The swift implementation of the Commission on Defence Forces recommendations is “crucial” to the future morale of military personnel based at Custume Barracks, Athlone Deputy Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, stated this week.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser following the release of the much anticipated report, Cllr O’Rourke afforded a broad welcome to the Commission’s contents but expressed his displeasure pertaining to problematic pay and working condition issues which have proved detrimental to staff retention at Custume Barracks.
“This report is published following 13 months of deliberations during which 480 submissions were received and 1,000 Defence Forces personnel of all ranks were engaged on issues such as the Irish army’s capabilities, structures and staffing.
“In the main, I am happy with the Commission’s contents, but there is still a deep concern with regard to the pay and working conditions anomaly.
“However, I am pleased that the Commission recommends Defence Force members should be permitted to engage with SIPTU and will be entitled to bargain collectively in a manner similar to all workers employed by the State.
“I forwarded a detailed submission to the Commission and I am pleased that many of my suggestions and recommendations were taken on board, including the proposal to allow for collective pay and work conditions bargaining,” Cllr O’Rourke asserted.
The Commission acknowledged that understaffing is a big concern with a “strong sense of crisis” throughout the Defence Forces.
“Armed with the report and recommendations, the Government must act swiftly and implement the recommendations as soon as practical.
“If they opt not to do so, it will have a devastating effect on both military capability and morale at Custume Barracks. For all the damage that inaction has caused in the past, the greatest damage ever will be caused now if these recommendations are not swiftly implemented.
“There have been white papers, green papers and many reports in the past relating to reform, many of which remain on shelves or were not implemented in full. This time it must be different and while these recommendations are a challenge to government, they also represent a huge opportunity for positive and meaningful change,” Cllr O’Rourke commented.
In light of the report, the Athlone Deputy Mayor has implored the appointment of a new Minister of Defence, aspiring to see Deputy Dara Calleary selected for the prominent political position.
“The Taoiseach should immediately appoint a new Minister for Defence, a full cabinet minister, without further delay with responsibility to deliver on this report and I would like to see Deputy Dara Calleary appointed to this position with immediate effect.
“As a Minister with a wide range of responsibilities from Brexit to Northern Ireland, Deputy Simon Coveney cannot possibly give this matter the time or attention it fully deserves and merits.
“Deputy Coveney has said he agrees with ‘virtually all details’ contained in the report but said it could take ‘four or five months’ for him to consider the findings fully.
“Personally speaking, this is an immediate ‘red-flag’ and these remarks are simply not good enough. No information in this report should come as a surprise to Deputy Coveney, the government or indeed, to senior civil servants,” Cllr O’Rourke remarked.
To enable immediate improvement regarding pay and working condition issues, Cllr O’Rourke believes that government should afford approval to military representative associations to enable affiliation with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU ) for pay negotiations.
“Present day Defence Force members are the greatest asset of the organisation and they must remain foremost in government thoughts.
“The ongoing pay and working condition issues must be addressed or we will have no one to fly the planes, crew the ships or drive the military vehicles in future days. This is elementary, you address the Defence Force members issues initially and then invest in and build the organisation,” Cllr O’Rourke asserted.
Reiterating his desire for government to appoint a new Minister for Defence, Cllr O’Rourke stated that it will cost money to rebuild and invigorate the Defence Forces.
“Structural change must also occur. There is no doubt that hard decisions will be required, but these are decisions that can wait no more.
“Our Defence Forces are regrettably a diminished force and more importantly, at the present time, our men and women are crushed, morale is truly at a low ebb. Following the Commission’s publication, if swift, considered and decisive action is taken vast progress can be achieved,” Cllr O’Rourke concluded.