Defence Forces: struggling to stand still

Poor pay and high dissatisfaction with living, working and promotional conditions are toxic ingredients

 

Inadequate pay and conditions are causing such an exodus from the Defence Forces that concern has been expressed about the operational readiness and capabilities of the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps. An officially funded survey on morale and conditions, published by the University of Limerick (UL), identified poor pay as the major cause for dissatisfaction. Instead of taking on new challenges, the Defence Forces are struggling to stand still.

In spite of Government commitments, the budget provided minimal additional funding. As a result, the wives and partners of serving Defence Forces personnel are planning to protest outside the Dáil this month about poor conditions. Official policy provides for an overall personnel complement of 9,500, but the number has fallen below 9,000 – the lowest in 40 years. A 20 per cent drop-out rate involving new recruits, an increase in early retirements and the poaching of skilled personnel all contribute to declining morale. Between 2010 and 2015, government spending was cut by almost one-third. Reorganisation of the Army led to barracks closures that, in turn, led to long commutes for some personnel.

Minister of State Paul Kehoe has denied that the Defence Forces, for which he has responsibility, is in crisis and insists he is addressing “challenges”. There have been “huge improvements” since the UL survey fieldwork was conducted in 2015, and he expects the 800 new recruits due to be hired this year to outnumber those going out the door. But poor pay and high dissatisfaction with living, working and promotional conditions are toxic ingredients. At a time when the Defence Forces are expected to prepare for challenges posed by international terrorism, cyber attacks and extensive EU cooperation, they are being starved of resources.

Unlike other public servants, members of the Defence Forces voluntarily submit themselves to a strict code of military discipline, in addition to ordinary law. With their unequivocal commitment to serving and protecting the State, they deserve better treatment.

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