Defence Forces wives and partners protest over poor pay

Families say they depend on social welfare payments for food and living expenses

Protests by partners and supporters of the Defence Forces are taking place today at army barracks across the country over pay and conditions.

The demonstrations are being staged by an organisation called the Wives and Partners of Defence Forces (WPDF) on behalf of soldiers who are not permitted to strike or protest themselves.

The group says that the families of many lower-paid members of the Defence Forces, as many as a fifth of personnel, are so financially stretched that they rely on social welfare payments to make ends meet and cover food and living costs.

The Permanent Defence Forces Representative Association (PDFORRA) says that a first-year private in the Defence Forces will be paid about €27,000 in the first year, rising to €37,500 after nine years, which is about the same as the average industrial wage.

In contrast, the salary for a member of An Garda Síochána rises to about €46,000 after nine years of service.

The wife of a member of the naval service has said that her husband’s wages were still €120 less per week than they were in 2009.

Shelley Cotter is a founder member of WPDF which is holding a 24-hour vigil outside Leinster House today over pay and conditions for Defence Forces members.

She told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the group was set up after she and another Defence Forces wife met by chance last year and found that they were both suffering hardship because of the low wages of their spouses.

Ms Cotter said that the group grew once they had set up a Facebook page and soon they were being contacted by other Defence Forces families who were suffering because of low wages.

“We’ve heard from people who say they can’t give their family a hot meal on Tuesday because Wednesday is pay day. They have to make a game out of eating cereal for breakfast, dinner and tea to their children,” she said.

“Others have told how they have to choose between food or medication.”

She said the fact that the Government knows so many personnel are on family income supplement (FIS) is indicative of a lack of respect for Defence Force members.

Ms Cotter pointed out that the current figures of the numbers on FIS do not take into account members who have left because they cannot afford to stay in the Defence Forces and others who have applied for FIS, but have not yet received it.

A number of protesters are meeting outside the Dáil from 8am and will stay there until 8am tomorrow.

A demonstration will take place this afternoon when a wreath will be laid at the National Memorial in Merrion Square in honour of deceased Defence Forces members, this will be followed by a march to Leinster House.

The Minister of State with Responsibility for the Defence Forces Paul Kehoe has said that the Public Service Pay Commission is assessing pay levels for the public service including members of the Defence Forces.

PDFORRA has said that poor pay and working conditions has led to almost 4,000 enlisted personnel leaving the Defence Forces over the the past five years. Defence Forces are not paid overtime but given days in lieu of time worked.

The organisation estimated that 146,000 days off are lost over a five-year period at a cost of between €17 million and €22 million to members over the number of days they miss in lieu of service.