Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Questions (43, 67, 445)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

43. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which concerns in respect of pay and conditions affecting the Defence Forces have been resolved or are in the course of being resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36575/20]

View answer

Thomas Gould

Question:

67. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Defence the number of new recruits who have enlisted in the Permanent Defence Forces to date in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36585/20]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

445. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which the issue of pay and conditions within the Defence Forces is being addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37064/20]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Defence)

I am deputising for Deputy Durkan. The discussion on the previous questions has brought us on nicely to this question. I ask the Minister to update the House with regard to issues concerning pay and conditions among Defence Forces personnel.

It is a tall order to deputise for Deputy Durkan.

Question Time would not be the same without a question from Deputy Durkan. I propose to take Questions Nos. 43, 67 and 445 together. I am not sure who tabled the last of those questions.

Similar to the situation in other sectors of the public service, the pay of Permanent Defence Force personnel was reduced as one of the measures to assist in stabilising national finances during the financial crisis. Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. A 2% increase on annualised salaries was implemented from 1 October. The restoration of the 5% cut in allowances imposed under the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation was restored from 1 October this year. The pay scales of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning under €70,000 per annum have been restored to the levels in place prior to the introduction of the FEMPI legislation.

In addition to the general round of pay increases awarded to public servants, members of the Permanent Defence Force have benefited from the implementation of increases in Defence Forces allowances as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission. A high-level implementation plan, entitled Strengthening our Defence Forces – Phase One, is being progressed. The increase to the military service allowance and the restoration of certain other allowances specific to the Defence Forces, as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission, have been delivered. A service commitment scheme for flying officers has also been restored. A number of projects in the plan to enhance recruitment and retention are being delivered, while other projects relating to Defence Forces pay will feed into negotiations for the next pay agreement.

I recently announced the introduction of a new seagoing service commitment scheme which is aimed at retaining highly trained and experienced personnel and incentivising seagoing duties. A seagoing naval personnel tax credit of €1,270 was applied this year for members of the Naval Service who served 80 days or more at sea on board a naval vessel. This tax credit has been extended for a further year and is being increased to €1,500 for next year.

The Government is committed to addressing pay and conditions in the Defence Forces and this is reflected in the programme for Government. The programme for Government provides for the establishment of a commission on the Defence Forces, as we discussed earlier. Upon completion of the work of the commission, a permanent pay review body will be established. The answer to the Deputy's question is that we recognise the problem and there are many different things happening in parallel to try to address it.

For the record of the House, Deputy Durkan tabled Question No. 445 as well, not that there was ever any doubt about that. I welcome the response of the Minister. It is critically important that everything that can be done for Defence Forces personnel will be done in future negotiations and delivered on. I voice my support for and appreciation of the work of the Defence Forces. I think I speak for all Members when I state that they deserve all of the support they can get. I thank the Minister for the update he provided in that regard.

A relatively smaller matter in the context of what we are talking about was recently brought to my attention. It relates to entitlements under the PRSI code. I know that is not strictly under the remit of the Minister but perhaps it is something that would be looked at to ensure there are no negative or unintended consequences in terms of the entitlements of Defence Forces personnel under the PRSI code. My understanding is that certain privileges that are available to some individuals under PRSI are not available to some Defence Forces personnel. Perhaps that is something the Minister could look at in the context of the broader question.

If the Deputy sends me the details in that regard, I will liaise with the Department of Finance and see if we can get a decent answer on the matter. If we are missing something, we will certainly try to address it.

On the issue of allowances and tax, we managed quietly to get an agreement that Defence Forces personnel who were due to go on a rotation overseas and would have to quarantine for 14 days beforehand will get overseas allowances tax free while quarantining in Ireland before going on rotation. We are working all the time with representative bodies to try to ensure we are giving the Defence Forces the priority they need from the Government. We will continue to do that. I for one am very excited at the opportunities that it is hoped will come from the report of the commission in 12 months.

Certainly, my instruction to the chair of that commission will be to be ambitious, open minded and to ensure we have a modern response to modern security challenges and that we equip the Defence Forces to be able to respond to them. In the meantime, however, we have work to do to ensure that representative bodies are heard through the pay discussion process that is currently ongoing, and that we follow through on the potential for the new Naval Service scheme and get it up and running as soon as we can, in consultation with the other representative bodies.