Monday 20 May 2019

Editorial: If we value patriotism and courage, we must show it

Leo Varadkar pictured with members of the Irish Defence Forces in Mali
Leo Varadkar pictured with members of the Irish Defence Forces in Mali


In the US infantry, it was said that anything under 10 miles was "almost there..."

And Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was "almost there" on his morale-boosting trip to visit Irish soldiers in Africa. Then he shot himself in the foot. Having waxed lyrical about Ireland's noble involvement in peacekeeping, and a goal to double our global footprint over the next decade, he showed himself at his tone-deaf worst.

He told the soldiers in Mali he accepts they are low paid but "the career is always about more than money".

But Mr Varadkar is right on one front - the career certainly is about more than money.

The Defence Forces, after all, are the go-to sector in time of national emergency.

In extreme weather they are called in to transport people who are cut off, as we saw last year. They play a vital role in intercepting illegal drugs, people and arms. And they protect the State from armed aggression.

They have also won international recognition on peace keeping missions.

By Mr Varadkar's logic, no amount of money would be adequate to put your life on the line.

On the other hand their wives, husbands or partners should not have had to march on the Dáil, as they were driven to do last year, to demand enough money to feed their families.

This very week Ger Guinan, General Secretary of PDFORRA, said he would find it hard to recommend a career in the Defence Forces.

Last year, a survey of 167 personnel who opted to pay to be discharged early from our Defence Forces revealed the vast majority left for better pay elsewhere. Some 84.12pc of serving personnel earn below the average public service wage. The current staffing number of 8,700 is well below establishment strength of 9,500, which tells its own story.

Of course, the Government made a rod to beat its own back two years ago, by caving in to gardaí who had threatened to strike.

But by any stretch, the case of the Defence Forces is exceptional. Mr Varadkar is in a tricky situation attempting to balance books with Brexit coming over the hill, and a potential economic tsunami to be managed.

Some sort of social solidarity is essential. With this in mind he would do well not to further inflame tensions with incendiary comments. Their timing didn't help as they came a day after the Government was accused of a "serious waste of resources" for channelling €42m for reports by external experts.

Government priorities are best reflected in budgets. And by such cold metrics, the role of the Army does not appear to be greatly valued.

Patriotism, courage and integrity may be prized but, if the Defence Forces are to put food on their tables, they need to be paid for.

Irish Independent

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