THE GOVERNMENT HAS announced an “interim arrangement” to allow Irish Defence Force sergeants, who would be forced to retire prematurely at the end of the year, to stay on in service.
Last week The Journal revealed that a measure to increase the fitness of serving members in the 1990s saw contracts introduced forcing members to go prematurely.
The rule means that Sergeants who have joined on post-1994 contracts must resign when they reach the age of 50.
This problem was an issue at more junior ranks and there was some agreement to solve it but Sergeant ranks are now facing mandatory retirement.
Sergeants or Petty Officers as in the Naval Service, are senior Non-Commissioned Officer rank in the military – their role is to lead teams and implement orders by officers. They are also heavily involved in training new recruits.
This afternoon the Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Simon Coveney, TD announced that he has secured an interim arrangement to stop the forced retirements.
The Department of Defence (DOD) and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) said in a statement that arrangement will allow for the retention in service for a further two years to the end of 2024 for those Sergeants who would reach mandatory retirement age before that date, subject to their meeting certain criteria including passing medical and fitness tests.
The Journal had revealed last week that the issue saw some disgruntled exchanges between DOD and DPER.
That changed today when Coveney sought to thank his DPER Ministerial colleague Michael McGrath.
“It is important for the future of our Defence Forces that these highly trained and experienced personnel are retained,” he said.
Coveney said he acknowledged that this cohort of personnel had entered service at a time when the standards of medical and fitness in the Defence Forces were below current levels. The DOD statement said that the mandatory retirement ages were reduced.
The Minister added: “A lot has changed in the intervening years. We have a professional, fit and healthy Defence Forces who are required to pass regular medical and fitness tests.
“While this is an interim measure, it is another important step in the process of not only returning the Defence Forces to existing establishment but also progressing towards the increased establishment as recommended by the Commission on the Defence Forces,” he added.
The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, welcomed the move.
“The men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann are our greatest asset. I will continue to advocate on behalf of this cohort of highly-valued and highly-trained senior non-commissioned leaders. Retaining these experienced personnel is a key enabler in strengthening our capability,” he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Conor King of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers welcomed the move also.
“RACO welcomes the provision of some much needed certainty for this cohort of enlisted leaders.
“We have always said that the Defence Forces cannot afford to lose people of this calibre, and cannot safely sustain further erosion of the middle management function, either from the enlisted or commissioned ranks.
“With the growing attrition rate in commissioned ranks, we now need to see urgent retention measures applied to officers, such as increased retirement ages, reinstatement of instructors allowance and adequate pension arrangements for new entrants,” he said.
Ger Guinan, General Secretary of PDFORRA also welcomed the measure but said there needs to be an “stable agreement” to retain “this valuable cohort”.
“For its part, PDFORRA will engage constructively with the Department of Defence and DPERs in any review, the aim of which is to provide a more secure employment prospect for our members.
“Presently, the Defence Forces are short over 400 Sgts and equivalent ranks across all three branches of the service and we need to turn this around,” he said.