Fears mount that Defence Forces pay proposal not enough

Proposed package arising from pay commission report to go to Cabinet in near future

There are fears in Government that a soon to be announced package of pay improvements for the Defence Forces will not meet the expectations. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

There are fears in Government that a soon to be announced package of pay improvements for the Defence Forces will not meet the expectations. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

There are fears in Government that a soon to be announced package of pay improvements for the Defence Forces will not meet expectations of those campaigning for improved pay and conditions for soldiers and naval personnel.

A report by the Public Sector Pay Commission into Defence Forces pay recommended increases to allowances that would improve members’ take-home pay. The report was delivered to the Government several weeks ago.

Publication of the report has been delayed as the Department of Defence has sought other improvements in earnings and conditions for soldiers, which has met opposition from the Department of Public Expenditure.

There have been several contacts between officials in the two departments and between Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe on a package of measures thought to be close to finalisation. The package may be presented to Cabinet next week.

The measures may also include allowing the Defence Forces’ representative bodies, PDFora and Raco, to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

It is understood that there is deep unease in Government that the sums included in the package will be insufficient to ease concerns of those advocating on behalf the Defences Forces’ members. And this could spark a conflict with a group that enjoys widespread public support.

The commission, an independent body tasked by the Government with examining pay in the public sector, is understood to have proposed increases in military service allowances for personnel in the Army and to patrol duty allowances for members of the Naval Service.

It is expected that the patrol duty allowance, now payable at €48 per day to naval personnel at sea, would be increased to the levels paid before the financial crisis – €53 to €55 per day depending on rank.

The military service allowance, which ranges from €42-€123 per week, is also set to increase. Neither is likely to satisfy the demand for a substantial rise in pay for Defences Forces personnel.

Defences-Force strength?

There has been an intensification in the campaign recently by families and relatives, supported by Opposition parties in the Dáil.

Numbers in the Defence Forces have continued to fall despite recent recruitment campaigns. The full strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps combined should be a minimum of 9,500 personnel but has now fallen below 8,500; the lowest point since numbers increased in the 1970s in response to the Northern Ireland Troubles.

The mooted increases would also come after a pay deal with nurses and signals from Ministers at recent union conferences that the Government is willing to consider requests for specific concessions on pay and pensions.

There is alarm in Government at giving further concessions on public sector pay and some Ministers worry that Fine Gael has lost its reputation for fiscal prudence as levels of public spending increase steadily.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting is expected to consider deploying the Army Ranger Wing to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. A 12-strong deployment has been suggested to act as an intelligence gathering team as part of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali.

The Rangers would conduct long-range patrols to assess the security situation and gather intelligence for what is an international 15,000-strong force. It was deployed in 2013 to combat the growing threat from Islamist extremist terror groups.