A €10 million package to increase allowances for members of the Defence Forces does not go far enough to stem the exodus of soldiers leaving the army, according to Fianna Fáil.
Responding to Cabinet's agreement to increase amounts for new entrants, army rangers, cooks and overseas service, TDs said the payment hikes would fail to ease the force's retention crisis.
The Government has accepted recommendations on the allowances from the public services pay commission. These are on top of 1.75% pay restoration due to be given to defence force members in September.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, launching the commission report, defended the new allowance increases for members. The government's decision was a “proportionate” response and demonstrated the "respect" for the army.
Paul Kehoe, the junior minister for defence, said the report would “not sit on a shelf” and he had got his “ass-kicked” to try and restore some of the allowances.
Key increases cited by both ministers include a 10% rise in the duty patrol allowance, the restoration of special weekend service rates, rises for bomb disposal teams and a peacekeeper allowance.
There will also be a review of technical pay which will affect 2,500 specialists.
But Fianna Fáil defence spokesman Jack Chambers argued that the changes would “not stem the exodus” from the army.
Amounts for new entrants in the forces were worth a paltry 96 cent a day before tax, he said.
Record numbers are purchasing discharges while many were also seeking early retirement, he explained.
They are walking and they are leaving.
A month-by-month monitoring of defence force numbers would be needed now to see if they stayed or not, he said.
The party's public expenditure spokesman Barry Cowen reiterated that morale in the army was at an “all time low” and that a special commission was needed to address the retention of members in the Defence Forces.
The government said the pay commission was precluded from assessing core pay for the army as this is a matter for public pay agreements.
Minister Donohoe said that most of the crisis era cuts for the force would now be restored under the plan.
Furthermore, there would be a review of retention concerns and recruitment in the army.
Mr Kehoe, defending the level of the increases, said that €28,000 for a school leaver, with or without a Leaving Certificate, was an “attractive” level of pay. Nonetheless, being in the army was a “tough career” and “not for everybody,” he added.
Labour said that the promised allowances were no substitute for a decent wage.
“The Minister has the ability, as has been seen with An Garda Síochána and nurses, to establish a special arrangement for workers within public pay agreements. It is time to pay our army, air force and navy personnel a decent wage.
“If we want long term recruitment and sustained retention within the Defence Forces then the basic rate of pay must reflect a living wage. In the last 12 months, we have heard from spouses of service personnel who struggle to make ends meet every month. This cannot be allowed to continue,” said defence spokesman Brendan Ryan.
Senator Gerard Craughwell, a former defence force member, said the failure to improve core pay is a lost opportunity".
"I cannot see it stopping the exodus from the Navy, Army or Air Corps. Unlike any other organisation of the state there is no way to hire casual experienced military personnel. If numbers fall dramatically over the coming month -as I expect they will -then we will no longer be able to staff overseas UN missions not to mention homeland emergencies.
"It is ironic that the government is allowing this crisis to continue at a time when we are seeking a seat on the United Nations Security Council," he said