Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ceisteanna (39, 42, 53)

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

39. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if more than 30 members of the Naval Service requested to apply for discharge during January 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10385/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

42. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the new initiatives to retain Defence Forces personnel that are being undertaken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10388/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

53. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way in which he plans to address the exodus from the Defence Forces due to poor conditions and pay as articulated by soldiers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10376/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Defence)

More than 30 members of the Naval Service applied for a discharge in January. Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39, 42 and 53 togther.

The Naval Service continues to fulfil all roles assigned by Government and, on a day-to-day basis, undertakes a broad range of tasks, including fishery protection, security operations, diving operations and other supports. As the Deputy will be aware, the Government recently approved the deployment of Naval Service personnel and assets in support of Operation Sophia. The establishment of the Naval Service is 1,094 and, as of 31 January 2018, the strength of the Naval Service is 1,051. The military authorities have informed me that the Naval Service was administering 17 applications for discharge in January 2018.

The manpower requirement of the Defence Forces is monitored on an ongoing basis in accordance with the operational requirements of each of the three services. The White Paper on defence recognises that continuous recruitment is the lifeblood of the Defence Forces, providing young, motivated and enthusiastic personnel to replenish military formations for operational deployments. In this context, there is significant ongoing recruitment to the Permanent Defence Forces and this is a long-term trend. Recruitment plans have been developed to address vacancies in the establishment and also to replace personnel who have exited the Defence Forces. There is also an ongoing programme of human resources development within defence organisations, part of which is aimed at ensuring that there is an appropriate work-life balance. The Chief of Staff is actively addressing matters to this end and I have initiated a review of the criteria governing contracts for enlisted personnel and a comprehensive skills gap analysis across the Defence Forces.

There have been significant improvements in pay for members of the Defence Forces under the Lansdowne Road agreement, with the focus of increases being on the lower paid. Both PDFORRA and RACO have signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 which provides for further pay increase of between 6.2% and 7.4% over its lifetime. Under my direction, the Department of Defence has previously brought issues relating to recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission. The commission is further examining these issues in its next tranche of work. A departmental civil-military submission is currently being prepared and I am aware that the representative associations have also been requested to make submissions by the commission. I will continue to work closely with my Government colleagues and civil and military management to ensure that the Defence Forces can continue to deliver the capabilities required to discharge all roles assigned by Government.

At the end of last month, a newspaper report claimed that in January 2018 more than 30 members of the Naval Service had asked to apply for discharge. The situation was described as "unprecedented" and "worrying" by PDFORRA. Concerns have been expressed at the wealth of experience being lost at one end of the scale and at the number of younger personnel who are jumping ship only a couple of years into their careers. PDFORRA president, Mr. Mark Keane, says that only a couple of the 33 members who had so far sought to be discharged in the past month were actually eligible to retire this year. That suggests young, able and very experienced personnel are getting out fast. The figure cited averages to approximately one member per day. If that continued, the Naval Service would lose one third of its personnel in one year. Mr. Keane says seasoned petty officers and leading seamen with a wealth of experience are among those seeking to leave the service, which will have a serious effect on the level of corporate knowledge within the service.

What is the Minister of State doing to address this serious loss of experienced personnel from the Naval Service? What is he going to do to train new persons coming into the service given that extent to which middle management and those with experience are leaving and unavailable to train recruits?

As I stated in my original reply, there are a number of initiatives and pay increases in place. The establishment of the Naval Service is 1,094 and on 31 January 2018 its strength stood at 1,051. Recruitment is ongoing within the Naval Service. As with the Air Corps and the Army, there are vacancies and I understand that there is recruitment for skilled people. I am happy to confirm to the House that the Defence Forces assures me it can carry out all the duties assigned by Government and set out in the White Paper on Defence. I am confident that the Naval Service is carrying out all requests and assignments related to sea fisheries protection, participation in Operation Sophia and drug interdiction.

This is a little bit like Groundhog Day. We keep talking about pay restoration and ongoing recruitment, but while recruitment has been stepped up, we are running to keep still and not actually increasing numbers. The Minister of State has not addressed the very clear issue that over 30 personnel in one month have sought a discharge in circumstances where only a couple of them were actually at retirement age. Clearly, the measures the Minister of State has adopted to date are not having the required impact. The Minister of State has also not addressed what we are going to do to train new personnel if experienced personnel are lost. What are we going to do to address the brain drain and the loss of corporate knowledge? Taking in new personnel is one thing, but how are we going to retain the personnel we have? The White Paper on defence is not being implemented properly. A Defence Forces climate survey was published in 2015 but we have seen no marked change in the approach of the Department or the Minister of State's office to address the issues which were highlighted in that. It is nearly three years since its publication. What is the Minister of State doing to address the fact that more than 30 personnel have sought a discharge in one month?

I have introduced a range of measures on foot of the climate survey, including a review of contracts, a review of the CNA scheme and a review of pay and conditions. The Defence Forces themselves have advanced a more structured and monitored mentoring programme, improved notice of courses and improved transparent selection of courses, more direct communication between senior leadership and the general body of personnel, improved internal communications, improved notice of travel requirements for duties and a review of centralisation and duration of career courses. These are all issues that were highlighted in the climate survey and they are being monitored. A working group has been put in place in the Defence Forces and I have brought in a range of measures. The full strength of the Defence Forces should be 9,500 and they are fully funded to reach that level. I have actively arranged recruitment meetings to see exactly where we are on the figures in the Defence Forces but it is a matter for Defence Forces management to ensure they are brought up to that strength of 9,500. The Government provides the budget for that.