Saturday 19 October 2019

More than a third of military personnel have left the Defence Forces in the past five years, Dail committee told

The Government has acknowledged challenging conditions for Defence Forces members (Aaron Chown/PA).
The Government has acknowledged challenging conditions for Defence Forces members (Aaron Chown/PA).
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

More than a third of military personnel have left the Defence Forces in the past five years, an Oireachtas committee was told today.

And almost nine out of ten members of the organisation earn below the average public sector wage.

These startling figures, underlining the biggest retention crisis ever facing the military, were revealed today by the leader of RACO, the association representing officers in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps.

RACO general secretary, Comdt Conor King accused the Department of Defence of being either unwilling or unable to introduce any credible retention policy to stem the exodus of trained personnel.

RACO is now calling for a specific independent Defence Forces pay review body to ensure the unique nature of the military service is recognised and that a group of people with limited industrial relations status are fairly treated.

The call has been made as a report from the public pay sector commission is expected to show disappointing recommendations that will make no impact on the numbers leaving.

The report, due to go before the Cabinet next month, is confined to suggesting increases to allowances because of restrictions imposed in its brief and does not tackle pay rises.

Comdt King told the Oireachtas foreign affairs, trade and defence committee today, that the Central Statistics Office continually reported that the military were the lowest paid public sector employees, which was ironic as , at the same time, they were being described as the most trusted public service organisation in the State, with a "trust score" of 82pc.

He said 87pc of all personnel earned well below the average public sector wage and no amount of recruitment would "fill the leaking bucket".

He pointed out that 3,200 personnel had left the Defence Forces between 2014 and 2018, which represented an "astonishing" 34.7pc of the average strength for those years.

And 82pc of those leaving were premature voluntary retirements. Last September revealed that over an eleven month period up to the end of July, showed that the Defence Forces had recruited 699 personnel but over the same period had lost 632 members, a net gain of 67 people, or 0.7pc.

Comdt King disclosed that the final figures for 2018 showed a net loss of 120 personnel, bringing the strength down to less than 8,900, its lowest strength in decades and more than 600 below the authorised figure of 9,500.

In March of this year, RACO reported to the pay commission that the turnover rate was a devastatingly high 8.1pc. It now stood at 9pc overall and 14pc in the Naval Service.

When faced with a turnover rate of 5pc, the Ministry of Defence in the UK had declared a retention crisis.

In the first four months of this year, there were 256 discharges, by far the biggest figure since the reorganisation in 2012, with 86 leaving in April.

The impact of those reduced numbers resulted in:

The Army struggling to fulfil its assigned tasks, domestically and internationally

The Naval Service unable to send ships to sea because of staff shortages

The Air Corps forced to keep aircraft on the ground because they did not have enough personnel to fly them.

"Yet, the Department of Defence continues to prioritise costly recruitment policies in favour of tangible retention initiatives", Comdt King said.

"This historically high turnover rate is leading to the creation of a crippling operational and training tempo for remaining service personnel.

"When is the government going to shout stop? Does it realise that defence capability is being ground into the dust? Does it care? "

He said the Defence Forces were currently surviving on the goodwill and loyalty of its personnel, that willingness to go over and above the call of duty to achieve the mission or complete the task.

"The inability of personnel to take to the streets in protest at their appalling service conditions has resulted in them voting with their feet and leaving the organisation.

"It has, however, been humbling to witness the efforts to veteran and family organisations in attempting to highlight the shameful treatment of service personnel.

"Their efforts have not gone unnoticed and,hopefully, shall not be in vain".

Comdt King told the committee it was no exaggeration to suggest that the Defence Forces was staring into the abyss.

Read more here: Micheál Martin tells Dáil Irish naval ships unable to sail due to 'huge safety issues'

Taoiseach has 'absolute confidence' in Defence Minister despite claims he is 'out of his depth' 

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section