The Dáil has been told of the case of a member of the Defence Forces who was close to suicide over the amount of time away from his family on 24-hour shifts that pay just €20 extra.
Sinn Féin defence spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh highlighted the case of one soldier who described himself as “on the verge of suicide” because of his working hours, pay and lack of family time.
Mr Ó Snodaigh drew attention to delays in introducing legislation to end the exclusion of the Defence Forces from a law that would provide them with minimum periods of rest between work shifts.
He said he had received an email from a soldier before Christmas which stated:
“This morning I came off doing a 24-hour duty. I’ll get an extra €20 next month for it. But after I drive there which costs about €10 I make half that.
“But it’s not the money. It’s the time away from my family over Xmas. Would any of you work for 24 hours for €20 extra? Not likely.
“I sleep on my friend’s sofa because I have nowhere to go most nights. I am on the verge of suicide.
“I feel helpless and lost. I tried a second job but that’s more time away from my kids.”
Mr Ó Snodaigh asked Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe how he expected workers to continue without the legal protections that would ensure "even in the unique context of the Defence Forces, they would have proper time to rest and ensure that they are compensated when they have to work extra time".
Mr Kehoe said introducing the legislation was a priority but he was constrained in what he could say because a number of cases were currently in the courts, in relation to “the applicability of certain elements of the (EU working time) directive” to the Defence Forces in specific circumstances.
The Minister said the issues were complex and “there is a requirement to ensure that the Defence Forces retain operational effectiveness”.
“In this context it is difficult to be precise with timelines” for the 1997 Organisation of Working Time Act to be amended.
Mr Ó Snodaigh said that armies in other countries had been able to comply with the European Working Times directive, and they had the “same uniqueness” as the Defence Forces.
The Minister said that a great deal of work had been done but more was required. Discussions between the Defence Forces and military representative associations were continuing and a civil-military group had been established.
Mr Kehoe added that “it is no good to say ‘implement the working time directive if there is some sort of weather emergency or whatever’”.
He added that the issue also affected An Garda Síochána but Mr Ó Snodaigh said gardaí got overtime.
The Minister said it is a priority for himself, the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence.