Shatter told 'stop madness of savage defence cuts'
Savage cuts in the Defence Forces are revealing weaknesses that can be exploited by dissident republican terrorists.
And groups like the Real IRA, who were suspected of monitoring the headquarters of the Garda Special Branch in Dublin last week, could pose a very serious threat to the security of the nation.
That was the stark message delivered to Defence Minister Alan Shatter yesterday by soldiers affected by the current military reorganisation.
The annual conference of Pdforra, the representative association for soldiers, sailors and aircrew, heard in Kilkenny that the Defence Forces had been reduced to such an extent that it was no longer "fit for purpose".
Association president Willie Webb appealed to Mr Shatter and the Government to "stop this madness". He demanded an end to barrack closures and wants a recruitment campaign to bring the overall strength of the Defence Forces back up to 9,500, with another 250 in training and to keep it there.
In what was the toughest speech from a Pdforra president in a decade, Mr Webb accused certain elements in the government and in the civil service of constantly trying to bring about the total destruction of the Defence Forces.
Security concerns were also expressed by association general secretary Gerry Rooney, who said that the paramilitary activities on the streets of Dublin at the funeral of murdered Real IRA boss Alan Ryan last month should act as a reminder to all that the security forces were an important part of our democracy.
But junior defence minister Paul Kehoe, deputising for Mr Shatter, who is ill, denied that the reorganisation was turning into a shambles and said he was satisfied that morale was high among the troops.
He accepted that there were difficulties in implementing change.
Mr Kehoe said the dangers posed by dissidents were kept in mind as the changes were being developed.
Meanwhile, the conference also heard that a culture of bullying and harassment is set to flourish again.
Soldiers predicted a rise in the number of complaints as a result of the decision by the Department of Defence to downgrade the office of the ombudsman for the Defence Forces to a part-time post.
The decision was revealed last July by the Irish Independent and the existing ombudsman Paulyn Marrinan Quinn expressed her surprise at the move.
Her contract expired last month but she can apply for the new position, which has been reduced in hours from 40 to 25 per week.
Deputy general secretary Simon Devereux said: "It gives out the wrong message and increases the possibility of old habits and culture emerging."