Damning report on Defence Forces: Staff exodus blamed on poor pay, conditions, and resources

A damning report on the Defence Forces found poor pay, lack of expertise, exhaustion, and Hotel Rwanda-style barracks have led to an exodus, leaving the Army, Naval Service, and Air Corps almost dysfunctional.

Details of dire pay and conditions experienced by soldiers, sailors and airmen are contained in the report carried out by academics from the University of Limerick (UL), which has been obtained by the Irish Examiner.

The report — which took a sample survey of 603 officers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and lower ranks in the Defence Forces — shows poor pay is a key issue, but working conditions and low morale are also leading to a brain drain.

Soldiers have nicknamed the privates’ quarters at Rathmines Barracks ‘Hotel Rwanda’ — it has no hot water, broken urinals, and walls encrusted in damp.

However, they acknowledged that “after 10 years of pleading”, the Department of Defence has finally agreed to refurbish the barracks they describe as “living in squalor”.

The report found pride in the uniform and camaraderie is no longer found in newer recruits, who are struggling financially to survive.

It said privates are using leave days to save on commuting costs and have to take out loans to meet basic living expenses. Many have had to take second jobs to make ends meet and a lot are reliant on social welfare supplements such as the family income supplement.

Officers and NCOs at all levels described privates’ pay as “shameful” and an injustice to young people. They said this was directly related to the high numbers leaving the army as soon as they could for better-paid jobs elsewhere. They added that this is a false economy, given the cost of training them in the first place.

Officers, army chaplains, and the privates themselves reported financial worries giving rise to mental health issues.

Participants voiced concern that those suffering from stress often did not seek help in the Defence Forces as this may prevent them going on overseas missions.

Poorly paid young navy recruits are sleeping on ships because they cannot afford to rent a home and are trapped on a base and getting no outside social life. All ranks reported a severe shortage of officers in units.

Officers themselves said increased workloads to plug gaps, decreased job satisfaction, a diminution of mental and physical wellbeing, and decreased engagement was leading to many leaving.

The report said evidence from the focus groups shows “a dysfunctional cycle of turnover developing”.

Officers indicated a shortage of personnel is directly affecting their ability to engage with and train recruits.

There were also gaps in NCO ranks, which officers expressed concern at as they rely on NCOs to serve “as unit glue”.

The academics who compiled the report said there was widespread concern among the focus groups that the loss of experience/corporate knowledge is at a critical point and already affecting operational readiness and capability.

They said there was a leadership vacuum being experienced at unit level and clear indications that the current system of promotions in the Defence Forces has become dysfunctional.

All ranks highlighted work-life balance issues with lack of notice for travel and duties and high rates of marriage breakdowns.

Officers specifically identified the requirement to relocate frequently and the lack of notice given as a serious issue causing work-life conflict and leading many to question if the Defences Forces is a viable career.

The Wellbeing in the Defence Forces Climate Survey, carried out in 2015, also highlighted significant problems.

The UL report will be discussed by the organisation representing officers (Raco) and enlisted men (PDforra) when they meet with junior defence minister Paul Kehoe on July 13.

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