Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
15. Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Defence his views on the concerns expressed by the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding the continued payment of Border duty allowance to members of the Defence Forces despite the changed circumstances in regard to the security situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35885/08]
Deputy Willie O’Dea: In response to the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Accounting Officer of my Department stated it was the Department’s view that the conditions that led to the introduction of Border duty allowance, BDA, no longer exist, and I agree with that assessment. The Defence Forces have played a key role in the Border area in aid to the civil power. The overall nature of the Defence Forces activities in the Border area has changed as the political and security situation has evolved. For example, static checkpoints and border patrolling involving the Defence Forces has ceased. The recent announcement in the budget of the closure of the four barracks in the Border area reflects these changed circumstances.
While Border activities such as patrols and checkpoints are no longer necessary, activity by personnel stationed in Border area has not ceased. The Border units are obliged to maintain their capacity to respond to the impact of emergencies and contingencies on the border, normally through the provision of assistance to the civil authorities. Operations in response to the foot and mouth disease outbreak, BSE and the threat of bird flu are examples. Border units are, therefore, required to maintain mobile support units in barracks on a 24-hour basis. A separate security duty allowance is payable to Defence Forces personnel generally when engaged in specified security duties. Personnel in receipt of BDA cannot claim security duty allowance for such duties, which are performed on an ongoing basis. The removal of the BDA would be partly offset by the payment of security duty allowance in these cases.
The Comptroller and Auditor General noted that the changed circumstances relating to BDA was addressed through its inclusion in the Defence Forces modernisation agenda agreed with the representative associations in June 2007 under Towards 2016. The modernisation agenda encompasses a broad range of issues to further improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the Defence Forces. As the BDA involves the pay and conditions of service of members of the Permanent Defence Forces, it must be addressed through the Comptroller and Auditor General scheme with the representative associations and this process is under way. It is intended that implementation of changes agreed through the review will begin during the lifetime of the Towards 2016 agreement. The Deputy will appreciate that, as discussions between the Department and the representative associations are confidential to the parties involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the matter at this time.
Deputy Brian O’Shea: I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he explain how €25 million was paid through this allowance between 2003 and 2007 given that, during and subsequent to 2002, there were no Border-specific activities?
Deputy Willie O’Dea: It is not a net cost. Our agreement with the representative associations of the Defence Forces is that members of the Defence Forces who are entitled to security duty allowance for their security duty do not get it if they are also in receipt of Border duty allowance. The net cost is just over half of that €25 million.
The best explanation is that the Defence Forces have undergone a substantial modernisation and reorganisation process. We have reduced the size of the Army considerably and we have reorganised it, the Naval Service and the Defence Forces Reserve. To bring people with us, we needed to negotiate with the representative associations, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the Permanent Defence Forces Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA. Over the years, we have needed to bring them along on various tough decisions.
Phasing out the Border duty allowance will not be liked by the Army. We did not try to reach simultaneous agreement on all difficult topics. Rather, we proceeded gradually and are only now discussing the withdrawal of Border duty allowances. I expect the process to conclude in the near future. I will not give a specific timescale.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: As someone living near the Border, I appreciate the service provided by the Army as a backup to the Garda in a difficult situation. The Minister mentioned foot and mouth disease and other matters, but my main concern is that, as part of the reorganisation, Monaghan town barracks will be closed. While this does not relate to the question, the Minister discussed reorganisation and how he has negotiated different matters. Have negotiations been held with the 200 personnel in the Monaghan barracks regarding the facility’s closure? Has the Minister agreed any compensation for the closure with the Government, as occurred in respect of Castleblayney?
On negotiations, the Chief of Staff will tomorrow visit all of the barracks affected by the closures and speak with the relevant personnel by Friday at the latest. There is a compensation scheme for those who incur moving costs, including travel expenses and expenses associated with buying new houses and furniture, storing furniture and so on. It is a detailed scheme. The Army has held discussions with the representative associations, PDFORRA and RACO, concerning a number of claims that will be handled through the conciliation and arbitration process. I have undertaken to give a copy of the compensation scheme to Deputies Deenihan and O’Shea and I will send another to Deputy Crawford.
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