Taoiseach: President Higgins did not go too far with Defence Forces comments

Taoiseach: President Higgins did not go too far with Defence Forces comments

The Taoiseach does not believe President Michael D Higgins went too far in comments he made around the Defence Forces.

Mr Higgins has been privately accused by Government Ministers of "interfering" in a political matter when he claimed the Defence Forces should have incomes that are sufficient to provide for themselves and their families.

Pressed on the issue at the Fine Gael think-in, Mr Varadkar said he had not been in contact with the Áras on the matter. Asked if he thought the President had gone too far, he simply replied: "no".

Senior Fine Gael ministers described the president's remarks as "deeply unhelpful". Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy described Mr Higgins' comments as "unfortunate" and suggested they strayed over the line of the President who is supposed to stay above politics.

But Mr Varadkar said: "What the President said was that he believed that members of the defence forces should earn enough to provide for them and their families and I totally agree with that, but I wouldn’t stop there. I would say that applies to everyone in society and especially those who work in the public service.

“It applies to nurses, to teachers, to gardaí, to clerical officers, people working in kitchens and hospitals, everyone in the public service makes their contribution. And that’s why we have the public service pay deal."

He reiterated that he would not like to single out one group of public servants for "special treatment" or to pit different sets of public servants against each other which could result in "fighting over what’s available".

“That’s why we have a collective agreement which includes the Defence Forces and we’re setting aside €400million next year for increases in public pay.”

He said the Public Services Pay Commission (PSPC) examined the terms and conditions of the Defence Forces and recommended an extra €10million in allowances: “That’s on top of the pay increases they’re getting in their basic pay. That’s worth over €1,000 to the average member of the Defence Forces. That is now on offer and that’s up to the representative bodies whether they’re going to accept that or not.”

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