Higgins view on Defence Forces’ pay reflects ‘Government concern’

Tánaiste indicates no ‘huge concerns’ about President’s backing for improved money

President Michael D Higgins: Said remarks he had made at a military award ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin had been simply expressed and he believed a genuine will exists ‘to get it all fixed’. File photograph: The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins: Said remarks he had made at a military award ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin had been simply expressed and he believed a genuine will exists ‘to get it all fixed’. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that he does not have “huge concerns” about President Michael D Higgins’s support for better pay for members of the Defence Forces.

“I think President Higgins was reflecting a concern and a frustration in Government,” Mr Coveney told reporters after a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party in Co Cork.

Privately, however, senior Government figures are angered, complaining that Mr Higgins has crossed the line by interfering in day-to-day politics, though they are not hugely surprised.

“But that’s Michael D. He does what he wants to do,” said one source. But the Government is conscious of Mr Higgins’s popularity. “Of course he’s popular. He doesn’t have to make tough decisions,” said the source.

Mr Coveney said the Government increased pay and allowances for the military following Public Sector Pay Commission findings before the summer.

Earlier, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said it was “quite unusual” for the President to comment. But he was “not surprised or upset” by what the President had said.

“It is an issue of concern for the President, the Government and the Oireachtas. His role is the same as the Government and the Oireachtas,” Minister Creed told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke radio show.

On Wednesday,Mr Higgins said it “should not be too much to expect” that members are paid enough to provide for themselves and their families. Yesterday, he said he was confident that the problems will be addressed.

Saying that he wanted to give expression to concerns, President Higgins said people entered the military with a desire to serve the State and it was his hope this would continue.

“If you pay tribute to somebody and you recognise the importance of their work, and you instance it again and again, you take the responsibility that they will be able to do that in the best, viable conditions,” he added.

He said the remarks that he had made at a military award ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin had been simply expressed and he believed a genuine will exists “to get it all fixed”.

What about retention of personnel?

On the issue of retention in the Defence Forces, he said “the fact of the matter is not for me to decide but for another. If you create wonderful capacities in people and it would be their wish to continue to work for the public good”, how that was done was important and could be an issue, he added.

Confirming that he will visit Irish troops in the Lebanon later this year, he cited the “very great sacrifice” of those who serve abroad – and of their families – which is most evident on the days when they leave, or return.

In July the Government accepted the Public Service Pay Commission’s recommendations which proposed a 10 per cent increase in military service allowance and the restoration of cuts made in 2013 to 15 other payments.

The awards will cost about €10 million, though many in the military are sceptical that the move will be enough to stem the number of departures from the Defence Forces.

Delegates attending the Representative Association for Commissioned Offices will vote later this month on whether to accept or reject the findings of the commission.

Separately, PDFORRA, the organisation that represents enlisted personnel, is seeking to link up with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Its application will be considered by Congress next Wednesday.

The former head of the Irish Army Ranger Wing, Dr Cathal Berry, said President Higgins’s remarks were “very significant”. He added: “Showing appreciation is not enough; words must be matched with actions.”

Not only was the President not interfering in politics, said Dr Berry there is a legal argument that as supreme commander of the defence forces he has a responsibility to look out for the welfare of personnel.