I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that the health and well-being of our democracy is inextricably linked with the health and well-being of our Defence Forces. A recent study by the University of Limerick, Workplace Climate in the Defence Forces, which follows on from a study in 2015, illustrates a very worrying trend, pointing to a crisis in our Defence Forces, our Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. Morale is very low. The value system to which those in the Defence Forces once adhered is being steadily eroded. Stress is ever present. Work-life balance is an issue, as is the safety of personnel on duty. There are dysfunctional turnover levels according to the research. There is an absolute crisis regarding the retention of personnel, which is a serious issue for our Defence Forces.
Pay and conditions feature strongly in the research. As a subset of that, duty pay emerged as a particularly contentious issue. When commuting and child care costs are taken into account, it actually costs soldiers more to be on duty than they get paid. Officers commenting on the implications of pay levels said that pay is directly impacting on turnover levels of privates and that those with the most potential are leaving. That is a very significant cost in investment, training and so on. Some of the comments in the report highlight this. For example, in the context of the Air Corps, some of the following comments reflect the concerns of the enlisted ranks: "We are short 50% in a technical unit"; "We can't do things safely. We need to say no to outputs."; "We are double and triple jobbing. That would be illegal in the private sector"; "It keeps us up at night ... is this safe ... we are signing off on people who don't have experience". Members of the Naval Service said: "With the limited time and increasing workload we are only half doing jobs"; and "We were given an 8th ship but only have the number of people for 7".
As for the Army, there is a similar expression and articulation of issues around safety and so on. I raised last week the concerns of the wives and partners of Defence Forces personnel about lack of morale. All of this adds up to the need for a comprehensive response from Government to the wide range of issues facing the Defence Forces and the crisis they are in. It is not just about the Lansdowne Road agreement, but about much more in terms of the overall climate and conditions. It is important that a review emanates from Government.
I asked the Taoiseach two weeks ago about the need for access by RACO and PDFORRA to the industrial relations machinery of the State. The Taoiseach did not have an answer then. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach would give me the Government's view about access for the Defence Forces' representative bodies to the industrial relations machinery. Finally, does the Taoiseach accept there is a crisis in the retention of personnel in our Defence Forces?