Ministers forced to defend record on Defence Forces pay after 'unusual' intervention by President Michael D Higgins
MINISTERS have been forced to defend the Government’s record on Defence Forces pay after President Michael D Higgins made an extraordinary intervention on the issue.
The President said it is “not too much” to expect that men and women serving in the Defence Forces should have “an income and prospects” to provide for themselves and their families.
The remarks were made at an event honouring Defence Forces members in Arás an Uachtaráin.
Privately eyebrows have been raised in Government circles after Mr Higgins' remarks - which have been viewed by some as straying into a policy area outside his remit.
Mr Higgins’ intervention has refocused attention on pay for soldiers, sailors and Aer Corps personnel.
Defence Forces pay has been a matter of controversy for the Government in recent months amid claims from the Opposition that it is impacting on the recruitment and retention of staff.
Mr Higgins’ remarks were welcomed by Defence Forces representative groups and a succession of ministers were today forced to defend the Government’s record in the wake of his comments.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted that plans have been put in place to address pay for Defence Forces personnel.
He said changes that have been made will see a three-star private’s pay rise from €21,000 to €28,000 and that Defence Forces staff will also benefit from changes to their allowances.
Also speaking on RTÉ Radio, agriculture minister Michael Creed described Mr Higgins’ intervention as “quite unusual”, but argued that the Government shared the President’s views on the issue.
He said: “I’m not surprised or annoyed to be honest with you. I mean it is an issue out there.
“The President and indeed the government and the Oireachtas are ad idem [a Latin phrase meaning a 'meeting of the minds'] with him in terms of recognising the contribution [of the Defence Forces].
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Tánaiste Simon Coveney meanwhile, said Mr Higgins was “reflecting a concern and a frustration in Government”.
He said that concern is “why we have had a public sector pay commission looking at Defence Force pay".
“That’s why we have improved take home pay in certain areas on the back of that report”.
He added: “I don’t have any huge concerns in relation to those comments.”
Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers has called on the Government to address what he described as an “exodus” of personnel from the Defence Forces.
He cited figures showing 290 members left last year by buying their way out.
Mr Chambers called for “real action” from Defence Minister Paul Kehoe to stop the “retention crisis”.
Labour’s Defence spokesperson Brendan Ryan called for the government to commit to a review of core pay for Defence Forces staff.
He said he wants to see staff “paid a living wage, along with the provision of suitable and sufficient accommodation at barracks for personnel and their families”.
He warned that personnel will continue to leave the Defence Forces unless such measures are introduced.
A spokesman for Mr Kehoe insisted that the government is “actively addressing issues of pay, recruitment and retention - not just in the Defence Forces - but across the entire Public Service.”
He said the current deal for members of the Defence Forces sees increases in core pay of up to 7.4pc between 2018 and 2020.