Civilianisation will leave Defence Forces lacking expertise, Coveney told
Officers in the Defence Forces fear that Government plans for civilianisation will result in a loss of military expertise.
They want Defence Minister Simon Coveney to spell out how and where civilian personnel would be deployed.
And they also want to know the Government's objective in implementing the measure.
The annual conference of Raco, the representative association for officers in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, heard in Naas yesterday that there were repeated references to civilianisation in the government white paper, which sets out policy for the next 10 years.
The officers fear that the real aim of the plans is to further reduce numbers in the military organisation.
The strength of the Defence Forces has been cut in recent years from 12,000 to 9,500, which is its current authorised figure, but the actual strength has dropped to 9,200.
The officers claim that in many areas personnel are leaving more quickly than they can recruit replacements.
Raco general secretary Comdt Earnan Naughton said the development of military expertise was vital to the Defence Forces and could not be sourced externally.
"Military expertise, in most instances, can only be developed through training and testing, based on national and international best military practice", he added.
"The nine-to-five desk ethos will not deliver tested military capability in extreme circumstances", he warned.
Comdt Naughton said the unique exigencies of military service were designed to meet the most extreme demands and the capability of applying military force must never be compromised by diluted substitutes, instead of proven professionalism.
"The risks are too great", he told delegates. "If the civilianisation concept is management's response to inadequate retention policies, which we believe it is, then it is only a temporary and weak substitute, rather than addressing the underlying issues surrounding retention."
Earlier in the conference, Mr Coveney criticised Comdt Naughton for his warning on Ireland's ability to cope with terrorism.
Comdt Naughton had said that while Ireland had the capacity to cope with an individual terrorist strike, it did not have the resources to confront the terrorist threat on a continual basis.
The minister had earlier warned the conference that statements such statements should not be made as they could create a climate of fear among the public.
But Comdt Naughton claimed that the military did not have the resources at present in some key specialist areas as well as the "top end" equipment including radar and aircraft, to monitor unauthorised flights into Irish airspace, to deal with an ongoing terrorist threat.