Thursday 24 October 2019

Defence Forces officers vote to accept Government’s €10m package - but warn retention crisis is not passed

Pdforra represents soldiers, sailors and air crew
Stock photo: Frank McGrath
Pdforra represents soldiers, sailors and air crew Stock photo: Frank McGrath
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Officers from the Defence Forces have voted by a majority of more than two to one to accept the Government’s €10m package to end the retention crisis within the organisation

But they warned that the government would be held to account by the monthly figures indicating how many personnel are leaving the military.

Current figures show that the strength has plunged to a record low of around 8,600 – 900 below the established level of 9,500.

READ MORE: Ministers forced to defend record on Defence Forces pay after 'unusual' intervention by President Michael D Higgins

The vote in favour was announced after a closed session ballot of delegates to the biennial conference of Raco, the representative association for officers in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, in Naas, Co Kildare today..

Raco general secretary, Commandant Conor King said there was a lot of frustration and disappointment among members at the meagre increases on offer after the publication of the findings of an independent pay commission in July.

Paul Kehoe TD and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Paul Kehoe TD and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

But members had opted to put their faith in the government’s implementation plan and he said the proof of the success of those proposals would be gauged from the month-on-month statistics on the numbers leaving the organisation.

READ MORE: Members of Defence Forces deserve 'exemplary' pay and conditions, says President Michael D Higgins

He accused the government of exploiting the unwillingness of the Defence Forces to go on strike over the way they had been treated.

Comdt King said that if that stance had been adopted in any other organisation, a strike would have been on the cards by now.

He said his members were putting their faith in the Department of the Taoiseach, which had become involved, and indicated that if they had been dealing with the Department of Defence only, a different outcome to the vote might have been reached.

Comdt King said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had not made any promises when, with Minister with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe, last week he had met the leadership of Raco and Pdforra, the representative association for soldiers, sailors and air crew members.

But the Taoiseach had committed the government to taking steps to end the retention crisis and said he would ask the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to examine the issues raised by the associations.

READ MORE: Pdforra association representing soldiers, sailors and air crew apply to join Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Measuring up: Defence Forces on ceremonial duties. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Measuring up: Defence Forces on ceremonial duties. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Comdt King said Raco was against any right to strike for the military, but said they had not opposed efforts by Pdforra to seek associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Raco believed a better alternative was to set up an independent pay commission to review military pay rates and other issues.

The current turnover of more than 10pc in military personnel meant that the Defence Forces would never reach its targeted strength of 9,500.

Even a reduction of the turnover to 6.4pc would only result in the target being achieved in 2026.

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The only way to halt the exodus was through dealing with core pay, allowances and conditions of service.

Raco described the exodus of skilled and experienced line and specialist personnel as chronic and said it resulted in further monthly losses from an already depleted organisation.

In a joint statement last night, Mr Varadkar and Mr Kehoe welcome the decision and said it would result in an increase in take home pay from this year.

Defence Forces soldiers on a training exercise (Niall Carson/PA)
Defence Forces soldiers on a training exercise (Niall Carson/PA)

They said it would help with retention which was a real challenge at present and the government was committed to building on that in the next public service pay deal.

But the Taoiseach warned that strengthening the Defence Forces would take time. However, he was more confident after the vote that they were back on track.

Mr Kehoe said the plan was overseen by the Department of the Taoiseach and, under his direction, work was being prioritised by civil and military management.

READ MORE: Cormac McQuinn: 'President unlikely to bite tongue as he pushes boundaries'

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