The recruitment of Defence Forces personnel has been severely impacted by Covid-19, the Defence Minister has admitted.
Paul Kehoe told the Dáil the induction of 160 candidates has been delayed due to the outbreak of the virus. The Minister also confirmed that no ex-military personnel have rejoined the forces under a re-enlistment scheme announced 10 weeks ago.
Mr Kehoe said the current strength of the Defence Forces is "below what was expected" at 8,485 and said it is in part due to Covid-19.
"The ability of the Defence Forces to induct and train recruits has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 situation. Inductions in the first months of 2020 were postponed. Some 160 extra general recruits were expected to have inducted by now.
"The Defence Forces are currently finalising a revised training schedule to take account of public health guidelines. Covid-19 will continue to have an unprecedented impact on the number that can be inducted and trained at any one time and, as a result, on the rate at which the strength of the Defence Forces will increase during this period."
Mr Kehoe added that there has been €10 million spent of Defence Forces work responding to the virus.
"This expenditure includes the €5.2 million towards the acquisition of a new aircraft; €4.2 million in respect of additional medical, engineering, building, PPE, audiovisual and transport costs across the army and naval service and the Air Corps; over €1 million in respect of additional allowance payments and some €400,000 in civil defence."
In a later Dáil session, Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring said he has raised the 5km travel zone at Cabinet, adding that there is "a difference" in what the distance meant for urban and rural dwellers. Under the government's roadmap, that zone will expand to 20km from Monday, something Mr Ring said he hoped would make things easier for those in rural areas.
Labour's Cork East TD Sean Sherlock asked that Cabinet to look at the restrictions and said they were unfair.
"Grandparents are not able to see their grandchildren at the moment by dint of the fact that they live more than 5km away," he said.
"There is an inequity there. It is unfair. I ask that the Minister use his very influential and strong voice at Cabinet to articulate these viewpoints, as I am sure he has."