Sunday 24 June 2018

Paul Williams: How the Defence Forces are in a state of crisis kept hidden behind barrack walls

Alisha Mahon (11) from Lucan, Dublin, leads the wives and partners of the Defence Forces in a protest at Leinster House. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Alisha Mahon (11) from Lucan, Dublin, leads the wives and partners of the Defence Forces in a protest at Leinster House. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Pual Williams

As a nation we collectively express our visceral outrage and grief when one of our soldiers, airmen or sailors is killed in the line of duty.

We use such nouns and adjectives like ‘hero’, ‘heroic’, ‘courage’, ‘patriot’, ‘service’ and ‘self less’.

These terms commonly appear both in the media coverage and our individual conversations when members of our Defence Forces lose their lives – either at home or abroad while serving this State.

Over the past almost 60 years the Irish public have turned out in large numbers to pay solemn tribute to the fallen and expressed solidarity with their comrades and families as lines of impeccable marching troops escort their dead to the graveyard.

One of the fallen was a friend of mine, Corporal Peter Ward, from the village of Fenagh in Co Leitrim.

Peter was shot and killed while on patrol in South Lebanon in 1992. He left behind a young wife and children.

For some reason Peter Ward’s face materialised in my mind as I watched the families of serving soldiers protesting at the appalling pay and conditions their loved ones work under.

It should be a source of intense shame for all of us.

This is how we reward the bravery, loyalty and dedication of good people like Peter Ward?

The fact that proud, patriotic men and women who serve this State are forced to seek social welfare to support their families is unconscionable and damned right unacceptable.

The Department of Defence has exploited the recession to systematically undermine and hollow out the efficacy of our military organisation.

Over the past 10 months this newspaper has highlighted the deplorable state of our Navy, Air Corps and Army after years of remorseless resource cuts.

Underpaid soldiers are being ordered to travel from as far as Donegal to carry out basic barrack security duties in Dublin while the Air Corps had to admit it could no longer provide an air ambulance service to the public.

The Navy has eight ships – but only enough personnel to crew seven.

As a consequence of poor pay and impossible work overload, there has been an unprecedented brain drain of highly trained personnel whose skills have cost the taxpayers millions to provide.

Despite departmental and Government spin, the Defence Forces are in a state of crisis being kept hidden behind the barrack walls.

The men and women who serve in our Defence Forces can be justifiably proud that they are members of an organisation that has been one of the pillars that our democracy – which we sometimes take for granted – has relied on since we gained independence in 1922.

During the 30 years of the Troubles, when the IRA and Sinn Féin were involved in a systematic effort to undermine our nation, the Defence Forces– in support of gardaí – provided the bulwark against extreme Republican violence and anarchy.

Is reducing them to penury our way of rewarding their courage, loyalty and patriotism?

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