Thursday 22 August 2019

Sending elite soldiers to Mali 'is cynical move to win seat on UN Security Council'

Ex-officer says Army Ranger Wing owed €40,000 each

Anger: Retired Sergeant Major Noel O’Callaghan says Government treatment of Defence Forces has been shameful. Photo: Kevin Mc Nulty
Anger: Retired Sergeant Major Noel O’Callaghan says Government treatment of Defence Forces has been shameful. Photo: Kevin Mc Nulty
Paul Williams

Paul Williams

The Taoiseach has been accused of using the elite Army Ranger Wing as "pawns in a political game" in a "cynical move" to win a seat on the UN Security Council.

As 14 Special Forces soldiers prepare for deployment next month to Mali, the UN's most dangerous mission in the world, it has been revealed that each member of the unit is owed up to €40,000 in unpaid allowances and pay.

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Retired Regimental Sergeant Major Noel O'Callaghan, who heads up the Loyalty and Respect campaign for better pay and conditions for his former comrades, said the Government "does not deserve" a Security Council seat based on its "shameful" treatment of the Defence Forces.

He said the much-hyped 10pc increase in the Military Service Allowance worth €10m, has "backfired badly" for the Government and has only served to further increase the alarming exodus of personnel.

"Sending members of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali is a very cynical move by Leo Varadkar to win a seat on the UN Security Council when each member of the unit is owed around €40,000 in back pay and allowances going back to the cutbacks," Mr O'Callaghan told the Irish Independent.

"They were to get the money paid but nothing happened, but despite a complete lack of loyalty or respect to these soldiers the Government is still happy to use them as pawns in its political game."

Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have pointed to the Defence Forces' distinguished 60-year record of UN peacekeeping as evidence of Ireland's eligibility for a 12-month stint as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

"Last year they brought serving soldiers and veterans to New York to sell this picture to the world which is basically a lie because the Government continues to undervalue the people whose bravery and dedicated service they are exploiting for this vanity project," said Mr O'Callaghan.

He is the latest high-ranking retired member to fire a broadside at the Government.

In recent weeks two decorated former senior Naval Service officers and a former general have called for the resignation of Paul Kehoe, the junior defence minister.

They were angered after an embarrassing disparity emerged between Mr Kehoe and the Taoiseach in their claims that two ships were being tied up for routine maintenance, contradicting the Navy's most senior officer who said manpower shortages had forced him to tie up the ships.

"The fact that they (Kehoe and Varadkar) didn't know what they were talking about goes to the heart of this problem and shows how disconnected they are from what is happening. They are shuffling ships around to give the impression that something is happening but the truth is that it is all spin and smoke screens to deflect attention from the crisis that has taken hold," Mr O'Callaghan added.

"The current pay offer that the Taoiseach wants the public to think is a gravy train is not going to work because the increases will range from between 96c and €1.50 per day depending on rank. It is shameful we still have so many personnel needing to avail of Family Income Supplement."

Between February 2018 and June 2019, 130 officers and 1,100 other ranks left the three branches of the services which accounts for 13pc of the total strength of the organisation.

Last month 83 people left, including 21 new recruits and 12 members of the Naval Service who bought themselves out.

"These are highly experienced people who are being forced to pay money that they cannot afford to get out of a job that underpays them so badly," said Mr O'Callaghan.

"Because of the treatment and level of disrespect to our Defence Forces of all ranks and services, Leo Varadkar does not have the trust, confidence or respect of our Defence Forces."

A Government spokesperson last night said the decision to deploy the Army Ranger Wing to Mali was "entirely unconnected to Ireland seeking a seat on the UN Security Council".

"Consideration of a possible deployment by the Defence Forces to the MINUSMA mission had been under consideration for quite some time by the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces and there were a number of Defence Forces reconnaissance visits to Mali in recent years.

"The General Staff recently advised the minister that an opportunity to deploy a small contingent of the Army Ranger Wing to the mission had opened up within a German-led Special Operations Company and they strongly recommended the deployment of the Army Ranger Wing personnel to the mission."

Irish Independent

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