Friday 20 October 2017

Defence Forces members 'buying themselves out of the military' as numbers hit lowest in 50 years

Current strength of the military has dipped under 9,000 - the lowest number in at least fifty years

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Tom Brady

Tom Brady

More than a thousand members of the Defence Forces have paid the State an average of €300 each to buy themselves out of the military in the past five years.

The huge number prepared to hand over cash to be allowed give up their job underlines the huge personnel problems in the Defence Forces.

A conference will be told today that poor pay rates and terms of contract are being cited as the reasons for the early departure of trained soldiers, sailors and aircrew.

The current strength of the military has dipped under 9,000 - the lowest number in at least fifty years while Ireland's spending on defence is rated as the lowest in the EU, according to official figures.

On the eve of the opening of the annual conference of Pdforra, the association representing the enlisted personnel in the Defence Forces, its general secretary Ger Guinan said the current crisis in recruitment was a major and worrying challenge and the official attitude to resolving it reflected poorly on the Department of Defence and the Government.

Key specialist units, such as the bomb disposal squad and air traffic controllers are being deprived of badly needed resources because of the crisis, delegates in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, will be told today.

The workload of the bomb disposal unit has increased by 50pc in the past few years because of falling numbers while officers are working 70-hour weeks, their "number twos" 53 hours and drivers 60 hours, an official audit shows.

Each specialist member of the unit costs the State around €100,000 to become fully trained in a four-year time-frame but at the moment there is no move to replace those, who have left.

A numbers crisis in the Naval Service has arisen because there are only seven crews to man eight ships and sailors are being forced to forego shore leave with their families and spend more time at sea to fill in the gaps resulting in forced retirements from the military.

And in the Air Corps, a shortage of air traffic controllers has resulted in a call-out service being operated between 11pm and 7am with staff receiving no extra pay if they have to work in the early hours.

Mr Guinan said only 8pc of those, who expressed an initial interest in joining the Defence Forces during a recruitment campaign, were available if called for selection.

This failure was due to people not enjoying the security of tenure that was available to other public servants or the protections of basic employment legislation, like the working time directive, as well as pay rates at the bottom of the public service league.

"If the Department of Defence is serious about trying to recruit and retain personnel, they need to offer comparable pay and conditions.

"Our members have been sidelined by a government, who profess they will treat us fairly because of the need to exclude us from membership of ICTU but it is difficult to reconcile the aspirations outlined in the Defence white paper with the current malaise and the challenges we are facing", Mr Guinan added.

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