The Government is “obsessed” with recruiting new members to the Defence Forces but their efforts will continue to fail in boosting personnel numbers, the group representing Army, Naval Service and Air Corps officers has said.
The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) voiced its criticism following news that numbers in the Defence Forces have fallen below 8,000 for the first time, some 1,500 lower than required.
Finland’s most senior defence official, Lieut Gen Esa Pulkkinen, told The Irish Times at the weekend the lack of investment in the Irish Army, Naval Service and Air Corps had left the Republic “vulnerable”. The retired army officer turned senior civil servant made his comments a year on from the publication of the report by the Commission on the Defence Forces, of which he was a member. It recommended significant investment in the Irish military amid a rapidly changing security environment.
[ Irish neutrality is ‘over’ and Defence Forces are ‘vulnerable’, Finnish military expert claims ]
Raco general secretary, Lieut Col Conor King, said news that the strength of the Defence Forces had fallen below 8,000 – to 7,987 personnel – was “shocking, but unsurprising to those of us familiar with the lack of progress” in tackling the clear “deficiencies” in conditions of service.
“It is only through the retention of skilled personnel that we can stop the bleed, but we remain obsessed with recruitment,” he said. “The solutions are clear, but have been inexplicably ignored up to now.”
Raco believed the working time directive must be implemented through a collective agreement with the associations representing Defence Forces personnel. This would ensure a better work-life balance – one of the major concerns of serving personnel – and offer Defence Forces members more certainty around their working lives.
Lieut Col King added the pension entitlements for new entrants to the Defence Forces must also be “fixed”, to make it more attractive to remain serving long-term. Greater supports, incentives and rewards must also be offered to experienced personnel to ensure they continue with their military careers, allowing them to train newer colleagues.
“Unless these three measures happen urgently, there is little chance of the Defence Forces ever becoming an employer of choice again,” he said.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, said a year after the Commission on the Defence Forces had published its report the Government had “failed” to implement its recommendations. As a result, “the recruitment and retention crisis” in the Defence Forces had continued.
He said when the Government accepted the findings of the report last year “they assumed an obligation to act to introduce wide ranging reforms on recruitment, pay, and pensions”. Instead, they had “either deferred or accepted in principle – kicking down the road several key recommendations essential to addressing” recruitment and retention.
Mr Brady said that Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Micheál Martin, had “yet to provide a satisfactory response as to what the current situation is regarding these recommendations”.
In reply to queries, the Department of Defence said that since the commission’s report was published last year a number of measures have been implemented to help retain Defence Forces personnel. These included “significant improvements in pay and allowances for new recruits” as well as a tax credit for Naval Service personnel.
It added the Government had recently announced “a record allocation of €55 million” towards investing in Defence Forces buildings this year.