Pope's visit

Irish soldiers sought sick leave before papal visit

Pope Francis arrives to attend the closing Mass at the World Meeting of Families at Phoenix Park in Dublin
Seamus McKinney

IRISH army officers at Co Donegal’s Finner camp have revealed that more than 30 soldiers sought sick leave in advance of the papal visit.

The majority of the soldiers were turned down following examination by Irish army doctors at the Bundoran camp.

Troops were expected to take on extra duties in support of civil powers in Dublin and Knock.

Senior officers have expressed concern that a high incidence of sick leave applications before the Pope's two-day visit may be connected to the rate of pay being offered for the extra duties.

It is understood soldiers were to receive €68 (£61.57) before tax for working 24 hours.

The issue was raised before the papal visit by Fianna Fáil defence spokesman Jack Chambers.

He said other emergency services would not have accepted the offer made to Irish soldiers.

Shirley Cotter, spokeswoman for the Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces group, said any soldiers who refused to take up the extra duties faced potential disciplinary action.

“They would be fined up to three days' wages and in a low wage that is an awful lot of money for a family to be missing in one week," she said.

"They also would have a black mark against their career for future courses, promotions etc."

Ms Cotter said the majority of soldiers were not in a position to refuse to carry out the extra duties.

She said they were not complaining about the conditions or accommodation they were being offered as they had been trained to accept such conditions, but it was unfair to expect them to do the same work as gardaí for much less money.

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