Reserve Defence Forces may cease to exist ‘within months’

RDFRA general secretary says only 60 recruits trained out of nearly 6,000 applicants

The Reserve Defence Forces could cease to exist within months if extra commitments are not given to strengthen the organisation, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Addressing a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defence joint committee on Thursday, members of the Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association (RDFRA) criticised the Department of Defence for pursuing a "latent policy to run the remains of the reserve into the ground".

The association's general secretary Neil Richardson said 60 reservists were recruited and trained between September 2015 and December 2016, despite nearly 6,000 applications being received.

He said the organisation suffered a net reduction in numbers over the same period, and claimed the Department of Defence and certain elements of the military authorities “simply could not care less about the Reserve Defence Forces” and do not see it as a “real part” of the Defence Forces.

Mr Richardson argued that current recruitment trends will see the reserve, which has an effective strength of 2,000 members, cease to exist by 2026.

The association's vice-chairman Eugene Gargan added that it may "even be months" before the organisation is forced out of existence due to deficiencies in training imposed by the recruitment restrictions.

Mr Richardson said there was a “health and safety disaster waiting to happen”. He said reservists were not supplied with individualised protective equipment for drills and pooled items are regularly returned to stores in a “heavily soiled state”.

Annual gratuity

“I would like to invite the committee to imagine what a mould-covered sweat-soaked helmet, or a wet-suit covered in sheep faeces looks like when it is removed from a warm storeroom after several months of storage,” he said.

He also said the payment of allowances for reserve duty are sometimes delayed for months, and called for the reinstatement of an annual gratuity for members.

“Ultimately, RDFRA believes that the constant river of obstacles faced by the reserves stems from a culture within the Department of Defence and elements within the military authorities who simply could not care less about the Reserve Defence Forces,” he told the TDs and Senators.

“To be blunt, the effect of this latent policy is to run the remains of the reserve into the ground for their own reasons, reasons which we believe run counter to the stated policy of this and previous governments,” he added.

Fine Gael TD and former minister for defence Sean Barrett responded that the RDFRA's was the "most damning report" he had seen in his 36 years as a member of the Oireachtas.

His proposal to bring the report to the immediate attention of Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett gained the unanimous approval of all committee members present.

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers, a former reservist, said she was "appalled and disgusted" at the organisation's treatment, and Independent Senator Billy Lawless agreed that the report made for "disturbing" reading.

Elsewhere, members of the committee agreed to write to Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan regarding a proposal to open a new passport office in Monaghan in light of the influx of applications from Northern Ireland after last year's Brexit vote.

The motion was put forward by Monaghan-based Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher, who said such a move could bring an economic boost to the area.