The Defence Forces saw a net gain of just three new members in 2017 despite an intensive recruitment campaign, the Dáil has heard.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hit out at the Government claiming there has been a "blind reliance" on "recruiting its way out of the crisis" as the Defence Forces continues to haemorrhage staff.
Calling on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to address the issue of retention of Defence Forces staff, Mr Martin said:
The low level of morale within the rank and file, the shabby manner in which they are treated, the gaps in middle management and the failure to retain and nurture specialist expertise within the forces all point to a failed policy of the Government and a Minister of State who, with the Government, is completely out of touch with the reality on the ground.
But Mr Varadkar said more than €50 million is being invested in barracks, equipment, pensions and pay. The Taoiseach admitted that the turn-over rate of 8% is not acceptable and should be reduced to 5% to ensure healthy staffing levels are maintained.
"While I acknowledge there is a problem with retention in the Defence Forces, recruitment is going well. There are record numbers in the classes being attested and graduating," said Mr Varadkar.
He said there will be rolling recruitment rather than recruitment in phases as happened in the past and the Defence Forces would be allowing retired personnel to re-enter. But Mr Martin said the Government cannot simply recruit its way out of the crisis.
"It must address the retention issues. Between January 1and December 31, 2017, for example, the significant recruitment drive by the Department of Defence and the associated burden on operational units and structures yielded a net increase of three personnel to the Defence Forces."
He added: "Members are exiting the Defence Forces at all ranks, at a rate of between 40 and 50 per month. We learned last October that ships could not set sail because there were not enough crew members to manage them."
Mr Varadkar said the public sector pay commission would “expedite” its report on pay, conditions and allowances and he expects to have it by mid-May. He said proposals that could improve the terms and conditions of the Defence Forces without having an impact across the public sector would be brought forward.