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Higgins says he wasn't elected to 'just read speeches he has been handed'

The president said recent comments he made about Defence Forces pay are “very much within the Constitution”.

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins (file photo).
President of Ireland Michael D Higgins (file photo).
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

MICHAEL D HIGGINS has said his recent comments on Defence Forces pay are “very much within the Constitution” after some people questioned the president getting involved in such an issue.

Earlier this month Higgins said that “serving men and women should have conditions including an income and prospects that are sufficient to provide for themselves and their families”.

“As they are the employees of the State, such conditions should be exemplary for other parts of the society and economy.

“I have heard and read with anxiety of the distress that is being experienced by some of those who are giving their all to serve the state,” he said in the speech at the Defence Force Values Awards at Áras an Uachtaráin on 11 September. 

The level of pay for members of the Defence Forces has been a recurring issue in recent months.

As president, Higgins is the supreme commander of the Defence Forces.

When asked about his remarks, Higgins told reporters in New York yesterday that a “very, very large number of people in Ireland” voted for the kind of presidency he offers, adding: “I am very, very much within the Constitution.”

Higgins said “one or two people do come straight out with it” and say “they’d like a president that just was handed the speeches to read out or that they’d like a president who didn’t have an opinion on anything like this”.

However, he added: “The fact of the matter is that a very, very large number of people in Ireland decided that they wanted this kind of president, who wouldn’t interfere with what the agencies of government are doing, but who would be very conscious and aware of what I call the vulnerably, prospects and hopes of the Irish people.”

Speaking the day after Higgins made his comments about Defence Forces pay, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said it was “quite unusual” for the president to intervene.

Creed told Today with Seán O’Rourke he was not annoyed by Higgins’ speech, and added that the Defence Forces pay issue “has significant currency and has been recognised by government also”.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney echoed Creed’s comments at the time and said he didn’t have any “huge concerns” about them. He added that the president was “referencing a concern and frustration” which was shared by the government.

Members of the Defence Forces voted on Monday to accept Public Service Pay Commission proposals for a €10 million package of allowances. The government has said the package will make Irish military careers “more attractive”. 

Accommodation 

Officers have called for the provision of married living quarters or a rent allowance similar to that paid to gardaí, as they struggle to find affordable accommodation near their barracks.

At the biennial conference of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers yesterday, members at officer rank described the standard of accommodation in barracks as “inadequate”, with up to three people sharing a room in some cases without any common areas.

One officer said there is no fresh running water in some of the accommodation and they have to go elsewhere in the camp to get drinking water.

The conference heard yesterday that, on average, there is a change in appointment for officer rank once a year which means a potential relocation every 12 months.

“It’s not tenable to move your family, for your spouse to move jobs or kids to move to new schools every time. And generally we can’t rent a place [near the barracks] on an ad hoc basis because of our salary,” the conference heard from one officer.

With reporting by Michelle Hennessy 

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