Personnel turnover in the Defence Forces is "too high" at 8 per cent, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has admitted.
She told the Dáil the public sector pay commission had been asked to examine the recruitment and retention issues that exist.
As retired Defence Force personnel paraded through Dublin and protested outside Leinster House to highlight pay and retention concerns, Ms Doherty said they “are part of a bedrock which underpins the safety of every single person in this country”.
The Minister pointed out that under existing pay agreements personnel were receiving pay increases from 6.2 per cent to 7.4 per cent as well as pay restoration after the economic crisis.
She said because of the demanding nature of military life “we accept that turnover is higher that some other agencies”.
But she added, “I do acknowledge that it is 8 per cent and it is too high” and “we’re not prepared to accept that.”
Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary said however that "platitudes do not put food on the table", adding the exodus had been ongoing since 2012. He said the number of officers had dropped by 15 per cent from 988 to 817.
“Current numbers are actually the lowest in the history of the State – just over 9,000 personnel” and below the agreed 9,500.
Family income supplement
The Mayo TD pointed out that a large proportion of members of the Defence Forces have had to sign up to “family income supplement or the working family payment as it is now known,” and this was an indictment of the Government.
He said the pay structure of the Defence Forces was unique, because “allowances are a key part, but these have not been restored. Our Defence Forces do not get overtime”.
Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe later said that currently 88 military personnel are in receipt of the payment, which is based on family income and the number of children. Mr Kehoe said “the salaries of individual public sector employees are related to the individual jobs held and are not weighted to take account of their family income circumstances”.
He added that “as Minister with responsibility for Defence, I always listen to the concerns of the Defence Forces and look forward to the outcome of the Public Sector Pay Commission, which will provide the basis for addressing the issues raised”.
Sinn Féin defence spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the Defence Forces “have had to fight the Government tooth and nail, both at home and elsewhere in Europe, to have basic rights”.
He said the Defence Forces are expected to lose another 700 members this year, with many moving to the private sector for better pay and working conditions.
Mr Ó Snodaigh called on the Minister to ensure measures would be taken in the budget that would “once and for all” show proper appreciation for members of the Defence Forces.
Ms Doherty said personnel were getting back the 5 per cent cut during the economic crisis.
Further recruitment is under way to bring the numbers back to 9,500 and a plan was being implemented to address issues such as work-life balance and a skill gap analysis and a review of the contract over service for enlisted personnel.
They were also looking at developing direct entry of specialists and the re-entry of former personnel with required skills.
*This article was edited on September 25th, 2018, to clarify the Defence Force personnel in the Dublin parade were retired