Defence Forces chief says 'no crisis' - despite pay and morale problems
The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces has denied there is a crisis as a result of poor pay rates and falling numbers - but he admits being confronted by "myriad" challenges.
Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett is now seeking permission to make an oral submission to the public-sector pay commission to seek a wage rise across all ranks for his personnel.
The military management has already lodged a joint written submission with the Department of Defence, setting out what he described as a robust case for a boost to pay rates, which are the lowest in the public sector.
But he now wants to make a plea personally for wage increases that will remove pay from the top of his agenda and allow the Defence Forces to focus on other difficulties.
These include problems retaining personnel - with the numbers leaving in the past year almost equal to those being recruited.
He told the annual conference of Pdforra, the representative association for soldiers, sailors and air crew in the Defence Forces, in Castlebar yesterday that the Defence Forces must have enough men and women to tackle the challenges they faced.
These included international state-sponsored espionage and cybercrime as well as violent extremists and terrorists.
He said he accepted that people believed too little had been done but his job was to advise the Government and he had done so, particularly over the last 18 months. It came after Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin told the Dáil that a large number of people were leaving the Forces due to low morale, poor conditions and bad pay.
Mr Martin said there was a serious shortage of skilled people, such as bomb disposal experts and pilots, and two naval vessels were unable to sail due to lack of sailors, while a third vessel was relying on reservists.
He said that there was a 30pc shortage of pilots in the Air Corps and large numbers of people were "buying themselves out" of the Forces generally.
"The Government has failed the Army, failed the Defence Forces," Mr Martin said, adding that relations between the Forces and the Defence Department were described as "toxic."
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the issue of vessels being unable to sail would be dealt with by a report from the chief of staff to Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe.
He said the Defence Forces had a large turnover of membership because it was a job for younger people. He said the leaving rate was 8pc but conceded that there were problems of skills shortages which were now being examined.
Separately, the return of Irish peacekeeping troops from Syria has been delayed for several days. A mistake in completing their forms for clearance to travel was made in the Lebanese Embassy in London, with Lebanon incorrectly replacing Syria as their mission.