Warning of ‘wasted year’ if Defence Forces commission does not consider pay

Chair of new reform body tells Oireachtas committee it will not address overtime

 The Oireachtas committee heard the Reserve Defence Forces had about 1,500 personnel compared with about 4,000 in the 1990s. File photograph: Alan Betson

The Oireachtas committee heard the Reserve Defence Forces had about 1,500 personnel compared with about 4,000 in the 1990s. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

The contentious issue of rates of pay, allowances and overtime for Defence Forces personnel, would not be considered by the Commission on the Defence Forces, its chairman Aidan O’Driscoll has said.

Responding to Mr O’Driscoll’s comments, the association representing commissioned officers, Raco, said the commission “must make strong recommendations on pay structures such as payment of overtime and the national minimum wage”.

Raco general secretary Conor King said making such recommendations was within the commission’s terms of reference and if that did not happen “it is another wasted year in terms of the valuing and retention of our loyal and skilled personnel”.

“Numerous reviews and commissions have touched on the root cause of the recent decline of the Defence Forces, without actually addressing it; the failure to adequately resource defence in order to retain highly qualified and experienced personnel to maintain capability,” he said.

Mr O’Driscoll believed just because skilled military personnel left the Defence Forces it did not mean their skills were lost to Ireland as those people often joined Irish industry.

A former secretary general at both the Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture, he believed highly skilled personnel could also be recruited in greater numbers into the Reserve Defence Forces.

Those skills could include cyber, medicine and engineering and could help create “surge capacity” when the Irish military needed it. However, Mr O’Driscoll said he was aware of the “state” of the Reserve at present. It currently numbers about 1,500 personnel compared with about 4,000 in the 1990s.

Mr O’Driscoll told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence that while his commission, which will chart a course and reforms for the Defence Forces, was “not going to get into pay rates” it would “examine the evolution of the remuneration systems and structures currently in place”.

In recent years both the Naval Service and the Air Corps have been forced to dock boats and ground aircraft because of a shortage in skilled staff to conduct missions.

Many skilled personnel trained by the military, often at great expense to the State, have left military service for the private sector, leaving a chronic skills shortage behind them.

Officers who have spoken to The Irish Times say this is happening because of the higher rates of remuneration elsewhere and what are widely regarded as unattractive conditions, such as a long hours that were often unpaid or very poorly paid, in the Defence Forces.

On Tuesday, Mr O’Driscoll said military personnel “had a strong culture of wanting to be in the Defence Forces and wanting to stay there”. However, issues such as making the Defence Forces an attractive place to work, including career progression and family-friendly arrangements, could be examined. The commission was also “actively encouraging” members of the forces to speak up honestly when it engaged with them.

The commission would make recommendations on “the capabilities and structures needed to ensure that the Defence Forces remain agile, flexible and adaptive in the face of the changing defence and security environment”. This included cyber threats, the nature of which were growing and rapidly changing and which would feature strongly in the commission’s final report.

The Commission on the Defence Forces, which was promised in the programme for government, aims to perform similar a function to the Commission on the Future of Policing, which kick-started a broad programme of reform for An Garda Síochána. It will address issues of immediate importance and also plot the longer-term future of the Irish military to 2030 and is due to report in December having already received 520 submissions.