The escalating manpower crisis in the naval service has led to reservists being called up to ensure ship crew numbers do not fall below required safety limits.
The problem is being compounded by a serious fall-off in the number of people taking up recruit posts. Of 65 people called for medical/fitness tests at the naval base last week, just six turned up.
The previous recruitment drive attracted only 26 suitable candidates, short of the 48 normally needed to fill a recruit class.
The Irish Examiner has learnt the Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne, recently had to call up naval service reserves because it did not have an adequate number of crew members to go on a routine patrol.
Security sources have indicated that this is a first, but added that crew members are often moved from ship to ship to ensure there is the requisite number for patrols.
The Defence Forces press office said “due to operational security it cannot comment on the exact disposition of personnel on any specific task”. It also declined to comment on the number of would-be recruits who did not bother to turn up to the naval base.
Defence Forces representative associations have claimed the continuing exodus of trained personnel and inadequate recruitment fly in the face of repeated Government promises to address poor pay and conditions in the Defence Forces.
The problems are now most acute in the Naval Service but are also being felt in the Army and Air Corps, especially in some specialist positions.
PDForra, which represents enlisted personnel, said the Defence Forces was competing to get 18- to 25-year-olds in a jobs market where it was far more attractive to join the gardaí or the Prison Service, where wages, conditions, and working hours were far better.
“We have been reasonable and responsible in calling on the Minister for Defence and his department to urgently address the issues surrounding retention and recruiting difficulties,” said PDForra president Mark Keane.
He said that the frustrations among personnel were recently “laid bare” in a damning report carried out by the University of Limerick.
Lieutenant Colonel Earnan Naughton, general secretary of the officers’ representative association Raco, said the exodus of trained personnel had left the Defence Forces “operationally compromised, which impacts on safety and the well-being of personnel”.
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