- 22 Nov 17
Hot Press recently published an article "There's Trouble In The Army" In it a former member of the Irish Defence Forces, made a variety of criticisms of the Navy, the Army and the Air Corps. In preparation for that article, Hot Press put a series of questions to the Department of Defence. The answers came too late for inclusion in the issue. Here are the questions, and the answers received...
Hot Press has received a detailed response, to a series of questions asked of the Department of Defence in relation to criticisms made to the magazine by a former member of the Air Corps and the Navy recently. This response arrived after the original print deadline had passed. It addresses a number of the concerns highlighted by our source, who left service in early 2017, primarily due to inadequate pay.
We asked how the Defence Forces could incentivise recruited personnel to remain active as service members if they felt payment was inadequate? Press and Information Officer Ashling Hewson supplied all of the following responses.
"The long term trend is that 20% of recruits do not complete basic training and this is consistent with the current trend. The reasons why recruits decide not to remain in the Defence Forces vary and in many instances it is because they decide that a military career is not for them.
"The rates of remuneration and conditions of employment in the Defence Forces are set by reference to relative levels of pay across the various parts of the public sector. Under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, the rates of pay of all public servants have been increased including Defence Force personnel.
"In terms of pay, following the conclusion of negotiations with PDFORRA earlier this year recent adjustments were made to salary scales of general service recruits and privates who joined the Defence Forces since 2013 resulting in increases of between 8% and 13% depending on scale point.
"In particular, on completion of recruit and three star training newly qualified 3 star Privates and their Naval Service equivalent can expect minimum gross annual earnings of €27,000 (inclusive of military service allowance), an increase of over €5,000 on the previous total of €21,828.
"The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 -2020 also provides for further pay increases ranging from 5.75% to 7.25% depending on the individual’s current wage threshold and this is under consideration by RACO and PDFORRA.
"In addition there are many career and educational opportunities at home and abroad available to members of the Permanent Defence Force. This provides both enlisted personnel and Officers with a unique opportunity to avail of publicly funded education and development and provides them with very marketable skill sets."
Addressing whether recruitment numbers are falling, Hewson stated that the number "varies from year to year and as with other public service jobs is influenced by employment opportunities in the wider labour market.
"Recruitment numbers are not falling. In 2016, 690 personnel were recruited to the Defence Forces, representing the largest intake in more than a decade including the largest cadet class in the history of the State. This year, it is planned to recruit around 800 personnel, including general service recruits, apprentices and cadets. The recent recruitment campaign launched in September will build upon the successful previous 2017 campaign and will provide for the induction of further personnel in 2018."
In relation to the turn-over rate, during the past five years, 641 new recruits have quit out of a total 2,490, while in 2017, 77 officers left – which was a slight increase on the 72 in 2016. Were such figures consistent with those over a longer period of time or are the current rates of concern?
Replying, Hewson says, "The strength of the Permanent Defence Force is currently over 9,000 personnel, the Government is committed to reaching the established strength of 9,500. Given the unique and demanding nature of military life understandably there is a significant turnover of personnel in the Defence Forces on an annual basis. A certain level of turnover is also desirable in order to maintain age profiles across the Defence Forces and to regularly revitalise the organisation.
"Figures over several years indicate that the number of Officers who leave the Defence Forces has remained relatively constant. The trend for enlisted personnel shows a more variable trend with a peak in 2012 similar to that of 2001.
"Reasons for leaving the Defence Forces are varied and range from those who have reached retirement ages to those who have reached end of contract to those who leave to pursue other employment opportunities.
"The retention of certain specialist posts has proved as challenging for Ireland as it has for many military forces internationally. The Government recognises these challenges and has tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with conducting a more comprehensive examination of underlying difficulties."
When discussing the matter of pay cuts, the source raised the matter of the new naval ship, LE George Bernard Shaw, which had been allotted €67m in the most recent budget. Our source claimed that the only reason such costs were capable of being covered was due to the reduction in payment, a claim refuted by the Press Office.
"Naval Service Vessels have not been funded from pay cuts. The budgetary resources allocated to Defence have been increasing in recent years with an additional €25 million allocated in Budget 2018, total funding amounting to €946m. Minister Kehoe secured an additional €98m in Defence capital funding bringing the capital envelope up to €416m over the 2018-2021 timeframe, with the 2018 allocation increased to €77m. Since PDFORRA signed up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) agreement in March 2017, an increase of 2.5% from 1 January 2016, for annualised salaries up to €24,000 and 1% for annualised salaries between €24,001 and €31,000 was included in the weekly payroll of 5 July 2017.
"An increase of €1,000 from 1 April 2017, on annualised salaries up to €65,000 per annum was paid on 19 July 2017.
"The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 -2020 also provides for further pay increases. The Defence Budget is fully funded to provide for the pay and allowances 9,500 personnel. The budget allocation also facilitates investment in essential equipment and infrastructure. The purchase of a new Naval Vessel for €67m is part of that investment in essential equipment and is undertaken over a number of years."
With regard to whether the Defence Forces intended to implement the EU Working Time Directive, we asked was this part of their current plan and if so, was there any timeframe that they could offer?
"The Government has committed to bringing the activities of the Defence Forces within the scope of the Organisation of Working Time Act", the statement reads. "The means by which this can be achieved is a matter of ongoing discussion between the Department of Defence and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social protection. Given the complex nature of this task it is not possible to say at this point when this task will be completed."
With regards to security, our source had raised concerns over what he saw as inadequate vetting when it came to disclosing sensitive information, while also noting that the process of debriefing personnel prior to their discharge is weak. Stating that such ought to be of genuine concern to the Defence Forces, when questioned over whether this was a fair assessment, the Press Office statement said,
"Security vetting, which is a matter for the military authorities, has a number of layers and is conducted in conjunction with an Garda Síochána. The process has changed and modernised in recent years and is kept under ongoing review. For operational security reasons it would be inappropriate to set out or discuss the detailed processes."
Also on the matter of vulnerability, the Press Officer was asked whether renewed paramilitary activity in the North, and the possibility of a hard border between Ireland and the UK, was of concern at the moment. However, in the statement it was said such responsibility over internal security rests with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Gardai Siochana, while border control rests primarily with an Garda.
"As part of a whole of Government approach, the Department of Defence is engaged in forward planning for the UK exit from the EU. While the implications for the border will emerge during the course of the negotiations, it is this Government’s stated goal to try to ensure that the current on-island border arrangements are maintained to the greatest extent possible. The fact of a UK exit from the EU does not of itself give rise to additional border security requirements at this time."
While discussing the crash of Rescue 116 on March 14th 2017, our source placed blame on the lack of top cover provided by the Air Corps, which he said was due to their being closed outside the hours of 8am and 6pm. He had questioned why a 24-7 service could not be provided?
"In the past, the Air Corps provided search and rescue services but was withdrawn from this role in 2004 following a handover to CHC Ireland, a private operator. If requested, and if available, the Air Corps provide “top-cover” for the Coast Guard using a CASA fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft. Coast Guard helicopters also provide their own “top-cover” during Search & Rescue missions.
"On the night of the tragic incident, the Coast Guard requested the assistance of the Air Corps to provide top cover. It was not possible to undertake this task. Owing to current shortages of specialist personnel in the Air Corps, including pilots and air traffic controllers, availability of the Air Corps is reduced compared to previous times. A range of actions are underway to address the shortages. All strategic partners were and continue to be appraised of these actions."
• The original article on this issue was updated on Wednesday 22nd November. Reference to an accident which took place on the Galway-Mayo border in 2009 has been removed from it. The question and answer relating to that incident have been omitted here.
The article in question can be found here.
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