Having faced some rather vocal criticism from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin this week in relation to an on-going recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Forces, Minister Paul Kehoe has received the complete backing of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
The Minister with Responsibility for Defence has now responded, saying that he 'doesn't take these things personally' and 'I know exactly what I'm doing'.
With the Taoiseach due in Enniscorthy this Thursday to officially open the long awaited Enniscorthy bypass, he has publicly defended Kehoe saying that he has 'absolute, total and full confidence' in him. Varadkar acknowledged that 'we have a real and severe challenge' with recruitment and retention, but maintained the Minister Kehoe is still the man for the job.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, however, claimed those serving in the Defence Forces no longer have confidence in Minister Kehoe adding that there is a 'morale crisis' within the Navy currently.
Distinguished former servicemen Commander Eugene Ryan and Captain James Robinson were angered by Kehoe's claims that two ships were tied up for routine maintenance, contradicting the Navy's most senior officer who said that manpower shortages forced him to tie up the ships and that while out of action, they will undergo refits.
Deputy Martin said that 'the military community questions his (Kehoe's) competence and authority within the Government. This crisis has been identified for some time but the Minister of State has not taken effective intervention measures.'
Responding to Deputy Martin's comments, Minister Kehoe said: 'Look, I don't take that stuff personally. I'm long enough around now to know that he has to do what he has to do, and I have to do what I have to do. What I would say though is that it's his party that broke the country and we've been tasked with fixing it.'
In relation to the contradicting reports of the reasons for tying up two naval vessels, Minister Kehoe said: 'I tell it as it is and I always have. The stories that were spoke about last week were exactly what I got from my naval briefing.'
'We do have major challenges facing us with recruitment and retention,' he continued.
'It's a problem facing every defence force. We're competing with the fastest growing economy in Europe. It's not easy to deal with, but that's the nature of the game. I'll continue to do my job in the manner I always have, being open and honest. Maybe Micheál Martin doesn't like my style, but that's just the way it is.'
Reiterating his support for Minister Kehoe, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that three major actions are under way to improve terms and conditions for members of the Defence Forces and that those earning less than €70,000 would see full pay restoration by next year.
The Enniscorthy TD will be grateful for the Taoiseach's support as he welcomes him to his hometown this Thursday (18th).