Thursday, 13 June 2019

Questions (3)

Jack Chambers


3. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of personnel from the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps that took part in protection duties for the recent visit of the President of the United States of America; the average length of the service provided by each member involved; the average allowance paid for this service to each member of the Defence Forces involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24686/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Defence)

I wish to ask the Minister for Defence the total number of personnel from the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps that took part in protection duties for the recent visit of the President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump; the average length of the service provided by each member involved; the average allowance paid for this service to each member of the Defence Forces involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power, ATCP, which in practice means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.

The Garda requested ATCP assistance from the Defence Forces in support of the recent visit of the US President and the number of Defence Forces personnel deployed in response to this request was 497. With regard to the length of service performed by each of these personnel, I have been informed by the military authorities that the average length of service provided by each member involved is specific to their respective role and that this information cannot be released for security purposes.

Unlike other areas of the public service and due to the nature of the duties performed, overtime is not available to members of the Defence Forces. In addition to basic pay, the Defence Forces have a wide range of allowances, which are unique to their duties. A military service allowance, MSA, is paid to all ranks up to the level of colonel. The military service allowance is designed to compensate for the special conditions associated with military life. Those include unsocial hours of duty, exposure to danger, and the restrictions inherent in military discipline. For privates, corporals and sergeants with more than three years in service, the MSA is worth €115.43 per week, per person. The rate is €122.87 per week for senior NCOs .

In line with any other occasion when the Defence Forces are requested to operate in an aid to the civil power capacity, Defence Force members on duty in support of An Garda Síochána during the visit of the US President will receive the security duty allowance, SDA. The current rate of SDA is €23.81 for each day on duty for less than 24 hours. The rate is increased to €47.59 for a 24-hour duty. The security duty allowance is paid to all enlisted personnel and to officers up to and including the rank of commandant who are not in receipt of an Army ranger wing allowance or a patrol duty allowance. The assistance provided by the Defence Forces for the duration of the recent visit of the US President is greatly appreciated and acknowledged by my colleagues and I in government.

It is fair to say the recent visit of President Trump showed the total disparity in pay and conditions between An Garda Síochána, for whom I have great respect in terms of the work its members do - they are entitled to overtime – and the Defence Forces. It shows the wedge over which the Minister of State is presiding. Personnel from the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps were involved in protection duties for the visit. The Minister of State mentioned 497 members who provided aid to the civil power. They were paid €20 after tax for a 24-hour shift. That is just not sustainable when one compares it to the multiples of that amount paid to other public servants providing protection duty. It is not sustainable in terms of morale or hopelessness that we continue to stand over such a significant gap for people providing protection in the State. A member of An Garda Síochána could be paid up to €1,000 for that duty, potentially more than 50 times the amount received by a member of the Defence Forces. It is unacceptable that we allow that to occur. That is the reason we need to resolve the issue through the Public Service Pay Commission, yet that is something the Minister of State continues to ignore and even delays. He has the report and he needs to deal with it.

I am not sure if that is the Deputy's personal opinion or that of his party. If it is his party's opinion, Fianna Fáil had 15 years to change the allowance for overtime.

I am getting a history lesson again.

Fianna Fáil did not do that. The party had the opportunity to do it a number of months ago as well.

Soldiers operate and work in a very different environment from An Garda Síochána and are assigned different roles and tasks. Jobs differ greatly across the public service and it can be difficult to make direct comparisons between various sectors across the full range of duties. Members of the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána fill different roles and have different terms and conditions of service and pay structures. The vast majority of military personnel and gardaí engage in duties on a day-to-day basis that are dissimilar. Defence Forces pay and allowances are set, among other things, by reference to, and in consideration of, relative levels of pay across a broad range of duties and roles across various sectors. It is important to note that the basic pay is just an element of the overall remuneration package for members of the PDF. In addition to the pay range, they have additional allowances, which respect the nature of the work they do.

Jobs and terms and conditions differ but respect should unify people within the public service. Does the Minister of State agree with PDFORRA, the association that represents personnel in the Defence Forces, that it is unacceptable that its members should be provided with such archaic rates? Is it surprising in the ongoing exodus from the Defence Forces that many members are leaving to join An Garda Síochána? Their concerns about the visit of President Trump were not only about the terms and conditions and pay. Members of the Defence Forces were in sleeping bags in the terminal in Shannon Airport and slept in tents in Doonbeg while other public servants were put up in bed and breakfast accommodation. It was not only about the significant differential in terms of pay and conditions; it was also about the treatment and the respect for members of the Defence Forces. The Minister of State cannot stand over that. During the visit of Pope Francis last August, again, soldiers were treated with disrespect by the Minister of State and the Department. All he is doing is defending it. Could he not deal with the issues and with concerns on pay and conditions? He is now delaying the issue because he has the report and he will not act on it.

The report was done at the behest of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. He will bring it to Cabinet shortly. The Deputy is correct that we should examine all of the issues, including allowances. That is the reason I requested the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to prioritise the Defence Forces as a matter of urgency to deal with recruitment and retention and pay and allowances. For that reason the independent Public Service Pay Commission examined the defence sector. The health sector was examined first and the Defence Forces was the next to be examined. I expect the report to be published shortly. Once it is published, we can move on and implement the recommendations made by the independent commission. We will have an opportunity to consider the recommendations of the commission. I will not discuss the contents of the report until the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, brings the report to the Cabinet. I hope he does so shortly.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.