Defence Forces strength reduced ‘as far as it can go’

Weaponry and equipment should not be funded by savings from staff reductions - Raco

Members of the Irish Defence forces pictured patrolling the perimeter of Dublin airport. An organisation representing officers has expressed concern at falling personnel numbers. Photograph: Aidan Crawley.

Members of the Irish Defence forces pictured patrolling the perimeter of Dublin airport. An organisation representing officers has expressed concern at falling personnel numbers. Photograph: Aidan Crawley.

Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 17:04

The strength of the Defence Forces has been reduced as far as it can go, the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers (Raco) has said.

The organisation, which represents the vast majority of Defence Forces officers, said the Government and senior military leadership cannot expect badly needed weaponry and equipment to be funded by savings from further personnel reductions.

A recent incident in Syria where 36 Irish troops serving with the United Nations were shot at and their armoured vehicles hit by sustained gun fire and a landmine underlined the need for the best equipment possible, the group said.

Raco general secretary Col Brian O’Keeffe said, even as the economy boomed in the past, numbers in the Defence Forces had been cut by thousands, and after recent further reductions were now just below 9,500 from a high of almost 14,000 in the early 1990s and 10,500 as recently as 2009.

In total, numbers had been reduced by 28 per cent, 16 military installations including some of the biggest barracks in the State have been closed in recent years and the Defence Forces had been reorganised from three Brigades to two.

Investment in equipment, such as new aircraft and the MOWAG armoured personnel carriers being used in Syria and Lebanon at present, has been made using savings and the proceeds of barracks sale.

“This of course is not sustainable in the long term,” Col O’Keeffe told delegates at Raco’s biennial conference in Macreddin, Co Wicklow. “The organisation cannot be expected to continue to cannibalise itself to fund equipment or to fill gaps elsewhere in the Defence estimates.”

He added that future funding models for vital investment needed to be addressed in the forthcoming White Paper on the future of defence in the Republic.

Col O’Keeffe also said while opening up that White Paper process to submissions from interested parties was to be welcomed, it was vital the process remained focused on charting the direction for defence in the years ahead.

The process must not be hijacked by “orchestrated lobbying campaigns by special interest groups or get bogged down in unnecessary discussions and argument on emotive issues such as neutrality”.

Raco said it remained very concerned at the continued hardship imposed on some of its members by the recent reorganisation of the forces from three brigades to two.

The organisation’s president, Capt Ian Harrington, said some officers who had been based in the now closed Brigade headquarters in Athlone had based their families in places like Galway and Donegal.

While these commutes were manageable when working in Athlone, their new situation of being based in Dublin had imposed an intolerable situation on them.

Not only were they facing very significant commuting hours, but the cost of fuel and related expenses was proving so high that some officers were close to applying for, and qualifying for, family income supplement social welfare payments.

“Geographically, if you and your family live west of the Shannon and north of a line from Galway to Longford, you will spend almost 50 per cent of your career commuting long distances to work,” Capt Harrington said.

“Additionally, no serving officers in the early stage of their careers can consider settling down in these areas. This will not be good or the Defence Forces.”

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle said he and his senior management had already worked hard to reduce from 800 to 100 the number of personnel classified has having been “seriously discommoded” by the re-organisation.

He said postings to barracks closer to home would reduce that number for a further group of officers. However, some personnel who now found themselves living very long distances from the nearest barracks could not be accommodated as easily and needed to consider that.

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