Some members of the Defence Forces rely on social welfare payments to support their family, as their pay is “so low”.
The lowest-ranking members of the Defence Forces take home just over €300 a week.
A 24-hour protest is currently taking place outside Leinster House to highlight the low pay, by the Wives and Partners of Defence Forces (WPDF) as soldiers are prohibited from taking part in collective bargaining.
“In November 2016, Enda Kenny made a statement that said the Defence Forces could never have access to industrial action machinery. We said that’s not fair on our husbands and our wives and we said we had to stand up to them,” Sarah Walshe from WPDF said yesterday.
She explained the impact low pay, as well as the working arrangements, had on the families of those in the Defence Forces.
She said partners at home may be unable to work as their spouse could be away for six months at a time.
“Some of our members are on family income support. Then when you’re married to a soldier it can be quite difficult to hold down a job because they could be gone for six months, they could be gone for three months.
“It’s very, very tough to organise childminding. In society now if you have more than two children, the cost of childminding is colossal so it’s not worth your while working. So you’re left with just one salary coming in,” Ms Walsh explained.
Labour TD Joan Burton stood with the WPDF group outside Leinster House. She said that there are models of pay restoration, for specific cases within the public sector, that can be used for these members of the Defence Forces.
“A number of members of my own family have served in the Defence Forces in the ordinary ranks. I think the pay situation does need to be addressed. There are models there that can be used,” Deputy Burton said.
Yesterday afternoon in Leinster House, newly-appointed Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Government would “listen” to the concerns of those in the Defence Forces but highlighted the “difficulty” of doing a special deal with any one cohort of the public service.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin raised the issue of pay in the Defence Forces as the protest took place.
The Tánaiste pointed to the public service stability agreement for 2018 to 2020 which provides for a series of pay increases over the next three years.
“There are other issues in relation to what the Department of Defence can do on other supports that are available to Defence Forces’ personnel,” Mr Coveney said.
“There have been reviews in that regard. There are many sectors in the Irish economy and society that can make a very valid case for improved pay and working conditions.
“However, we have to operate within a certain pay structure across the public sector. If we start to dismantle it for individual sectors, Deputy Howlin knows the kind of chaos it would cause.”
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