Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Questions (3)

Jack Chambers


3. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the defence budget, specifically Vote 36, is on profile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38889/19]

View answer

Oral answers (16 contributions) (Question to Defence)

Will the Minister outline whether he will require a Supplementary Estimate this year? The last two questions related to pay and allowances. I seek an update on the budgetary position of the Department of Finance.

The Defence Vote was allocated a funding envelope of €758 million in 2019. This represented an increase of €51 million, or 7%, over the corresponding 2018 allocation and includes funding for pay and allowances for over 10,400 public service employees, ongoing Defence Forces standing and operational costs and the ongoing renewal and upgrading of defence equipment and barracks infrastructure, as well as funding in respect of Civil Defence and the Irish Red Cross Society. It allows the Defence Forces to deliver on all of their assigned roles, both at home and overseas, as set out in the White Paper on Defence.

Overall expenditure on the Defence Vote at the end of August was €418 million, representing 55% of the total budget provision. This is broadly in line with expenditure trends in recent years. At the end of August, capital expenditure was €28 million below the profile set out at the beginning of the year, mainly due to later capital project delivery timelines. Non-pay expenditure was broadly in line with profile and pay expenditure was €24 million below profile, mainly due to payroll numbers being below approved strength levels.

My Department will continue to monitor expenditure across the Defence Vote very closely, and it is intended that any savings arising within the Defence Vote at year-end would, in consultation and agreement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, be used to address spending requirements elsewhere in the Defence Vote group, including Army pensions.

The Minister of State confirmed two things for all the military personnel looking in on proceedings. The pay budget is €24 million below what was budgeted for so far this year. That is because of the mass exodus under the watch of the Minister of State. They are not being paid the appropriate allowances and they are on the poverty line. The Minister of State is yet to outline where he will find the €10 million. He was at the RACO conference, speaking of how he had found €10 million and how he fought for the personnel and the Defence Forces. Will he seek an extra €10 million from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform or will he take the €10 million from the unspent €24 million on some of the retention issues? Despite the €10 million in the pay commission report, once again there will be a surplus in the pay budget. It is shocking that once again under the Minister of State's tenure, he will have a surplus in the pay allocation when there is such a crisis in retention and so many members of the Defence Forces are on the poverty line. It is very worrying that spending is €24 million under profile.

I am not sure of the Deputy's question. I assure him that any savings from pay are redirected to the organisation with the agreement of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Deputy and I have attended meetings of the defence committee where we discussed Estimates. It goes into Army pensions or is redirected into the organisation to buy ships or otherwise to improve infrastructure, such as armoured personnel carriers and aircraft platforms. The purchase of three Pilatus PC-12 aircraft is at an advanced stage and they are due for delivery in early 2020. The Deputy will also be aware that we are also replacing the CASA maritime patrol aircraft.

Pay savings are redirected into the organisation. I listened to some of the Deputy's statements over the summer and he and others were saying we had to hand back big sums of money because of pay savings. He knows well that has never happened.

The Minister of State should look at his responses to parliamentary questions.

If the Deputy does not know, he must not have listened carefully at the Estimates meetings of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. If he goes back and looks at the blacks to see exactly what happened at those meetings, he will see that all pay savings are directed back into the organisation, be it into pension payments, infrastructure or new equipment in the Defence Forces for the betterment of the organisation.

The Minister of State is breaking records for pay savings. Has he listened to himself? We are talking about a recruitment and retention crisis and he has record levels of pay savings, the very matter that is causing the recruitment and retention crisis and putting people on the breadline in the Defence Forces. He is telling us that he is buying a few aeroplanes and that a few ships will be docked. On what planet is he living when it comes to managing the pay difficulties that are causing the crisis? He has confirmed ongoing pay savings for the House. A sum of €24 million has been saved this year and there will be record levels of pay savings this year based on the Minister of State's projections today. He has confirmed savings of €24 million up to the end of August or early September. That nearly exceeds the maximum amount in the gross pay savings in Vote 36 in previous years. That demonstrates the difficulties which have caused the exodus of staff. The Minister of State should not tell us about the ships and the aeroplanes that will be purchased or the money that will be reallocated for capital spending. We need people in the organisation. That is what the Defence Forces are proud to have. People are the core of the organisation, not empty aeroplanes or vessels.

I am still not sure what the Deputy's question is because he is making statements, rather than asking questions. I have never hidden the fact that we have made pay savings, as the Deputy knows, but we have redirected the savings we have made. I presume that if I were to hand them all back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Deputy would still be standing up to make statements but I have made sure we have handed back the minimal amount in recent years. I heard the Deputy over the summer months. He should go back and read the blacks of the proceedings at the Estimates meetings of the committee-----

I have read the Minister of State's responses to parliamentary questions.

-----which detail the fact that we have redirected savings back into the organisation.

The Minister of State should read his own responses to parliamentary questions.

The Deputy can throw up his hands, but he does not have responsibility for public pay. I would love to be able to use the savings, but, unfortunately, we cannot, as the Deputy knows well.

The Minister of State is silent.

The Deputy knows well that we cannot do that.

The Minister of State is silent.

The Deputy should go back and talk to some of his party colleagues who were in government and had responsibility, but they did not use it wisely.