Defence Forces pay issue affects broader Government wage policy

Concern in Government that pay commission could jeopardise centralised pay agreements

The programme for government maintains that when the Commission on the Defence Forces completes its work, the Cabinet will establish a permanent pay review body for members of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps.

This, it says, would reflect “the unique nature of military service in the context of the public service”.

The Department of Public Expenditure’s submission to the commission indicates a wariness that unilateral developments on military pay could potentially have implications on the centralised system for determining remuneration for 350,000 State employees, and for broader Government pay policy.

Public-service pay in Ireland has been determined centrally for decades, from the 1980s under social partnership and more recently through a series of deals agreed between the department and trade unions.


However, military representative organisations maintain the pay on offer in the Defence Forces – including increases introduced in recent years – is not sufficient to deal with a recruitment and retention crisis.

This issue is particularly acute in the Naval Service, where there are insufficient crew to operate some vessels. As a result, Ireland had to rely, earlier this year, on a European Union ship to help patrol its fishing zone.

Military officers have supported an independent pay process for the Defence Forces which would take into account their adherence to military law and the prohibition on members engaging in industrial action. The association representing enlisted personnel favours linking up with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – a move opposed by the Defence Forces hierarchy.

The commission’s terms of reference say its recommendations must be consistent with national public-service pay policy, and this is likely to also apply to any new military pay review system.

In its submission, the department sets out its view as to the risks for pay and industrial relations stability “associated with particular approaches to pay policy and pay determination and the difficulties that this creates for the sustainability of the national pay bill”.

Essentially it would appear to be worried that if the military secured more from either the commission process or the subsequent and separate pay review than was available through the centralised pay agreements, other groups might then advocate for the same and the entire system would be in danger of collapsing.

Significant increases

The department maintained that were Defence Forces personnel to sign up to the latest public-service agreement, this, combined with their progress along the incremental scale and other benefits, would see members receive significant increases. For example, a private soldier earning €29,327 last October would be on €38,939 come January 2023.

The department’s submission notes that “a central model of pay determination has served Ireland and public servants well and is an appropriate approach given the small, in relative international terms, and closely interconnected nature of our public service”.

“Departing from this approach may present risks for the exchequer, for collective agreements, for the integrity of pay determination and pay policy and also for industrial peace,” it states.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent