Defence Force personnel must be allowed join union, Dáil hears

Stinging rebuke of Department of Defence by exiting Army Ranger OC sparks political row

Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys said the Government had provided €1bn for the Defence Forces and was fully committed to ensuring they had the resources to deal with all their functions. File photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys said the Government had provided €1bn for the Defence Forces and was fully committed to ensuring they had the resources to deal with all their functions. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Defence Force personnel must now be allowed to join a trade union the Dáil has heard following “extraordinary” and “unprecedented criticism” of the Department of Defence by a former head of the Army Ranger wing.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald urged union recognition for personnel who “are the worst paid in the public service” and many are dependent on the working family payment.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said being Minister for Defence “cannot be a job-sharing role for the Taoiseach”, who has delegated responsibility to a Minister of State.

They were commenting following an interview by former Comdt Cathal Berry in The Irish Times in which he said the Defence Forces are being dismantled and demoralised as a consequence of Government policy.

Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys said the Public Service Pay Commission report on Defence Force pay would come before Cabinet in the coming weeks. She added that “the recovery in the economy has provided the fiscal resources to provide a fair and sustainable recovery in the public service pay scale”.

Ms McDonald said a total review of pay and conditions was needed and the report was on the desk of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform now.

Mr Howlin said former Comdt’s comments were “unprecedented criticisms of the Department of Defence and defence policy made by a retiring senior military officer”.

Mr Howlin added that the departing officer “said the sense of betrayal across our Defence Forces is palpable”.

The Wexford TD said “these are extraordinary comments. In my political lifetime I have never heard a retiring Army officer say anything as strong as this. They are normally reserved people. It is extraordinary that a senior officer would also think it necessary to take early retirement in order to be free to make this comment.”

‘Forced out’

This made it all the more urgent that the Government pay attention the former leader of the Army Ranger wing, he added.

“This morning he said he is leaving the Army not because he hates it but because he loves it and has been forced out.”

Retired Comdt Berry said rates of pay and allowances were driving personnel out of the Defence Forces.

Numbers had dropped below 8,500 when the Government had promised to retain levels at 9,500 and some 9 per cent of personnel were leaving every year. He also said it was a “disaster” for the Taoiseach to also appoint himself as Minister for Defence.

Mr Howlin added that “if someone can earn twice as much in a meat factory as they can in our Defence Forces – as well as working much greater hours in the Defence Forces – then it is not just good enough”.

Ms Humphreys said the Government had provided €1 billion for the Defence Forces and was fully committed to ensuring they had the resources to deal with all their functions.

She said the commission is the proper independent body to deal with pay and its report would be brought to Cabinet “within the coming weeks”.