The naval service is facing a personnel crisis, having failed to secure sufficient numbers for its latest recruitment class.
In the army, a battalion which usually has a full complement of 25 officers from all ranks is reportedly being run by four junior officers.
Former servicemen have said that they will march to the Dáil to highlight the poor pay and conditions endured by their serving colleagues.
Applications for navy recruitment began in September and initially generated 814 expressions of interest. However, most of the applicants dropped out, while many more failed the psychometric test (intelligence test) and the medical/interview.
PDForra president Mark Keane, whose association represents soldiers, sailors, and the air corps, said a maximum of 26 recruits are expected to report for duty at the naval base on Monday. Recruit classes normally consist of 48 personnel, he said.
“We have upwards of 60 people departing this year, that we know of, and that figure could be higher as there’ll be others who decide to get out early,” he said. “So now we’re not even keeping pace, we are going backwards. It’s a crisis.
“We need young blood. If we don’t have the numbers we require, it just puts an ever-increasing burden on everyone else.”
There is also a critical shortage of engineers and chefs in the naval service, a major lack of air corps pilots, and air-traffic controllers, and army bomb-disposal and cybersecurity experts.
PDForra had warned that the number of people expressing interest in a military career was dropping and, if the trend continues, it would cause serious issues.
There were two general service recruitment drives in 2017. In March last year, 5,210 applications were submitted. That dropped to 2,954 by September.
Independent senator Gerard Craughwell, a former member of the Defence Forces, said he was aware of the battalion which had been stripped of its senior officers. His disclosure was also confirmed by two reliable military sources.
The army, navy, and air corps are down to their lowest number of officers since 1969.
Mr Craughwell said it is critical to retain experienced personnel and that the matter is not being addressed swiftly enough by the Department of Defence, even hough it had been warned repeatedly by the Defence Forces’ representative associations.
He said that was crystal clear from a University of Limerick report in 2016, compiled following more than 600 interviews with military personnel of all ranks.
Noel O’Callaghan, a retired regimental sergeant major, among those organising a Dáil march, said he enjoyed his 43 years in the Defence Forces.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to any young lad now,” he said. “It’s the cheapest job you can get next to Jobsbridge.
Defence Minister Paul Kehoe said he had made a case with the Public Service Pay Commission to secure higher wages to help retain certain Defence Forces specialists.
The department said it is preparing a comprehensive report for the commission which will address recruitment and retention.
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