Mellett to press Government on military pay

Chief of Staff says he has ‘unique’ perspective to give Pay Commission

Chief of Staff, Defence Forces: Vice Admiral Mark Mellett. Photograph: Collins

Chief of Staff, Defence Forces: Vice Admiral Mark Mellett. Photograph: Collins

 

The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces has said that if the Public Sector Pay Commission does not adequately address the pay deficit within the Defence Forces he will continue to lobby the Government.

Vice Admiral Mark Mellett made his views known while addressing, for the first time, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence.

Last month, having made a joint submission to the Commission with the Department of Defence, he said he wished also to address the commission, directly and in person.

Asked by committee member and Fianna Fáil spokesman on Defence Jack Chambers TD why this was necessary, given his joint submission with the department, Vice Admiral Mellett said he felt he was in a “strong position” to explain to the pay commission why the Defence Forces were “unique”.

Despite their role as backstop guarantors of State security, members of the Defence Forces are the worst paid in the public sector, with lower ranks particularly badly affected. In recent months, wives and partners of serving soldiers, supported by retired personnel, have mounted several public displays of discontent over pay.

Members themselves are precluded from any such demonstrations or from any form of industrial action. However, an increasing number of Defence Force members are transferring into other branches of the public sector, including the Garda, where pay and conditions are perceived to be better.

Pay issue

The pay issue is believed by senior officers to be a significant factor in Defence Forces recruitment and retention difficulties, which some hold has grown into a crisis for the organisation, with particular personnel and service delivery problems in the Naval Service and Air Corps.

“I sense that I have a strong position to bring [to the Pay Commission] as to why the Defence Forces are unique,” Vice Admiral Mellett told the committee. “I feel that I will be able to add, and be the differentiator as to the defence perspective. It is my leadership role to do that.”

As Chief of Staff he was “uniquely competent” directly to communicate the facts as he saw them from within the Defence Forces.

It emerged last month in Dáil exchanges between Mr Chambers and the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe, that a series of recommendations to deal with pay and personnel retention problems, which the Strategic Planning Branch of Vice Admiral Mellett’s office prepared and gave to the department, were stripped out of the submission that the department in turn gave to the commission.

The Irish Times understands that the final version of the submission was not shown to senior Defence Forces officers for them to sign off on before being submitted, jointly in their name. The commission is due to report next year.

Advice

While being pressed at the committee on Wednesday, Vice Admiral Mellett said his role was to give “advice” to Government.

“I have my own perspective, just as the department has its perspective,” he said while adding: “I stand four square behind that submission.”

Pressed by Mr Chambers as to what he would do if the pay commission did not address the pay problem, he said he would expect “to give further advice to government” on the resultant difficulties.

Mr Chambers said the department was being “beefed up” in what looked to him “like a power grab” (an apparent reference to the recent appointment of a new assistant secretary to deal with human resources in the Defence Forces). Vice Admiral commented that governance of the department was “a matter for the Minister and the Government”.

He was not the accounting officer for the Defence Forces, he noted, in response to Mr Chambers’ observation that the Garda Commissioner had that role within An Garda Síochána and was consequently free to manage the force’s affairs.

Overview

In an opening address to the committee, Vice Admiral Mellett gave an overview on the role of the Defence Forces, nationally and internationally and the threats, as he assessed them, to the State. These included hybrid threats by state and non-state actors, including cyber and spying, extremism, terrorism and organised crime, climate change and population growth, and the uncertainty created by Brexit.

He detailed Defence Forces support to the Garda.

“In 2017 alone, we conducted in excess of 3,400 Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) operations on foot of requests from the gardaí.”

These included bomb disposal, intelligence surveillance and engineer special search teams, Air Corps and Naval Service maritime patrolling. So far this year, he said, the Air Corps had concluded over 4,500 emergency aeromedical flights and cross border fire-fighting support.

He spoke of his pride in the men and women of the Defence Forces. He said overseas service, promoting gender equality and improve the gender imbalance within the Defence Forces was all about delivering a better service more effectively and not political correctness.

In a meeting that lasted some two hours, Vice Admiral Mellett, flanked by the Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Kevin Cotter, and the Assistant Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Peter O’Halloran, answered questions from senators Ivana Bacik, Mark Daly and Gabrielle McFadden, and TDs Noel Greelish, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace.