New figures highlight the stark reality of the Defence Forces desperately trying to keep operating with a dearth of personnel across all ranks. The army is supposed to have an ‘establishment’ (minimum) strength of 7,520, but at the end of last month this was down to 7,061 and therefore is seeking to fill 459 vacancies.
The air corps is supposed to have 886 personnel, but has 708, leaving it short 178 people. The naval service, which had to tie up two ships recently because of crew shortages, has an establishment strength of 1,094, but is down to 955, meaning its operating without 139 personnel.
Total combined strength of the Defence Forces should be 9,500, but is currently standing at 8,724. Despite repeated efforts by the Department of Defence to accelerate recruitment the army, naval service, and air corps continues to haemorrhage personnel.
Experienced personnel are leaving in their droves for better pay and conditions in the private sector. And even recruits are not staying the course, with 16 bailing out last month before finishing their training. Sinn Féin, which obtained the figures, also got a breakdown of vacancies across various ranks.
It showed there were two vacancies at colonel/naval captain rank and nine at lieutenant colonel/naval commander rank, but no vacancies at commandant/naval lieutenant commander rank. The major shortage in officers was seen at captain rank, which is the naval service is equivalent of lieutenant. There were 82 vacancies at that level.
There were also significant shortages across the NCO (non-commissioned officers) ranks. There were 211 positions to be filled at sergeant rank and the equivalent petty officer rank in the navy.
The higher company sergeant rank/chief petty officer in the naval service was short 19 personnel, and there were also four vacancies each at battalion quartermaster sergeant and company quartermaster Sergeant level, which are senior chief petty and officer senior petty officer equivalent ranks in the navy.
In addition, there were 241 personnel short at corporal rank (leading seaman in the navy). Sinn Féin spokesman on Defence, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, said the figures show the stark reality of the recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Forces, with the air corps operating at 80% of its capacity and over 10% of positions vacant in the naval service.
“The reality is that many members of the Defence Forces see a long-term career in the Defence Forces as unsustainable and unviable and in order to provide for their families they are leaving in their droves,” said Mr Ó Snodaigh.
“That is because Defence Forces personnel are among the worst-paid workers in the State. Those who join the army, the naval service, or the air corps are motivated primarily by the desire to serve their country, but they also need to put bread on the table and provide for their families,” he said.
Mr Ó Snodaigh said it was time for the Government to ensure the Defence Forces receive a fair wage to support their families.
“These figures also show that this staffing crisis is now undermining the very viability of some sections of the Defence Forces."
RACO, the association which represents the officers of the Defence Forces, has said that the lack of their number is putting increasing on many young officers who are often working 70-plus hours a week and double- and treble-jobbing.