Young members of the Defence Forces are “totally disillusioned” and many are quitting as they are so poorly paid they cannot afford to commute to their bases.
Meanwhile, scores of experienced soldiers who pass all fitness tests and are still in their late 30s or early 40s could be forced out when their contracts expire in 2019.
That’s according to PDFORRA president Mark Scally who said, in his view, the majority of serving members now treat the Defence Forces as a job, not as a career anymore.
“Both the military authorities and the Department of Defence have a responsibility to alleviate this situation. We have the lowest average pay across civil and public service,” he told his association’s annual conference in Co Cavan.
He said servicemen do not have the right to strike or unionise and told the Minister with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, there was a moral obligation on him and the Government to address that issue.
“Morale is at its lowest, the comradeship and brotherhood that the Defence Forces have thrived on over the generations is there, but greatly diminished,” he said.
Mr Scally said the relocation of military units, which came as a result of the 2012 reorganisation of the Defence Forces, meant many personnel had much longer commutes to work and that was putting a huge strain on them and their families.
He pointed out that with so many people bailing out, a “perfect storm” would ensue in 2019 if the Department of Defence went through with its plans to terminate the contracts of privates who joined up after 1994.
Those contracts were designed to lower the average age of servicemen and servicewomen but Mr Scally pointed out, if the terminations proceeded, the Defence Forces would be losing highly-trained personnel.
“These members and their families deserve clarity and fairness in respect of their futures,” he said. “A little bit of loyalty to those who have shown such a great desire to pursue a career in the Defence Forces is not beyond reasonable,” he said.
Minister Keogh responded that a review of those contracts would take place.
Mr Scally said members of the Defence Forces are being discharged with no recognisable skills that are suitable for them to find alternative employment.
He urged the military authorities to get accreditation for courses with third-level institutions to allow rank and file members access to proper, certified, skills which would be recognised elsewhere when they leave.
“We are no longer going to see our members leaving to retire. In actual fact the majority are and will be young fit men and women with families to support,” he said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved