Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (61, 67, 82)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

61. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if pay restoration for the Defence Forces is on target to be achieved in October 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53032/19]

View answer

Bríd Smith

Question:

67. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the additional resources allocated to address low pay in the Defence Forces and the expected increases in pay across various grades in 2020. [53017/19]

View answer

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

82. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on his efforts to improve pay and conditions for members of the Defence Forces; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this perceived unfairness is having an influence on the recruitment and retention of members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53011/19]

View answer

Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Defence)

The public is very proud of our Defence Forces, whose work includes peacekeeping roles, public service and so much more. We must ensure that these people are properly resourced, paid and respected. There is very low morale in the Defence Forces, with people leaving or unable to make ends meet. Can the Minister of State outline the various steps the Government will take to address these issues?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61, 67 and 82 together.

Similar to other sectors in the public service, the pay of PDF personnel was reduced as one of the measures to assist in stabilising national finances during the financial crisis.

Improvements within the economy have provided an opportunity for the unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation, which imposed pay cuts across the public service.

Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. These increases are weighted in favour of those on lower pay.

The increases due to date under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 have been paid to members of the Defence Forces, the most recent being a 1.75% increase in annualised salaries from the 1 September last. On 1 January 2020, annualised salaries up to €32,000 will increase by 0.5%. On 1 October, annualised salaries will increase by 2%.

By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the pay scales of all public servants earning less than €70,000 per annum, including members of the Defence Forces, will be restored to pre-FEMPI levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction in allowances under FEMPI is also scheduled in the agreement.

Basic pay and military service allowance is just part of the overall remuneration package available for members of the PDF. A range of duties attract additional allowances.

At my direction, the Department of Defence brought the particular difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission. Arising from the first report of the commission in 2017 and the subsequent public service stability agreement, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with undertaking a comprehensive examination and analysis of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces.

The report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces was accepted by the Government on 4 July 2019. The report contains a broad range of recommendations, which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements. The immediate benefits include a 10% increase in the military service allowance, the restoration of certain Defence Forces allowances to pre-Haddington Road agreement levels and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures will cost approximately €10 million per annum. The increases in the military service allowance and the restoration of the rates of the other allowances, as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission, are in addition to measures relating to core pay which are in the current public service stability agreement.

I thank the Minister of State for outlining the various pay changes he proposes to introduce. Despite that, those leaving the Defence Forces continue to outnumber those who are joining. Morale is low. Action taken by the Minister of State does not seem to address the situation. There is still a net reduction in the number of serving members, which has again led to a Naval Service vessel being tied up in a harbour. This problem runs much deeper than euro. The Minister of State must address the deep-rooted issues head on.

On the issue of funding, the Minister of State is returning millions in pay savings to the Exchequer. Does he not agree that regardless of whether this is used to fund hospitals or whatever else, it is not being paid to the Defence Forces? At the same time, the Department is profiteering from members of the Defence Forces who discharge as they have paid back more than €356,000 in recent years.

I call on the Minister of State to respond.

What action will the Minister of State take to ensure that morale is raised, Defence Forces personnel can make ends meet and the Defence Forces are respected?

In recent months, I got an extra €20 million for the Defence Forces for pay and allowances, as recommended by the recent Public Service Pay Commission under the public service stability agreement. We are also looking at other retention matters.

I agree with Deputy Moynihan that this is not all down to euro. We must provide a work-life balance for members of the Defence Forces and make it a career they want to stay in and in which they are happy. We have challenges in those areas. Deputy Moynihan said I return €20 million per annum. That is totally incorrect.

I did not give an amount.

The amount returned between 2014 and 2018 was €4.5 million out of a total budget of €4.5 billion. Any savings made on pay are not handed back to the Exchequer. In fact, they are reinvested in the organisation for the benefit of all members. Deputy Moynihan understands the public service stability agreement. When his party signed up to the confidence and supply arrangement, it also signed up to the public service stability agreement on which the current public service pay agreement is based.

We know that pay has been an issue and I acknowledge the efforts that are now being made in that regard. I hope that the proposals outlined by the Minister of State will prove to be productive and effective in addressing the issues.

There is no doubt about the pride Irish people feel in the Defence Forces and their peacekeeping work and also the very visible role they have played in the various commemoration services. It is very disturbing to learn of the exodus of efficient, talented and experienced people from the Defence Forces. The Minister of State was at the event in Merrion Square to commemorate the deceased members of all the Defence Forces. The greatest tribute to those members of the Defence Forces who have lost their lives would be to ensure that the Defence Forces today are properly paid and resourced.

That is one of the reasons the Defence Forces were prioritised by the Government and the Public Service Pay Commission was asked to examine the key challenges we face in the Defence Forces. I am not saying we do not have challenges. I accept that we have significant challenges and these were addressed in the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission. I am delighted that both PDFORRA and RACO signed up to those recommendations and that they are now receiving the benefits. A high-level implementation plan is in place and a civilian and military group is working on that. One of the most important issues to bear in mind is that the Defence Forces are fully funded for 9,500 personnel. It is important we ensure that is the case. I want to get back up to the that level but we are competing in a buoyant and strong economy where we have full employment in the State.

I wish to clarify that I did not put any particular figure on the amount the Minister of State is returning to the Exchequer or anywhere else. I pointed out that he is returning an amount in the order of millions. The €356,000 figure I cited relates to people buying out their service. That is where the profiteering is occurring. It is based on people leaving the Defence Forces in such large numbers. That is continuing despite the fact that pay improvements have been introduced. It is because the issue runs deep and needs to be addressed. People in the services and their families need to know the Defence Forces will be respected. That must be reflected in their pay and conditions and across the board. The unique nature of the military services must be reflected by an independent pay commission making a complete examination of what is happening. Will the Minister of State outline what steps he will take to ensure that the public, members of the Defence Forces and their families know they will be respected by the Government?

The answer is that time will tell. The effectiveness of what the Minister of State proposes will be seen if members of the Defence Forces no longer leave in the numbers they have been leaving. Retention of experience is vital. The other way we will see the proof of the proposals outlined by the Minister of State is that young people will see joining the Defence Forces as a viable career choice and there will be an increase in the number of young people who join.

Following six months of training, a young person who joins the Defence Forces receives in excess of €28,000, plus whatever allowances he or she is entitled to. I accept that Defence Forces personnel work for their allowances. One of the issues I addressed in recent years was to give people more opportunities to go overseas. That was an important issue to address in the context of retention.

I assure Deputy Moynihan that no one is profiteering from members exiting the Defence Forces. I am not sure exactly what point the Deputy is making in that regard. It is important when we give people highly skilled qualifications that we get a fixed period of service from them. If we invest in members of the Defence Forces, it is right that they sign up for a fixed period of service to their country. Such individuals are much sought after in the private sector because of their experience, education and the qualifications they gain as members of the Defence Forces. If a person leaves before the service agreement is up, it is only right and proper that he or she must pay for the qualification he or she got. We should not just let people go without having to agree to serve for some time with the Defence Forces.