Defence Forces staffing crisis creating ‘risk’ at officer level

Turnover rate among personnel is ‘devastatingly high’ Oireachtas committee hears

The Government is failing ‘miserably’ in treating Defence Forces personnel properly, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The Government is failing ‘miserably’ in treating Defence Forces personnel properly, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

 

A staffing crisis in the Defence Forces is leading to younger officers taking on more and more responsibility, creating greater risks for the force, the representative body for officers has warned.

The Government is failing “miserably” in treating Defence Forces personnel properly, the general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) told the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs and defence.

Speaking at the committee, Commandant Conor King said the Defence Forces was “struggling” to perform its role, both at home and abroad, due to falling personnel numbers.

“Óglaigh na hÉireann is at its lowest strength in decades, and morale has certainly never been so low in my over 20 years’ service as it is today,” Comdt King said.

The turnover rate in the Defence Forces was “devastatingly high” at nine per cent, and as high as 14 per cent in the Naval Service, he said.

“The Army is struggling to fulfil its assigned tasks, domestically and internationally. Ships are unable to go to sea and aircraft are not flying as a result of personnel shortages,” Comdt King said.

Due to the falling personnel numbers, the defence capabilities of the force “is being ground into the dust”, he warned.

Working conditions and morale in the Defence Forces have been under increasing scrutiny in recent months.

In an outspoken interview with The Irish Times this week, former head of the Army Ranger Wing Cathal Berry said he had left the Defence Forces, as it had been “dismantled and demoralised” by Government policy.

The force has been beset with recruitment problems, and difficulties retaining staff. Last year it saw the largest net drop in personnel for almost a decade, heightening pressure on the Government to improve pay and conditions of personnel.

Members in the Army, Air Corp and Naval Service were “double and treble jobing,” due to gaps created by personnel leaving, Comdt King said.

“It is no exaggeration to state that the Defence Forces is staring into the abyss,” he said.

Raco president Commandant Shane Keogh said the retention crisis was creating “gaps day-to-day in every unit in the Defence Forces,” with those remaining carrying the extra burden.

At officer level, younger personnel were being given senior roles with less experience than traditionally would be the case, he told the committee. This created “huge issues in terms of governance, [AND]huge issues in terms of risk,” Comdt Keogh said.

The shortage was placing a significant number of young officers “under high levels of stress,” potentially leading to accidents or mistakes, Comdt King said.

Raco were calling for an independent body that would make recommendations on pay and conditions for Defence Forces personnel.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on defence Jack Chambers said the evidence from Comdt King painted a “very stark picture” of the challenges facing the Defence Forces.

The Department of Defence is treating concerns raised by Raco officers with “disrespect and disregard,” Mr Chambers said. When it came to the declining strength of the force, the “level of spin” from the departmetn “ was very worrying”, he said.