Thursday, 7 November 2019

Ceisteanna (9)

Bernard Durkan


9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which retirements from the Defence Forces have been filled by new recruits with a view to ensuring that the strength of the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps remains in line with targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45735/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

I am seeking to ascertain the extent to which resignations or retirements from the Defence Forces are being compensated for by recruitment in order to keep the strength of the forces at optimum levels.

The military authorities have advised that the strength of the PDF across all services on 30 September 2019 was 8,654 personnel. While I am very much aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment, I remain committed to restoring the strength of the Defence Forces to 9,500 personnel.

The 2019 recruitment campaign for the Defence Forces is ongoing, with 528 new entrants having been inducted so far this year. The Defence Forces recruitment process is subject to continuous monitoring and appraisal to ensure that it remains fit for purpose.

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 PDF are being attracted to jobs elsewhere in a buoyant labour market. In light of the particular difficulties faced by the defence sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of recruitment and retention issues in the PDF.

The commission's report, which has been accepted by Government, contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the PDF as well as initiatives that will lead to further improvements. Immediate measures include a 10% increase in military service allowance, MSA; 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.

I very much welcome the fact that both RACO and PDFORRA have accepted these recommendations, which are being implemented.

The report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment and conditions of service. The report also provides for an examination of pay structures in the PDF and identifies further retention measures within the context of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations.

The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out timelines and objectives, indicating the commitment to deliver on the pay commission's recommendations. Work on implementing the plan is under way and, under my direction, is being prioritised by civil and military management.

I am confident that all the measures contained in the plan, coupled with pay benefits being delivered by the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the most recent being a 1.5% increase on 1 September, will address the recruitment and retention challenges experienced by the PDF.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It should be noted, however, that as the Government's plan contains short-, medium- and long-term measures, the full impact of these measures will take time to determine. There are also a range of external variables which impact on recruitment and retention and which can change. The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake the tasks assigned by Government will continue to be carefully monitored, having regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the pay commission and other actions which are under way.

Has the Minister of State set particular targets or specified a timeline for achieving targets on an ongoing basis to catch up through replacing retirees with new recruits?

I absolutely have. A plan is being implemented in conjunction with the Public Service Pay Commission. There is a joint civil and military working team working on that at the moment in a dedicated office, looking at all the recommendations of the independent pay commission report. We are also looking at non-pay issues such as hot-desking, family-friendly overseas appointments, family-friendly measures for couples, career breaks, a shorter working year, coaching and mentoring.

I spoke previously about a review of recruitment within the Defence Forces. We can improve on recruitment. I have asked for an independent person, Mr. Padraig Love, to look specifically at recruitment and I have signed off on his appointment. My priority is to get back to 9,500 personnel, and we are doing everything we can to get back up to that number.

Will the Minister of State indicate when that target of 9,500 might be reached? Will that be in six months or a year? Such an indication could eliminate the doubt about the direction in which the strength of the Defence Forces is going.

We are competing against a buoyant economy with full employment. The trend over many years has been that, when the country has full employment, the Defence Forces suffer. It will be of concern to the Deputy, and all Members, that we are preparing a detailed submission and argument for the next round of the public service pay talks. The Defence Forces are a unique organisation. I am looking to make sure that we have everything credible ready for the next round of talks. That is part of the implementation plan that was a part of the independent pay commission report.

Question No. 10 answered with Question No. 5.