Tuesday 22 January 2019

'Joining Defence Forces is about more than money,' says Varadkar

Laura Larkin in Mali

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has acknowledged that low pay is an issue for the 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.

Ger Guinan, the general secretary of PDFORRA, had told RTÉ on the first day of the visit 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 Forces 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 euro worth of pay increases. It's pretty much at the limit of what taxpayers can afford.

"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."

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 had 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.

Mr Varadkar was speaking in Mali, where he visited Irish troops serving as part of an EU training mission.

He witnessed Irish soldiers run drills with Malian forces on improvised explosive device (IED) detection, as well as urban warfare.

Irish Independent

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