The Defence Forces are about to witness a large exodus of personnel and can’t recruit their way out of the crisis because a record number of new entrants this year either quit during training, or shortly after completing it.
These were the stark warnings given to Minister for Defence Simon Coveney by PDForra president, Mark Keane, who said the situation is now so dire attempts to date to rectify it were “akin to moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Mr Keane predicted a further major exodus, saying the current strength of the Defence Forces is 8,146, whereas its absolute minimum should be 9,500. It is at the lowest level since the early 1970s.
“It’s particularly worrying when you consider the security situation currently ongoing in the world today. It’s fair to say every formation, corps and unit are critically below strength. Naturally enough this is crushing morale.
"Those who're still serving are being asked yet again to do more with less. In the last few days, we have again seen the launch of yet another recruitment campaign. Minister, you are not going to recruit your way out of this,” Mr Keane said.
He said the only way to stem the tide was to create proper recruitment, retention and remuneration measures.
"It’s time to invest properly in the people remaining. Minister, I’m calling on you to address this before it’s too late. For the sake of the Defence Forces, for the sake of our members and for the sake of the security of the State you must intervene,” Mr Keane said.
He told Mr Coveney several issues have to be addressed, which include a failure to adequately compensate Naval Service personnel for the “arduous task they undertake at sea” and excessive hours worked.
Mr Keane said military management must decrease the workload across all three arms of the Defence Forces, address a complete lack of family-friendly policies and decrease incidences of mandatory selection for overseas missions, particularly when there are volunteers willing to serve.
He also said the Working Time Directive must be implemented in the Defence Forces.
“Whilst we've seen and heard references made to the proposed investment in new equipment this funding must go hand-in-hand with investment in our members, as it's them who'll ultimately operate and maintain this equipment,” he said.
Mr Keane said the recommendations in the Commission for the Future of the Defence Forces report cannot be left on the shelf to gather dust as all its predecessors had.
“We're all conscious of the fact that the dark clouds of conflict are once again gathering across Eastern Europe. Those of us currently left serving in the Defence Forces find ourselves engaged in a fight with the Department of Finance, DPERS in a battle to secure much needed investment, as was the case over 80 years ago when Europe was last plunged into conflict,” he said.
“If we are to take our place on the world stage and safeguard the citizens of the State and meet our obligations to both the UN and EU, this will only be achieved with the allocation of sufficient resources.”
Mr Keane added that his association will not apologise to anybody for using every means at its disposal to highlight the issues affecting the frontline members of the Defence Forces.