- with reporting from Daniel McConnell
The equivalent of a ship’s crew has left the naval service since it was forced to tie up two vessels due to manpower shortages.
The crisis, which is expected to become even more pronounced in the coming months, could lead to yet another ship being taken off operational duties.
Figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show that 44 enlisted personnel, many of them highly trained, left the naval service since it tied up flagship LÉ Eithne and coastal patrol vessel LÉ Orla last June due to manpower shortages.
The vast majority of them had not reached retirement age and were so determined to get out some even paid up to €20,000 for their discharge.
Servicemen who have acquired technical training from the Defence Forces are required to pay a ‘penalty’ if they leave before fulfilling a certain number of years of a contract.
Many of those who left were technicians. The situation has become so acute that one electrician section in the naval service is only operating at 5% of its designated manpower strength.
It can take up to five years to fully train a specialist technician.
The loss of personnel also comes after the Government decided to increase some previously reduced allowances for Defence Forces members. However, the Government failed to increase core pay for what are the lowest-paid public servants.
The Government also undertook to review the pay of technicians in the naval service, air corps, and in certain sections of the army.
It promised the Defence Forces representative associations that the report on this review would be published on October 4. It has still not materialised.
Meanwhile, figures obtained by Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh from minister of state for defence Paul Kehoe show that three officers and 22 enlisted personnel left the air corps between July 4 and November 20, 2019. Of the 22 enlisted staff who left, 13 were technicians.
PDForra, which represents enlisted personnel, said some of those who left the naval service were going to jobs with lower base pay, but knew they would earn more in the long term from generous overtime payments, which the Defence Forces do not get.
PDForra president Mark Keane said that, despite years of warnings that the Defence Forces was in crisis, “the point of no return” is now upon the Government.
He criticised the Government’s failure to publish the report on the review of technicians’ pay, saying people waiting for it had become so disillusioned they had left.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Irish Examiner he still hopes to publish the technicians’ report.
“I am still trying to get this done before the election, by the way,” he said. “I had hoped it would be done by Christmas, I have to double-check with my people but one side of the tech pay review is done and published and another isn’t.
“We got into some technical issues with the Department of Public Expenditure around the legal mechanism by which we pay. But we will pay it. I would have liked to have got that done before the election. Not sure we can.”