The Government has been called out for its “hypocrisy” for calling on the public to recognise the work of the national services while at the same time not paying the defence forces members “a comparable wage”.
Ahead of National Services Day, a series of events on September 7 spearheaded by a 1,500 strong parade through Dublin city centre to commemorate the work of frontline services, Wives and Partners of Defence Forces (WPDF) has called on the State to better remunerate military personnel with morale at dangerously low levels.
WPDF was set up as an activist group since personnel themselves are precluded from taking any form of industrial action of their own.
“For the public to be aware of what people are doing is a wonderful thing, as is any person who speaks to a Defence Forces member to say a simple ‘thanks’, but morale itself in the service is on the floor, with people leaving at an all-time low,” said WPDF spokeswoman, Shelley Cotter.
Ms Cotter’s husband and son are both in the Irish Naval Service. She says that the camaraderie espoused by the National Services Day is no longer replicated within the Defence Forces themselves due to the perceived poverty of their remuneration.
“To show appreciation is one thing, but it does nothing to help the Defence Forces,” she said. “The contracts they have are what allows the Government to treat them this way. When your family is on the poverty line a day of appreciation does nothing to help your morale.”
While a 10% increase in the Military Service Allowance was recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission in July, that measure has yet to be voted upon or passed by the Dail. Gerard Guinan, general secretary of rank and file body PDFORRA, said at the time that he couldn’t say whether that measure, which would see the majority of personnel receiving roughly €650 extra in pay per year, would be enough to stop the exodus being seen from the Defence Forces.
National Services Day itself was launched yesterday at a bagpipe ceremony in Dublin Castle, with Minister for Health Simon Harris on hand to do the honours.
“I think it’s a really important day to show our gratitude to our emergency and security services right across the spectrum,” the Minister said.
The Minister said it is “really great” to see the day growing each and every year.
The day, which will be highlighted on RTÉ’s flagship Late Late Show on its season opener on the preceding day, September 6, will showcase a skills display at Dublin Castle in advance of the parade, whose Grand Marshal for the day will be legendary GAA commentator Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh.
Meanwhile, a celebration concert will be held at the National Concert Hall one week prior on Saturday, August 31.
Garda Chief Superintendent Kevin Gralton, in charge of the Dublin South region and one of the founders of the day of appreciation 13 years ago, says that the day itself is “an important thing to happen in terms of recognition”.
“It helps the different services come together, and builds up great camaraderie,” he said. “Last year was a spectacular day,” he said, adding that he hopes the Late Late callout from the night before will provide a further boost to events.
1,500 people from across all services are expected to march on the day.