The problem of retaining personnel in the Defence Forces has “reached crisis point”, according to Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish, who also alleged the root of the problem lay in the Department of Defence, and not within the army itself.
According to Dep Grealish, the established strength of the Defence Forces is supposed to be 9,500, but this has fallen to 8,800. He also cited a 2015 survey undertaken among personnel in the Army, Naval Servic,e and Air Corps, which found 55 per cent of respondents felt pay did not reflect the work they did; 38 per cent felt the pay was inadequate; and 23 per cent wanted to look elsewhere for employment.
Speaking in the Dáil recently, the TD said the fundamental problem was that the Army’s Chief of Staff, Mark Mellett, was not the accounting officer for the Defence Forces. “He does not oversee the budget for the recruitment and, especially, retention of critical specialised members of the Defence Forces,” he said.
He noted that the Army should have a system akin to what operates within An Garda Síochána, where the Garda Commissioner is also the accounting officer. “The Defence Forces Chief of Staff cannot spend without referring back to the department and seeking approval,” said Dep Grealish. “Surely the Chief of Staff is best placed to understand the needs of his force. We cannot have a two-tier security service where the gardaí have better pay and conditions.”
Dep Grealish said the relationship between the Defence Forces and the department was “toxic, broken, dysfunctional and dangerous”, as described by retired Brigadier General Ger Aherne. This had led the TD to ask what steps the Minister of State, Paul Kehoe, and his department has “taken to address the concerns of and the retention of personnel in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service”.
In response, Minister Kehoe said members of the Permanent Defence Force had received pay increases due under the Lansdowne Road agreement, while last year improved pay scales for recruits and privates were implemented. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 to 2020 provided for further increases in pay ranging from 6.2 per cent to 7.4 per cent over the lifetime of the agreement. The minister insisted the Defence Forces have full control over recruitment with no civilian involved in this. However, Dep Grealish alleged that “officials within the Department set out the terms and conditions under which officers can be recruited”.