Service medals will be awarded to Irish Naval Service personnel who served on the historic humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean last year.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney confirmed yesterday that his department has made the decision to award medals to those involved in Operation Pontus based on 60-days service.
The LE Eithne spent 65-days in the region, while the LE Niamh and LE Samuel Beckett were deployed for 85-days each.
Combined, their crews saved more than 8,000 people attempting the treacherous crossing to Europe in overcrowded and flimsy craft.
But Mr Coveney insisted the delay on the medals decision was not linked to an ongoing claim for higher overseas allowances being pursued by Naval Service personnel who served on the mission. He said he needed to get guidance from the Defence Forces and his own department officials on the basis for awarding medals.
“I wanted to make sure that when we give medals to those naval service personnel for their heroic efforts in the Mediterranean last year that they are on a par with other medals that have been given out, to army personnel for example,” he said.
Head of the Naval Service, Flag Officer Commodore Hugh Tully, backed PDforra calls last November for higher overseas duty allowances for those who served on Operation Pontus.
Mr Coveney told The Opinion Line on Cork’s 96FM yesterday that in advance of the mission, his department had committed to pay the Unarmed Peace Support Allowance to crews — the tax-free salary top-up varies between €386 and €413 per week. It’s the equivalent of between €4,600 and just under €5,000 over the course of a 12-week rotation. “That is appropriate because people need to get a top-up payment for the work they are doing and risks they are taking when they are on a very complex mission like that,” the minister said.
However, PDforra has argued for the payment of the higher Armed Peace Allowance, similar to what is paid to soldiers involved in armed peacekeeping missions in the Golan Heights, Mali, or Southern Lebanon. The matter has been referred to an independent arbitrator appointed by Labour Court for assessment.
Mr Coveney said he is happy to pay the higher allowance if that it was is recommended following arbitration: “It is being assessed to see if this mission fits in with the criteria around allowances. I’d be delighted to pay a little bit more money to them — the money isn’t the issue here. But it’s important that we base decisions on pay and allowances on the basis of the rules and regulations that are there in the military so that we set the appropriate precedent."
He said he hopes a decision is forthcoming soon.
Meanwhile, preparations are being made for the deployment soon of the LE Roisín to the Mediterranean to resume humanitarian work.
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