Monday 27 May 2019

Ex-soldiers protest at Kehoe's office

Defence Forces members protesting outside Minister Paul Kehoe’s office, Enniscorthy on Saturday morning
Defence Forces members protesting outside Minister Paul Kehoe’s office, Enniscorthy on Saturday morning

Brendan Keane

A national campaign to highlight issues in the armed forces arrived in County Wexford at the weekend when a group of former soldiers gathered outside the office of Minister Paul Kehoe.

The men say their parade outside Min Kehoe's office was a follow-on from a national event that took place in Dublin on September 19. The group was composed of ex-servicemen from Counties Wexford and Kilkenny and included: Brian Farrell, Gerard Brophy, Frank Foley, Bernard McGuire and Brendan Doyle.

Speaking about the Enniscorthy event one of those involved, former NCO, Brian Farrell, said the main aim of the campaign - which he said will step up a gear over the coming weeks - is to highlight concerns over working pay and conditions.

He also said that between 50 and 60 people are leaving the Irish armed forces every month and that the Naval service, in particular, is in crisis due to lack of personnel.

'The Naval service is under particular pressure and at the moment the only ship available to the fleet is in the Mediterranean because the other seven are grounded because they don't have enough crew,' he said.

'What happened Saturday is part of a national campaign and it's nothing personal against Minister Paul Kehoe it's just that we need to have a full Minister over defence and while Leo Varadker is in theory that minister the reality is it's not taken seriously enough.'

The campaign is being rolled out to what Mr Farrell referred to as 'garrison towns' and counties and he said the aim is to make the general public aware of 'just how bad things are in the defence forces at the moment'.

'We are calling for our representative association to be given full union status and contracts need to be looked at,' said Mr Farrell.

'Pay and conditions have to be looked at because at the moment an ordinary young private's take-home pay is around €350 per week after tax so they haven't a hope of getting a mortgage,' he said.

'Everyone took a cut in 2008 and inflation has risen by around 30 per cent but the army is still down by €100 per week compared to what it was in 2008 despite inflation,' he added.

He also said a high percentage of army personnel are in receipt of the family support payment due to low wages.

'The Government needs to decide whether it wants a Defence Force or not and if it does then it needs to be resourced properly and that includes pay and conditions,' said Mr Farrell.

Significantly, the campaign is being spearheaded by ex-servicemen: 'We are all ex-serving soldiers because no serving member can campaign or protest.'

'Our campaign is being done in a dignified manner and in Enniscorthy we just paraded with our placards,' he said.

There was no interaction between Minister Kehoe and the campaigners on Saturday and instead their demands were formally submitted at the national Respect and Loyalty parade in Dublin last month.

'That's where our concerns were formally submitted,' said Mr Farrell.

'Our campaigns now are just to raise awareness with the public about just how bad things are because they don't know and the need to because the army and navy are all part of the country's security.'

Enniscorthy Guardian