Strength of Defence Forces lowest since 1970s
Spending on Army pensions up 30 per cent as retirement rate doubles in recession
Members of the Army Ranger Wing combat diving team. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Members of the Army Ranger Wing with a Special Reconnaissance Vehicle. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Members of the Navy and Defence Forces marching on Westmorland Street as part of the Commemorations to mark the 90th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in 2006. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Members of the 42nd potential NCOs course drawn from the Eastern Brigade Training Centre during a demonstration where they secured an area to facilitate the landing of two EC 135 helicopters at Cathal Brugha Barracks. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
A member of the Army’s Ranger Wing. Photograph: Defence Forces
On the move during Defence Forces excercises at the Glen of Imaal Co Wicklow were troops from the 98 Infantry Battalion ahead of a 2008 tour of duty to Chad. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times
The rate of retirements from the Defence Forces has more than doubled since the recession began, with the full strength of the Army, Naval Service and Aer Corps now well below the 9,500 minimum level set by Government.
The spike in retirements has resulted from lingering concerns among personnel that their retirement lump sums and pensions are likely to be adversely impacted the longer the recession continues.
“Every year a new rumour goes around that unless you leave by the end of that year you’ll lose out because of (pension) cuts or a higher tax on gratuity,” said one source.
Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter told the Oireachtas committee on Justice, Equality and Defence the rate of retirements was 597 last year, compared to 276 in 2008, the year the economic collapse took hold.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011 retirements reached 425, 427 and 498 respectively.
The increased retirement rate has created a large number of new people on military pensions, with expenditure in that area having increased from €181.7 million in 2007 to €237.9 million last year.
“While we are some way from the end of 2013 and the final number of retirements is not yet known, it is my intention that any shortfall arising on the pensions vote provision will be met from payroll and other savings on the Defence vote,” Mr Shatter said.
Recruitment has been permitted in recent years despite the public service recruitment moratorium but the rate of personnel retiring has increased to such an extent that the level of recruitment has failed to keep pace.
The current number of enlisted personnel, at 9,150, is some 350 below the minimum level set by the Government. That puts the forces at their lowest levels since the early 1970s.
As recently as the end of 2008, the total strength of the Defence Forces was 10,500.
While the reduced numbers have been a concern for senior officers, it is anticipated that a new recruitment in-take will occur in the autumn.
There are some 445 personnel currently posted on 12 overseas missions, the largest number based with the UN in Lebanon. However, in coming months the 360 troops posted there will be reduced to around 160 as the Finnish army takes the lead role on the mission.
Mr Shatter told the committee the number of call outs for the Army’s bomb disposal experts was increasing again this year after previously falling back.
While improvised explosive devices, including pipe bombs, were once only used by subversive groups, criminal gangs were now involved and many of these were supported by, or supplied with devices by, subversive elements.
In 2010 there were 198 call outs, increasing to 237 in 2011 before falling back to 209 in 2012. There were 64 hoaxes in 2011 and 70 finds of viable devices. Last year while the number of hoaxes fell to 50, finds of viable devices increased to 96.
In the first five months of this year there were 110 call outs, 43 of which resulted in the discovery of a viable device.