Defence Forces crisis to be discussed at conference

The deepening crisis in the Defence Forces will be laid bare at a conference

Defence Forces crisis to be discussed at conference

By Sean O’Riordan, Defence Correspondent

The deepening crisis in the Defence Forces will be laid bare at a conference today expected to be dominated by fears Naval Service effectiveness is being crippled by an exodus of highly trained personnel and a shortage of replacement recruits.

The navy is struggling to get ships to sea due to mechanical failures and what the Defence Forces press office describes as “staffing restrictions”.

PDForra, which represents 6,000 enlisted soldiers, sailors, and air crew, is expected to highlight poor pay and conditions as reasons for the increasing numbers of personnel quitting the military.

The navy is also suffering from an inability to attract enough new recruits to plug the gaps, because the Defence Forces can not compete with the private sector.

Former Defence Forces members are using social media to inform serving members of better careers elsewhere, while several companies are actively recruiting them because of their skills and reliability.

Around 40 motions of the 56 tabled for PDForra’s annual conference in Castlebar, Co Mayo, are related to the naval service.

Figures attained by PDForra show that 118 personnel purchased their discharge from the Defence Forces in the past year. Fifth-five recruits also purchased their discharge.

The association will call on Defence Minister Paul Kehoe to roll back on recessionary cuts to duty premiums (allowances). The military has always relied on allowance top-ups to make ends meet, as their pay is the lowest in the public service.

While the principal aim of the Public Sector Stability Agreement 2018-2020 is the restoration of basic pay to pre-fempi levels, members of the Defence Forces have always been heavily reliant upon allowances,” said PDForra general secretary Gerard Guinan.

“Consequentially, unless the Government reverses those unique cuts to duty allowances, imposed as part of the [Haddington Road Agreement], members of the Defence Forces will continue to depart in ever-increasing numbers.”

PDForra wants the reintroduction of a number of allowances and backdated to pre-cut levels.

It is understood that the Department of Defence is prepared to reintroduce a number of such allowances shortly, but has no agreement from the Department of Public Expenditure on backdating.

Mr Guinan said Mr Kehoe made a commitment last year to ensure the strength of the Defence Forces reaches 9,500, the minimum number required for them to do their jobs properly.

Their strength is hovering at around 9,000 and includes around 1,000 in training.

Mr Guinan said there was a net loss of personnel in the past year “due to the failure to recognise the effect that the failure to restore premiums associated with undertaking additional hours is having on morale and retention”.

Meanwhile, PDForra is seeking affiliation with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. A review of the conciliation and arbitration process has concluded that discussions should take place between PDForra and the Department of Defence on how this could pan out.

The review said there should not be a complete ban on such affiliation, but that Defence Forces members should not be allowed strike.

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