Saturday 21 September 2019

Defence Forces recruits being inducted for training without adequate security clearance

Security concerns as 'brain drain' hampers timely screening of Defence Forces entrants

CRISIS: Army numbers have dwindled to a 50-year low. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/
CRISIS: Army numbers have dwindled to a 50-year low. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/
Paul Williams

Paul Williams

Defence Forces recruits are being inducted for training without adequate security clearance, as the military authorities fight a losing battle against an inexorable decline in personnel numbers that threatens the organisation's ability to function, a Sunday Independent investigation can reveal.

Military sources claim that the rush to replace the losses suffered as a result of a "brain drain" from all ranks has forced the Department of Defence to forgo normal security clearance protocols which involves gardai carrying out essential background screening of new entrants - a process which can take between three and six months.

Instead, the Defence Forces are being forced to "Google" new applicants and also rely on a letter of reference from a "person of good standing", including a local garda, priest or football team manager, who is known to the potential recruit.

"It really has become farcical at this stage and it illustrates the sheer desperation and panic there is to reverse the brain drain across the three services," a senior military source said.

"New troops are being taken in and trained in the absence of a detailed garda background security check which includes enquiring whether the recruit has a criminal record or if there is intelligence concerning any possible associations with members of subversive or criminal gangs.

"No military organisation can induct new blood without carrying out such detailed assessments before the recruit is allowed to stand on the barrack square," the source added.

According to a number of military sources, the new recruits are often near the end of their basic training courses when the garda reports are received.

Another source said: "If it is discovered by then that the individual does not satisfy the security criteria laid down and has subversive or criminal associations, it is a bit late because by then we have trained that individual to a very high standard of proficiency in the use of explosives, advanced weapons and tactics that would be very valuable to such groups.

"It is important to point out and emphasise that this is not the fault of the gardai because they have a huge volume of background checks to complete all the time.''

The Sunday Independent can also reveal that the accelerated recruitment campaign for the Defence Forces has so far been a failure as more troops are leaving than are actually being recruited.

But military sources say the major issue is finding a way to retain highly trained officers, NCOs and rank-and-file personnel who possess skills built up over many years.

"The department has only two priorities: save money and protect the line minister and Government. They have been peddling dubious statistics which every man and woman in uniform knows are false and misleading," another source claimed.

"On Thursday the secretary general of the Department addressed the Joint Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defence when, in any other country, the meeting would also have invited the chief of staff and their senior officers."

Confidential documents seen by this newspaper provide further proof that there is a crisis across the Army, Navy and Air Corps as the organisational strength has dwindled to a 50-year low.

Despite the maximum recruitment drive, the current strength of the Defence Forces is just over 8,900 which is 600 below the designed establishment figure.

So far this year a total of 750 troops were recruited but 200 - or 30pc - left before completing the 16-week basic training course.

At the same time 700 experienced soldiers, airmen and sailors have left.

The confidential figures also show that 72 officers resigned from the Defence Forces between January and August of this year alone. Every unit in the Defence Forces is now operating at around 50pc below the required numbers of officers.

In the vast majority of cases, the personnel informed their superiors that they were leaving because of dissatisfaction with the terms and conditions.

There are currently 900 NCO vacancies throughout the Defence Forces including a shortfall of 450 sergeants.

The Defence Forces refused to comment on the security vetting process for "operational security reasons".

A spokesperson confirmed that "the Defence Forces recruited 550 personnel so far this year", and that 417 passed out as two-star privates.

Sunday Independent

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