Defence Forces at ‘crisis’ point as numbers fall below 8,500

Personnel leaving at faster rate than new recruits joining

Numbers in the Defence Forces have continued to fall despite recent recruitment campaigns, with many personnel now concerned the situation is beyond rescue based on the Government’s current approach.

The full strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps combined should be a minimum of 9,500 personnel but has now fallen below 8,500; the lowest point since numbers were increased in the 1970s in response to The Troubles erupting.

Military sources said Brexit and the continued threat of domestic and international terrorism meant the security climate was now marked by uncertainty, adding with a reduced military meant Ireland was vulnerable.

The sources added rates of core pay, and especially allowances for extra duty, were so poor personnel were now leaving at a faster rate than new recruits were coming in despite a recruitment push.


Raco, which represents Defence Forces officers, and PDFORRA, which represents soldiers, sailors and aircrew, have both described the continuing drop in numbers as a “crisis”.

According to figures obtained by The Irish Times from the Defence Forces, there were 8,390 personnel serving at the end of January, with an additional 531 in training.

Numbers are supposed to be maintained at a minimum of 9,500 serving personnel, excluding several hundred recruits in training at any one time.

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe TD said the Public Service Pay Commission was currently examining issues around the retention of personnel, adding the Government would consider its recommendations.


A minimum establishment of 9,500 was committed to by the Government in the White Paper on defence published in 2015 that set out the State’s defence policies for the decade ahead.

Recruits to the Defence Forces are paid €398 per week gross during the first 17 weeks of their training.

They must pay €40 of that for rations each week.

For the second block of training, a 12-week period, they are paid €465 gross per week. Once they complete their training there are paid €27,759 per annum for the first three years, increasing to a maximum of €37,600 from which they must pay a pension premium of just over five per cent.

Many in the Defence Forces believe allowances paid to non-commissioned personnel is a central issue when trying to retain staff.

Personnel who are on call can be drafted in to work and receive only a small allowance for working those additional hours.

For example, during last year’s Papal visit some personnel who worked for 72 hours received total extra payment of €68.

Sources said travelling to a location to work can often cost more than the allowance paid for that work.

It meant personnel were working many additional hours and shifts for almost no extra payment, which many tired of quickly.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times