Defence Forces recruitment campaign yielded net increase of three personnel

Fianna Fáil leader warns Taoiseach that ‘you can’t recruit your way out of a crisis’

The number of Defence Forces personnel in 2017 increased by just three new recruits despite a “huge” year-long recruitment campaign, according to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

He accused the Government of a “blind reliance” on recruitment over retention and said that between 40 and 50 members of all ranks were exiting the Defence Forces every month.

Highlighting the crisis in retaining Defence Forces personnel, Mr Martin warned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who is also Minister for Defence, that "you can't recruit your way out of a crisis" and said there was a crisis in the numbers even allowing for the 450 personnel in full-time training and the 670 serving overseas.

The Taoiseach said however that a number of initiatives were underway and the public sector pay commission would “expedite” its report on pay, conditions and allowances and expected to have it by mid-May.


During leaders' questions in the Dáil Mr Martin highlighted that ships were not able to go to sea last month because of the lack of personnel and the Air Corps operating at just 70 per cent capacity.

Mr Martin said the Defence Forces Chief of Staff Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett had said there was always "churn" in personnel numbers, normally at a rate of 5 per cent but currently 8 per cent.

Figures released last year showed the State spent € 360,000 on recruitment in 2017.

Mr Martin said there was a net increase of just three additional personnel that year.

He claimed that at all levels “there are no initiatives to retain people. All the initiatives are designed to incentivise people outside the Defence Forces” and there was a failure to retain specialist expertise.

The Cork South-Central TD said that personnel were even moving from the Defence Forces to the Department of Communications for better pay and conditions.

He highlighted the campaign by wives and partners of Defence Forces personnel whose families were living in food, income and child poverty and said the Government is “completely out of touch with the reality on the ground”.

Mr Martin added that the Department of Defence seemed to be “undermining the case being put by Defence Forces personnel to turn this around”. He said they were meeting obstacles “in each and every direction” to their initiatives to retain personnel.

The Taoiseach acknowledged the difficulties with retention of personnel but said “pay restoration is well underway across the public sector” and further increases were on the way, some in the next few weeks.

He said that anyone under € 80,000 would have full pay restoration by the end of this year.

“We’re allowing for the re-entry of people into the Defence Forces,” he said. That was not allowed in the past but people who left would now be allowed to return.

Other initiatives including going from periodic to continuous recruitment of personnel, he said.

He added that the Government had asked the public sector pay commission to examine the terms and conditions and allowances Defence force members have.

He said they had asked if the report can be expedited and the commission “believes they can have their report by the middle of May”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times