Defence Forces members are living on boats ‘deemed unsuitable for accommodation’

Pdforra president outlines poor conditions for personnel at annual conference

Mark Keane speaks during a Pdforra conference in Castlebar, Co Mayo, in 2018. File photograph: Mick Burke/Defence Forces

Mark Keane speaks during a Pdforra conference in Castlebar, Co Mayo, in 2018. File photograph: Mick Burke/Defence Forces

 

The president of the Defence Forces representative body Pdforra has said conditions for members are so bad that 80 naval personnel are living on boats, some of which were deemed to be unsuitable for accommodation when they were commissioned 35 years ago.

Mark Keane told the organisation’s annual conference in the Mount Wolseley Estate in Co Carlow on Wednesday that “soldiers, sailors and airmen” should have an accommodation allowance, similar to that available to gardaí, prison officers and fire officers.

However, accommodation was just one of a number of issues, including pay, promotion and medical care, which he said must be addressed to stem the outflow of key personnel from the Defence Forces generally.

Numbers in the Defence Forces have recently fallen by more than 600 to some 8,500, which he said was “well below the numbers required” to execute their tasks efficiently and safely.

He said numbers must be addressed as the “goodwill and esprit de corps is being eroded further as those left behind must pick up the pieces”.

Mr Keane said the Air Corps was suffering a chronic shortage of ramp operatives, aircraft maintenance technicians and air traffic controllers.

The Army is also suffering with similar issues, “with severe shortages in CIS [communications and information services], ordnance and across the brigades/formations . . . At present there is a severe lack of a policy to stem the tide of highly skilled people leaving the Defence Forces,” he said.

He said the Naval Service was at its lowest strength for 10 years. “It is a shocking statistic that the Naval Service today has enough crews to safely operate just six ships; remember delegates – we have nine ships in the fleet.”

Union affiliation

Earlier, the organisation’s general secretary, Gerard Guinan, said recent opposition from the Government and the Defence Forces chief of staff, Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, to Pdforra affiliating with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) “has come as somewhat of a surprise”.

He said “pronouncements” to the effect that a Pdforra alliance with Ictu could potentially give rise to State security concerns “were contained within various Government submissions to the European social rights committee in 2015 and 2016. However, despite these pronouncements, the European social rights committee vindicated Pdforra’s stance that we should be allowed to associate with Ictu.”

However, in his own address to the conference Mr Mellett said: “Óglaigh na hÉireann is a key component of the security architecture of the State – clearly, the taking of any form of industrial action is incompatible with military service.

“When the call comes from Government or from our other security service partners, we must always be ready to respond immediately, as we have always done since the foundation of this State.”

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe said the issues were being resolved but “without doubt the challenges that face the defence organisation cannot be solved overnight”. He said he had asked his officials to engage directly with Pdforra on the medical assistance scheme, and he urged the representative body to accept the recommendations of the recent Public Service Pay Commission report. He said once agreement on the commission recommendations had been reached with Pdforra, outstanding pay awards would be backdated to last year, October 1st, 2018. “It is money in their pockets,” he told reporters.