The Government has been accused of being in denial over a “retention crisis” in the Defence Forces.
Opposition leader Micheál Martin said that morale in the Defence Forces is very low, with the number of personnel “seriously depleted”.
The Fianna Fáil leader raised the issue during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil following claims that hundreds of personnel have spent thousands of euro of their own money to leave.
The Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA) said that since the start of the year, more than 170 have paid up to 40,000 euro each to leave.
Poor pay is being blamed for the main reason for personnel wanting to leave.
“The picture being painted is of a Defence Forces that are very seriously depleted, going through a severe retention crisis, with a shortage of specialist personnel in terms of bomb disposal experts and so forth, very low morale all around, poorly paid, and with very poor conditions of service,” Mr Martin told Taoiseach Leo Varakdar.
“In addition to that, among the Defences Forces, and being articulated by retired personnel, is a very real sense of a lack of respect, and indeed contempt, from Government towards the Defence Forces.
“Retired members are particularly angry at what they see as a continuing dismantling of our Defence Forces, a once-proud force representing our country.”
He said one retired officer described the relationship between the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence as “toxic, broken, dysfunctional and dangerous”.
He added that the general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, Lieutenant Colonel Earnan Naughton, said the Defence Forces governance and command structure is “breaking down”.
“Within the Air Corps, we are told there is about a 30% shortfall in pilots,” Mr Martin added.
“It is clear there is a depletion among the officer ranks, with some even buying their way out of the Army.
“There is a critical shortage of specialist officers, from Army bomb disposal experts to aeronautical engineers and pilots.
“Through all of this, the Government is in denial.”
Mr Varadkar admitted there is a high turnover rate, but added it is “not uncommon” in the Defence Forces.
“Being in the Defence Forces tends to be a job for younger men and women, it tends not to be a job for life,” the Taoiseach said.
“If people are not moving up the ranks, they will generally move on, often to better opportunities in the private sector, taking with them the skills they have built up.
“They also get early pensions in their 40s and 50s, which are set up to enable people to move on to new careers.
“A turnover rate of around 8% is not uncommon.”
He said the budget for the Defence Forces has increased by 25 million euro this year.
“The deputy is right that there is a shortage when it comes to experts, pilots and engineers,” he added.
“More generally, there is an issue across the Defence Forces when it comes to 24-hour duty.”
The PDFORRA annual conference took place in Castlebar, Co Mayo, on Tuesday.
General secretary Gerard Guinan said: “Last year the (Defence) Minister made a commitment to increase the numbers within the Defence Force establishment level of 9,500.
“However, this year, the Defence Force has seen a net loss of personnel due to the failure to recognise the effect that the failure to restore premiums associated with undertaking additional hours is having on morale and retention.”
- Press Association