Cabinet approves extension of naval involvement in migrant rescue

Pay and conditions of Defence Forces raised in Dáil

Naval Service rescue mission: LE Eithne crew prepare to bring migrants aboard in the Mediterranean in 2015. Photograph: David Jones/Defence Forces/PA

Naval Service rescue mission: LE Eithne crew prepare to bring migrants aboard in the Mediterranean in 2015. Photograph: David Jones/Defence Forces/PA

 

The Cabinet has approved the extension of the Naval Service’s participation in a European Union migrant search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He said the Dáil would pass the necessary resolution on Wednesday.

“This is being done at the request of the Defence Forces, who want to do more and want to be part of the mission in the Mediterranean and rescue refugees and combat human trafficking.’

He added that this was evidence the Government was committed to the Defence Forces.

Cabinet approval and the Dáil vote are the final steps in allowing the Naval Service to join Operation Sophia, a UN-mandated programme that France, the UK, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany are already taking part in. Alongside its search-and-rescue work, the operation aims to stop people-smuggling before migrants are put to sea and need rescuing.

Naval Service vessels have rescued more than 15,000 people from the Mediterranean since 2015, when Ireland became involved in Operation Pontus, a bilateral arrangement with the government of Italy.

The Taoiseach was replying in the House on Tuesday to the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, who raised a recent report highlighting a “crisis’’ in the Defence Forces.

Retention of personnel was a major issue, said Mr Martin, adding that pay and conditions had featured strongly in the research.

Mr Varadkar said many more people apply to become members of the Defence Forces than there are places available.

Pay was negotiated as part of collective agreements, and the weekly payroll on July 5th represented an increase of 2.5 per cent from January 1st, 2016, for salaries up to €24,000 and a further 1 per cent for those between €24,000 and €31,000.