Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Ceisteanna (2)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

2. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he has taken to implement the Dáil Éireann motion (details supplied) passed on 28 June 2017 to draw up a plan of action to help alleviate and address the ongoing concerns regarding the anti-malaria drug Lariam issued to military personnel serving on overseas missions in sub-Saharan Africa in the past other than fighting legal cases of victims of Lariam. [24568/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Defence)

What action has the Minister for Defence taken to implement the motion regarding Lariam passed in this House on 28 June 2017?

As I indicated to Deputy Ó Snodaigh in response to the Private Members' motion of 28 June 2017 regarding the anti-malarial drug Lariam, the use of anti-malarial drugs is a medical matter that should be decided by qualified medical professionals. In the Defence Forces, these are matters for highly qualified medical officers having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member of the Defence Forces.

As Deputy Buckley will be aware, the Lariam report implementation group, LRIG, was established following the completion of the report of the malaria chemoprophylaxis working group in 2017, which set out a number of recommendations.

This group has met on a number of occasions and is progressing its work through the formation of a structured plan to implement these recommendations, as outlined in the terms of reference. These recommendations include planning, training and education-information sharing, as well as the establishment of a medical advisory group that will formalise the provision of ongoing expert medical advice, including external expert medical advice, to the Defence Forces on a range of medical matters, including malaria chemoprophylaxis.

I would also like to point out that there is a range of support services, both medical and non-medical, available to the Defence Forces personnel. These include access to Defence Forces medical officers, psychiatric, psychological, social work and personnel support services. A strictly confidential 24-hour careline, manned by trained counsellors, is also available to Defence Forces personnel.

The Deputy will be aware that the State Claims Agency manages personal injury claims, including personal injury claims relating to the consumption of Lariam taken by current and former members of the Defence Forces. The next case is listed for hearing in the High Court on 21 June 2019. Given that there is litigation pending in relation to these matters, the Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on this issue.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The working group that was established to deal with this issue has completed two reports, neither of which has been published. Why has that not happened? The Minister of State advised that the routine anti-malarial drug that has been prescribed to personnel serving Mali is Lariam. This was confirmed to my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, a few weeks ago. There are reports in the media that the Minister intends to deploy a contingent of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali. Will they also be prescribed Lariam?

The side effects of Lariam have been well rehearsed in this House. The Members of the House made their position clear on these issues two years ago and we have not heard anything further since then. It is baffling that the drug is still being prescribed to Defence Forces personnel. Will the Minister of State outline the actions that have been taken on foot of the motion that was passed in the House two years ago?

As the Deputy will understand, the working group report was prepared in the context of litigation and it will not be published for that reason. I have stated that in the House previously. I am sure everybody will understand the reasons that will not be published.

As I have stated, I am not a medical expert. I am not a trained doctor and it would be totally inappropriate for me or for any Member of this House to recommend what anti-malarial drug would be used in sub-Saharan Africa or on some of the missions in which our personnel are participating. That is a matter for the health experts within the Defence Forces. They are the people who make the recommendation. They have responsibility for this area. They consider the mission our personnel will participate in and take into consideration the individual members who will be deployed on a mission and their medical circumstances at that time.

I thank the Minister for his frank response. I am not a doctor either but it has been well documented that the side effects of Lariam are very advanced and adverse. We know of many other countries that have stopped prescribing this anti-malarial drug. We also know that many countries have apologised to their defence forces for having prescribed it. What solace or guarantees will the Defence Forces get from this process? If Lariam is a cheap version of an anti-malarial drug for soldiers, will officers be prescribed a better brand? We mentioned in the debate on the motion on the Defence Forces in the House yesterday that the use of this drug causes major stress within in the family unit among the wives and partners of the members of the Defence Forces. We do not have to be medical experts to know that Lariam is not a good product. We certainly should not be prescribing it to the members of our Defence Forces. Would it be possible for us to have access to those reports or would Deputy Ó Snodaigh be entitled to have sight of them?

I hope the Deputy understands that a number of litigation cases are going through at the moment. I made it quite clear in previous discussions in the House and through oral and written parliamentary questions on this general matter that, fundamentally, the use of anti-malarial drugs is a medical matter that should be decided by qualified medical professionals.

Those are decisions for highly qualified medical officers having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and of the individual member of the Defence Forces.

I accept the concerns raised by the Deputy and I hope he understands that the report carried out in the Department was in preparation for the litigation cases. Accordingly, it would be wrong of me to publish the report that has been prepared prior to the cases being heard. It would also be wrong of me to comment on any of the cases.

Deputy Buckley referred to the decision made by the Cabinet on Tuesday last about the Army ranger wing's participation in the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, and the use of Lariam there. That is a matter for the medical branch of the Defence Forces. The branch will take into account the mission, the local conditions in Mali, which is sub-Saharan, and the personnel participating in the mission.

Defence Forces Deployment

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.

Ceisteanna (3)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

3. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of personnel from the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps that took part in protection duties for the recent visit of the President of the United States of America; the average length of the service provided by each member involved; the average allowance paid for this service to each member of the Defence Forces involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24686/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Defence)

I wish to ask the Minister for Defence the total number of personnel from the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps that took part in protection duties for the recent visit of the President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump; the average length of the service provided by each member involved; the average allowance paid for this service to each member of the Defence Forces involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power, ATCP, which in practice means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.

The Garda requested ATCP assistance from the Defence Forces in support of the recent visit of the US President and the number of Defence Forces personnel deployed in response to this request was 497. With regard to the length of service performed by each of these personnel, I have been informed by the military authorities that the average length of service provided by each member involved is specific to their respective role and that this information cannot be released for security purposes.

Unlike other areas of the public service and due to the nature of the duties performed, overtime is not available to members of the Defence Forces. In addition to basic pay, the Defence Forces have a wide range of allowances, which are unique to their duties. A military service allowance, MSA, is paid to all ranks up to the level of colonel. The military service allowance is designed to compensate for the special conditions associated with military life. Those include unsocial hours of duty, exposure to danger, and the restrictions inherent in military discipline. For privates, corporals and sergeants with more than three years in service, the MSA is worth €115.43 per week, per person. The rate is €122.87 per week for senior NCOs .

In line with any other occasion when the Defence Forces are requested to operate in an aid to the civil power capacity, Defence Force members on duty in support of An Garda Síochána during the visit of the US President will receive the security duty allowance, SDA. The current rate of SDA is €23.81 for each day on duty for less than 24 hours. The rate is increased to €47.59 for a 24-hour duty. The security duty allowance is paid to all enlisted personnel and to officers up to and including the rank of commandant who are not in receipt of an Army ranger wing allowance or a patrol duty allowance. The assistance provided by the Defence Forces for the duration of the recent visit of the US President is greatly appreciated and acknowledged by my colleagues and I in government.

It is fair to say the recent visit of President Trump showed the total disparity in pay and conditions between An Garda Síochána, for whom I have great respect in terms of the work its members do - they are entitled to overtime – and the Defence Forces. It shows the wedge over which the Minister of State is presiding. Personnel from the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps were involved in protection duties for the visit. The Minister of State mentioned 497 members who provided aid to the civil power. They were paid €20 after tax for a 24-hour shift. That is just not sustainable when one compares it to the multiples of that amount paid to other public servants providing protection duty. It is not sustainable in terms of morale or hopelessness that we continue to stand over such a significant gap for people providing protection in the State. A member of An Garda Síochána could be paid up to €1,000 for that duty, potentially more than 50 times the amount received by a member of the Defence Forces. It is unacceptable that we allow that to occur. That is the reason we need to resolve the issue through the Public Service Pay Commission, yet that is something the Minister of State continues to ignore and even delays. He has the report and he needs to deal with it.

I am not sure if that is the Deputy's personal opinion or that of his party. If it is his party's opinion, Fianna Fáil had 15 years to change the allowance for overtime.

I am getting a history lesson again.

Fianna Fáil did not do that. The party had the opportunity to do it a number of months ago as well.

Soldiers operate and work in a very different environment from An Garda Síochána and are assigned different roles and tasks. Jobs differ greatly across the public service and it can be difficult to make direct comparisons between various sectors across the full range of duties. Members of the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána fill different roles and have different terms and conditions of service and pay structures. The vast majority of military personnel and gardaí engage in duties on a day-to-day basis that are dissimilar. Defence Forces pay and allowances are set, among other things, by reference to, and in consideration of, relative levels of pay across a broad range of duties and roles across various sectors. It is important to note that the basic pay is just an element of the overall remuneration package for members of the PDF. In addition to the pay range, they have additional allowances, which respect the nature of the work they do.

Jobs and terms and conditions differ but respect should unify people within the public service. Does the Minister of State agree with PDFORRA, the association that represents personnel in the Defence Forces, that it is unacceptable that its members should be provided with such archaic rates? Is it surprising in the ongoing exodus from the Defence Forces that many members are leaving to join An Garda Síochána? Their concerns about the visit of President Trump were not only about the terms and conditions and pay. Members of the Defence Forces were in sleeping bags in the terminal in Shannon Airport and slept in tents in Doonbeg while other public servants were put up in bed and breakfast accommodation. It was not only about the significant differential in terms of pay and conditions; it was also about the treatment and the respect for members of the Defence Forces. The Minister of State cannot stand over that. During the visit of Pope Francis last August, again, soldiers were treated with disrespect by the Minister of State and the Department. All he is doing is defending it. Could he not deal with the issues and with concerns on pay and conditions? He is now delaying the issue because he has the report and he will not act on it.

The report was done at the behest of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. He will bring it to Cabinet shortly. The Deputy is correct that we should examine all of the issues, including allowances. That is the reason I requested the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to prioritise the Defence Forces as a matter of urgency to deal with recruitment and retention and pay and allowances. For that reason the independent Public Service Pay Commission examined the defence sector. The health sector was examined first and the Defence Forces was the next to be examined. I expect the report to be published shortly. Once it is published, we can move on and implement the recommendations made by the independent commission. We will have an opportunity to consider the recommendations of the commission. I will not discuss the contents of the report until the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, brings the report to the Cabinet. I hope he does so shortly.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.

Defence Forces Personnel

Ceisteanna (5)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

5. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if all Defence Forces personnel entitled to postal votes in the recent European and local elections received ballot papers in time to cast their vote; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24687/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Defence)

Could the Minister of State tell me whether all Defence Forces personnel entitled to postal votes in the recent European and local elections received ballot papers in time to cast their vote? This was the most alarming development in the past number of weeks. Multiple members of the Defence Forces said they were unable to exercise their basic democratic and constitutional right. We know they are treated poorly in terms of pay and conditions but to actually deprive them of their democratic right to vote is very worrying and we need an explanation of the matter.

The Electoral Act 1992 establishes a postal voters list and those who qualify to be entered in the list. The Act provides that a whole-time member of the Defence Forces shall be entered in the list. Having regard to the nature of military life, this entitlement ensures the right to vote for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

The Department of Defence provides a link between the franchise section of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the military authorities. This is to ensure that appropriate timelines for postal voting are agreed. Responsibility for the distribution of postal votes rests with the military authorities. The responsibility for returning the vote by post rests with the individual except in the case of personnel overseas where the military authorities arrange for the votes to be returned. The register of electors is prepared annually by the registration authorities, who prepare the postal voters list. The Defence Forces, through the enlisted personnel management office, liaise with the registration authorities to ensure the list is up to date and correct.

The Defence Forces place a very high level of importance on ensuring that all personnel are provided with the opportunity to register for and receive a postal vote. To that end, personnel are provided with access to registration forms through the chain of command. The commanding officers inform all ranks of the availability of the registration forms. A significant operation then takes place to ensure that those who are registered to vote, at home or overseas, are provided with postal votes to enable them to exercise their right to vote.

Postal votes for Defence Forces personnel were processed and administered by the military authorities in the normal way for the 2019 local and European elections. I am informed that a number of personnel have expressed concern that they did not receive a postal vote. These concerns are being examined by the military authorities in the context of a review of the operation of the postal voting system with a view to ensuring that processes and procedures are optimised. The review is expected to conclude shortly.

I expect the military authorities to take any necessary action on foot of their review to ensure the right of military personnel to exercise their right to vote.

This is another glorious administrative blunder. We saw the two flights that were delayed in the past number of months but the fact that members of the Defence Forces received their postal votes the day before the elections meant they could not exercise their right to vote. Some members who were overseas could not vote. I know that some wives and partners of members of the Defence Forces mentioned that at the count centre, photographs of boxes of ballot boxes were taken on Monday after the elections and were not sent. As the Minister of State is aware, members of the Defence Forces were unable to take part in many of the protests and are not allowed to join a union or strike but one thing they value is their right to democratic accountability in respect of their local and European election candidate. The fact that there is a review, there has been a probable breach of the Electoral Act and the democratic system and people who wanted to exercise their democratic right to vote were prevented from doing so is an alarming development that needs very serious examination by the Minister of State and his Department. It is another blow to morale under the Minister of State's watch in the context of the overall exodus from our Defence Forces.

That statement clearly indicates that the Deputy does not listen. I said that the Department of Defence only provides the link between the franchise section of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the military authorities. This is to ensure that timelines for voting are processed. Neither the Department of Defence nor my office have anything to do with sending out and collecting postal votes. It is up to the military authorities to give postal votes to members of the Defence Forces and it is then up to the members to post the ballots themselves. If a person is overseas, the military authorities look after the process of that in getting the postal vote to him or her and getting the postal vote back to the specific constituencies. The Department of Defence has no role to play whatsoever. If the Deputy listened to my original reply, he would not have asked the question he asked.

I will make the link because during the Minister of State's tenure, we are seeing the implosion and destruction of our Defence Forces - the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps. Does the Minister of State not see the link? Can he not connect the dots? The exodus of personnel means that administration, organisation, capacity and capability are all being fatally undermined. We now see the electoral system being undermined because of the ongoing difficulty regarding the effective strength of our Defence Forces. If the Minister of State cannot create the link, he is just defending his mandarins and Department. The Department was created very easily. There are more layers within its structures with more assistant secretaries general and more appointments but when we see the exodus from our Defence Forces, the Minister of State should create the link in terms of the implosion, destruction and demoralisation that are there. They are the net effects, which are now creeping into our democratic system. People who have such morale could not even vote on the Minister of State's watch.

The Deputy is wrong. Managing this issue is the responsibility of the military authorities. I know the Deputy wants to broaden this out to encompass other areas but I am content that the postal voting system is a matter for the military authorities. The Department of Defence only liaises with the franchise section of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to give the dates on which members of the Defence Forces will get their postal votes and the date by which such votes must be returned. I understand that a review of this matter is being carried out by the military authorities but this is the responsibility of the military authorities.