Furious army wives and partners to protest over soldiers' pay
FURIOUS Army wives and partners are to stage a rally at the Department of Defence HQ next week to highlight how military families are struggling to get by on a soldier’s wage packet.
The rally next Saturday in Newbridge at 2pm is the latest in a growing campaign to restore army pay to liveable levels.
Last month the newly formed Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces (WPDF) met with defence minister Paul Kehoe to push their case for an immediate pay rise.
Behind the scenes, soldiers’ wives and partners are struggling to make ends meet after years of cutbacks, which have hit military families harder than most public servants.
Emma Magee, whose husband has served more than 21 years in the Air Corps, said that overnight they lost a huge chunk of their income thanks to the austerity programme.
“Basically, from one week to the next we were down €150,” she told the Sunday World.
The new group has boosted demoralised Army families, according to Emma, who said many people didn’t want to admit they were struggling.
“It’s a huge issue that everyone was aware of, but nobody was talking about. Now that this group has started up everyone is talking about it,” she said.
“It has lifted the situation greatly in everyone’s lives, literally just talking about it.”
Emma and her husband are living in her parents’ house since the recession hit and she said they have no hope of ever getting a mortgage.
“If this was happening in any other workforce in Ireland there would be absolute uproar. Just because people don’t see the day-to-day work the Defence Forces carry out they seem to think we don’t deserve this.”
Soldiers have a lot of pride in their uniform and their job, but Emma feels their willingness to carry out tough duties is not recognised.
“From what I believe, the Army guys don’t want to have the right to strike – that is not in their nature, they are on duty 24/7. When they are called upon they are always there time and time again regardless of the circumstances. But they do need a voice, and at this time they don’t have a voice,” said Emma.
Because her husband joined the Defence Forces after 1994 and has served over 21 years, he is facing compulsory retirement in 18 months, leaving the family facing an uncertain future.
“We have children who are in the autistic spectrum. My husband works so hard and the year he is due to leave the Defence Forces is the year the children will start going to secondary school. How we are going to cope, I don’t know,” said Emma.
Jane Marah (above) lives on Orchard Park beside the Curragh Camp and comes from a family steeped in military tradition. Her partner is a serving private with just four years behind him and with two children his weekly wages are low enough that they qualify for family income support.
“It’s disheartening, especially with the amount of hours they do,” Jane said
Jane welled up with tears as she explained how they are left feeling that a job in which soldiers hold so much pride is feeling like a dead end.
“It’s hard going. The money we get every week is accounted for, between your shopping and the stuff that your kid needs,” she said.
Jane said they even had to pull their son Tristan out of a boxing club because they could not afford the petrol it was costing to get to training sessions.
“There’s no talk of us trying to get a mortgage, or even marriage or a holiday,” she added.
She said they wouldn’t be able to cope without that extra support from the State.
“We don’t have a mortgage or any loans and we are still struggling. Every week it’s hand to mouth, so it is,” she said.
“We can’t even get a small loan from the bank. We’ve been refused time and time again because they won’t recognise the family income supplement as an actual income.”
Last month the WPDF launched a public campaign to highlight how austerity policies have slashed soldiers’ income and staged demonstrations at Defence Forces barracks around the country.
Now they are planning a rally at the Department of Defence HQ in Newbridge on June 10 to drive home the message.
Following the meeting with defence minister Kehoe, one of the delegation described it as “an excellent discussion and we felt he interacted genuinely and earnestly with us”.
“We move forward content in the knowledge that our voices are now being heard,” she added.
The group still plan to stage the protest this week to “reinforce that we are not going away and that we want action”.
It comes as the government faces pressure from trades unions to restore pay to gardaí, nurses and teachers as a report published this week called for cutbacks to be reversed.
Unlike other public servants, serving soldiers have no right to trade union membership and believe they have borne the brunt of huge government spending cuts.
It’s claimed that up to one in four Army families need to get family income support from Social Welfare to survive.
The cutbacks in allowances have eroded the earning power for members of the military, who now get just an extra €2 for carrying out a 24-hour duty.
In a statement realeased earlier this month the WPDF said: “In November 2016, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he had ‘no intention’ for the Defence Forces to access state industrial relations machinery similar to the Gardaí. It was this one statement that spurred the formation of WPDF and we are not going away.
“There appears to be a real disconnect with what we are voicing and how the government is acting.
“We continue to receive gut-wrenching emails and messages from troubled families clearly describing the hardship they encounter daily,” it added.