An chéad cheist, Deputy Jack Chambers. Níl sé i láthair. Is Deputy Buckley representing Deputy Ó Snodaigh?
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
We will take Question No. 29 and go back to the others as the Deputies arrive.
Aengus Ó SnodaighCeist:
29. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason he did not provide assurances that the Air Corps whistleblower would not be penalised or prejudiced for having made a protected disclosure, as recommended by a military investigating officer. [9441/19]
This question is to ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason he did not provide assurances that the Air Corps whistleblower would not be penalised or prejudiced for having made a protected disclosure, as recommended by the military investigating officer. As Minister of State with responsibility for defence, part of his job is to ensure that those under his watch are not bullied, singled out for special attention or skipped over for promotion or continuance of service. It is more his duty to protect those who are serving members and, in this case, the Air Corps, which made protected disclosures of wrongdoing, incompetence and breaches of health and safety regulations. These vindictive actions included false statements, counter-allegations and denials of appeals, and no responses have been issued.
The Deputy is no doubt aware that section 16 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 sets out confidentiality requirements regarding the protection of the identify of a discloser. It is, therefore, not possible for me to go into detail regarding any actions being taken on foot of any individual disclosure to ensure that such individual's confidentiality is not breached.
However, as I have previously stated in the House, the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces are a priority for me and the general staff and I am fully committed to compliance with the requirements of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and to the protections contained in that Act. To this end, I want to ensure that those making protected disclosures are reassured that where such disclosures are made in accordance with the legislation they will continue to be dealt with in a thorough and fair manner. I have made it very clear to my Department and the Defence Forces that the protections of the Act must be afforded to those who make qualifying disclosures under the Act.
To assist in ensuring a uniform approach to protected disclosures across the Defence organisation, I established a single civil-military protected disclosures office in the Department in which all protected disclosures are initially assessed.
I take very seriously any complaint of penalisation or threatened penalisation of a member of the Defence Forces for having made a protected disclosure and I note that a statutory mechanism for investigation is available to the complainant. The mechanism is the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces as provided for in section 20 of the Act.
Accordingly, any member of the Defence Forces who brings any concern to myself or the civil/military protected disclosures office regarding a feeling that they were penalised or were threatened with penalisation for having made a protected disclosure is advised, as a matter of course, that they should bring the matter to the attention of the independent ombudsman. I assure the Deputy that each and every case of alleged penalisation is being dealt with in a thorough way.
I thank the Minister of State for the reply. He mentioned bringing the matter to the attention of the independent Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. No action was taken on foot of a letter dated 28 November 2018 appealing for the Minister of State's intervention and asking what protection he was giving to this serving member at the time. What actions were taken on foot of the original protected disclosure? What actions did the Minister of State take on receiving the letter dated 28 November 2018? It appears he has failed to protect the ordinary serving member of the Defence Forces in this matter. We need clarity on that and I would be grateful if he could come back on that. Will he clarify his position and state that no whistleblower will be prejudiced or penalised for making a protected disclosure? Will he clearly outline this position to the Defence Forces because from what I have seen that is not happening? What action will be taken if it is found that any whistleblower was penalised or prejudiced in respect of that section of the Act?
The Deputy can be absolutely sure that I will not stand over any person being penalised for making a protected disclosure. That is stated clearly in the Act. As I stated in my original reply, if any person believes he or she is being penalised because he or she has made a protected disclosure, there are avenues he or she can take. If this person has not gone to the ombudsman, I would encourage the person to do that. As he always does, the ombudsman will rule clearly on it in an independent fashion and he will make a recommendation to me, as Minister of State with responsibility for defence. It is up to the individual to go to the ombudsman. I reiterate that I would encourage anyone to go to the ombudsman if they have not done so.
This person has approached the Minister of State as he has responsibility for defence. Unfortunately, this person has left the service because of the way he has been treated. He believes he has been let down. He has served his country with distinction. He thought he was doing the right thing by disclosing what was going on but he is now in a position where he cannot keep his job, which will affect him in many other ways. I appreciate the Minister of State mentioning that there are certain avenues he can take. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating in terms of the letter dated 28 November 2018, which explained everything that happened regarding the misinformation and where the bullying was being perpetrated, yet he relied on the last line of defence, if the Minister of State will pardon the pun, which is that he is the Minister with responsibility for defence. The buck stops with the him yet this person has been left out on a limb and we are now being told that he has to go to another department. That is disingenuous in terms of this individual because if this problem is systemic in the Air Corps, I can see is arising in the Army and the Naval Service and it will continue.
As I said, a range of mechanisms is available to members of the Defence Forces if they believe they have been penalised or wronged because they have made a protected disclosure. I will not stand over anybody being wronged. I encourage the person to whom the Deputy is referring to go to the Defence Forces ombudsman. He or she may have done so but I assure the Deputy that that case will be dealt with in an independent and fair way. The ombudsman provides that facility in an independent way.
The ombudsman will view the case in a very objective way. Therefore, I will leave this in the hands of the Ombudsman. I would encourage that person to go the ombudsman if he or she has not done so, to make sure that his or her case is heard and that he or she has a fair hearing.
Public Service Pay Commission
28. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the further engagement his Department has had with the Public Service Pay Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9301/19]
What further engagement has the Department had with the Public Service Pay Commission and will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter? As the Minister of State and I know, this is continually being delayed. The reporting deadline has been displaced out. The Department has breached its own deadline from last year. What further engagement has the Department had? Can the Minister of State clarify the role of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in that process and why much of what he said last year around the Public Service Pay Commission was contradictory? I hope he will have space now to clarify what he said last year.
In accordance with the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to conduct a comprehensive examination and analysis of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in those sectors and employment streams identified in the commission's report of May 2017. This includes the defence sector in module 2.
In order to assist the commission in its analysis, the Department of Defence was requested to provide specific data. A civil and military team was tasked with collating this material. The specific material requested has been submitted to the commission. The Department of Defence is continuing to engage with the Public Service Pay Commission and is responding to queries and requests for further information from the commission. In this regard, the material is continuing to be collated by the civil and military personnel who worked closely in preparing the submission to the commission.
The Public Service Pay Commission has engaged an independent firm to conduct a survey of Defence Forces personnel to assist in the analysis. This follows on from a study conducted in the second half of 2018 of specialist personnel in the Defence Forces. The main data gathering for the survey will be conducted in February and March 2019. The survey is being facilitated through the Defence Forces. The Public Service Pay Commission has written to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, inviting the management parties to attend a meeting. This will include representatives from the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The commission's work is ongoing. The Government will give due consideration to the findings and recommendations that arise from the work of the commission when it reports.
The Minister of State will recall that in October 2018, he told me that a joint submission had been made and that it went to the Public Service Pay Commission. In January 2019, he contradicted himself by mentioning the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and what we have learned since is that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had the report that was jointly signed off by the Department and military management for up to three months.
It does not augur well that a report that has been jointly prepared is diluted, amended or changed when it runs through the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and it is worrying for any cohort of public sector workers to see the intervention of that Department. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, admitted to me in recent weeks that he had interfered and involved himself in that process, which undermines the independence and integrity of the Public Service Pay Commission if we have the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform involving itself in and amending the recommendations or the submission that is made by the Department of Defence and military management.
I want the Minister of State to clarify why he said in the Dáil that it had gone to the Public Service Pay Commission in October when it had not and when in fact it went in December. Why did he not inform the Dáil in October that it would go to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? Why did he withhold that information at the time? Why is the deadline now being pushed out into the middle of this year or whenever when he had given a previous commitment about quarter four of last year for the Public Service Pay Commission report?
I did not contradict myself at all, I actually corrected the record. I know the Deputy is perfect and that is the way it is but I am not perfect and I corrected the record in parliamentary questions earlier this year when I said it went to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. As the Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform advised the Deputy in a reply to a parliamentary question on 24 January 2019: "The submission to the Public Service Pay Commission in respect of the Defence Forces was compiled on a collaborative basis between the management side parties in order to provide the Commission with accurate and complete material so as to assist it in its examination of recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces." When the submission was originally made to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform then went back and forward and had dialogue with civil and military management on the submission. They drilled down into it and looked for more evidence based statistics. Both my Department and military management worked on that over a number of months before concluding the final submission in December 2018. I know that the Public Service Pay Commission is still in contact with Defence Forces' members.
A bland dismissal such as that does not rectify the issue. The Minister of State knew damn well last year that it was with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and he never informed the House or me. What the Minister of State wanted to do was to say that it is jointly signed off, it has gone to the Public Service Pay Commission and let us wait for the report.
On a parallel basis, it is interesting that during that period the Chief of Staff made a public plea at the various representative association's meetings and publicly talked about the pay issue. We know now why that was the case because he probably knew at that time that the process was with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform but the Minister of State wanted to take it off his desk by saying that it had gone to the Public Service Pay Commission and by not informing us where it had really gone, namely the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. My difficulty is that the Minister of State has delayed the issue around the recruitment and retention crisis by having the report delayed for a quarter of the year with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It also undermines the integrity of the process whereby the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has chipped away at and diluted some of the issues and genuine difficulties that members of the Defence Forces have. That is the issue. It is not about having a perfect story or not. The Minister of State did not tell the House the truth in October 2018 and he did not correct the record until January when he knew damn well where that report was going. Why did he not tell us where it was going at that stage?
It is a pity the Deputy was not around here 15 years ago when his party was absolutely running amok with the economy-----
That is what the Minister of State always comes back with. The Minister of State has no answer.
I am not sure if the Deputy knows me well but there is one thing I will not do and that is shirk away from my responsibilities.
Maybe the Deputy will be able to learn that over a little bit of time. I did not in any way undermine the integrity of anybody. What I want from my side is to make sure that both military management and the Department make the best submission possible to the independent Public Service Pay Commission. As I have stated in my original reply, the Public Service Pay Commission has written to my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and military management, inviting them in to make a verbal presentation. This is something that I have looked for and that I am happy to say has now been granted. I look forward to the outcome and the Government can take whatever recommendations are made by the Public Service Pay Commission into account and make appropriate decisions.
30. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the protocols in place governing the awarding of military medals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9580/19]
I want to ask the Taoiseach and the Minister of State at the Departments of the Taoiseach and Defence the protocols that are in place governing the awarding of military medals and if he will make a statement on the matter. As the Minister of State knows, there is grave concern about the ongoing refusal to award military medals around Jadotville and many families have been in touch with Members across this House about same. I want to know why the Minister of State cannot progress what has been recommended by many people in the Defence Forces and if he can clarify the matter.
I am advised by the military authorities that in general, medals are awarded to members of the Defence Forces on the basis of various criteria such as their length of service, for service overseas and for acts of bravery associated with such service both at home and overseas. Defence Forces Regulation, DFR, A9 sets out the qualifying criteria required to be awarded such Defence Forces medals. This regulation also delineates the procedures for the awarding of those medals to members of the Defence Forces. DFR A9 sets out the various types of medal awards. "Medal award" serves as an overarching category and then various subcategories are further set out under each "medal award".
These subcategories are classes of award, bar to medal, investigation by military board, time limit for award, and administrative instructions. The details provided underneath each of these headings essentially lay out the protocols for the awarding of these medals.
Apart from those medals set out in DFR A9, other medals have been awarded. A recent medal awarded was the 1916 Centenary Commemorative Medal. This was awarded to all those personnel serving in 2016 in the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve Defence Force. Another medal awarded was the Jadotville Medal, which was awarded to the men of A Company 35th Infantry Battalion in recognition of the courageous actions of the men during the siege at Jadotville. I was very happy to be associated with both of these medals and it gave me great pleasure to attend the various medal award ceremonies and meet the recipients. To provide for the aforementioned 1916 Centenary Commemorative Medal and the Jadotville Medal, additional stand-alone Defence Force regulations in the yearly series were made for both. These regulations were made pursuant to section 26 of the Defence Act 1954, as was DFR A9.
How many times have recommendations been made to award military medals? I understand recommendations were made for personnel to receive a medal following service in Kosovo. I also understand that in that case a board never met but one individual decided it was appropriate not to proceed. Will the Minister of State clarify this? Will he guarantee that when recommendations are made by an appropriate officer, they will always be discussed and the board will always sit? There is a lot of confusion about this process and he needs to clarify it. Why were medals awarded for Elizabethville during Ireland's participation in the Congo but not for other places that saw action? I do not dispute these medals but I would like to know the rationale behind the decision. It is a bone of contention for many people. I acknowledge this is now historical but it remains of significant ongoing interest to many families. Was Elizabethville the biggest action the Defence Forces were involved in during the Congo mission? It is fair to say that it was not. There is a view that the Jadotville men, who were in action months later, warranted a medal. Will the Minister of State provide clarity on this specific issue? The regulations or the process need to be rectified so they can be awarded the superior medal.
As the Deputy is very well aware, this has been a very contentious issue for a long number of years, long before I entered the House in 2002. A Government decision was made that we would award the Jadotville Medal to the men who participated there. This went on for a long number of years. I am very well aware of the campaign under way for medals for a select group of men who served in Jadotville. These issues were considered in the 1960s by the medal board when people were recommended for a Distinguished Service Medal. On that occasion, a decision was made not to award a Distinguished Service Medal. I understand the medal board sat on two separate occasions to consider the matter. I have stated, and will state again today, that if there is new information, of course it will be reconsidered. People have put information into the domain recently, but my understanding is that information was already on the military records. If there is substantive new information, of course this will be reconsidered.
There is a view that it is significant that medals were given to three Jadotville men for action two months later in Elizabethville. In addition, other medals were awarded to soldiers from other companies in the same battalion in the Congo for other actions elsewhere but no medals were awarded for Jadotville action, which is still the biggest battle with a foreign enemy in which the Irish Army has been involved since the formation of the State. The defence of Jadotville is recognised worldwide as the most perfect example of a perimeter defence and is now being taught as case history by the British Army, the Australian Army and the German Army and probably by other armies. There is a feeling in the community, which is lobbying all of us on this matter, that when he was Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny made a direct commitment to offer the superior medal for extraordinary courage and the Military Medal for Gallantry, and that what has been awarded thus far is simply an acknowledgement and does not merit the action in which they were involved. This is the significant bone of contention. They feel that a commitment was made at the top of government but it has not been matched with follow-through.
No Government has ever awarded a Distinguished Service Medal. It is up to the medal board to consider the recommendations made to it. I know for a fact that no commitment was made by a politician that a Distinguished Service Medal would be awarded.
That is what they say.
The might say that but I absolutely assure the Deputy the Government made a commitment that it would consider what the men of Jadotville went through at the time. The awarding of a Distinguished Service Medal is provided for in DFR A9, which also sets out the criteria for the award of such medals. It is important that to maintain the prestige of such medals, the criteria outlined are strictly adhered to. The Deputy will agree that we should stick with the routine that if a Distinguished Service Medal is awarded, it is up to the military to recommend it to me as Minister of State. It should not be up to civilians to state someone deserves a Distinguished Service Medal. It is the military that makes the recommendation.
Defence Forces Personnel
31. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to address the issue of continuous underfunding of the Defence Forces, limiting their ability to pay soldiers a proper wage. [9686/19]
Several weeks ago we had the powerful Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel, ONE, campaign that highlighted homelessness among former servicemen and women. I acknowledge that following a question from Deputy Howlin, the Minister of State agreed to meet representatives of the Defence Forces to discuss their concerns. I am interested to hear whether this meeting has taken place as it is a source of national shame that our veterans, who know better than most the power of our national flag, must resort to sleeping on the streets of Dublin in green, white and orange sleeping bags to highlight their plight.
The question I have from the Deputy is on pay.
Yes. They were my opening comments. It is the context.
As part of budget 2019, the Government has provided a funding envelope for Defence of €1.007 billion, an increase of €60 million, or 6.4%, over 2018. This emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the resources necessary to deliver on all roles assigned by Government, at home and overseas. The 2019 provision comprises €758 million for Vote 36 - Defence, an increase of more than €50 million, and €249 million for Vote 35 - Army Pensions, an increase of €10 million.
Overall, approximately 77% of the defence sector provision relates to pay and pensions. The 2019 provision for pay in Vote 36 is €529 million, and this provides for the pay and allowances of more than 10,400 public service employees, including 9,500 Permanent Defence Force personnel, 550 civilian employees and 355 civil servants. The Government has ensured that full funding has been provided for 2019 for the target strength for the Permanent Defence Force of 9,500.
Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. Following the increases paid under the Lansdowne Road agreement, further increases were paid in 2018 under the Public Sector Stability Agreement 2018-2020, with additional increases due in 2019. The allocation includes €6.3 million to meet the additional commitments for 2019. Further increases in pay are scheduled for 2020.
In accordance with the provisions of Public Services Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the Government has tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with conducting a more comprehensive examination of recruitment and retention challenges in the defence sector. The work of the commission is ongoing. The Government will give due consideration to the findings and recommendations that arise from the work of the commission.
The non-pay allocation, including capital, for Vote 36 in 2019 is €229 million and this provides for essential and ongoing Defence Forces standing and operational costs as well as the provision of essential procurement and upgrading of defensive equipment and infrastructure.
I mentioned the ONE campaign because it was a powerful statement which, in its blunt starkness, highlighted the extent to which our Defence Forces veterans and current servicemen feel left on the periphery. I have previously raised the issue of the wages of Defence Forces personnel being far below what they ought to be, with some members paid close to minimum wage for work that deserves far more. That work requires great discipline and sacrifice by the personnel and their loved ones. I have raised this issue on multiple occasions and will continue to so do until the members of the Defence Forces are given the respect they deserve, which is most reflected by how much they are paid and their conditions of employment. The increased funding allocated over the past two years went towards ICT, military hardware and equipment upgrades in many ways. Those upgrades are very important, but the real need for funding is in the area of pay and wages. Not enough is being done. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for members of our Defence Forces, as highlighted by the recent campaigns.
I disagree with the Deputy regarding there being no light at the end of the tunnel. The Government is addressing the issue of pay. I have stated on the public record - in barracks and in the House - and in private that pay is a challenge for the Defence Forces and that is why the Government is addressing this issue. The Deputy has been a Member of this House for many years. He was a member of Government from 2011 to 2016. He is aware of the challenges in regard to public service pay. I do not want the message to go out that members of the Defence Forces are paid very little. Among enlisted personnel, the average gross earnings in 2018 of a three-star private was €37,529; a corporal, €41,076; a sergeant, €44,622; a company quartermaster, €49,605; a company sergeant, €50,224; a battalion quartermaster, €53,616; and a sergeant major, €54,878. In the officer corps, the average gross earnings of a second lieutenant was €37,108; a lieutenant, €42,291; a captain, €53,138; a commandant, €66,496; a lieutenant colonel, €79,162; and a colonel, €88,480. The starting salary for a three-star private in the Defence Forces is €27,759.76, while a school-leaver newly commissioned officer would receive €35,614 and a graduate lieutenant a starting salary of €40,566. I acknowledge that those are starting salaries and that members may experience challenges later in their career in the Defence Forces. That is why there is an independent Public Service Pay Commission, as I earlier outlined to Deputy Jack Chambers. We are addressing this issue. It is taking time to so do and I acknowledge that is frustrating, but there is a significant amount of work to get through.
Members of the Defence Forces do not take to the streets lightly. The ONE campaign highlighted what can happen when retired members of the Defence Forces fall off the edge of society. We have let them down. Defence Forces veterans are to hold a national march in Cork on May Day to highlight the poor pay and conditions endured by serving members of the military. It will be the second national march organised by veterans, with a march having been held last September outside Leinster House. Members of our Defence Forces do not take such action lightly. They are very loyal to our State and are protectors of our sovereignty. For them to demonstrate in such a manner is a significant reaction. The level of pay of members of the Defence Forces and the way in which they are treated serves to push more and more of our veterans into abject and total poverty. The legacy of this Government should not be to leave the members of the Defence Forces demoralised, poor and at risk of falling off the edge. I acknowledge that the Minister of State hopes to address this issue, but money is now available which may not have been available in the past. We must address the cause of the workers, particularly low pay. Some are in receipt of the working family payment and finding it difficult to pay for accommodation. We must take seriously and address these issues for our Defence Forces. The Minister of State is making efforts but they must be accelerated.
Less than 1% of members of the Defence Forces or the Department of Defence are in receipt of the working family payment. I want to clearly send that message because-----
The Minister of State must acknowledge that no member of the Defence Forces should be in receipt of the working family payment.
The working family payment is there for a reason. A newly recruited three star private may have no children or three children. The Deputy understands why the working family payment is there, namely, to subsidise families with specific needs.
On the ONE campaign referred to by the Deputy, I have met representatives of ONE and the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, IUNVA. I increased funding for ONE by 108% this year. Its campaign aimed to highlight the services it provides for ex-members of the Defence Forces who have fallen on hard times. It does a fantastic job in that regard. It is out there helping people. My Department and the Defence Forces are willing to assist the ONE campaign. Not all of the veterans' organisations have participated in protests such as the march for veterans to which the Deputy referred.
Air Corps Recruitment
32. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will provide a report on the Air Corps recommissioning scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9581/19]
I wish to ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will provide a report on the Air Corps recommissioning scheme and make a statement on the matter. There is considerable concern within the Defence Forces regarding this scheme which the Government seems to have designed and created without much collaboration with or agreement from the representative organisations. Those organisations are considerably concerned that it has exacerbated the retention crisis within the Air Corps, where there is a growing element of contagion. On what basis was the scheme designed? I ask the Minister of State to provide a report on the matter.
As the Deputy will be aware, there is currently a shortage of pilots in the Air Corps. As one of a range of measures to address this issue, the general staff and General Officer Commanding of the Air Corps recommended the initiation of a scheme to recommission former Air Corps officers. There is also scope to recommission officers in other specialist streams across the Defence Forces, if shortages exist. There have been previously been instances of former officers returning to the Defence Forces. In the absence of a standard policy for dealing with such requests, each case was dealt with on an individual basis and governed by the rules, regulations and circumstances that applied at the time. In the absence of a defined policy framework, the processing of such applications posed several difficulties, including defining procedures, identifying the requirements and needs of the organisation and agreeing terms and conditions with the individual. In order to allow for a transparent scheme to facilitate the re-entry of former officers of the Defence Forces, a policy framework setting out terms and conditions was necessary.
The terms and conditions for the recommissioning scheme include the provision that the recommissioning of former officers of the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps, shall only be considered in specific circumstances where the Chief of Staff has identified a deficiency in personnel, military capability or expertise in the Defence Forces that cannot be resolved in a sustainable or timely manner from within existing personnel resources. These terms and conditions apply to all former officers of the Defence Forces and not just to the Air Corps. Recommissioned officers will be offered a short service commission for a period of three years. Within that period, they cannot compete for promotion or block a promotion opportunity for existing officers. The recommissioned officers may only be offered a substantive appointment after three years on the advice of the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General. This provides a fair and balanced approach for the former officer and existing members. It is not realistic to suggest that vacancies should be maintained indefinitely for the purpose of ensuring promotions for existing members.
I am pleased to state that two former officers have applied to rejoin the Air Corps. Their applications are currently being progressed by the military authorities.
The response of the Minister of State does not match what I have been told. The scheme is viewed as a blind call on behalf of the Government, whereby it ploughed ahead without the agreement of or consultation with the representative organisations. The Air Corps is currently 30% under strength. The Minister of State referred to two former officers rejoining, but I understand that more than ten personnel may leave the Air Corps this year. We do not know how many more personnel will be recruited.
It has caused considerable concern among those Air Corps officers who have displayed loyalty and commitment to the Defence Forces and who now face the prospect of this initiative having a detrimental impact on their career advancement prospects in what is already a narrow stream. There is a view that the Minister of State has exacerbated this. There are also concerns that there are no advertisements for the recommissioning, no process and no protocol. Can he confirm whether applicants are applying directly to him? Through what section must they apply? Is it through the human resources section in the Defence Forces or the Minister of State directly? It would be very unusual if applications for recommissioning were made through the him directly. He needs to clarify many of the concerns over recommissioning and the detrimental effect it is having on the very problem he is trying to solve.
The Air Corps has 33 vacancies. The initiative was recommended by military management. There is considerable support. Wherever the Deputy is getting his information, he is not getting the full picture. I can give him the full picture now. The recommissioned officers will be offered a short-service commission for a period of three years. In that period, they cannot compete for promotion, nor will they block a promotion opportunity for existing officers. Wherever the Deputy is getting his information, it is totally incorrect. I reiterate that the commissioned officers will not block promotional opportunities for other members of the Air Corps. They will be given a short-term commission of three years. After this period, the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department will examine the circumstances in the Air Corps.
I want to address the shortage of pilots. As the Deputy is well aware, there is a shortage of pilots across the world. Aer Lingus is looking for more, as are all other airlines. Anybody who wants to re-enter the organisation may do so through the Defence Forces or Department. An individual did come to me and I passed on his information to the Defence Forces. I understand that application is being processed. An applicant will be accepted only if fully licensed and fully trained. Those who want to recommence duty in the Air Corps are all fully trained by the Air Corps.
This displays the complete failure by the Government to develop a retention policy. The Defence Forces are gaining two pilots and losing more than ten because they have no retention policy. The Minister of State is not making it attractive enough to stay in the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps. That is the core issue. The Government is exacerbating underlying difficulties with morale and retention. Does the Minister of State not believe it is unusual that there is a bizarre application process - a kind of South American or Venezuelan recommissioning process - whereby applicants go to the Minister, who then passes on the application? No one applies to re-enter the health service through the Minister for Health. No one applies to re-enter the Garda through the Minister for Justice and Equality, nor does one apply to enter the Civil Service through the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Clarity is needed on the protocol and procedure.
The representative associations have serious concerns about this, and the Minister of State knows that because they wrote to him about it recently. He has failed to respond properly to their letter of March 2018 in which they outlined multiple issues and concerns. Their difficulties were not dealt with at that stage. It is on this basis that I raise my query. We do not know the advertisement process, protocols or procedures. It is unusual that potential applicants would talk to the Minister of State about a re-entry process. He needs to publish and clarify what this recommissioning is about, how it is designed and what agreement exists with the representative associations.
What the Deputy is now saying is that we should not proceed with any policy unless we get the agreement of all the associations.
The existing officers should be retained.
Is the Deputy saying that we should now not proceed with any policy unless we have the full agreement of all the associations? He said the initiative would block promotions but it will not.
The Minister of State should deal with the issue.
This will not block promotions.
The Minister of State knows-----
It will be a short-term commission for a period of three years. This will not block promotions. I have the support of the general staff. The recommendation came to me from the military management. I support it and will continue to support it 100%. It is the right thing to do.
It is not working.
It is the right thing to do.
The Minister of State is losing more-----
The Deputy should outline the reason we are losing the staff.
Because the Minister of State has no retention policy.
On the retention issue, if the Deputy listened he would know a retention scheme is being addressed by the Public Service Pay Commission. If the Deputy's party had not put us into the plight we were in for many years, we would not have to revisit the retention issue. The arrangement would have been left in place. Unfortunately, the country was broke and this had to be addressed. This Government, which has returned the economy to full employment, is addressing the pilot retention issue. It is being addressed by the Public Service Pay Commission.