Defence Forces – struggling to stand still
Sir, – Your leader of November 6th, and Conor Lally’s article “Survey of personnel reveals plummeting morale and increased stress across ranks” (October 23rd), appear to have provoked no controversy at all. Perhaps this reflects the nation’s interest in matters of defence! The report by the University of Limerick is deeply worrying as recruitment and retention of soldiers are crucial to volunteer armed forces, as is well understood in other nations. Young people join their nation’s armed forces for a number of reasons; among those are the attraction of hard training, foreign service, reasonable pay and good conditions. It would appear the Defence Forces fail on the latter two counts, and the remedy lies in the hands of Government.
For decades Irish governments have kept the Defence Forces short of funding. If you extract the pension element from the defence vote (where it should not be in the first place) the amount of money allocated, after pay, is pitifully small for anything else. It nets down to about 0.5 per cent of GDP. Denmark, for example, with a broadly similar population, spends about four times the amount spent by Ireland. New Zealand spends nearly three times the amount allocated by Ireland.
As long as Government keeps the Defence Forces short of money for pay and conditions, it is hardly surprising that trained soldiers will seek to leave as soon as they can. There are, in addition, large gaps in the equipment held by the Defence Forces: the Air Corps is pitifully short of helicopters and it has no transport aircraft, let alone any aircraft capable of defending Irish air space; the Army has no armour, properly so-called, in the Cavalry Corps. These are simply examples resulting from a dire shortage in the funding of the Defence Forces.
The Taoiseach is also the Minister of Defence! The remedy lies with him. Sweet words from Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe will not solve the problem; the Taoiseach, however, can, but sadly I will not be holding my breath! – Yours, etc,