CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Secretary General, Maurice Quinn; Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM; President of PDFORRA, Mark Keane; General Secretary, Ger Guinan; Members of the National Executive; Delegates; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here with you today on the second day of your Annual Delegate Conference in County Carlow.
As the official and recognised voice of enlisted personnel, you have seen first-hand the positive developments and indeed challenges that are facing our Defence Organisation.
For so many of our soldiers, sailors and aircrew: You act as a first port of call for assistance, advice and support.
I want to begin by thanking you for the important role you have played as PDFORRA representatives in 2019.
Delegates, before I touch on some of the issues facing the Defence Organisation, let me say this.
I believe strongly that the stakeholders present at conference here today – The Department of Defence, Military Management and PDFORRA - all share the same common goals.
These goals include strengthening our Defence Organisation as a whole, addressing the issues of recruitment and retention and restoring our Permanent Defence Force to its authorised strength figure of 9,500.
Without doubt, the challenges that face the Defence Organisation cannot be solved overnight.
The outcomes that we are all working towards will take time to deliver.
But by working together in a positive and constructive manner, we will achieve our shared goals
I began my speech by recognising PDFORRA as the official voice of enlisted personnel.
As an organisation that represents enlisted personnel, I have no doubt that some of the views expressed at this conference will make for difficult listening for the Department of Defence, Military Management and myself as Minister.
But difficult or otherwise, we appreciate your honesty and will continue to listen closely to the views of PDFORRA.
One of the most recent opportunities to hear your views took place just two weeks ago at PDFORRA’s headquarters.
Following an invitation from your President, I, together with my officials including Secretary General Maurice Quinn, were delighted to engage directly with your National Executive about the issues that are of most concern to your members.
For me, one of the most valuable aspects of that engagement was hearing directly from your executive about some of the lesser known elements of PDFORRA’s day-to-day operations.
My officials and I received an excellent and detailed presentation about the medical assistance scheme administered by PDFORRA on behalf of enlisted personnel.
I know that PMAS has taken a huge amount of time, energy and effort to establish.
However, it is still very much in its early stages.
Having listened to the case put forward by your Executive, I am eager to assist with this project.
Therefore I can announce that I have tasked my officials to engage directly with PDFORRA to explore options as to how the Department can support PMAS.
I look forward to the outcome of those discussions and once again commend PDFORRA for their work in this area.
As many of you know, our meeting in PDFORRA Headquarters was followed by a further meeting with your leadership team and An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in my office in Newbridge.
Once again, PDFORRA set out in great detail some of the issues that are of most concern to your members
I will touch on some of those issues during the course of my speech this evening.
PDFORRA and its leadership have taken a clear decision to engage in a positive and upfront manner with my office and Department of Defence officials.
I want to recognise and thank PDFORRA for its constructive approach.
For it is through positive engagement that we deliver tangible and real results.
Results that benefit our personnel and our Defence Organisation as a whole.
Delegates, before I turn to the Public Service Pay Commission, I want to touch briefly on some of the actions taken by Government that have improved the pay of your members.
The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the Agreement.
Most recently, a 1.75% increase to salaries was applied from September 1st just gone and further increases are due in 2020.
This means that by the end of 2020, the pay scales of all public servants earning up to €70,000 per annum, will be restored to pre-FEMPI levels.
In a further step, the restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI, is scheduled to be restored from October 1st 2020.
Delegates, from a Defence perspective, a three star private at the first point on the pay scale was earning €21,800 when I took up the position as Minister in 2016.
Through a combination of steps, by working constructively with the Department of Defence and my Office, PDFORRA’s efforts have resulted in that starting point increasing significantly.
Today, a newly qualified three star private starts on over €28,000 per annum, inclusive of MSA, with further increases to come.
Delegates, your conference here today is held with the backdrop of the recent publication of the Public Service Pay Commission report on the Defence Forces.
I have publicly welcomed the decision by your sister organisation RACO to accept the report’s recommendations at its conference in Kildare last week
I understand that PDFORRA will make its decision known in the near future.
Delegates, this report is not designed to sit on a shelf.
It will be implemented and result in real, tangible and immediate benefits for your members.
As you are aware, the report recommends:
In the Autumn edition of Irish Defender, PDFORRA has set out the combined PSSA and PSPC increases that can accrue to your members.
This sets out increases of between 5.13% and 6.33% between September 2019 and October 2020.
Delegates, these measures will be implemented swiftly, following confirmation of acceptance by your Association.
But importantly, the report is underpinned by a High-Level Implementation Plan which sets out clear timelines and objectives for the delivery of both pay and non-pay measures.
The plan is overseen by the Department of An Taoiseach and, under my direction, work on this plan is being prioritised by Civil and Military Management.
I have always emphasised the value of civil and military joint working and that is why I instructed the Secretary General and Chief of Staff to set up a joint civil/military Programme Management Office to manage the implementation of these recommendations.
Delegates, the implementation plan includes a range of recommendations aimed at further improving work-force planning, recruitment and conditions of service.
It provides for an examination of pay structures and the identification of further incentive measures, which will assist in developing a Defence position and set of priorities ahead of the next round of pay talks, which will take place in 2020.
I know your association will have its views on this and has been invited to submit these in writing. Your General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary have received an initial briefing on this from officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
Delegates, as Minister I believe that this implementation plan is hugely important: It provides a path which will lead directly into the next round of pay talks.
There will be further engagement with your association on any proposals developed.
Delegates, I know there is particular interest in one element of the implementation plan which I am happy to elaborate on further.
That is the review of Technical pay grades 2-6.
I sought and received an update myself on this review when I visited the joint civil/military Programme Management Office just last week.
Let me very clear here today: This review is of high priority and is progressing well.
This review, which was previously provided for under the Croke Park Agreement, is taking place straight away and, under my direction, is focussing on certain pinch points within the Defence Forces, namely: Air Corps, Naval Service and CIS to begin with.
Once these proposals are formalised, there will be prompt engagement with PDFORRA.
However, I would like to reassure you that all areas are being examined as part of this review.
Delegates, in the lead up to the publication of the report by the Public Service Pay Commission, I had direct contact with Minister Paschal Donohoe on the issue of Outstanding Adjudications.
As you may know, there are a number of Outstanding Adjudication findings across the Public Service, which have not been implemented.
Following those discussions with Minister Donohoe, as well as engagement between the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform, we reached an agreement that will see those adjudications implemented and the pay benefits applied to your members.
Importantly, however, is the issue of retrospection.
I am pleased to announce today that following engagement between the two Departments and PDFORRA, it has been agreed in the last number of days to backdate these payments to October 1, 2018.
Above all, this will mean additional money in the pockets of those affected, including:
Delegates, I know and respect the fact that PDFORRA have indicated that it will continue to seek retrospection beyond the date of October 1st 2018, which is of course your right.
But let me say this: It was through direct engagement between the Department of Defence, my office and the PDFORRA leadership that has brought this issue to this point of resolution and that demonstrates the benefits of constructive engagement.
Following representations by PDFORRA, one of the earliest decisions I made upon my appointment as Minister was to carry out a review of the C&A scheme, which was led by Mr Gerard Barry.
This remains a priority for me. However, I understand that there are some outstanding issues that still have to be worked through. But I am confident that these can be progressed in a timely manner.
It is my desire to see an updated C&A scheme which reflects the operations and mechanisms of modern industrial relations structures.
Delegates, I want to turn to the decision by PDFORRA to formally seek associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which has been accepted in principle by ICTU’s Executive Council.
I know this has been on the agenda of your executive for quite some time and that your conference was today addressed by ICTU’s Industrial Officer Liam Berney.
Delegates, it should be stressed that the terms of reference of the C&A review specifically included consideration of the findings of the complaint made by PDFORRA through EUROMIL to the European Committee of Social Rights.
One of the recommendations from the review was that the Department of Defence should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with ICTU to explore the practicalities of a Permanent Defence Force representative association forming association or affiliation with ICTU.
This should happen, the Barry review said, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service.
Delegates, I have and will continue to listen to the broad spectrum of views in relation to this issue – be it from my Government colleagues, the Department of Defence, Military Management, the representative associations and ICTU.
There is no doubt that the question of granting PDFORRA permission to associate or affiliate with ICTU poses a range of questions from a legal, operational and management perspective.
I know there are differing perspectives on this matter, all of which are important and each will be considered.
I believe PDFORRA is a responsible organisation that advocates strongly on behalf of its members, through constructive engagement with the Department.
I understand that PDFORRA, by seeking affiliation, is doing so to advance the interests of its members in the manner it believes will achieve the best results.
As I have previously outlined, consideration of this matter is ongoing.
This process includes consideration of potential risks and possible approaches to mitigating these risks.
Turning to the Working Time Directive, the Government is committed to amending the Organisation of Working Time Act and bringing the Defence Forces within the scope of the provisions of the Act.
Your association is engaged in discussions with the Official Side regarding the application of the Act in the Defence Forces.
This will be framed by the legislative framework.
The conclusion of mediation in respect of litigation regarding the application of the Directive in the Defence Forces, was a positive development. This will allow the Official side and Representative sides to engage on this matter without the complication of ongoing litigation.
I look forward to continued positive engagement on this matter.
While we acknowledge that there are retention issues, there are many in the Defence Forces who choose to stay and indeed want to continue to serve and further their career.
Earlier this year, following discussions with PDFORRA, I approved that line Privates and Corporals recruited post 1994, be allowed to continue in service to 31 December 2022 (or until they reach the age of 50), provided these personnel meet certain criteria during this interim period. This is to allow for the completion of a broad review of mandatory retirement ages across the Defence Forces.
Delegates, at the request of your Association to consider the position with regard to post 1994 Sergeants, I have instructed my Officials to enter into discussions with PDFORRA with a view to allowing post 1994 Sergeants continue in service to the same date, subject to their meeting agreed criteria in the interim period.
This will allow those sergeants to continue to serve as the broader review is undertaken.
Delegates, I hope I have touched on some of the key issues that are of interest to PDFORRA and its members.
All of you continue to perform your roles with upmost professionalism and commitment.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you, for your continued leadership and dedication.
Without this, the huge range of activities by the Defence Forces - both at home and overseas - would not be possible.
I would like to acknowledge your Association’s continued positive engagement through the industrial relations structures.
I wish you well for the remainder of your conference and I look forward to engaging with you at tonight’s dinner and thank you for your invitation.