Defence Forces on track to witness greatest ever exodus of members, PDFORRA conference told

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney also outlined that pay would increase and that the daily ration for Defence Forces to provide meals will increase to €6.40 per member

The greatest ever exodus of Defence Forces members is now taking place, the annual Pdforra conference has heard.

While the Government’s White Paper on Defence has an agreed strength of 9,500 members in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, the current total is now 8,146 and falling, delegates heard at Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey, Co Donegal on Wednesday.

The situation was outlined by Pdforra president Mark Keane, who said being undermanned to such an extent “would not be acceptable across the public sector or any other uniform services within the State”.

“Naturally enough this is crushing on moral,” he said. “Indeed, it’s fair to say that every formation, corps and unit are critically below strength.”

READ MORE

Falling numbers, conditions and rates of pay once again dominated this the representative organisation’s 30th annual conference.

Mr Keane, who serves as a chef in the Naval Service, said that a proposal to invest in new equipment must go “hand in hand” with investment in personnel.

“As I have stated previously all modern equipment is made redundant without the skilled personnel to operate it,” he said. “In fact, we have now witnessed Óglaigh na hÉireann at its lowest numbers since the formation of the State, well below even the Government’s own recommendations and particularly worrying when you consider the security situation currently ongoing in the world today.”

Pdfora general secretary Gerard Guinan, said that pay and conditions continue to be the main talking points and grievances among members.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney told the conference that starting pay for a newly qualified three star private and their Naval Service equivalent would rise from just over €30,000 to €34,798 per annum, with scope for further income from duty allowances.

He added that members of the Defence Forces have benefited from the public service pay agreements and if ratified, the latest deal will guarantee a further increase in pay, and allowances in the nature of pay, of 6.5 per cent over this year and next.

On the issue of the daily ration for food for members, Mr Covenney said this was to increase by more than half from €4.20 for three meals a day to €6.40.

On staffing, he said the reality was that numbers in the Defence Forces needed to increase to 11,500 by 2028.

Asked how he hoped to get to that number, the Minister said: “Better pay, better conditions, more investment in the Defence Forces, newer equipment. new ships, new aircraft, new army equipment as well”.

He said spending on defence would rise by some €114 million next year than this year, which was “the biggest ever increase in defence spending since the State was established”. He said “there’s a lot more to come” given the Government’s commitment to transforming the organisation earlier this year.

‘These aren’t insubstantial changes and so what I am saying to people is that we are investing in defence and most importantly we are investing in people because we want young people to choose a career in uniform because it; s exciting, it’s adventurous and it’s also modern and safe and it has career progression.

“It’s a fascinating career but it needs investment and we’re going to build a bigger, stronger and more content defence forces that has significantly more capacity than is currently in place today.”

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán Clancy said that from their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic, the recent humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the security backlogs at Dublin Airport, the public was seeing the value of the Defence Forces.

“From my perspective, if there was one positive to be taken out of an extremely difficult and continuing national crisis, it is the heightened awareness that members of the general public have concerning the societal value that a competent and capable Defence Forces delivers for local communities and the State,” he said.