Officers paying up to €67,000 to leave Defence Forces early

New graduates in cybersecurity and forensics, engineering, nautical science left

Defence Forces officers have paid up to €67,000 each to buy their way out of their military careers early rather than continue to serve for the time they initially agreed, it has emerged.

The Irish Times has established 24 officers across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service who were sent to university as part of their training then opted to pay their way out early over the past 4½ years.

Many of them had gained specialist skills in university such as in computer forensics, cyber security and combating cybercrime.

Less than a fortnight ago the Government’s own National Cyber Security Strategy warned of significant risks to Ireland’s economy and international reputation because the State was vulnerable to cyber attacks.


Shocking exodus

As well as the Army officer who paid €67,000, others paid €39,234, €33,427, €32,248 and €31,503. The average payment was just over €15,500.

A third of those who paid to leave early had studied nautical science while others studied engineering, financial maths, geomatics, financial management, strategic risk management and global security. The information was supplied by the Department of Defence in reply to queries.

Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on defence Jack Chambers TD described the departures as “a shocking exodus of key officers in highly specialised areas”.

Raco, which represents Defence Forces officers, said many young personnel who had paid their way out of service had done so at great cost to themselves. They had been “driven out” as barracks closures resulted in “impossible commutes” and plummeting numbers in the Defence Forces had left a culture of “double and treble jobbing”.

Questions put to Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe’s office by The Irish Times seeking his view on the loss of expertise and the desire of some young officers to pay large sums to end their military careers went unanswered at the time of publication.

Mr Kehoe has been under extreme pressure of late as numbers leaving the Defence Forces have surged. Two of the Naval Service’s nine largest vessels have been docked amid personnel shortages.

Defence Forces personnel who complete courses during their military careers must sign an undertaking to continue to serve for an agreed number of years after they graduate. That involves them serving in the Army, Naval Service or Air Corps after graduation for two years for every year they spent in university.

The Department of Defence said this arrangement meant the Defence Forces could “accrue a return” for the costs of sending them on courses. The department added that many employers across the public service had the same arrangement in place for employees who availed of “post-entry education”.

Mr Chambers said the fact young skilled officers were paying so much money to break their service “reinforces the absence of hope for the future of the Defence Forces”.


He added: “The individuals forking out up to €60,000 to escape the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps are precisely the kind of people we should be trying to hang onto and develop into key leadership positions to ensure a modern and progressive Defence Forces.

“Instead we are on a path to Armageddon where structures will continue to collapse until we see a turnaround in Government policy. The Government should urgently establish a full commission on the future of the Defence Forces and an independent pay review body so we can give stability, hope and a proper career trajectory for many of those who are leaving.”

Raco general secretary Comdt Conor King said critical skills were draining out of the Defence Forces. Unless steps were taken to ensure better retention of personnel, the "dysfunctional cycle of turnover" that had worsened in 2019 would continue.

“The loss of these critical skillsets in engineering, cyber defence and seamanship represents a very poor return on investment, and is quite the opposite of ‘value for money’,” he said.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times