Simon Coveney has said there could be as many people in his department on the Working Family Payment as in the whole of the Defence Forces.
The minister, who is at the helm of both the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs, also claimed constant complaints about low pay in the ranks were impairing the ability to recruit to the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service.
Sinn Féin spokesman John Brady said that to claim low-paid civil servants as a “badge of honour” in comparison to low-paid enlisted men and women was “shameful”.
Mr Coveney was countering Mr Brady’s points about State welfare supports to members of the Defence Forces when he said: “I think as many members of my department are on the Working Family Payment.”
Formerly known as Family Income Supplement (FIS), the payment is a weekly tax-free amount given to employees with children who are struggling to make ends meet.
A worker must have at least one child who lives with them or is financially supported by their wage packet.
The payment is 60pc of the difference between average weekly family income and an income limit regarded as a decent standard of living.
Mr Coveney said constant complaints from the opposition about low pay rates in the Defence Forces amounted to “exaggerating for effect,” adding: “It has an impact on our ability to recruit.”
Mr Brady responded that to cite civil servants on the Working Family Payment in his own Department as a badge of honour was “I think very shameful and a really low blow, to say the least.”
Mr Coveney replied that he was not “pitting anybody against anybody else,” and accused Mr Brady of creating that narrative because of his own approach.
He added: ‘That’s not my style. I am working hard to make sure that everyone in the Defence Forces is understood in terms of the frustrations and the challenges that they face, and that we respond to that.
“That’s what I’m doing to try to make sure that we can attract the numbers and the talent that we need into the Defence Forces.
“So I’m not putting anybody against anybody. I am simply giving you a factual position in relation to the Working family Payment. You choose to try to twist that into something else.”
Mr Coveney was taking Defence questions in the Dáil today.