Army hit by ‘disastrous’ policies, claims retired commandant

Defence Forces ‘dismantled and demoralised’ as low pay forces out personnel

Irish Army Ranger wing on patrol in Chad in 2008. Cathal Berry says he is leaving the Defence Forces because he can no longer watch it being so badly damaged.

Irish Army Ranger wing on patrol in Chad in 2008. Cathal Berry says he is leaving the Defence Forces because he can no longer watch it being so badly damaged.

 

The Defence Forces is being “dismantled and demoralised” by “disastrous” Government policies, and Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe is out of his depth, the former head of the Army Ranger Wing has said.

Cathal Berry, who led the elite Ranger Wing in Chad for six years, said he was joining the exodus from the Defence Forces because he could no longer watch it being so badly damaged.

“The sense of absolute betrayal is palpable. It is visceral. I haven’t seen anything even remotely like it in 23 years’ service,” he said.

His speaking out in The Irish Times is unprecedented for a former head of the Army Ranger Wing, members of which cannot be identified while still serving.

Retired Comdt Berry said poor rates of pay and allowances for enlisted personnel, rather than officers, were driving personnel out of the Defence Forces. Some 9 per cent of personnel were leaving each year, with a “retention crisis” now pronounced and worsening.

Numbers in the Defence Forces have dropped below 8,500 – with more in training – for the first time, despite a Government promise to retain the Defence Forces at 9,500.

‘Complete disaster’

While Mr Varadkar was “on balance an okay Taoiseach”, his also appointing himself as Minister for Defence was “a complete disaster”.

“There is good reason why every other EU country has a full-time defence minister. Failures in the defence portfolio can have catastrophic consequences.”

Retired Comdt Berry (41), who left his position three weeks ago after 23 years service, said he had no issue with Mr Kehoe on a personal level, adding he was personable and “an easy man to talk to”. His record in office, however, was “another matter”.

“He’s an empty suit, completely out of his depth, simply not up to the job. Everyone knows it,” he said.

“As a junior minister he has been the permanent presence in the Department of Defence since 2011 and has therefore presided over the demise of the Defence Forces.

“To reduce a highly effective and proud organisation to an utterly demoralised outfit over an eight-year period is some achievement.”

Unchecked ‘crisis’

Retired Comdt Berry has in a wide-ranging interview raised his concerns about what he says is the “humiliation and suffocation” of the Defence Forces. He added that because serving personnel could not speak up, the “crisis” has continued unchecked.

The Department of Defence said the Public Service Pay Commission had examined the issue of recruitment and retention in the defence sector. Its report was currently with Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe TD.

It added a programme of public service pay restoration, including for Defence Force members, was also under way. Other questions, including those relating to Mr Kehoe’s and the department’s performance, were not responded to.