Members of the country’s Reserve Defence Forces (RDF) are being prepared for mobilisation in the event that they are needed in the fight against Covid-19.
However, years of neglect by successive governments means that, while eager to help, their strength is not what it once was.
The proper strength of the RDF is supposed to be 4,069. However, on paper they currently number 1,801, and only approximately 1,000 could be considered active reservists. About 90% of them are army reserves and 10% naval service reserves.
Neil Richardson, general secretary of the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association (RDFRA), said units are being asked to ascertain for the Permanent Defence Forces (PDF), the availability for service of their members, and are compiling a list of skills individuals have which could be used by military, government departments, etc.
The PDF want to know what type of driving licences reserves possess, if they have medical qualifications, cooking skills, IT skills, or call centre experience, he said.
“The Defence Forces are looking to slot people into areas where they are needed,” said Mr Richardson.
While the Reserves are not yet being officially mobilised, the PDF is preparing for this to happen in the event of an expected escalation in the number of diagnosed Covid-19 cases.
He said the RDF was “in a state of preparedness, and individuals were awaiting updates from the chain of command”. Mr Richardson said that while some RDF members may have been laid off recently because of the virus pandemic, others still retain jobs.
He said those temporarily unemployed would be easily able to help out.
“Our members are keen to assist, but some will only be able to do it in a certain way so their civilian jobs are not affected,” he said.
Meanwhile, Paul Kehoe, minister of state with responsibility for defence, has confirmed that civil defence units in Laois, Offaly, Longford, and Westmeath are aiding the HSE to transport Covid-19 samples to testing labs.
Volunteers in Cork and Kerry are transporting HSE clinicians for community testing.