The Government has been accused of running down the Defence Forces to such an extent that if there was a major security crisis, the country has been left “woefully unprepared, dramatically undefended, and shamefully exposed.”
That’s according to a retired lieutenant colonel, who provided the keynote address at a protest in Cork organised by former members of the Defence Forces and the lobby group WPDF (Wives & Partners of the Defence Forces).
Retired Lt Col Dan Harvey said the Defence Forces is “broken” and “in crisis”, while “morale is at an all-time low,” because they are “overlooked and undervalued, overworked, underpaid, over-stretched, and undermanned.”
One thousand protesters heard him say that manpower in the Army, Naval Service, and Air Corps were at an all-time low, as was pay — relative to other public servants — and that it was hardly surprising that retention was at an all-time low.
“The Chief of Staff (Vice Admiral Mark Mellett) is responsible for the military effectiveness of the Defence Forces. An impossible task, when he’s constantly undermined by Department of Defence officials who hold decision powers over him,” Mr Harvey said.
“The Defence Forces defends democracy; this government defends itself. The Defence Forces protects peace; this government protects itself. The Defence Forces does respect and loyalty; this government does neglect and indifference.”
An umbrella group, the Defence Forces Ireland Military Family Forum (DFIMFF), has been formed.
Mr Harvey said that for the first time in the nation’s history, “out of necessity, out of neglect, out of indifference, out of disrespect, out of lack of loyalty,” the DFIMFF found it necessary to use democracy to defend itself.
He said that the organisation had “identified, and will target nationally, our concentrated voting power and force where it will make most impact. The planning is done; we have only to execute.”
Retired Brigadier General Ger Aherne, former General Officer in Command of 4th Brigade, was equally scathing of the Government’s treatment of the Defence Forces.
He said that its minimal strength to deliver what it was supposed to was 9,500, which hadn’t been achieved for a number of years.
“The current strength is a dysfunctional 8,400. Pay and conditions for serving personnel are simply not defendable. Families are living in genuine poverty. Some 30% of serving personnel qualify to draw social welfare Family Income Supplement,” Mr Aherne said.
Other speakers, including Mervyn Ennis, chairman of the DFIMFF, and Shelly Cotter, a prominent member of the WDPF, who has a husband and son in the naval service, said poor pay was impoverishing some military families.
A number of wreaths were laid at the National Monument on Grand Parade.
Cathal MacSwiney Brugha, grandson of both Terence MacSwiney, former Lord Mayor of Cork, and Cathal Brugha, former minister for defence, laid one wreath on behalf of the 1916 Families’ Association.
Bill Egar laid one on behalf of the Army, Damien Eastwood on behalf of the Naval Service, and Alan Byrne on behalf of the Air Corps.
Wreaths were laid on behalf of WPDF, by Judith Butler Wharton, and on behalf of the Reserve Defence Forces, by Lesley Doyle.