Nearly 500 former members of the Defence Forces have applied to rejoin the military to aid the fight against Covid-19.
Only days after the Government pleaded for former veterans to rejoin, the Defence Forces confirmed they have already received 464 applications from former enlisted troops and officers.
Cathal Berry, an Independent TD and former second-in-command of the elite Army Ranger Wing, said the response goes to show that loyalty and patriotism to the State are “in the DNA” of anybody who has served the Defence Forces.
“It shows the patriotism and professionalism of the veteran population,” said Mr Berry. “They want to help in this time of crisis and do their bit for the country. The level of interest being expressed by these people is inspiring, uplifting, and reassuring. It is further proof, as if any was needed, of the commitment to the country of everybody who has ever served in the Defence Forces.”
Mr Berry said it is “a huge shame” that more was not done to keep them within the Defence Forces in the first place, as many had left for better pay and conditions in the private sector.
A record 850 personnel quit the Defence Forces last year and its current strength is 8,600, around 1,000 less than the minimum strength agreed by the Government. However, a number of experts estimate that minimum strength should be 10,500.
The applications will be assessed by the Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, and his senior officers. They will then draw up a list of people they want to re-enlist which will be presented to the minister of state with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe.
In particular, the Defence Forces want to re-recruit people who will fill vacancies which have emerged in a number of specialist areas in recent years. These include marine officer engineers and engineering technicians for the naval service, aircraft technicians, pilots and communications/telecoms experts.
It is hoped that badly needed marine engineers, who went to work with the cruise liner industry, will be among those who have applied to re-enlist.
The crew of LÉ Eithne, which is docked at Albert Quay, Cork, are transporting medical supplies for the HSE, while awaiting a possible call-up as a Covid-19 testing centre. LÉ Niamh is acting as a test centre at John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, while LÉ William Butler Yeats performs a similar task in Galway.
The army has set up tents outside hospitals and at testing centres in Cork, Galway, and Kilkenny, while it has also sent its own ambulance crews to bolster the National Ambulance Service in Cork, Dublin, and Kildare.
Officer cadets are helping the HSE to trace contacts of confirmed Covid-19 patients, while an army medical officer has joined the HSE’s ‘doctor on call’ service.
Meanwhile, a number of reserve Defence Forces are helping to fill gaps in the ranks of the permanent Defence Forces and several veterans organisations have members who are acting as volunteers within communities, especially ensuring that vulnerable people are supplied with any food and medicines needed.