High turnover, low morale, and low pay are among the complaints of members of the Defence Forces who are to have their case put to the defence minister this week.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about issues for Defence Force members after a damning report on standards in the army was revealed by the Irish Examiner.
The report says poor pay, resources, and conditions in the army have led to an exodus of members.
The University of Limerick dossier showed members had even compared one Dublin barracks to Hotel Rwanda — they had no hot water, there were broken urinals, and the walls were encrusted in damp.
Mr Martin said the research points to a “very worrying trend” — a “crisis” in the defence forces, our Army, Navy, and Air Corps.
“Morale is very low. The value system they once adhered to is being steadily eroded,” he told Mr Varadkar in the Dáil. “Stress is ever present. Work/life balance is an issue as is the safety of personnel on duty. There are dysfunctional turnover levels, according to the research. Retention of personnel is in absolute crisis, which is a serious issue for our defence forces.”
Mr Martin noted that it now costs soldiers more to do duty than they get paid when commuting and childcare are taken into account.
Air corps members said it is short of technical staff while navy personnel said they had limited numbers for their ships.
Mr Martin asked Mr Varadkar during Leaders’ Questions if army trade unions could access industrial relations mechanisms and if the Taoiseach accepted that there was a crisis in the forces.
Mr Varadkar said the Government had “immense respect” for the defence forces.
The Cabinet yesterday approved the navy joining an EU search-and-rescue mission, a move which will also require Dáil approval.
Mr Varadkar said: “This is being done at the request of the defence forces, who want to do more and want to be part of the mission in the Mediterranean and rescue refugees and combat human trafficking.”
Turnover among soldiers and armies is high in other countries and that pays cales are being restored for mem-bers, he said.
“They will receive increases in their pay packets ranging between 8% and 24%,” said Mr Varadkar. “As such, no one can dispute the fact that salaries and take-home pay are increasing again for our defence forces. We accept, however, that in certain areas it is difficult to hold on to people in management roles and those with particular skills which are very valuable in the private sector, including, for example, air traffic controllers.”
Mr Varadkar also pointed to the numbers applying to become soldiers.
“To give an idea of the level of interest in becoming a member of the Defence Forces, 4,000 people applied for the cadet intake for 2017,” he said. “There is huge interest in becoming a member of the defence forces.”
Defence Minister Paul Keogh is set to meet trade unions for the forces tomorrow, where the report and concern over pay and conditions are expected to be raised by representatives.
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