Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, numbered amongst the large gathering who came out in complete support for the country's Defence Force members during the 'respect and loyalty' parade along the streets of the capital last week.
Speaking with regard to the occasion, Cllr. Keena said it was an honour for him to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the wives and partners of serving soldiers plus retired members of the Defence Forces in marching to Leinster House in protest at their appalling pay and working conditions which have plunged the country's armed forces into crisis.
"I would like to compliment Sgt. Major Noel O'Callaghan, Paul Clarke and their colleagues for organising this march which is almost without precedent in the history of the State. In fact, the crisis within our Defence Forces is also unprecedented. Over the decades unfortunately some of our soldiers have sacrificed their lives for peace and security both within Ireland on operational duties and on peacekeeping missions abroad. Our soldiers, sailors and aircrew have made, and continue to make, an enormous contribution to the state. This loyalty and service has been wholly disrespected by this Government," the Town Mayor highlighted.
Cllr. Keena noted that the Defence Force members are the least favourably paid workers within the public and civil service realms.
"According to the Central Statistics Office, Irish military personnel are the least well paid group within the public and civil service. They also endure miserable working terms and conditions. Many are on family income supplement and thus cannot hope to buy a home or feed and educate their children on a military salary.
"A frightening fact is that on average over recent years 20 percent of recruits depart before completing recruit training mainly citing pay as the major factor. General and technical service personnel are also leaving for better paid opportunities in the private sectors. For instance air corp pilots currently stands at 70 personnel, it should be 110. A key reason for this apart from pay is the fact that the Service Commitment Scheme for pilots was taken away in 2011. The Defence Forces is haemorrhaging highly trained experienced personnel daily so retention is urgently needed by providing proper remuneration," the Town Mayor added.
The Town Mayor expressed further concerns regarding the much publicised situation.
"From a local perspective, due to the shortage of these pilots I have a genuine concern as to how long the air ambulance emergency service based in Athlone can be sustained at the same level. In 2012, following the disestablishment of the Fourth Western Brigade HQ at Custume Barracks, a committment was given by the Government to retain numbers in the barracks at 1000, unfortunately today it stands at 800, this is so disappointing.
"The huge turnout for the march showed the strong feeling on the ground for this Government to step up to the plate and look after our Defence Forces. I do hope that their request will be taken seriously and that they will receive increase pay and better working conditions as they truly deserve," the Town Mayor concluded.