The Irish Defence Forces is “broken” with wages so low that some soldiers are facing homelessness and being told not to have children, writes
“Our families live in poverty. We suffer from food, income, fuel, and child poverty. Many of us can only dream of owning our home, and some this month are facing uncertainty about their homes, while others are facing homelessness. I personally know these people,” said Sarah Walshe of the Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces organisation.
She was speaking in Dublin yesterday as a large-scale parade, made up of retired soldiers and family members of current officers, marched to Leinster House to highlight the poor pay and working conditions in the Defence Forces. In the last three years, 2,890 personnel of all ranks have left, representing an exodus of approximately 30% of the Defence Forces’ overall strength.
Ms Walshe spoke about the systemic poverty that the poor working conditions create, and said how members of the Defence Forces are being “questioned” for having children and starting families.
Some have questioned why our partners have continued to serve and why we bring children into our families when we are already struggling. We find this mentally repulsive, both as a matter of moral values and public policy. Telling us not to have children because we can’t afford them?
“It seems for some people, the mentality is that the poor only exist because they’ve done something wrong, are irresponsible and lazy. However, the reason we are poor is not due to laziness, I can tell you that for certain. It’s not because we’ve not worked hard enough, or have children or, indeed, because we’ve been irresponsible,” said Ms Walshe.
Members of the Defence Forces are not allowed to speak in public, to bargain collectively, or to assemble for protest and so their position is being represented by their families and retired soldiers.
Ms Walshe said that Defence Forces families are unable to “make ends meet” no matter how hard they work.
“Defence Forces families are working hard, damn hard and, in fact, we’re working harder than ever, but are earning less and less and we cannot make ends meet. In our current economy we see Defence Forces personnel working more than one job and they’re still unable to make ends meet. Why? Certainly not because they haven’t worked hard enough. Certainly not because they haven’t taken responsibility and certainly not because they’re not up early in the morning,” she said.
Ms Walshe said that the poverty and struggle they face is systemic in nature and one that can only be tackled by Government.
The Department of Defence with Leo Varadkar at the helm appear to promote what can only be described as a culture of despair, hardship, and struggle for the Defence Forces families. Shame on you. Shame on you,” she said.
Ms Walshe said their demands are modest and described them as: “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”
Former solider Declan Power addressed the thousand-strong crowd outside Leinster House yesterday lunchtime. He said the State faces a “danger” because of a “broken” Defence Forces.
“For many of us, the oath we took caused us either to end up patrolling the skies and seas bounding this island, for others it involved patrolling the back roads of the border or South Lebanon or the savannahs of Africa. However, there is now a greater danger we are here to acknowledge, a fact we must acknowledge, and that is, Defence is broken and it needs to be fixed and there can be no more prevarication.”
Mr Power said that the retired soldiers and families of serving soldiers would be failing in their “duty” as citizens if they did not articulate the problems faced by the Defence Forces.
‘Haughey was buying shirts three times our wages while telling us to tighten our belts’
Anthony Bolger, 60, served 21 years in the army and is now retired from the Second Battalion. His wife and children had to march for his wages almost four decades ago.
I served 21 years in Cathal Brugha Barracks and my son is there now. And 37 years ago, when my son was a child, we were out on the streets and my wife and kids were out on the street, again looking for money.
“And at the same time Charlie Haughey was in Paris with his fancy woman, and he was buying bottles of wine and shirts for three times our wages and he told us then, 37 years ago to tighten our belts and now in the year of our Lord, 2018, I’m out here looking for extra money for my son so him and his kids can live,” he told the Irish Examiner.
The retired solider attended the parade to Leinster House yesterday in association with the Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces (WPDF) group, as his son is now in the army and can not get a mortgage based on his salary.
“We shouldn’t be out here doing this. My son can’t get a mortgage. My son can hardly afford to rent the apartment he’s living in and he’s not long back from Syria.
“These people (the Government) should be ashamed that they have us out here doing this in 2018, it’s crazy,” said the retired soldier.
He reared three children on his salary, and while it was difficult, he said that the cost of living, compared to wages, seemed lower then than it is today.
Course it was hard to rear my family. I had three children. Yes it was very hard to rear our kids, even then. The money seemed to stretch more then than it does now. We had to double job,” he said.
The retired soldier, while he was marching for pay restoration and better wages for members of the Irish Defence Forces, said the Government needs to urgently address issues such as working-class salaries and social housing, as the situation is “crazy”.
The whole Dáil has to sit down and talk about this, not the wage only for the soldiers but the wage for the working class people in hotels and places like that, and also the matter of social housing too. It’s crazy,” said Mr Bolger.
Members of the Defence Forces sign an oath upon entry to service that precludes them from collective bargaining or assembling for protest, so current officers were represented by their partners, families and retired soldiers.
Mr Bolger said that his organisation was “nearly threatened” for taking part in the parade for fair wages.
“I’m here to stand for the Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces (WPDF) group. At the beginning we were condemned, we were told not to come here, we were actually nearly threatened that our association would be broken up and so on. We’re living in a corrupt system and it seems to be getting worse,” he said.
“I’m here to look after my younger generation and the younger generation, the younger crowd,” he added.
‘I had to do two other jobs’
During his 21-year career Stephen O’Shea took on security jobs in order to supplement his army salary and support his family.
“Oh my God, I had to do two other security jobs on top of the army. I’d start work at 8am, finished at 4.30pm. Start my first job at 6pm, finish at 11pm, and then start the next security job at 11.30pm, finish that at 4am, and went home and had four hours’ sleep and went to work again. I did that. I didn’t see my wife. I had two children,” he said.
The soldier said the Defence Forces has been stripped back to such an extent that “every barracks I served in, I served in five barracks, Monaghan, Cavan, Cootehill, Collins Barracks, and Clancy Barracks, and every single barracks is closed”.
“That’s sad,” he added.
The father-of-two was approached by his son who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Defence Forces. However, his son decided against it.
"I served 21 years in the army. I served in Lebanon. Five years ago my son went to join the army and passed the interview, passed the test, and came home and asked me: ‘Dad, what do you think?’
I said if you want to enjoy yourself and see the world, join the army, meet the best friends of your life. But I said if you want to make money and buy a house — my son never joined the army,” he said.
“It’s sad when people have to travel from the likes of Donegal, Dundalk, Athlone up to Dublin to do a 24-hour duty and then go back, that’s not right. You tell me one job where you do 24 hours’ work, your first eight hours is normal work, after that you’re talking 16 hours for €20. It’s disgraceful,” he added.
The retired soldier also addressed the myth that the ‘army does nothing’.
“First people called out during the snow? The army was there. The Pope? The army was there. They travel from all over Ireland. For what?” he said.