Eddie Mulligan explains that, beyond pay, the quality of life for members of the Defence Forces is sadly austere and needs to be addressed IN recent weeks, there has been much commentary about life in the Defence Forces but very little mention of the ‘quality of life’ enjoyed. In the military, one of the responsibilities of a commanding officer is to
In recent weeks, there has been much commentary about life in the Defence Forces but very little mention of the ‘quality of life’ enjoyed. In the military, one of the responsibilities of a commanding officer is to
ensure that the welfare of the people under his or her command is to the fore in all operational decisions. It seems that this ethos is missing at the executive level of Government.
It’s now time for the minister responsible for defence — ultimately the Taoiseach — to think differently in relation to a Defence Force of the future. What are the real quality of life issues for people in the defence forces?
There has been too much emphasis in the last budget on capital expenditure of military equipment jumping from circa €77m to €106m. That’s almost a 40% increase but yet the minister of state with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe, took delight in offering a 10% ‘special’ pay increase in an attempt to stem rising discontent of pay and conditions.
In the most recent report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention, it was disappointing to read in Chapter 3 that a number of constructive non-pay, family-friendly measures identified in the
commission’s research, such as preferential health care facilities for military personnel and their families, provision of child-care facilities, and family access to sports facilities, were only worth a small paragraph.
Additionally, in Chapter 4, on survey and interview results, it was noted that many of those interviewed commented on the negative impact on work-life balance, relating to working hours and planning activities outside work. This deserved more than a passing mention.
Our Defence Forces and its people are very capable, but a new, Government-led ethos is needed. As an island, our security and defence capabilities are critical to our sovereignty. Whilst the Government neglects Defence Forces members’ quality of life, our security, and even our quality of life, is dependent on a fit-for-purpose Defence Force.
The Defence Forces must make family the core of ensuring a better quality of life by making sure they not only survive but thrive. Retention of qualified personnel must be a key component of a personnel management strategy that includes improving the quality of life enjoyed. In this respect, supporting personnel, spouses, and families with child-care and personal development initiatives should be examined. If you want personnel to stay, we must ensure happy spouses and kids.
An understanding of the career aspirations of young recruits and what makes them enjoy life must be a focal point of retention. In relation to the navy, young people joining are abandoned after they finish recruit training. While there is currently a focus on delivering better quality accommodation, ensuring they can enjoy a good quality of life on the Island of Haulbowline when not at sea must be tackled.
For example, many young people can’t afford their own transport yet there’s no means of public transport for getting to Cobh, Carrigaline, and or Cork after around 10pm , other than a taxi. A trip to the cinema is an expensive night out. With the proposed investment in accommodation, this must be complemented by a means of late-night affordable social access.
With regard to the army, in 1984 Stephen’s Barracks, Kilkenny, had antiquated fitness and gym facilities in two old sheds. In 2019, nothing has changed and this is unacceptable to young people who are not only required to keep fit but also enjoy a fitness-conscious lifestyle. Also, for the approximately 400 personnel stationed here, new recreational and fitness facilities would hugely improve the quality of life in the evenings and, if extended to family members, would be a nice lifestyle improvement.
It’s also absurd that there’s no wifi in the accommodation of new younger members, which would hugely assist in the quality of life away from home, such as watching Netflix.
The function of our navy is going to sea, and there must be lifestyle incentives, in addition to appropriate remuneration, to ensure that there’s a waiting list of volunteers. Seagoing has recently been reduced from 180 days a year to 165 due to staff shortages. However, when a ship is docked, it is difficult to take block holidays due to duty requirements. In addition, holiday entitlements are vastly inferior to those enjoyed by merchant shipping counterparts. Seagoing time-off must be immediately addressed to ensure a better quality of life.
The Taoiseach needs to focus on a commitment to the defence forces that can actually be delivered. We can’t have a situation where our ships and aircraft are mothballed for lack of crew. Retention of experienced professionals in one of the most reputable armed services worldwide must be a long-term commitment and it needs to be matched with a long-term funding plan devised around better pay and conditions.
Eddie Mulligan is a former commissioned officer in the Irish naval service, having risen through the ranks from a recruit. He is currently a Lieutenant Commander in the naval reserve, an elected councillor in Waterford, and a general election candidate for Fianna Fáil.