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Jim Cusack: Fresh blood required to help nation soldier on

The recruitment of 600 new personnel to the Defence Forces -- criticised at last week's Garda Representative conference -- is necessary to stop the military turning into Dad's Army.

The age profile of the Defence Forces has reached record high levels despite promises more than a decade ago that the issue would be addressed.

The current average age in the Defence Forces is 37 and averages for both enlisted and commissioned ranks are up to a decade and more higher than the age profile of other EU armies.

The increase in the average age has been due to failures to have rolling recruitment and also because soldiers have been staying longer due to the lack of employment opportunities outside the Defence Forces.

The overall size of the Defence Forces has also fallen to 8,900 and the Government is committed to maintaining a minimum "establishment" figure of 9,500. The intake of new recruits, which should begin in the autumn, will help address the age profile issue that has become an embarrassment for the military command.

The retirement limit for officers of lieutenant colonel rank is 58 and the average age is just over 53. Full colonels retired at 58 and their average age is 57.3. The average age for generals is also just two years less than their compulsory retirement limits.

The adverse comments at the Garda Representative Association (GRA) annual conference in Athlone last week about the Government's go-ahead for recruitment to the Defence Forces was described last week by military sources as unwarranted and uninformed.

Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter warned the GRA leaders against damaging relations with the Army and described remarks about the Army recruitment as "unfortunate".

He was responding to remarks by the outgoing president of the GRA, Damien McCarthy, who said in his address: "Minister, it is remarkable that you continued to recruit members for the permanent Defence Forces. . . Is Ireland under attack? Is there a war we are about to join? Because we are under attack in the war on crime at home, right here in Ireland."

Mr Shatter replied: "I would hope that the remarks that were made wouldn't be repeated in the future and in a calmer moment there will be some reflection."

The new Army intake will help ensure it meets requirements for combat readiness.

The main military role for the Defence Forces is in Lebanon which has been generally peaceful since the Irish contingent of 450 troops were posted there last year as part of a rolling UN commitment. However, the area is generally unstable and 46 soldiers have been killed, half in accidents and half in action, during the Defence Force's previous 20-year period of service in Lebanon.

Sunday Independent