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'Compliments and commendations don't put meals on tables': Defence Forces families march on Leinster House

The government insists work is under way to address pay and conditions of Defence Forces personnel.

Defence Forces march, Stephen O’ Shea who served in 5 different barracks over 21 years from Finglas with his grandson Ryan O’ Shea aged 8 at Leinster House today.
Defence Forces march, Stephen O’ Shea who served in 5 different barracks over 21 years from Finglas with his grandson Ryan O’ Shea aged 8 at Leinster House today.
Image: Leah Farrell

LARGE NUMBERS OF retired Defence Forces personnel and current members’ families marched on the Dáil today, over pay and conditions within the organisation. Wives & Partners of the Defence Forces (WPDF) said it had been overwhelmed by the turnout. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie outside Leinster House, WPDF spokesperson Shelley Cotter said: “It’s spectacular, there are thousands here, standing 100 across and 10 deep”. 

The group is calling for a living wage for all Defence Force members, as “so many (of them) are just one wrong bill away from homelessness” Cotter said. 

Source: Leah Farrell

The parade was top of the agenda at leaders questions this afternoon, where the Dáil once again heard of soldiers sleeping in cars due to rostering issues and members signing up for social welfare payments to supplement their wages. 

Fianna Fáil deputy Dara Calleary accused the government of paying platitudes instead of taking real action on the issue. 

When members of our Defence Forces, Oglaigh na hÉireann, to whom we owe so much respect, are dependent on family income supplement to supplement their wages, that’s one hell of an indictment from a government to Oglaigh na hÉireann

“At every level in our defence forces there is a crisis,” Calleary told the Dáil.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty was at the helm for leader’s questions today. She defended the government’s action in the area, insisting work has been done and more is underway to restore pay and conditions in the force. 

It would be understated to say that the government values each and every member and the roles that they carry out. Whether it’s peacekeeping or at home supporting other state agencies, like indeed we see today with the DF helping the ESB because of the adverse weather conditions.

Doherty highlighted  the consequences of the recession, repeating the economy is in recovery. “We have difficulty in regard to pay over the last couple of years, but it’s not without reason,” the Minister said. 

Acknowledging the level of staff leaving the force at a turnover of 8% she said the government recognises the figure is too high.

For that very reason the government has tasked the public sector pay commission to examine the recruitment, that you spoke about and the retention issues, that do exist in the defence forces and that we are well aware of them just in case you think we’re not.  

Minister Doherty went on to highlight that members of the Defence Forces, like other public services are benefiting from wage increases due under the “pay agreements and the revised pay scales for post 2013 recruits”. She said members are receiving increases of between 6.2 percent and 7.4.  

Cotter however says members and their families are still facing significant financial issues. Her husband and son both serve in the Naval service. She says she tried to talk her son out of joining;

“He’s doing well and is on the promotion track, but at the same time, he can’t start a family, he can’t get a mortgage, he can’t settle down”. 

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Senator Gerard Craughwell, one of the organisers of the march, says by assigning the pay commission the job of assessing a soldier’s pay and conditions the “department of Defence is abdicating its duties”. Craughwell is urging the government to look at best practice in other regions where a specific body is tasked with addressing the pay of service personnel. 

You cannot compare a general operative in a public department with a soldier. You need to understand military life, to affect the pay and conditions for service personnel.

Concluding the debate inside Leinster House Aengus O’Snodaigh said becoming a soldier or sailor in Ireland is no longer an attractive career choice. “Why would you join the Defence Forces?” he asked.

Members of the WPDF met with party representatives outside Leinster House and handed over a submission detailing their concerns. 

Cotter had this message for the government: 

Respect your defence forces, don’t hold their contracts over them as leverage for your own means.

In his column in TheJournal.ie this morning Dr Tom Clonan a former Captain in the Defence Forces outlined his reasons for taking part in today’s march. 

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