Recruitment drive to build up forces
Defence Minister Paul Kehoe has signalled that he expects gaps in key specialist units in the Defence Forces will be filled as a result of increased resources pledged in the Budget.
Funding is now being provided to bring the strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps back up to the establishment figure of 9,500. The military organisation has been operating at below that figure for several years and currently has around 9,000 personnel.
All units have been hit as a result but the shortfall in resources has had a particular impact on vital areas, such as the bomb disposal section and air traffic controllers. The budget allocation, which increases defence spending by €25m from €921m to €946m in the coming year, contains a commitment to recruit 800 personnel this year followed by a similar number in the following 12 months.
Retirements and resignations from the Defence Forces have averaged around 550 over the past decade and the extra numbers being taken in should boost strength up to 9,500 by the end of 2018.
Mr Kehoe indicated that the increased intake, which will include general service recruits, apprentices, cadets and direct entry officers, will provide the necessary resources to ensure the military can operate at full strength in all roles, at home and overseas. However, there is no mention of providing an extra 250 personnel in training, which was part of the original compromise agreement, after numbers had been slashed from 12,000 during the late 1990s.
The Budget includes an additional €98m for capital funding with expenditure earmarked for 2018 to including improving accommodation facilities for the three services; the purchase of another naval vessel, the LE George Bernard Shaw, due for delivery mid-year; new information and communication technology hardware; the purchase of force protection equipment; and replacement of Air Corps craft. A tender competition is already under way for three larger aircraft to replace the existing Cessna fleet and these will be equipped for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks.
Moves to replace both Casa maritime patrol aircraft will be taken in 2018 while the additional funding will also be used to begin the process of buying a multi-role vessel to replace the LE Eithne.
Money will also be spent on upgrades in accommodation and an ammunition storage depot at the Defence Forces training centre at the Curragh and refurbishments at Cathal Brugha barracks and the equitation stables at McKee barracks, both in Dublin.