The Government has acknowledged that there are recruitment and retention difficulties in the Defence Forces. As at end September 2019, the strength of the PDF was 8,654 personnel. As the establishment is for 9,500 personnel this means that there are vacancies in units. The Defence Forces are fully funded for 9,500 personnel. This has led to reduced operational availability in certain areas. This continues to be closely monitored and managed and safety remains a key priority for me.
The report of the Public Service Pay Commission on retention and recruitment in the Permanent Defence Force has been accepted by Government. It contains a broad range of recommendations to address recruitment and retention difficulties, some of which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Defence Forces. Immediate measures include a 10% increase in military service allowance, the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances, the restoration of premium rates for certain weekend duties and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures, which will cost approximately €10 million per annum, have been accepted by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations and are in the course of being implemented. In addition, the report provides for an examination of pay structures in the PDF and the identification of other retention measures, which will be progressed within the framework of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations. The report also contains a range of other recommendations aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment and conditions of service in the PDF.
The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out timelines and objectives to deliver on the pay commission’s recommendations. Under my direction, this work is being prioritised by civil and military management. 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 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 in 2020. I am satisfied that the range of measures being progressed, which provide immediate, short term and longer term actions, are an appropriate response to the current difficulties. It should be noted that it will take time to reap the full benefit of these measures. There are also a range of external variables which impact on recruitment and retention and which can change.