Troops receive €25m Border duty bonus despite peace

 

DEFENCE FORCES:ALMOST €25 MILLION has been paid to members of the Defence Forces as a Border duty allowance in the five-year period 2003-2007, despite the greatly changed security situation in Northern Ireland.

The IRA has been on ceasefire since 1997 and since 2002 there have been no patrols, checkpoints, searches or requests for the disposal of explosive ordnance.

However, the Border duty allowance continues to be paid - at a rate of €4.73 million in 2003, €4.62 million in 2004, €4.79 million in 2005, €5.47 million in 2006 and €5.38 million in 2007.

The figures are contained in the 2007 annual report of the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG)  published yesterday.

Commenting, CAG  John Buckley states: "I was concerned that this allowance continues to be paid while the justification for its introduction has long ceased."

The Department of Defence originally requested the Department of Finance to introduce the allowance at the outbreak of the Troubles in late 1969 and the deterioration of the security situation.

The Department of Defence argued then that the allowance was justified on the basis that:

• the "arduous and responsible" nature of duties in Border areas involved service "far in excess" of normal hours;

• the deployment of special units for lengthy tours of duty to Border areas caused a "good deal of disruption" to all ranks, especially married personnel;

• the accommodation at Border posts "generally was old" and in some instances effectively sub-standard, and;

• gardaí were eligible for overtime payments for carrying out common duties with military personnel in Border areas.

The allowance was first paid on January 1st, 1972. The weekly rate in 2007 was €96.41 for enlisted personnel and €112.19 for officers.

The CAG notes that "each year, however, significant numbers of personnel from Border units are paid the allowance while temporarily attached to other units for a variety of reasons, eg training. Soldiers may be paid the allowance for up to three months while on a course of instruction."

He also notes that: "Six personnel from Baldonnel [the military aerodrome on the outskirts of Dublin] are in receipt of the allowance due to their redeployment from Finner Camp to Baldonnel after the Air Corps ceased search and rescue operations in the northwest. It was agreed in January 2002 as part of the settlement with the Representative Associations to continue to pay the allowance to these personnel on a personal basis."

Mr Buckley lists data that, "in 1996, 13,156 patrols, 12,744 checkpoints, 43 searches and 31 explosive ordnance disposal requests were provided in the Border area. From 1998 onwards the number of such activities declined and none were undertaken in 2002 or subsequently."

The report concludes: "Change needs to take account of the interests of the taxpayer - that money should not be applied for services that are no longer required or where the environment or circumstances in which they are delivered have fundamentally altered."

The Department of Defence told the CAG that, "notwithstanding the improved security situation, Border units are obliged, as well as undertaking normal activities, to maintain their capability to respond to the impact of emergencies and contingencies on the Border."