Ex-Brigadier General: ‘Bond between Defence Forces and State has broken’

By Sean O’Riordan, Defence Correspondent

A retired senior army officer has taken aim at the Government for failing to respect the loyalty of the Defence Forces.

Ex-Brigadier General Ger Aherne is likely to be the most senior retired officer to take part in next week’s Parade for Respect and Loyalty which will march on the Dáil to highlight the poor pay and conditions endured by serving members of the Army, Naval Service, and Air Corps.

In Ireland, sadly, the only repayment for loyalty is further abuse. The bond between those who serve and the State has been broken,” he said.

The former solider — who commanded 4th Western Brigade and whose last posting was as commander of the EU military force in Mogadishu, Somalia, 2013/2014 — said the bond had not been broken by the men and women of the Defence Forces, but by their political masters.

He said next Wednesday’s march, which is to be attended by retired personnel and members of the lobby group, Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces (WPDF), will be unique.

“Since the Defence Forces’ foundation in 1922 they have been continually unwavering in their loyalty to the State but this hasn’t been reciprocated. There has been an expectation that the State respect those who serve, but this hasn’t happened.”

Mr Aherne said those who join the Defence Forces give up a lot of things others take for granted, and he described Defence Forces’ pay as “disastrous”.

“Around 30% of Defence Forces members are in receipt of FIS (Family Income Supplement). Some captains who are married with children qualify for it as well,” the ex-officer claimed.

He maintains the lack of a full minister running the Department of Defence is hampering the Defence Forces.

The actual Minister for Defence is Leo Varadkar, but he’s delegated that to a junior minister (Paul Kehoe). In order for the Defence Forces to thrive they need a senior minister who is committed and influential.

The soldier, who served 43 years with the Army, said the “Department of Defence had been operating without any credible oversight for decades”.

He pointed out that while the Garda Commissioner is the accounting officer for the Garda budget, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces doesn’t have the same role.

Commenting on the lack of take-up in recruitment drives and the continued exodus of highly trained personnel to jobs in the private sector, Mr Aherne, who was born in Fermoy, Co Cork, said if this isn’t addressed quickly the Defence Forces will not be fit for purpose.

“They are already teetering on the brink.”

He said while the improving economy may be a factor in personnel leaving for the private sector, he believes a lack of respect is responsible for driving many out.

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