Military life places unique demands on individuals and it is necessary that Defence Forces personnel are prepared to meet the challenges of all military operations. To this end, it is vital the age and health profile of personnel be such as to ensure that operational capability and effectiveness are not compromised in any way.
The age and fitness profile of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) was an issue of serious concern during the 1990's and was the subject of severe criticism in a series of external reports. One of the key areas identified for urgent action was the development of a manpower policy with an emphasis on lowering the age profile of PDF personnel.
As a result, new terms and conditions were introduced for personnel enlisting after 1 January 1994 and new contracts for enlisted personnel were for a period of five years’ service. Since that time, the maximum period of service has been extended out to twenty-one years for line Privates and Corporals.
In 2015, following an adjudication in the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme for PDF members, Privates and Corporals in receipt of Tech Pay Group 3 or higher may be extended to age 50 subject to meeting certain criteria for continuance in service. A review of contracts of service for Line Corporals and Privates and Corporals in receipt of Technical Pay 1 and 2 was recommended.
An agreement was subsequently reached with PDFORRA in 2019 that all Privates and Corporals recruited post 1994, be allowed to continue in service to 31 December 2022 (or until they reach the age of 50), provided these personnel met certain criteria during the interim period, including medical grades and fitness tests. This agreement was subsequently extended to include post 1994 Sergeants, who also could continue in service to the same date, subject to their meeting agreed criteria in the interim period.
There is currently therefore, a moratorium on mandatory discharging of Privates and Corporals who have reached 21 years service and this moratorium also extends to post 1994 Sergeants, subject in all cases to their meeting certain criteria.
A review of service limits for enlisted personnel is currently being progressed in the context of a broader review provided for in the High Level Implementation Plan - "Strengthening Our Defence Forces". As this review which will encompass upper age limits for Privates, Corporals and Sergeants as well as senior NCOs is currently underway, it would be inappropriate to pre-empt any recommendations that may arise.
Turning to the pensions aspect, in the public service generally the payment of retirement benefits is deferred – or preserved – to a future date for any scheme member who leaves the scheme before a certain age. This is known as preservation of benefits and the concept is a long established feature of public service pensions.
The specific occupational pension scheme terms of members of the PDF – which depend on factors such as the date a person first joins the public service – fall into the following three distinct fast accrual categories:
- Those who joined the PDF before April 2004;
- Those who joined on or after 1st April 2004 and before 1st January 2013; and
- Those who join on or after 1st January 2013 as members of the Single Public Service Pension Scheme.
The pension scheme terms for personnel who joined the PDF before April 2004 provide for the payment of pension and gratuity immediately on retirement after relatively short periods of service, and regardless of age. The minimum qualifying period for immediate payment of pension and gratuity on retirement is 21 years’ service for enlisted ranks. Therefore, a Private or NCO who enlisted between 1st January 1994 and 31st March 2004 qualifies for immediate payment of retirement benefits after 21 years’ service. There is no minimum pension age or provision for deferred benefits.
However, all personnel joining the PDF since April 2004 have a minimum pension age of 50, with pension and gratuity payable immediately on retirement at that age. If leaving before age 50, payment of retirement benefits is deferred until age 60 under the ‘post-April 2004’ schemes, and until the Contributory State Pension age of 66/68 under the Single Pension Scheme.