DEFENCE chiefs have been warned that the organisation cannot continue being cannibalised to fund the purchase of equipment or fill gaps elsewhere in the Budget.
Col Brian O'Keeffe, general secretary of the officers' representative association, RACO, said the development of the Defence Forces for more than a decade had been funded largely through payroll savings, which had been achieved through significant reductions in headcount.
He told his association's biennial delegate conference in Macreddin, Co Wicklow, that defence numbers were cut, even in the years of plenty in the public finances.
There had been seven major strategic reviews of the Defence Forces in recent years, personnel numbers had been slashed by 28pc and 16 barracks and posts had been closed.
"And yet our inputs have increased", he pointed out.
"This is due, in the main, to the quality of the personnel of the Defence Forces at all levels."
For the past five years, the necessary and well-deserved improvements in the terms and conditions of RACO's members during the first 17 years of its existence, had been under sustained attack.
Col O'Keeffe said this approach was not sustainable in the medium to long term and the funding model for defence was an issue that had to be tackled urgently.
He warned that there was an inherent danger in the manner in which the Defence Forces rose to every challenge, which could mean they would be taken for granted.
He feared they would become victims of performance punishment at organisational level because they always delivered effectively, whatever was demanded from them.
He told junior defence minister and government chief whip Paul Kehoe, who addressed the conference, that it would be a betrayal of the members of the Defence Forces if that was allowed to happen.