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'Defence Forces is always about more than money', Taoiseach says but admits low pay is an 'issue'

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured with members of the Irish Defence Forces in Mali

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured with members of the Irish Defence Forces in Mali

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured with members of the Irish Defence Forces in Mali

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has acknowledged that low pay is an issue for the Irish Defence Forces but said it is a career choice that is "always about more than money".

Amid ongoing criticism about the pay and conditions facing Irish soldiers Mr Varadkar has mooted overseas allowances as one area that could be looked at to boost pay for members of the Defence Forces, but warned the public service pay deal is at the upper limit of affordability for taxpayers.

This week, Ger Guinan, the General Secretary of PDFORRA, told RTÉ on the first day of the Taoiseach's visit to Mali that he would find it hard to recommend a career in the Defence Forces.

Mr Varadkar said he was "a little bit disappointed to hear that comment".

"Because joining the Defence Forces is always about more than money. It’s an opportunity to serve your country, an opportunity to travel the world and an opportunity to learn new skills which of course can bring you to future careers. But I acknowledge that low pay is an issue for the Defence Forces," he said.

Mr Varadkar said that allowances for Defence Force members are being considered by the Public Service Pay Commission, with a report expected in spring, but said the suite of pay increases already slated for public servants was at the top limit of what taxpayers can afford.

A number of pay increases are scheduled to come into effect this year including a special pay increase for low paid staff.

"We’ve factored in hundreds of millions of euros worth of pay increases for next year. It’s pretty much at the limit of what tax-payers can afford."

Mr Varadkar said he believes the pay increases are deserved for public servants but warned "we can’t get into a situation whereby we’re funding pay increases with borrowed money".

However, he said: "We do have a public sector pay commission and what they can do is look at specific areas that are very specific to particular parts of the public service and there are specific parts of the Defence Forces that are different for example to other public servants.

"Irish Defence Forces are different from other public servants, [such as] the fact that they serve overseas. They might be the things the Public Pay Commission might be able to recommend in terms of increases over and above the ones due," he said.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach also said he believes that a consensus can be built around the best way to increase carbon taxes for Irish households that will avoid the type of backlash seen in the wake of the ill-fated attempt to introduce water charges.

He said he has studied the situation in Australia and Canada, as well as the water charges debacle and will bring forward proposals shortly for all-party consideration.

"We need to get this right in terms of having a proposal that works in terms of reducing emissions, that doesn’t hit people disproportionately in their pockets, and one that we can explain to the public," he said.

He has already mooted the idea of a ‘carbon cheque’ or using revenue raised to fund an increase in child welfare.

The Fine Gael leader said the increase would be a means of encouraging people to live low carbon emitting lifestyles.

He was speaking in Mali where he visited with Irish troops serving as part of an EU training mission, that has been ongoing since 2013.

He witnessed Irish soldiers run drills with Malian forces on IED detection and urban warfare.

Online Editors