The Government is taking advantage of Defence Forces personnel by not addressing retention, poor pay and conditions as it knows they will not strike.
Fianna Fáil TD for Mayo Lisa Chambers, who made the claim, said the fall-out from a study by the University of Limerick on attitudes among Defence Forces members clearly showed them “being pushed to the limit”.
The survey, exclusively revealed by the Irish Examiner, highlighted serious concerns raised by all ranks in the Army, Naval Service, and Air Corps. It paints a bleak picture showing the Defence Forces lacking expertise in vital areas due to a brain drain, low morale, and poorly paid with personnel requiring second jobs to survive.
Ms Chambers, who is Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on defence, said the Government is burying its head in the sand by refusing to react to the “exodus” of personnel, and accelerated recruitment will not plug the gaps.
Previous governments had agreed that the minimum strength of the Defence Forces to adequately carry out its duties should be 9,500. Ms Chambers said it was barely hovering above 9,000 with many experienced DF members bailing out to find better pay and conditions in the private sector.
She pointed out that the army bomb disposal squad is short of personnel and it takes four years to properly train a specialist in the unit.
“The Government is taking advantage of the Defence Forces because they know they won’t strike,” said Ms Chambers.
“The only avenue they have is through their representative associations. They have not been given their say. I don’t support, nor do our Defence Forces associations, that they would go out on strike. But they need proper access to public sector pay talks.”
The Defence Forces, she said, should be represented by a senior cabinet minister instead of a junior.
“If the Government continues not to address the issues you will see even more people leaving the Defence Forces,” said Ms Chambers.
“Their members are very patriotic. They take their jobs seriously and love their jobs. But people can only take so much. They have to pay their bills and support their families.”
Ms Chambers said she cannot understand why junior minister for defence Paul Kehoe did not appear to have grasped the seriousness of the issue as, during repeated Dáil questions posed by her, he kept repeating accelerated recruitment was the answer.
Meanwhile, she said her party backed “in principle” a shift in neutrality to be brought to Cabinet today.
Mr Keohoe is proposing the Navy join the EU’s Operation Sophia which takes an aggressive approach to people-smugglers instead of its current humanitarian role, solely. Cabinet approval would required ratification in the Dáil as it would be a change in our neutrality.
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