Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Defence Forces Remuneration

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

1. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether the pay recommendations of the report of the Public Service Pay Commission into recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces will be sufficient to end the retention difficulties being experienced by all three services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38888/19]

What are the views of the Minister of State on whether the pay recommendations of the report of the Public Service Pay Commission into the recruitment and retention difficulties in the Defence Forces will be sufficient to end the current retention difficulties being experienced by all three services?

The Government has acknowledged that there are recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces that must be addressed.  It is a fact that members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, are being attracted to jobs elsewhere in a buoyant labour market. In light of the particular challenges faced by the defence sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of examination and analysis of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces.

The commission’s report, which has been accepted by the Government, contains a broad range of recommendations that will provide immediate benefits to members of the PDF, as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements. These include a 10% increase in military service allowance, the restoration to pre-Haddington Road agreement levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures will be implemented swiftly on confirmation of acceptance of by the PDF representative associations. Any suggestion that these measures are only worth 96 cent per day is disingenuous and a soundbite that has been used to misinform people.

The report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment and conditions of service.

The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out timelines and objectives, which indicates its commitment to deliver on the recommendations of the pay commission. The plan also provides for an examination of core pay in the Permanent Defence Force and identifies further retention measures within the context of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations. Work on implementing the plan is under way and, under my direction, being prioritised by civil and military management.

I am confident that the implementation of the recommendations of the public service pay commission, in tandem with pay benefits being delivered under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 with the most recent being a 1.5% increase on 1 September, will help to ameliorate the recruitment and retention challenges being experienced by the Permanent Defence Force.

It is the Minister of State who is misinformed about the crisis. The pay commission report indicates that 57.8% of Permanent Defence Force members stated that they will leave in the next two years and, of those, 84.5% pointed to pay as a primary consideration. The Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, stated today at the conference of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, that the situation will get worse before it gets better. The proof of the Government's plan involving the pay commission will be whether the Minister of State can end the exodus of personnel and bring the complement back towards the target of 9,500. Based on the current rate of attrition and turnover, it appears that the number of personnel is still falling. Structures in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service are collapsing. When does the Minister of State expect to turn the corner in terms of personnel numbers? Not even the best recruitment campaign could bridge the gap created by the current exodus and retention difficulties. I am not sure whether the report of the pay commission has thus far achieved what the Minister of State set out in his statement.

I have acknowledged that there are significant challenges within the Defence Forces. As I stated, we are competing in a very strong and buoyant jobs market in which there is almost full employment. I asked the two Defence Forces representative associations to consider very carefully the report of the pay commission published in July. I am delighted that the recommendations of the public service pay commission were accepted yesterday at the biannual RACO conference. Immediate and tangible benefits will accrue to RACO members from that acceptance. We have increased the military service allowance and restored allowances cut under the Haddington Road agreement, as well as bringing back the pilot retention scheme. An implementation plan to strengthen the Defence Forces is being led by the Department of the Taoiseach and we are into phase 1 of the plan. There are specific timelines set down for its implementation and it is being led by a civil and military team.

The Minister of State did not accurately reflect what was stated by RACO representatives. They stated that its acceptance of the recommendations should not be seen as an acknowledgement that the Defence Forces retention crisis is close to being solved. RACO considers that the reversal of the exodus of personnel is the true metric by which to measure whether the plan is working. Earlier this month, the President intervened and stated that it should not be too much to expect that military personnel who are paid an income-----

It is not in order to for Deputies to raise remarks made by the President.

I will reference remarks made by all Deputies and some persons outside the Houses and correctly so. He humiliated the tenure of the Minister of State at the Department of Defence by showing leadership on the issue. RACO stated that there is much frustration and disappointment at the meagre increases set out in the Government's proposals, which is hardly an endorsement of the plan. Of course, when one has a gun to one's head, one will accept a meagre increase. Far more must be done to address the recruitment and retention crisis. When does the Minister of State expect the gap between current and desired staffing levels to close? That will be the key metric by which to judge the report.

It is very easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise. The Deputy does not have the responsibility of dealing with public sector pay. Of course, his party previously had that responsibility and got us into a big mess. I want to get back to a strength level of 9,500 personnel and that is achievable with the assistance of military management, the Department of Defence, RACO and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA. All of those parties want to reach that figure. There is funding for a complement of 9,500 personnel. I have acknowledged that public sector pay is a significant challenge for me as Minister of State with responsibility for defence and for the Government as a whole because public servants are keeping a watchful eye on what is happening in other areas of the public service. I am not sure whether the Deputy will acknowledge that. I want to be able to get the staffing level back up to 9,500. It will be difficult to do so because we are competing in a buoyant economy with almost full employment. There is significant appetite among the private sector for members of the Defence Forces because of their training and the way they are equipped. I acknowledge that we are losing some very good people. People should also consider the numerous benefits of being a member of the Defence Forces.

Defence Forces Strength

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

2. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the measures he is taking to stop the exodus of personnel from the Defence Forces; if 70 personnel left the Defence Forces in July 2019, including seven officers and 16 trainees; his views on whether 2019 is likely to be a record year for personnel leaving the Defence Forces; his further views on whether recruitment and retention efforts are clearly not working; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38535/19]

I tabled this question in light of the exodus of personnel from the Defence Forces. Did 70 personnel, including seven officers and 16 trainees, leave the Defence Forces in July? Does the Minister of State agree that all the evidence suggests that his Department's recruitment and retention efforts are not working?

The Government has acknowledged that there are recruitment and retention difficulties and challenges in the Defence Forces. The buoyant labour market and increased competition across sectors to attract personnel are key factors. The level of the departure of personnel can fluctuate, as can the timing of departures. As such, it is very difficult to predict accurately future departure rates. The current departure rates are presenting difficulties for the Defence Forces.

In light of the particular issues faced by the defence sector, the Government tasked the public service pay commission with undertaking a comprehensive examination of recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force. The commission’s report, which has been accepted by the Government, contains a broad range of recommendations, some of which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force, as well as initiatives that will lead to further improvements. Immediate measures include a 10% increase in military service allowance, the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures will be implemented swiftly on confirmation of acceptance by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations. The report also contains a broad range of recommendations aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment and conditions of service. The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out timelines and objectives, which indicates its commitment to deliver on the recommendations of the pay commission. The plan also provides for an examination of core pay in the Permanent Defence Force and the identification of other retention measures. These will be progressed within the framework of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations. Under my direction, this work is being prioritised. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over its lifetime. The increases due to date under the agreement have been paid to members of the Defence Forces, the most recent being a 1.75% increase on annualised salaries from 1 September 2019. Further increases in pay are scheduled for 2020. I am satisfied that the range of measures being progressed is an appropriate response to the current difficulties.

The Minister of State began his reply by stating that he acknowledges the challenges faced. However, the view on this side of the House is that he is not dealing with reality. He referred to changes within the system but we know that personnel are leaving and that recruitment and retention have become almost impossible due to poor pay and repeated cuts to allowances, as well as poor working conditions. There are also challenges relating to accommodation for personnel.

There is a big problem with morale and while the Minister of State may be addressing the conferences, he is saying nothing that will bolster that. I would argue that the Government has created this crisis itself.

Radical and urgent solutions are needed. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform assessed the long-term turnover rate in the Defence Forces to be 6.4%. Even using the Government's own optimistic predictions, it will not reach establishment strength of 9,500 until 2026. According to RACO, however, the real turnover rate is 10.3%. Is RACO wrong? What the Minister of State is saying here does not add up. He is giving a glossy message that everything will be sorted but the reality on the ground and coming from the conferences is quite different.

I had very constructive meetings last week with RACO and PDFORRA. I addressed the conference this morning and I totally disagree with the Deputy's assertion. While Deputy Crowe mentioned allowances, the Public Service Pay Commission report has restored the allowances to pre-Haddington Road agreement levels and the Deputy fails to acknowledge that. Any officer of the Defence Forces, having accepted the pay commission's report in full, will receive the immediate benefits. It is worth an additional €10 million annually over the position last year for enlisted personnel and officers. If PDFORRA accepts the recommendations, all its members will also receive immediate benefits. Allowances, including the weekend and 24-hour duty allowances, comprised one of the biggest issues raised with me in recent years. I wanted to ensure the allowances were restored and the independent pay commission recommended that they be restored to pre-Haddington Road agreement levels. If the representative associations vote for it, their members will feel the benefits.

The problem relates to core pay and that is what must be addressed. One can tinker around the sides in respect of allowances and so on but the issue of core pay must be addressed. That is one reason the representative associations want to move on and have representation at the table to argue for their case. They perceive a weakness in that the Minster of State is not championing or pushing that forward, which is a big problem. There is a great problem with morale. The figures show that people are leaving day after day. The Minister of State needs to do something different. Pay is clearly one of the issues, as are working conditions. Any efforts regarding retention are not working at present. The Minister of State has stated he understands the challenges but there is concern that lack of pay and low morale are not being addressed. People respond every day by leaving the Defence Forces.

Were I in the Deputy's position in opposition, I would not have the responsibility of Government and I could shout from the rooftop that core pay should be increased. That is very easy to say. I assure the Deputy that were I to state that we would increase core pay for the Defence Forces but for nobody else, he would be in here the next morning hopping off the ceiling saying that if the Government was going to do it for the Defence Forces then it would have to do it for everyone else. The public service stability agreement provides for increases for the Defence Forces year on year. The Deputy should look at the tangible increases in core pay each year, which will continue until 2020 when talks on the next public service pay agreement will commence.

Their families are going hungry.

I am also happy about the restoration of allowances in the pay commission's report. There is also an implementation plan. There is a clear set of guidelines and timelines to ensure that whatever its recommendations, they will be implemented.

Defence Forces Expenditure

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

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]

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 with 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 is 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 improving 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 bread line 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 save 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. I presume that is what he would do, 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.

Trade Union Membership

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

4. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the fact that an organisation (details supplied) has formally applied to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; if he has met the organisation to discuss this issue; if he has met the ICTU to discuss the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38536/19]

This question is about PDFORRA's affiliation with the ICTU as an associate member. Will the Minister of State confirm that he met PDFORRA and the ICTU to discuss this issue? Will he provide the House with a report on the meetings he had with them?

I am aware of the long-standing desire of PDFORRA to associate with the ICTU. Section 2(3) of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990 prohibits the Defence Forces representative associations from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body without the consent of the Minister. Members of the Permanent Defence Force also cannot become members of a trade union. To compensate for these limitations, there are a range of statutory redress mechanisms available to serving members, including redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces ombudsman and a conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

In 2017 the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, upheld the prohibition on the right of military personnel to strike but did conclude that Ireland was in violation of the charter in respect of the right to organise, that is, to affiliate to certain organisations, and the right to negotiate collective agreements. These findings were considered as part of an independent review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force which was completed last year. One of the recommendations from the review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with the ICTU to explore the practicalities of a Permanent Defence Force representative association forming an association or affiliation with the ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service. Association with the ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. I asked my officials to examine the matter further and, in that regard, defence management, civil and military, has engaged in discussions with the ICTU. Defence management has also met the Permanent Defence Force representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to discuss the matter. I have also recently discussed the matter of ICTU affiliation or association with both RACO and PDFORRA. The feasibility of association is the subject of ongoing discussion and engagement with the ICTU. The implications of possible association or affiliation are being carefully considered.

I would be interested in hearing the Minister of State's personal view on affiliation. He is aware that a motion was passed by the Dáil on 13 June which called for Defence Forces representative organisations to be able to take up associate membership of the ICTU. The Government should accept this position which is the position of the Dáil. The ICTU's national council has since approved, in principle, an application from PDFORRA to become an associate member of congress.

While members of the Defence Forces recognise the unique nature of their service to the State, they should not be disadvantaged as a result. Defence Forces members are the lowest paid of all public servants. When it comes to public sector talks, members of the Defence Forces representative organisations do not have a seat at the negotiating table. That is something that needs to be looked at. Members of the Defence Forces have also been forced to take their case to the European Committee of Social Rights, as the Minister of State pointed out, to have their right to collective bargaining recognised. The committee ruled that the Government was in breach of the European Social Charter in respect of the right to organise, the right to affiliate to a certain organisation and the right to enter into negotiation and collective bargaining.

To allay fears about a military strike, PDFORRA has clearly indicated that it is not interested in securing a right to strike. Its moves to become part of a trade union will not in any way jeopardise national security. Trade union membership is not incompatible with military service. We know this from what happens in other countries. Will the Minister of State confirm that he will not veto PDFORRA's affiliation to the ICTU as an associate member?

The Deputy understands this originally came from the European Committee of Social Rights. As I have stated, my officials are engaging with the ICTU. I will await the outcome of that engagement. The Deputy is right that a motion was passed in the Dáil. It was a Fianna Fáil Private Members' motion, in which Fianna Fáil, with the support of Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, called for PDFORRA to be given the right to have representation through the ICTU. The motion was supported by the Opposition and tabled by Deputy Jack Chambers.

When Mr. Gerard Barry was looking at the review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme, as part of the terms of reference, I included the question about the ICTU that had come from the European Committee of Social Rights to ascertain how the Defence Forces representation arrangements and pay determination system compared in an international context. I asked him to look at that matter. The recommendation was that there be engagement with the ICTU, the Department of Defence and military management. That engagement has been ongoing and I am waiting for the report to come back to me. I will consider it. I will also consider and take into account all of the concerns of any association or individual when I am making the decision.

PDFORRA represents public service workers. There is no legitimate reason it does not deserve to have its voice heard, just like any other public service representative body. The Minister of State mentioned the motion that was passed in the Dáil, but, again, he says he will wait and see. How long are workers to wait? The rights of those working in the Defence Forces should not be less than those of any other worker. Again, we have a situation where more cases are being dragged through the courts. The Government needs to act. This is one area that could be addressed to raise morale in the Defence Forces. The motion passed by the Dáil called on the Government to bring forward legislation to provide for implementation of the working time directive within a six-month period. Will the Minister of State abide by that timeline? Will the working time directive be adhered to within a six-month period? That was also included in the motion passed by the Dáil.

I will address the ICTU question first. PDFORRA has requested on a number of occasions to either become affiliated with or to take up associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. These requests raise significant challenges from both a Government point of view and a societal perspective. We also have to take into account the risks of impinging on the military chain of command, which requires detailed consideration. The request for associate membership of ICTU requires us to consider the potential for conflicts and divided loyalties that may well arise when the Government decides to deploy the Defence Forces for the maintenance of essential services. The ability of the Defence Forces to perform all their duties as assigned by the Government cannot be impeded by affiliation with any organisation. My officials are currently engaging with ICTU on this issue and I am awaiting a full and comprehensive report, which I am not going to rush. I want a comprehensive report in order that I can consider the findings and make a recommendation to the Government, whatever that may be. We have to carefully consider this because this is a broad move away from what we have had in the past.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Brendan Ryan

Ceist:

5. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether it is a fair expectation that men and women serving in the Defence Forces should have an income and prospects to provide for themselves and their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38910/19]

My question is to ask the Minister for Defence his views on whether it is a fair expectation that men and women serving in the Defence Forces should have an income and prospects to provide for themselves and their families. The recent statement from President Michael D. Higgins fairly reflects what I and other Opposition spokespeople-----

It is completely inappropriate to make reference to the President, his remarks or his actions in this Chamber. It is out of order and I ask the Deputy please not to do so.

Okay. It is something about which I and other Opposition Deputies have been speaking and about which we have spoken directly to the Minister of State. I am conscious that the first few questions also related to this matter but the timing is out of my control. I seek the Minister of State's response.

Similarly to other sectors in 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, during which the Deputy was a member of the Government. The recovery in the economy has provided the fiscal resources to provide for a fair and sustainable recovery in public service pay scales. Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and all other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay.

The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement. The increases due under the agreement have been paid to members of the Defence Forces, the most recent being a 1.75% increase on annualised salaries from 1 September 2019. Further increases in pay are scheduled in 2020. By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the pay scales of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning under €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI is also scheduled in the agreement.

In light of the particular challenges faced by the defence sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive examination and analysis of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces. The commission’s report, which has been accepted by the Government, contains a broad range of recommendations that will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force, as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements. These include a 10% increase in military service allowance, the restoration to pre-Haddington Road agreement levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures will be implemented swiftly on confirmation of acceptance by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations.

The Government has prepared a detailed plan for the implementation of the recommendations in the Public Service Pay Commission's report. The measures are aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment, retention and conditions of service. The plan also provides for an examination of core pay in the Permanent Defence Force within the context of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations, and the completion and implementation of actions related to a review of technical pay arrangements for grades 2 to 6. The plan also outlines timelines and objectives, indicating the commitment to deliver on the pay commission’s recommendations.

The Government is committed to ensuring that the pay and conditions of all members of the public service are commensurate with their skill levels and the work undertaken.

As I have noted during every Question Time on defence, the wages of Defence Forces personnel are far below what they should be, with some members being paid close to minimum wage for work that is deserving of much more, as it requires great discipline and sacrifice from both the personnel and their loved ones. I have brought this issue up multiple times and will continue to do so until members of the Defence Forces are given the respect they deserve, which is indicated by how they are paid and their conditions of employment.

The findings of the study undertaken by the Public Service Pay Commission a few months ago conclude that the Defence Forces are at a critical juncture. It is stated that the findings presented intimate that without immediate and substantial intervention, particularly in respect of pay, allowances and pension entitlements, the organisation may, within a short time, face major difficulties in maintaining its personnel establishment and in carrying out its mandate. Due to its terms of reference, the commission was precluded from dealing with aspects of core pay but it would have been interesting to hear its thoughts on that subject. I am sure it would have had something to say.

The Deputy will recognise that all public service pay was cut back in the tougher economic circumstances we went through at the time when the Deputy was a member of the Government. Nobody wanted to do it. As our public finances are improving, the public service stability agreement is now in place, in which there are real financial benefits for all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces.

The independent pay commission examined issues of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces. It reported back in July and made a number of recommendations, including a package of €10 million per annum. In addition, I was able to personally negotiate some outstanding payments for members of the Defence Forces with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, at a cost of €1.7 million.

I was delighted that RACO, which is the representative group for officers of the Defence Forces, accepted the recommendations of the pay commission yesterday. There are real tangible benefits for officers of the Defence Forces in doing so and I understand that PDFORRA will also consider the recommendations shortly. I hope it also accepts the recommendations because that would be of real benefit to members of the Defence Forces. I acknowledge the challenges and the concerns the Deputy has around recruitment and retention and on the latter in particular. However, an implementation body has been put in place for phase one of the strengthening of the Defence Forces, which I am confident will make a real difference and put more money into the pockets of Defence Forces personnel.

The Minister of State referred to RACO. At its annual conference today, RACO delegates called for a pay review body for the Defence Forces, which I and my party would support. The rate of turnover in the Defence Forces is currently 10%, which is happening without adequate retention measures or a pay review. The organisation will never reach its establishment of 9,500 personnel, despite the current high level of recruitment, because it is like constantly pouring water into a bucket with a hole at the bottom. RACO has also passed motions on allowances and has called for improved conditions, such as improved living quarters for married and single members. That would act as a very real retention tool, as it would provide a stable, secure and modern living environment for the families of Defence Forces personnel. Members of the Defence Forces are using their own voice and are calling for dignity. They are calling for the right to live a normal life in Ireland, to be able to afford the basics and to provide for themselves and their families. They need a future worth believing in, not the fear of long-term homelessness once their service is complete. I do not think that is too much to ask of a body as august as the Defence Forces.

I am sure the Deputy would acknowledge and understand the importance of the public service pay agreements we currently have in place for all public servants. He is correct that RACO has called for its own independent pay review group. The UK Government has a similar group in place, but the UK Government also has a different method of determining rates of public sector pay.

They have independent pay review bodies for individual sectors; one each for the army, police, teachers and nurses. It would be difficult to take out one public sector group here and have a separate pay determination for it. That is, however, not within my gift; it is a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The British armed forces do not have representative associations to negotiate on their behalf. They do not have group associations such as the PDFORRA and RACO to interact with Government or with the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform. The overarching public service pay policy, as I said earlier, is a matter for the Minister for Finance, and Public Expenditure and Reform.

I acknowledge RACO's leadership in accepting the independent commission's recommendations.