Plugging gaps with limited resources could lead to deaths in the Defence Forces and a worst-case scenario, as the number of officers quitting continues to rise, writes Sean O’Riordan.
Increased workloads, which cause stress and strain in both the workplace and the family, are fuelling the exodus of highly experienced military personnel, who are leaving for easier, better-paid careers in the private sector.
That’s according to RACO president, Commandant Shane Keogh, who told Chief of Staff Vice Admiral, Mark Mellett, and Minister Paul Keogh, that the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps “are in a state of crisis”.
So far this year, 77 officers have bailed out, up by six on the total for 2016. Since 2012, 547 officers have exited the services, 398 in advance of retirement.
Comdt Keogh said ever-increasing gaps in all levels gave rise to real fears about health and safety, which were highlighted in the recently published report by University of Limerick academics.
“The lack of resources at operational level presents a ‘real and present danger’. That is where we must draw the line: the safety of our personnel, all ranks, must remain paramount,” he said.
“It’s a testament to the loyalty of our members that they continue to perform, regardless. However, we are at that point where an error is inevitable. The question only remains if the error will be administrative in nature or, as we all fear, catastrophic or lethal in consequence,” Comdt Keogh stated.
Some units had just 20% of the officers required and those still serving had to perform additional duties to plug gaps “above and beyond what is acceptable over a prolonged period”.
He had met a colleague in the bomb-disposal squad who had to leave his family for 40 days in a two-month period, not as a result of increased operational taskings, but to ‘fill in’ due to a shortage of numbers.
“The colleague admitted it was taking an enormous strain on his family life. As anyone could imagine, it would. It is an abuse of the loyalty of the members of the Defence Forces to ask them to continue on like this, with family life being sacrificed, as a result,” Comdt Keogh said.
He said the services were not being resourced. “Unfortunately, similar scenarios are echoed throughout the Defence Forces, and often the frustrations are aired by the only means possible — an exit from the Defence Forces, forced out, as they see it.”
Comdt Keogh also said the situation was “simply unsustainable” and it was a mistake to think that inducting large classes of cadets “is the sole solution to the current dysfunction”. He said RACO welcomed the new inductees, who were now in “a particularly onerous role, due to the vacuum at middle-management level”.
“Mentoring is key to our leadership doctrine and training. But who’s going to do the mentoring? Middle management, with any degree of experience, is fast-becoming a thing of the past. We can’t mitigate this risk with newly-commissioned officers.
"Consequently, we have very capable personnel, but with very little experience, performing in appointments before their time,” Comdt Keogh said.
He welcomed the minister’s commitment to a review of the Defence Forces industrial relations mechanisms.
The story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.