On assuming my role as Minister for Defence, one of my first actions was to meet the Permanent Defence Force representative associations, namely, PDFORRA, and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. At the meeting in a barracks in Cork, we agreed that we should commit to meeting on a more regular basis and I am happy to follow through on that. I hope we can meet quarterly or at least three times per year or as needed. As the Deputy will be aware, the report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces was published on 4 July 2019. The report was accepted in full by the then Government and, in order to facilitate implementation, an extensive high-level plan entitled Strengthening our Defence Forces – Phase One, was agreed and published on the same date.
I am aware that the representative associations have been briefed on a regular basis by the officials of my Department charged with co-ordinating all the projects in the high-level plan as to progress in each of the project areas. I understand that some ten briefings, oral and written, have been provided to date, with the latest taking place on 1 October. In addition to the briefings, there is a standing invitation to the representative associations to submit any material they wish to be considered relating to any of the projects. In this context, several submissions with extensive observations have been made and I appreciate this engagement.
The immediate pay recommendations in the high-level implementation plan have all been delivered on foot of their acceptance by the representative associations. The timelines for the other projects which are set out in the plan were reviewed as the projects progressed and as work requirements become more evident. I am satisfied that the projects outlined in the plan are being prioritised and delivered as quickly as possible. However, it must be acknowledged that the anticipated timeframes for certain projects were overly ambitious. In addition, the Covid-19 emergency has impacted on some of the project timeframes. In some cases, personnel resources were necessarily reassigned to matters relating to the Covid-19 response and where other essential work was necessary, that took priority. However, work is ongoing on all projects and they are being progressed as quickly as possible.
I intend to develop a very good relationship with the representative bodies. I hope we can meet regularly. I expect that we will meet next week to go through the terms of reference for the upcoming commission for the review of the Defence Forces. I also wish to speak to them about a series of other issues. My style and approach as a Minister will be one of engagement. If necessary, that will be robust engagement, but I certainly wish to hear what the representative bodies have to say. We will respond as best we can.