Cadets in the Defence Forces are to be paid an allowance for their work in the fight against the Covid pandemic – despite the opposition of a Government department.
The claim for payment was made on behalf of 79 members of the 96th cadet class, who will be commissioned on Thursday.
It was brought by RACO, the representative association for officers in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, which argued they should receive the military service allowance (MSA) for the time they were employed as contact tracers for the HSE in response to the pandemic.
It is understood that the Department of Defence had initially indicated that it was in favour of the payment but then did not support the claim when it was turned down by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
RACO then fought the case for the cadets before a third-party adjudicator, Daniel Murphy, under the conciliation and arbitration scheme for the Defence Forces.
Mr Murphy ruled that the cadets should be awarded €800 each, despite the Government opposition.
RACO stated that the cadets had been ordered to carry out extraordinary additional duties and should be remunerated as active-duty personnel by being paid the MSA for the period of their suspended cadetship and the extra work.
The adjudicator heard that the cadets were among the lowest paid personnel in the Defence Forces and had been “taken advantage of” during the pandemic.
As well as being contact tracers, they were “power users” and “instructors” while deployed in this operational capacity.
RACO also produced evidence that its position had been endorsed strongly by the General Staff (top management) of the Defence Forces.
Mr Murphy described a letter from the General Staff as being “expressed in remarkably forthright terms” and said that, in his time as adjudicator for the Defence Forces, he had not seen a comparable view from the General Staff on any matter, which had come before him, and had attached considerable weight to it in coming to his conclusions.
The official side said it was their strongly held opinion that the issue was debarred from adjudication by their parties due to the ban on cost increasing claims under the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measure in the Public Interest (FEMPI) legislation and the Public Service Stability Agreement.
But Mr Murphy ruled that he could not follow the logic of this argument, describing it as “entirely contradictory”.
He said the issue was not a claim for a new allowance or an increase in such an allowance but, rather, whether the cadets should come within the scope of an existing allowance.
The official side said the MSA was not paid for operational deployments but in recognition of the disadvantages of military service, relative to employment generally.
But Mr Murphy said it was clear that the cadets were employed in the same way as fully trained personnel of the Defence Forces while they were on Covid duties in support of the civil authorities.
He said the effect of the deployment of the cadets was to cease their training and increase the number of the ordinary military temporarily, which meant they were entitled to a similar allowance.
The decision was welcomed last night by RACO general secretary, Comdt Conor King, who said: “We are delighted to have been able to deliver for our cadet members and that their sacrifice has been recognised.
“This was a simple natural justice case. The cadets were deployed on military service and, therefore, deserving of the associated allowance.
“In the week of their commissioning as officers, a momentous occasion, which their families and friends will be sadly unable to attend due to Covid, we hope that this will at least soften that blow,” he added.