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  • Dáil debates

    Wednesday, 14 December 2022



    Originally posted by na grohmiti View Post
    2 more ships going into operational reserve. Possibly never to return to operational duties at this rate.
    Two naval ships to be tied up as staffing crisis deepens in Irish Navy (thejournal.ie)
    Cathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent)
    Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

    I wish to raise a matter from the Minister's constituency that has national significance. I refer to the crisis in the Naval Service, which I accept the Minister is fully briefed on because he is relatively local down there. I thank the Minister for the constructive engagement over the past two and a half years while he was in the role. Has there been major progress? I would say "No". Has the foundation for potential progress been laid? I would say "Yes". I acknowledge five measures. The fact that PDFORRA and RACO can affiliate with ICTU is a good thing. It would have been unthinkable three years ago and now it is just the norm. The improvement in pay for people with less than three years' military service is a good thing and is making a difference. The increased funding in the budget for 2023, improved accommodation at the base in Haulbowline and the purchase of two second-hand New Zealand ships, which are probably due in quarter one or two next year, are all good things. Are they progress? Probably not just yet but they are early indicators of potential progress.

    The problem is that a ship is only as good as its crew and the crewing crisis in the Naval Service is a personnel crisis primarily. Unfortunately, 2022 has been a bad year again. There has been a net loss of 100 sailors this year. There should be 1,095 sailors but there are only 795 as of yesterday so it is down 300 crew and it is having a massive effect on morale and interfering with search and rescue operations, drug interdiction operations and national security operations so it is not just an industrial relations problem, it is a national security issue.

    What is the solution? Staff retention is the key and the key to staff retention is implementing the findings of the Commission on the Defence Forces and the high-level action plan, particularly the pay components of that, including off-shore allowances. It is unacceptable that military sailors get paid a fraction of what other public servants get when they go to sea. Military sailors get approximately €60 gross per 24-hour period when they are at sea whereas the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, the Marine Institute in Galway and the Revenue Commissioners get multiples of that. That is the solution. If we are looking for the solution to the crisis in the Naval Service, it involves pegging the patrol duty allowance to other public servants when they go overseas.

    How much will that cost? The estimated cost is about €6 million per year. If the Minister is looking to know how much it would cost to solve the Naval Service problem, it is €6 million per year. The beauty of it is that it does not need extra money. It can be met from existing resources if it is directed properly. There has been a lot of paperwork floating around over the past number of years. Where is the business case for increasing the patrol duty allowance? Is it in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and if so, when are we likely to get a favourable outcome?

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    Michael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
    Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

    I acknowledge Deputy Berry’s consistent advocacy on behalf of those who work in our Defence Forces. We need to recruit more personnel to the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. I am particularly familiar with the challenges in the Naval Service because it is located in my community, I know many of the people who work there very well and I am aware of the challenges that are there. The Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces provides a road map for us to address the issues that have been highlighted. We have made significant decisions as a Government to increase capital investment in the Defence Forces and we are investing in more on-site accommodation around the country, which is particularly important.

    We have approved and agreed the high-level action plan that sets out the response to the recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces. Some of the recommendations have already been introduced while others require further analysis. Over the past couple of years, we have made some progress, which the Deputy acknowledged, including increases in the military service allowance, the security duty allowance and the patrol duty allowance while the tech pay review has been sanctioned by my Department. Other initiatives include the removal of marked time for private 3 star rank; sanction granted for full rate military service allowance for private 3 star rank; extension of the pilot service commitment scheme, which is of particular benefit to RACO members; and extension of the sea-going service commitment scheme. I have worked closely with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, on a number of these issues and very much welcome the affiliation of PDFORRA and RACO to ICTU. I know that has been a bone of contention for quite some time in terms of the conduct of pay talks so they are now very much in the room and at the heart of the negotiations that took place and members will benefit from all of the terms of Building Momentum.

    The Deputy may be aware that the Department of Defence recently implemented two of the pay-related recommendations of the commission with direct relevance to the Naval Service, namely, that all personnel of private 3 star able seaman rank will be paid the full rate of military service allowance applicable to the rank while at the same time, the requirement for that cohort to mark time for the first three years at that rank will be removed so that is welcome.

    The Deputy raised an issue around sea-going allowances. The high-level action plan also provided for the evaluation of replacing the existing sea-going allowances with less complex sea-going duty measures. A business case was prepared by civil and military staff and has been submitted to my Department. It has been considered by my officials, who have raised certain questions, as would be normal in respect of that business case and have sought further information so engagement is continuing with the Department of Defence. Once those queries have been answered, we will come to a prompt decision on those issues.

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    Cathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent)
    Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

    I thank the Minister for that useful response. It is good to know that the business case is with the Department. I again emphasise this is a unique group of workers. They are the only workers who have no access to the Labour Court and the WRC and they cannot go on strike so they do need political and ministerial intervention to ensure a level playing field. In the grand scheme of things €6 million is small money in respect of solving the crisis and that is the headline figure. I encourage the Minister to look favourably on that business case. This is an eminently solvable problem. There is a great opportunity in 2023 to put this right and ensure we get the recruitment so that the Naval Service can regenerate itself over time.

    I wish the Minister the best of luck with his new role on Saturday and I look forward to further engagement over the next couple of years.

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    Michael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
    Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

    Through the decisions we made in the past couple of years, and I provided a summary of some of the improvements introduced, we have demonstrated a willingness to examine this issue. There will always be risks in terms of wider public pay policy and there is a complex set of allowances across the public service but we have demonstrated a preparedness to take some risks by making changes to allowances. I recognise the point made by the Deputy about the special place of members of our Defence Forces, who are not in a position to take industrial action for very good reason. I am glad they are very much within the ICTU tent and have a voice. It is a voice they have given very effective expression to over the course of the recent pay talks. I assure the Deputy that positive engagement between my Department and the Department of Defence will continue. Once we have responses to the various queries that have been provided to them, a prompt decision will be made.

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