The head of the Defence Forces has sought to make a verbal submission to the Public Sector Pay Commission because of the seriousness of the military pay issue in the view of himself and senior colleagues.
Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice Admiral Mark Mellett declined to use the word “crisis” saying he preferred to say the military was facing serious “challenges”.
He was speaking on Tuesday before addressing the annual conference of PDforra, the Defence Forces' rank-and-file representative body, in Castlebar, Co Mayo.
His remarks came in the wake of two Naval Service vessels being unable to put to sea last week because of crew shortages, and reservists being used to fill crew gaps on another vessel.
The problems prompted Vice Admiral Mellett and his assistant Chief of Staff, Brig Gen Peter O’Halloran, to hold emergency talks last Friday with the Naval Service Flag Officer Commanding, Cdr Mick Malone.
He said safety was a factor in a captain deciding whether to put to sea. Every captain carried out a risk assessment and, if not satisfied it was safe to set sail, they did not. Reservists had been used in the past and it was a welcome opportunity for reservists to contribute.
The three branches of the Defence Forces needed sufficient people to function and he was “working at every available opportunity to address those challenges”.
He said: “We have been recruiting over the recent years in record numbers. We are endeavouring to retain our people [but] I understand in an economy that is buoyant there are unprecedented opportunities for highly skilled people in the Defence Forces.”
The loyalty that serving members of the Defence Forces showed to the State had to be reciprocated and pay was the number one issue for serving soldiers, sailors and Air Corps personnel.
He said there were 630 Defence Force personnel currently serving in 13 missions in 13 countries, and the Naval Service had rescued 18,000 people in the Mediterranean.
“I think that the loyalty of the Defence Forces is beyond question but I would just like to see the reciprocity in terms of that loyalty. . . I have a responsibility to show that members of the Defence Forces are valued and where I can do that within my own remit I do it.
“But where there are challenges beyond my competence, I give the advice and I do that as a responsibility to Government and I have given that advice.”
Pay was “the biggest challenge” he said, noting that Defence Forces remuneration was the worst in the public sector. He said in a buoyant economy replete with private sector opportunities, recruitment was not keeping pace with numbers exiting the service.
Sources suggest that by asking to address the pay commission in person, Vice Admiral Mellett would be able to get his message across unfiltered by others. The Public Service Pay Commission is the body set up to advise Government in relation to public service pay.
Addressing delegates, he praised them for their physical and moral courage and service. He said in a healthy organisation, pay would be issue four or five and not the number one issue.
“There is an inextricable link between pay and being valued,” he said. “So what I and the general staff can do, and what I and the general staff actually do is to advocate on behalf of the forces. I wish to assure you that no opportunity to advocate on pay and conditions has been missed.”
The pay commission is due to report next year and senior officers hope the opportunity to address it will materialise in the coming months.