Entire class of Naval Service recruits leaves for private sector as retention crisis worsens

Nearly 270 personnel have left the Defence Forces so far this year, almost three times as many as in the same period last year

An entire class of Naval Service apprentices is leaving at the same time after a private company bought out their contracts, a sign of the worsening retention crisis in the Defence Forces.

The five recruits were undergoing training as ships’ electricians, known in the Naval Service as electrical artificers. They recently completed their block release, the military version of work placement, with the multinational medical supply company Stryker in Cork.

It is understood Stryker was impressed with the apprentices’ work. It offered all of them permanent positions in the company and to buy out their military contracts. Two of the recruits have taken up the offer and the other three are in the process of leaving.

The cost of buying out the recruits’ contracts is estimated to be up to €30,000. Military sources said this figure pales in comparison to what it cost the Naval Service to train the recruits up to this point.

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Just under 270 personnel have left the Defence Forces so far this year, almost three times the figure for the same period in 2021.

Stryker is one of a number of multinational companies which frequently hires Naval Service personnel. “We call our ships Long Éireannach. It’s got to the point where we call Stryker Long Stryker there’s so many navy guys there now,” one Naval source said.

Mark Keane, president of PDFORRA, which represents enlisted Defence Forces personnel, said “discharge by purchase” is leading to the loss of highly skilled personnel to the private sector.

“In this case, PDFORRA is aware that members have paid sums in excess of €25,000 to leave the Defence Forces,” he said.

“The loss of these personnel will have long-term planning implications for the Naval Service due to the lead-in time necessary to qualify personnel and this will have multiple knock-on effects on service delivery.”

He said Defence Forces personnel are deciding to leave due to various factors, including pay, allowances and the failure to apply the working time directive.

“In the case of electrical artificers, who are those leaving in this case, the rate of allowance has not increased and the other factors are ones that have also not changed to the extent necessary.” The Government has announced plans to increase Defence Forces strength by 3,000 by 2028, including a 400 net increase next year.

However, figures supplied by the Defence Forces show numbers are continuing to decline, despite the announcement of some improvements in allowances for certain personnel in recent months.

The Defence Forces’ current strength is 8,146, or 86 per cent of its establishment strength. This is a 5 per cent drop since last year.

There were 259 new inductions in the first eight months of 2022, compared with 354 in the same period last year.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times