“That, to us, was a betrayal of our commitment and loyalty,” Lieutenant Colonel Earnan Naughton, general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), said at the first day of his association’s conference in Naas, Co Kildare, yesterday.
Raco, which represents 1,100 officers in the army, naval service and air corps, does not have union status, meaning it cannot strike, and its members are not subject to the EU working time agreement.
The senior officer said that, given these restrictions, it was even more reason that the Defence Forces, of all ranks, should not be marginalised.
Raco wants an independent organisation, similar to the British Armed Forces Pay Review Board (AFPRB), to be set up.
The AFPRB advises the British government on how to improve life for military personnel, on pay, and on retention issues.
Raco’s president, Commandant Shane Keogh, said retention is a major issue in the Defence Forces, with personnel leaving in droves due to poor pay and conditions.
He said some units have just 20% of the officers they need and it took years to replace the experience built up by officers who were quitting for better opportunities in the private sector.
A delegation from the AFPRB had been invited to attend Raco’s conference.
“They were very helpful,” said Lt Col Naughton. “They were prepared to travel and address us. When we went to the point of booking the flights, we were informed they’d received a communique from the Department of Defence, saying any talks should be on a government-to-government basis.
“It subsequently transpired the minister [Paul Keogh] had no problem with them attending. It appears to us it was the department which scuppered their attendance.”
Relations between the Defence Forces and Department of Defence officials have deteriorated in recent years.
“The department is failing to address issues we’re identifying to them,” said Lt Col Naughten.
He said he hoped military management would agree to set up something similar to AFPRB.
A number of guest speakers were invited to address a special forum yesterday on industrial relations.
Raco’s vice-president, Commandant Conor King, outlined the contents of a damning report, published earlier this year by University of Limerick academics, that concluded that the Defence Forces was almost dysfunctional.
Comdt King said the Government had to act on the report, which said poor pay, lack of expertise, exhaustion, and Hotel Rwanda-style barracks had caused an exodus of highly-trained personnel to the private sector.