute and he will then have a further opportunity to ask a second question.

The Minister of State and the Taoiseach yesterday acknowledged that many members of the Defence Forces are leaving for jobs in the private sector. The Taoiseach, however, was adamant that he was not going to fast-track pay restoration, even given the current conditions. All of the spiel that the Minister of State has just given out is technical. I am sure it is accurate. It does not, however, address the comments made recently by retired Commandant Cathal Berry. The Minister of State said yesterday that it would not be fair to single out one group in the public sector above another. The members of the Defence Forces are being singled out, however. Figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, show that members of the Defence Forces are the lowest-paid workers in the public service. Some 85% are earning less than the average industrial wage. That does single out the members of the Defence Forces.

If we listen to the comments of retired officers who speak out, what comes through strongly is that they feel that their profession is under attack. They also feel that the lack of progress being made and the fact that things have been allowed to deteriorate this far is actually intentional. We can understand the notion that this is a betrayal. The members of our Defence Forces do their work and risk their lives in trying to uphold our reputation for peacekeeping as best they can. They do that because of a sense of pride and loyalty in their country. It is a relationship that is being disrespected by the Minister of State and the Department of Defence. It is going to get worse if the concerns of the members of the Defence Forces are not addressed. They are not making these issues up.

As Deputy Wallace stated, the recruitment and retention crisis has got so serious that the Minister of State is now ignoring military advice and recommendations that were submitted to him as part of the Public Service Pay Commission process. Those recommendations have been ignored and butchered from the report. That is what undermines the integrity and the independence of the pay commission process. The submission from that group contained a recommendation that would allow for the restoration of allowances. The Minister of State's Department butchered and diluted the report and then gave it to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to take total control of it. The Minister of State is now again deflecting and deferring this issue to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is a concern that he is doing that because the Minister of State has read the report.

Throughout today's debate, I have mentioned that there are serious levels of poverty among members of the Defence Forces and that some members require social welfare payments. I also referred to the mass exit of members of the Defence Forces and the historically low levels of morale that the Minister of State is presiding over. There is also the decimation of capability. The effective strength of the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army is on a path to destruction. The situation is poised on a cliff edge. We need to have restoration of allowances to address these issues. The Minister of State has his head in the sand. The fact that he is sitting on the report makes it even worse.

The Defence Forces are in a unique position given the important role thrust upon them regarding national security. They are also tasked with the responsibility of responding to national emergencies and disasters such as flooding, isolation caused by heavy snow etc. Given that unique position, has it been possible, in the context of the review now taking place, to identify some means whereby the most serious issues of the case presented by the members of the Defence Forces might be addressed in the shortest possible time?

I congratulate Deputy Wallace on his recent success in the elections to the European Parliament. I wish him the very best of luck. I will miss our debating here in the Chamber. I am glad that the Deputy has an interest in this issue. I applaud him for that. I agree with him when he states that the members of the Defence Forces risk their lives. I believe, however, given some of his stated policies, that if Deputy Wallace had his way he might not have the Defence Forces participating in any overseas duties.

I would. I would just not have them in the Golan Heights where they are protecting Israel.

I respect the Deputy's views. That is the way it is and I have no issue with that whatsoever. I am also glad that Deputy Wallace mentioned the figures from the CSO. Those figures on low pay differ from time to time. That was one of the reasons why I asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to prioritise the defence sector as a matter of urgency. I requested that the case of members of the Defence Forces be examined by an independent pay commission. I asked the Minister to do that. He has the report and I have the report. It is now the responsibility of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to bring that report to Cabinet. It is not my report and it is not my memo.

As I have stated, and I address this point to Deputies Jack Chambers and Durkan as well, public sector pay is a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I do not have that responsibility. Different countries differ in how they organise things. I am awaiting the outcome of the report, for the contents to be seen and then for a decision to be made.

I ask the three Deputies who have already spoken to keep their next questions as brief as possible. I want to allow Deputy Broughan to ask a short question as well. I call Deputy Wallace.

A sum of €60 million extra was given to defence in the budget last year. It materialised into a 4% increase in pay for personnel but a 37% increase in spending on equipment. That is where the money is going. Instead of addressing the issues that are driving people out of the Defence Forces, the Minister of State is throwing money at things like new ships for the Naval Service. The national development plan includes a provision for an enormous €541 million capital investment in defence over the period 2018-22. The Naval Service plans to increase its complement of ships from eight to nine, with the LE George Bernard Shaw due to come into service in 2019. That ship cost €67 million.

This is despite the Naval Service not having enough personnel last year to crew eight ships, let alone nine. In addition, there is also a plan to spend €200 million on a multi-role vessel. The reasons for doing that have less to do with the Naval Service being able to fulfil its day-to-day duties and much more to do with trying to impress our European colleagues in the Mediterranean. The multi-role vessel will be capable of carrying a battalion of soldiers along with landing craft. It will also have freight capacity for military vehicles. What in God's name do we need that for? The Minister of State would be better off paying the Defence Forces personnel.

The Minister of State said that he asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to prioritise the defence sector. There were, however, serious delays during Public Service Pay Commission process. The Minister of State had the report but now the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has it. Will the Minister of State tell us what is going on between him, the Department of Defence and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? It is highly unusual that we have this vacuum and this delay when there is such an urgent need to address the issues of allowances. That is especially the case when there are such concerns about the report.

The Minister of State needs to show some leadership in the area. If he is not happy with the report, then he should state that on the record here. He should take on the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. The Minister of State should actually deal with this issue of pay and allowances instead of referring to a circle of bureaucracy involving memos and which Minister is responsible for bringing this report to Cabinet. The Minister of State should show some leadership. He should represent the Defence Forces personnel and give them some respect and dignity rather giving us this cycle of waffle about a memo and who has it. The Minister of State has read it and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has read it. They should now deal with the report.

The Defence Forces have responsibilities that include national security, and perhaps even international security, and overseas deployments. I note what the Minister of State said regarding bringing forward the recommendations made in the report. Notwithstanding that, however, could he see a situation arising whereby the continued erosion of the strength of the Defence Forces and of the morale of the Defence Forces might result in an issue that might need fairly urgent treatment? I refer to addressing the most potent issues as identified by both sides in this debate.

One of the fundamental problems is that defence is not at the Cabinet table and the Minister of State is not a full Cabinet Minister. There is no reason we should not have a Minister for Defence and perhaps for security generally with An Garda Síochána.

I want to raise very briefly, in case I do not get another chance, the incredibly low level of pensions and gratuities for Óglaigh na hÉireann. For example, after ten years pensionable service the pension for people on an income of €42,000 would work out at the princely sum of €2,141 a year and the gratuity would work out at €15,000. After 20 years pensionable service, with pensionable pay of €45,000 a year, the pension would work out at the princely sum of just over €5,000 a year and the gratuity would be just over €35,000. Compared to the rest of the public service these are incredibly low figures. They reflect the general fact the Defence Forces are the Cinderella of public service levels of pay. The Minister of State read out the figures throughout the ranks but they are totally unacceptable.

We have had almost 18 minutes of debate so far.

I will answer-----

I ask the Minister of State to keep it as brief as he can.

I will answer Deputy Broughan first. He will receive a comprehensive reply that will answer all of his questions.

Deputy Chambers spoke about the report that went from military management and the civil submission that went to the pay commission. Nobody was muscled in any way. In actual fact, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces had an opportunity to address the pay commission. He had the opportunity to say whatever he wanted to the pay commission. I arranged that through the independent pay commission to allow it. There was nobody muscled in any way.

Did somebody go in and state people could not say this or that? He had free will to say whatever he wanted to say along with the Secretary General of the Department. Whatever they wanted to say, along with PDFORRA, RACO and all of the representative associations, they had the opportunity to speak face to face with the Pay Commission and I understand they did so.

Deputy Wallace spoke about the investment, of which I am very proud, in equipment, ships, planes and the refurbishment of MOWAGs.

It should not be at the expense of Defence Forces personnel.

The Deputy did not recognise the €6 million in budget 2019 for pay increases. He failed to recognise that.

I did not. I acknowledged it.

I did not interrupt the Deputy in any way. There was €6 million in pay increases and the Deputy failed to acknowledge that.

To answer Deputy Durkan, we are expecting the report of the pay commission very shortly.

The Minister of State has it.

As soon as it comes to Cabinet it will be considered. I have a copy of the report. The report is being brought by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

The Minister of State has the report.

I do not have responsibility for core pay throughout the public service.

Tell us what is in the report.

The Minister of State has the report.

It is a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is the responsibility of the Minister, Deputy Pascal Donohoe. We will look at the report and consider its findings and implement the recommendations. Whatever has to be considered after that we will do.

Will the Minister of State clarify in one word whether he has the report? Members have asked.

In my first reply I said I have a copy of the report but it is not my report.

Deal with it then.

The Acting Chairman asked me a question.

In one word, does the Minister of State have the report?

It is not my report to bring to the Cabinet. It is the report of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Pascal Donohoe.

That is fair enough, I just wanted clarification. I thank all Members and the Minister of State for their co-operation on this issue. It is a difficult issue and I must keep within the time constraints. I appreciate everybody adhering to what I am trying to do.