Monday 19 August 2019

Security risk a 'threat to investment'

Former Defence Forces officer warns staffing crisis will compromise Ireland post Brexit

Retired Brigadier General Ger Aherne
Retired Brigadier General Ger Aherne
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

The Government has been warned Ireland's security is being compromised and will be threatened further in the wake of Brexit, with disastrous knock-on effects for foreign direct investment because of underspending in the Defence Forces.

Retired high-ranking officers yesterday called the crisis within the Defence Forces a "man-made humanitarian disaster" at a demonstration in Galway.

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They said underinvestment and failure to retain critical Army, Navy and Air Corps staff leaves the country vulnerable with Brexit now just weeks away.

Former Army Commandant Cathal Berry, a medical doctor and retired Army Ranger, said: "Our Defence Forces should be at the point of maximum strength, not at the point of historic weakness." Retired Brigadier General Ger Aherne, who during his career was responsible for securing approximately half the border with Northern Ireland, said the lack of investment in the Defence Forces was being observed from overseas.

He compared Ireland's lack of preparedness for Brexit to World War II and the civil rights campaign of the 1960s. Not being able to deal with political instability after a hard Brexit would deter foreign investors, he warned. "The State and its citizens should not underestimate how overseas corporate headquarters of large employers in Ireland are viewing these developments. Brexit is upon us, a hard and chaotic Brexit most likely. The EU will not jeopardise, in Ireland and for Ireland, the well-being of a central plank of the European project - the single market and its associated customs union.

"Ireland is not prepared for this or any medium-term political developments on the island of Ireland. We were not prepared in 1939 and 1969. History it seems repeats itself for Ireland in years when its last digit is nine."

Both men were speaking at a parade in Galway yesterday calling for better pay and conditions for Defence Forces staff. They said underinvestment in personnel and Navy and Army resources was creating a recipe for disaster. "Almost a quarter of our naval fleet is tied up, aircraft are grounded and our cyber defence service has been reduced to zero - all for lack of personnel," Comdt Berry said.

Better pay and conditions must be offered to Defence Forces staff to put a halt to its retention crisis, he added.

The minimum recommended number of troops for the Army, Navy and Air Corps combined is 9,500, but the actual figure fell below 8,500 earlier this year for the first time since the start of the Troubles. This is despite the Department of Defence returning more than €92m to the Exchequer since 2014.

Comdt Berry said this money should be used to pay officers the national minimum wage for additional hours worked, to increase patrol duty allowances and invest in military accommodation and healthcare. Defence Forces recruits are paid €398 per week before tax for the first 17 weeks of their training but must pay €40 towards rations every week. This weekly wage rises to €465 gross for the next 12 weeks. After training they are paid €27,759 per annum for the first three years once their training is complete, rising to a maximum of €37,600.

When they are drafted in for additional hours they receive small allowances. During last year's papal visit some staff worked 72 extra hours for an extra €68.

Brig Gen Aherne said such pay rates puts the future of the forces in jeopardy.

"Pay and conditions are a central issue, but a lack of political engagement and interest by successive governments, coupled with the stifling bureaucratic stranglehold of the department of defence are a constant, if not an even greater impediment, to having a defence forces that is functional and operationally viable."

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