The Defence Forces are facing a mounting crisis in their officer ranks after a survey revealed 79% of those inducted since 2013 are planning to quit ahead of mandatory retirement, because they are on reduced pension terms compared to other public servants.
The findings are contained in a survey of 622 young officers — mainly lieutenants and captains — conducted by Amárach Research on behalf of the Representation Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO).
They all joined the Defence Forces in or after 2013 when pension schemes were changed for all public servants. The rest of the public service will be allowed to retire at the age of 68 from 2021. But officers will still be required to leave at 58, meaning they will be 10 years short of attaining a full pension.
RACO has said this “flagged exodus” of junior officers comes on top of many senior personnel leaving the Defence Forces for the private sector due to poor pay and conditions. During the last four years, an average of 80 officers per year have left the Defence Forces. Around 80% of them have gone before the mandatory retirement age.
Recent figures presented to the Public Service Pay Commission show officer strengths in Army operational units are down to 55%, at 78% in the Naval Service and 77% in the Air Corps.
RACO general secretary Commandant Conor King said the lack of retention of officers was “spiralling out of control with the future viability of the Defence Forces under threat”. He said that crisis was well documented, but the latest survey shows the situation will get worse unless the Government takes decisive action to address it.
“The results show that a majority of officers do not see themselves serving beyond their 30s, at a time in their careers when officers would normally fill command leadership roles and be called upon to drive strategy development and formation implementation in Defence Forces headquarters,” Comdt King said.
RACO deputy general secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Priestly said a majority of young officers feel they have no long-term future in the Defence Forces. “These are the people who should be leading the development of modern defence capabilities such as counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and cyber defence. Instead, our brightest and best are being forced to leave,” he said.
Comdt King said the lack of adequate pension provision for the post-2013 cohort of officers means that a significant majority of them feel that they cannot afford to stay long enough to develop and progress up the ranks “and populate the chronic shortages at middle management level”.
“The Defence Forces cannot simply ‘go to market’ to replace its middle and senior management and leadership. If the Government doesn’t incentivise these officers to stay, then the organisation is in serious trouble,” he added.
Ireland has the lowest percentage of GDP spend on defence in the EU and is 142nd out of 148 countries internationally that have a defence budget.
Also, the average pay of Defence Forces personnel is the lowest across the public and civil service.