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Saturday 3 December 2016

Navy crews in Med want hazard pay over Islamic State threat

The LE Niamh, which rescued migrants in the Med
The LE Niamh, which rescued migrants in the Med

More than €540,000 in overseas allowances has been paid to the crews of two Irish navy ships, as a row over whether they should get additional hazard pay due to threats from Islamic State (IS) continues.

The allowance figure, released by the Department of Defence, represents the first indication of costs for the Operation Pontus deployments to the Mediterranean Sea.

Three Irish ships have been sent on the mission, rescuing more than 8,000 desperate migrants from makeshift boats and rafts as they try to reach Europe from North Africa.

The cost of overseas allowances for the crews of the first two ships, the LE Eithne and LE Niamh have been released under Freedom of Information laws.

A dispute between PDFORRA - the organisation that represents Defence Forces personnel - and the Department over the non-payment of additional hazard pay remains unresolved.

PDFORRA argues that its members face potential threats from IS militants attacking from Libya as well from as people smugglers picked up along with the refugees.

The crews of the LE Eithne and LE Niamh received an average of €57-a-day in tax-free "overseas allowances" paid to members of the Defence Forces that are deployed on "unarmed" missions abroad.

PDFORRA says that the navy crews should get a higher overseas allowance rate of between €76.36 and €81.31 per day depending on rank for the dangers they face.

They are the sums paid to their peacekeeping army counterparts in the Golan Heights on the border of war-torn Syria.

Scheme

The pay claim is currently under discussion with Defence Department as part of its Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme.

In total, more than €1.6m was spent on pay and allowances for the 128 Defence Forces personnel that served on the two ships during their deployments between the middle of May and the start of October.

Of that sum, €1,075,000 was salaries that would have been paid to those on board whether they had been deployed to the Mediterranean or not.

A total of €540,586 was paid in the "overseas allowance" category.

PDFORRA insist that the overseas allowance paid isn't reflective of the dangers faced on the mission.

"The places that our ships are in, there is a viable threat from IS in those parts," a spokesman said. "When you're rescuing people you don't know who you are bringing on board. There have been occasions where people have been handed over to the Italian authorities immediately because they are traffickers, who could pose a threat," he added.

"They [the crew] are armed and the ships are armed so they should be receiving the hazardous allowance."

A Defence Department statement confirmed that the crews are being paid the rate for "Unarmed Peace Support Allowance".

Armed

"The Naval Service operation is not an armed mission on the sense of armed missions in UNIFIL (Lebanon), UNDOF (Golan Heights, Chad etc) and there is no armed threat to the personnel involved," the statement said.

"The matter is under discussion at the Department's Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time," the statement added.

The pay costs released by the Department do not relate to the crew of the LE Samuel Beckett, which is currently in the Mediterranean and is set to return home in December. Her crew rescued 111 people from an inflatable craft last Thursday.

The LE Eithne saved almost 3,400 lives between May and July while the LE Niamh rescued more than 4,200.

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