The Defence Forces has had its largest loss of personnel in almost a decade despite efforts to recruit new entrants, new figures show.
The Irish Times has learned that some 731 personnel left last year while some 612 new recruits joined the Army, Navy and Air Corps.
That net loss of 119 Defence Forces personnel in 2018 was the largest for almost a decade and came at a time when numbers in the Defence Forces had already fallen to a record low.
Informed sources added although the turnover of personnel across the Defence Forces was 8.1 per cent last year, that number had now reached 9 per cent.
News that the net loss of personnel was so high last year and the rate of personnel leaving had increased in the first five months of the year follows comments by the former head of the Army Ranger Wing, who said the Defence Forces was now in deep crisis.
Retired Comdt Cathal Berry (41) said he had left the Army three weeks ago because he could not continue to witness the grave situation in the Defence Forces.
He made his remarks in The Irish Times yesterday, saying Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s decision to appoint himself Minister for Defence had undermined the Defence Forces and had been “disastrous” for it.
Although Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe TD was Minister for State at the Department of Defence, Mr Berry said senior civil servants were really in charge, even though they had no military experience and were not accountable.
The Defence Forces was being controlled, demoralised and humiliated by the Department of Defence. Rates of pay and allowances were so poor that personnel were being forced by poverty to leave, causing the staffing crisis.
Over the past 15 years, the highest number of departures, or discharges, from the Defence Forces in any one year occurred in 2012.
Some 803 personnel left during that year ,when public servants were offered the option to retire on pensions based on their salaries before recession-related pay cuts.
That year aside, the highest number of departures from the Defence Forces over the past 15 years occurred last year and the previous year, when 731 and 742 personnel left.
However, in 2017 when 742 left, some 751 recruits were taken in, meaning a net gain of inductions compared to discharges. But last year there was a net loss of personnel.
It had already emerged earlier this year that numbers in the Defence Forces had fallen below 8,500, despite official Government policy to retain the strength at or above 9,500 with several hundred more in training.
In the Dáil on Tuesday, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald urged union recognition for personnel who "are the worst paid in the public service" and many are dependent on the working family payment.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said being Minister for Defence “cannot be a job-sharing role for the Taoiseach”, who has delegated responsibility to a Minister of State.
Report on pay
Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys said the Public Service Pay Commission report on Defence Forces pay would come before Cabinet in the coming weeks. She added that “the recovery in the economy has provided the fiscal resources to provide a fair and sustainable recovery in the public service pay scale”.
Ms McDonald said a total review of pay and conditions was needed and the report was on the desk of the Minister for Public Expenditure now.
Mr Howlin said the former commandant’s comments were “unprecedented criticisms of the Department of Defence and defence policy made by a retiring senior military officer”.
Mr Howlin added that the departing officer “said the sense of betrayal across our Defence Forces is palpable”.
Ms Humphreys said the Government had provided €1 billion for the Defence Forces and was fully committed to ensuring they had the resources to deal with all their functions.
She said the commission was the proper independent body to deal with pay and its report would be brought to Cabinet “within the coming weeks”.