Army families protest on behalf of members of the Defence Forces

Hundreds of army wives and partners have been protesting today as part of a campaign for better pay and conditions.

Members of the Defence Forces are not allowed to protest.

They say they are the only public sector workers without access to the Labour Court.

Pickets have taken place outside army barracks nationwide amid claims that many families are living on social welfare top-ups to make ends meet.

Shelley Cotter - whose husband and son are both members of the Navy - protested outside the Haulbowline base in Cork.

Discussing why, she said: “You have the younger blood coming in and their start off wages is €200, if they’re lucky, as new recruits - rising after a year to €350.

“Now how a man is supposed to raise a family on €350 a week, I just don’t know.”

An Air Corps corporal’s wife, Emma Magee, from Coolock in Dublin, has revealed resorting to moneylenders to mark almost every big day of the year for her children.

The couple live with the 34-year-old’s parents and have a six-year-old and 11-year-old twins, one of whom is on the autism spectrum.

Ms Magee, who quit her own job to help her son’s development, said the family are €150 a week worse off than they were in 2007 and 2008, because of cuts to allowances and restrictions on overtime and bonus duties.

"We just seem to be on an endless loop of debt," she said from the protest at McKee Barracks in Dublin.

"As you get one debt paid then you have to borrow more money to pay for the next thing.

"We are living off my husband’s wages. We don’t make it through the week any more. We don’t have a social life."

Ms Magee’s husband, who served overseas in Eritrea and Lebanon, previously got a €70 allowance for 24-hour shifts in his barracks and for "gate duty" where he would be on security, but that was cut to €20.

They originally took the decision to move into the grandparents’ home in the hope of saving for a mortgage.

"But then the cuts came. Now there’s no extra money to save," Ms Magee said.

The Magees go to the bank to apply for loans and despite maintaining repayments on existing borrowings they are regularly refused.

They also borrow from the local credit union but have been forced to go to money lenders, including last Christmas.

"We couldn’t say to the kids on Christmas morning, sorry kids, Santa didn’t come," she said.

"It’s Christmas and then Easter and then back to school. But we are very lucky that my husband has a job. I’m not the worst off. We know that. There’s people out there in a hell of a worse situation."

Ms Magee protested as part of the Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces (WPDF) group.

Gerry Rooney, general secretary of the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDForra), said the organisation has raised many major issues over pay and conditions with Government, including pay for sailors for the entire duty at sea and European working time rules.

"I think generally we would have the same aims and objectives," he said.

"We’d hope some good will come out of it."

Paul Kehoe, Minister for Defence, said he was committed to ensuring Defence Forces’ personnel are fully recompensed, fairly and transparently.

"I will continue to work with their representative associations in order to achieve the best possible outcome," he said.

Edel McGill, Ballincollig, Sinead Daly, Rathcormac and Evelyn Daly, Whitechurch, taking part in the Defence Forces wives and partners support group national protest, at the Naval Base, Haulbowline. Picture: David Keane.

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