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Debate taken by Deputy Tom Hayes on behalf of Minister Alan Shatter
Thursday 3 April 2014

Deputies Ann Phelan, Willie Penrose and Jack Wall
The compulsory redundancy of enlisted Defence Force members based on an upper service limit of 21 years.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. My colleague, the Minister for Defence, is aware of the interest in this issue and has recently spoken on it in the House. I will commence by outlining the background to the present upper service limits applicable to personnel who enlisted in the Permanent Defence Force post 1 January 1994.

Due to the robust nature of many military operations and their attendant physical training regimes, personnel are exposed to a unique range of challenging environments. In these circumstances it is vital that the age and health profile of personnel be such as to ensure that operational capability and effectiveness are not compromised. In 1990 the Gleeson Commission commented on the unsatisfactory age and fitness profile of the PDF. Thereafter, an in depth study of the Defence Forces by Price Waterhouse Consultants in 1994, who had been engaged by the Efficiency Audit Group (EAG), expressed severe criticism of the age profile of the Defence Forces. The EAG’s report was accepted by Government in 1995. The findings of this Report reflected the serious concerns which the Military Authorities had held for a number of years in relation to the age profile of the Defence Forces.

The present terms of enlistment for General Service Recruits arose from the criticism in the EAG Report. One of the key areas identified for urgent action by the EAG was the development of a manpower policy with an emphasis on lowering the age profile of Permanent Defence Force personnel.

In an effort to alleviate the situation, the Government had already decided in 1993 to enlist personnel on a five year contract basis, following consultation with Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA).

In 1997 agreement was reached with PDFORRA on a new manpower policy for the Defence Forces. This policy, applying to personnel enlisted after 1 January 1994, provided that service for Private Soldiers would initially be for five years with the option to be extended to a maximum of twelve years, subject to meeting standards of medical and physical fitness and conduct. Longer periods of service were envisaged for Non Commissioned Officers.

In 2004 PDFORRA submitted a claim under the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme for a further review of the terms of service applying to personnel enlisting in the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January, 1994. A set of criteria was agreed with PDFORRA to provide longer careers for those who enlisted post 1 January 1994 while continuing to address the Government’s objective of having an appropriate age profile to meet the challenges of a modern Defence Forces.

The criteria require that any person re-engaging after 12 years service must be able to continue to operate at their current level both at home and overseas on an ongoing basis. Re-engagement is subject to the individual soldier meeting specified criteria in regard to physical fitness, medical category, successful completion of military courses of instruction, service overseas and conduct ratings.

The maximum service period for these personnel is as follows:-
· Enlisted Personnel, up to and including the rank of Corporal (and equivalent Naval Service rank), may not serve beyond 21 years service.
· Enlisted Personnel, in the rank of Sergeant (and equivalent Naval Service rank), may be permitted to continue in service up to the age of fifty years.
· Enlisted Personnel in all higher ranks may serve to the age of fifty-six.

As Military life places unique physical and psychological demands on individuals it is necessary that members of the Permanent Defence Force be physically and mentally prepared to meet the challenges of all military operations and be in a position to undertake their duties on deployment overseas. In these circumstances it is vital that the age and health profile of personnel be such as to ensure that operational capability and effectiveness are not compromised. As such, in order to maintain the age profile of the Defence Forces to carry out the operational tasks required by Government, it necessary to have a constant input of recruits into the Defence Forces. The maximum age for personnel who have enlisted in the Permanent Defence Force post 1 January 1994 provides the mechanism through which a satisfactory age profile can be achieved.

With the approach of 2015 the first effects of the agreement, whereby Privates and Corporals may not serve beyond 21 years, will be felt by Permanent Defence Force members in those ranks. A claim has been received from PDFORRA for a further review in relation to this matter. In accordance with normal procedures the Association’s claim is being dealt with under the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force. I understand that discussions are taking place with the Representative Association under a special Subcommittee of Conciliation Council. As discussions are confidential to the parties involved in accordance with the terms of the Scheme, I do not in any way want to prejudice them or impact on their outcome.

However, I do understand the concerns it raises for enlisted personnel due to be discharged in terms of their personal circumstances and the impact on their families. I am sure that all these matters raised by the Deputy here today such as personal impact, fitness levels, opportunities for career advancement and other matters raised by PDFORRA on behalf of their members are being comprehensively examined at Conciliation Council. The Minister also needs to be cognisant of the need for continuing recruitment to the Defence Forces of young and fit men and women so that the Defence Forces can discharge all the roles assigned to them by Goverment, both at home and overseas. It was for this very reason that this policy was introduced in the first place.

The Minister is assured by his officials that it is intended to finalise negotiations with the Representative Association within the next few weeks. You will appreciate that I would not like to pre-empt the outcome of current discussions at Conciliation Council and it would not be appropriate for me to comment publicly on the matter at this time.

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