Defence Forces re-enlistment campaign nets just 62 ex-members

New figures are evidence of ‘abject failure’ by department, says Fianna Fáil TD

The Department of Defence launched a scheme last April to bring back retired staff in a bid to bolster an ever-shrinking force beset by pay and morale issues. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Department of Defence has been accused of "abject failure" in its handling of Defence Forces recruitment after new figures show a year-old campaign to re-enlist former members has so far added just 62 people across ranks.

Last April the department launched a scheme to bring back retired staff in a bid to bolster an ever-shrinking force beset by pay and morale issues.

However, new figures show that of a total 744 people of NCO (non-commissioned officer) rank and below who applied to return to the Army, Navy and Air Corps, just 55 have been accepted and 44 reinducted.

Of 60 former-commissioned officers who expressed interest in returning, 18 have been recommissioned, the large majority of those (14) in the Air Corps.


Fianna Fáil TD for Sligo-Leitrim Marc Mac Sharry, who obtained the data, accused the department of abject failure in its effort to bump up numbers and said personnel issues should fall under the remit of the chief of staff, not an assistant secretary general within the department.

“Our Defence Forces have been haemorrhaging personnel for several years due to a combination of poor pay and conditions,” Mr MacSharry said.

“The Defence Forces chief of staff has no responsibility or authority in terms of the strategic human resource management of our Army, Navy or Air Corps. This is simply wrong.”

PDForra, the organisation representing rank-and-file personnel, said the “failure to attract veterans back into service is a product of low pay, poor conditions and inappropriate contracts”.

It said it is currently in dispute with the department regarding various aspects of pay for returning personnel, “which does not bode well”.

However, the officer class of the Defence Forces described efforts to recommission former members as “largely positive”.

‘Welcome return’

"We welcome the return of the skilled Army and Navy technical officers, whose skill sets will assist in plugging HR and capability gaps," said Comdt Conor King, general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco).

“The recommissioning of former pilots has yielded over a dozen returnees to date, all with significant operational and management experience, which has stabilised aircraft commander shortages, oversight roles and senior staff appointments, and is also very welcome.

“However, at this stage it is unclear as to how many of the pilots will remain in service once the aviation industry recovers post-Covid-19.”

In response, the Department of Defence said human resource strategy is developed jointly by management within the department and the Defence Forces.

“There is very close and ongoing collaborative working arrangements between the civil and military branches of the Department of Defence on the full range of HR matters. The Defence Forces have responsibility for conducting recruitment competitions to the Defence Forces.”

It also said the Defence Forces does not have the authority to alter pay levels unless sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Earlier this month a row broke out between the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces over an article criticising the number of civil servants overseeing the military.

The December article in the Defence Forces Review, the journal published by the Defence Forces, said the department has significantly more control over the military than civil servants in other smaller, neutral states.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times