Army report notes critical manpower fall-off and skill loss

Stress, risks and management deficit in Defence Forces as numbers drop below 9,000

A mission readiness exercise in the Glen of Imall, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

A mission readiness exercise in the Glen of Imall, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


Falling manpower and a loss of skills within the Defence Forces has reached a “critical point”. This is adversely affecting “operational readiness and capability”, according to an unpublished report on the Irish military.

The new research, commissioned by the Defence Forces, concludes that while serving personnel remain proud of the organisation, it is locked into a decline that carries safety and other risks.

It was also critical of the relationship between the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the representatives organisations.

Military staff believed the relationship was “imbalanced” with “all control lying with the department”. A review towards a “more inclusive partnership” is recommended.

The report’s findings have emerged at a bad time for the Department of Defence and the Government, when the strength of the Defence Forces has fallen below 9,000.

This is well below the Government’s commitment to retain a 9,500-strong Defence Forces with several hundred others in training.

The as-yet unpublished report on the workplace climate in the Defence Forces expresses serious concern for the future.

‘Dysfunctional turnover’

“Crucially the [Defence Forces] now has a dysfunctional cycle of turnover developing which, regardless of the levels of recruitment, will see total available numbers of military personnel continue to fall,” it says.

“There was unanimous dissatisfaction [among personnel] with the seeming mindset among senior military management that the turnover that exists is a positive situation.”

Senior management also needed to be realistic about the real levels of staffing in units, the report said.

They must not ignore the fact that stated figures for units’ sizes were embellished because they did not take into account members on leave of absence, long-term training courses or overseas missions.

Deliberately looking past the fact that units throughout the Defence Forces were depleted carried real safety risks, the report finds.

At present there were “much fewer” personnel in units than the official assessment suggested.

Many of 603 military personnel interviewed expressed fears for the “capability of the units and the safety of personnel” amid the chronic shortage of staff.

Stress levels

There was a perception among personnel that their career prospects, especially when it came to overseas deployments, would be damaged if it became known they were suffering from stress. It meant there was a reluctance to seek assistance for the problem. This was “driving stress under the radar”.

“It has also led to major safety concerns as officers are relying on people with limited experience to complete certain tasks,” the report concludes.

Officers also expressed concern that falling levels of personnel meant a “lack of middle management within units”.

And this was “directly affecting their ability to engage with and train recruits and privates”.

The report notes that staff shortages and the rotation of staff around the country had contributed greatly to stress among personnel.

The authors recommend clear communication between senior management and personnel. This includes ensuring personnel are aware that supports for stress are available.

Poor pay for Army privates was cited as a very destructive influence, with many unable to live without availing of the family income support social welfare payment.

It was recommended pay be reviewed and that more clarity around the promotions system be supplied.

A working group to examine more family-friendly policies should be established. Training courses should be available outside the Dublin-Kildare area to ease the burden of commuting on those who live in other parts of the country.

Lack of notice

More notice should also be given to those who are about to be deployed to posts in different locations.

The report’s authors note the Defence Forces must devise a strategy for moving personnel into units that are understaffed.

Privates were also leaving because of being underpaid and “it was the privates with the most potential that were the ones leaving”.

An “overwhelming amount” of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) stated their intention to leave when their contracts expired.

Privates were very poorly paid and were frustrated at seeing the Defence Forces return some of its budget unspent at year end.

Many personnel have spoken of stress and marriage breakdown as they are overworked, constantly moved around the country to different postings and denied annual leave.

The Workplace Climate in the Defence Forces Phase 2 report was conducted by researchers at the University of Limerick, and commissioned by the Defence Forces.