Thursday, 13 May 2021

Ceisteanna (1)

John Brady

Ceist:

1. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the reviews that have taken place to date of the 1994 Defence Forces service contracts, which have contributed to the retention crisis in the Defence Forces. [25008/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (17 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

What reviews have taken place to date of the 1994 Defence Forces service contracts, which have led to huge difficulties with retention in the Defence Forces?

I do not accept the assertion in the question that the reviews of service limits for enlisted personnel, which have taken place since 1994, have impacted negatively on retention in the Defence Forces. In fact, the outcome from the reviews has enabled such personnel to stay in service longer than originally envisaged.

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 that the age and health profile of personnel are such as to ensure that operational capabilities and effectiveness are not compromised in any way.

The age and fitness profile of the Permanent Defence Force was an issue of serious concern during the 1990s and was the subject of severe criticism in a series of external reports, such as those compiled by PriceWaterhouse consultants and the efficiency audit group. 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 Permanent Defence Force personnel.

As a result of this review, and following consultation with PDFORRA, new terms and conditions were introduced for personnel enlisting after 1 January 1994. In 1997, following further consultation with PDFORRA, a new manpower policy was introduced which provided for an initial service for newly qualified privates of a period of five years, with the option of being extended to a maximum of 12 years, subject to meeting standards of medical and physical fitness and conduct. Corporals and sergeants recruited after 1 January 1994 could serve to a maximum of 21 years, subject to meeting similar criteria.

In 2004, PDFORRA submitted a claim for a further review of the terms of service applying to post-1994 personnel. The outcome on the discussions on this claim resulted in a set of criteria being agreed to provide for a maximum service period of 21 years for those still in the rank of private or corporal, and a maximum retirement age of 50 for sergeants.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In 2011, PDFORRA sought further extensions of the service limits. This matter was processed through the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force. The matter proceeded to adjudication in 2015, where it was agreed that privates and corporals in receipt of technical pay group 3 or higher may be extended to age 50, subject to meeting certain criteria for continuance in service.

The adjudicator recommended a further review be conducted on the service limits for line corporals, privates and corporals in receipt of technical pay groups 1 and 2, recruited to the Defence Forces after 1 January 1994. The adjudicator recommended that such personnel be allowed to continue to serve beyond 21 years for a period up to the expiry of the next two promotion panels, subject to them meeting the required criteria and not exceeding the age of 50 years during this period.

In 2019, a further agreement was reached with PDFORRA that all privates and corporals recruited after 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 could also continue in service to the same date, subject to their meeting agreed criteria in the interim period. This will allow such personnel to continue in service beyond the timeframe suggested in the adjudication to allow for this review to be completed. The rank of line privates, which had not been specifically recommended for review in the adjudication, is also encompassed within this measure.

The review of service limits for enlisted personnel is being progressed in the context of a broader review provided for in the high level implementation plan Strengthening Our Defence Forces. This review, which encompasses consideration of the mandatory retirement age limits for privates, corporals and sergeants, as well as senior NCOs, is under way.

I thank the Minister for the response. I disagree with his assessment that the 1994 contracts are not causing a huge difficulty or having a bearing on the retention crisis in the Defence Forces. Retention and recruitment are the biggest issues facing the Defence Forces. This is plain for anyone to see because the level of turnover of personnel in the Defence Forces is leading to dysfunctionality. We see this in the Naval Service, where a number of our naval vessels are tied up due to personnel shortages. If these trends are allowed to continue, the impact on operating with these levels of reduced numbers will have a significant detrimental effect on the ability of the Defence Forces at all levels and with all duties.

What are the issues that have been identified?

A further claim was submitted in 2004.

Will the Minister detail what that claim was and what the resolution was?

I ask Deputies and the Minister to keep to the time limits.

There is a very detailed written response to this and I do not have time to read all of it. I believe it answers many of the questions the Deputy has raised. In 2019, for example, a further agreement was reached with PDFORRA whereby all privates and corporals recruited after 1994 would be allowed to continue in service until 31 December 2022, or until they reached 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 could also continue in service to the same date subject to meeting agreed criteria in the interim period.

The Deputy is correct that we do have serious challenges in terms of recruitment and retention. We are approximately 1,000 people short of where we should be in overall numbers in our Defence Forces. I know this and the House knows this. We are trying to address it in multiple ways, which I am sure I will get an opportunity to speak about later.

I thank the Minister. We are over time.

We must also make sure that people in the Defence Forces are capable of doing the job we ask them to do in the context of fitness and physical health.

I thank the Minister. Again, I disagree with him. We have modern-day fitness and nutrition programmes. The fact that people live longer is one the Government has used to try to increase the State pension age to 67 and 68. The same concept should and could be applied to the Defence Forces. Simple fitness tests for members of the Defence Forces would allow them to meet the criteria over which the Minister has expressed concerns. There are huge issues. Retention will not be resolved unless we look at the 1994 contracts. People are being lost. They go through recruitment courses and drop out shortly afterwards. There are huge difficulties and the Minister must commit that the commission on the future of the Defence Forces will look at this-----

-----and that the findings will be implemented, unlike what was contained in the White Paper.

The Deputy is linking a number of issues that are not necessarily connected, with respect. There is an ongoing review on retirement age in the Defence Forces for officers and enlisted personnel.

It is under way. We continue to discuss with representative bodies what is appropriate in trying to ensure we maintain and protect capability within the Defence Forces while at the same time trying to do everything we can to recognise some of the concerns raised by the Deputy relating to fitness potential in later life, improved nutrition, better training methods and so on. All of those are being factored into those reviews. We need to do this in a robust way so as to maintain standards, fitness and capability in the Defence Forces while at the same time reflecting some of the concerns raised by Deputy Brady.