The criteria for the €200k per year job as secretary-general of the Department of Defence did not require any military, security, or international qualifications.
The specifications for the role, for which the applications process has since closed, were advertised online. They included “supports the Minister for Defence, developing a vision, and implementing the strategy for the defence sector”, “operating in the complex constitutional, and legal structure underpinning defence” and “strategic perspective”.
The advertisement required the successful candidate to have “a well-developed capacity to lead, a record of achievement in his/her career demonstrating excellent senior management, strong interpersonal skills, resilience and flexibility needed to manage the challenges of the joint civil-military environment, an appreciation of security and military affairs, and a capacity to provide calm assurance in response to the contingencies and crises”.
The description of the role on the Government’s website states duties such as implementing Government policies appropriate to the department; monitoring Government policies that affect the department; providing policy advice to the minister on all matters within the remit of the department, and preparing statements of strategy for submission to the minister.
The running of competitions for secretaries-general is a function of the top-level appointments committee.
Secretary-general salaries begin at around €196,665pa and can go up to €207,590.
Since 2013, Dubliner Maurice Quinn has held the seven-year termed position. He served as the assistant secretary in the Department of Defence before taking on the role, and has a “comprehensive knowledge of defence matters”, according to a Government press release from the time.
On June 9, Paul Kehoe, minister of state at the Department of Defence, said in reply to a parliamentary question that “it would be inappropriate” for him to comment on the requirements as set out in the information booklet for the post as the competition was ongoing.
“The booklet contains a range of factual information in relation to the organisation, which would have been provided by my department, as is the norm for such competitions,” he said.
Cathal Berry, an Independent TD for Kildare South who spent 23 years in the Defence Forces, says the job advertisement is indicative of the indifference towards the defence sector.
“We have more people in third-level institutions with more experience of defence and security than in the department itself,” he said.
“The Department of Defence is currently where the Department of Finance was in 2008, completely clueless, and it requires significant political intervention to get the right people into the jobs.
“We need people with external real-life experience, we don’t need any more bureaucrats. At a minimum, some defence, security, or at least international relations is required. This would not happen in any other walk of life, with such a salary and no required defence experience.”
There has been an ongoing recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Force sector, with representative groups declaring the Government’s recent suite of reforms, “a whitewash”.
Raco (Representative Association for Commissioned Officers) said eight out of 15 reports promised under the Government high level implementation plan are behind schedule.
From January to April 2020, 215 personnel left the forces, 77 through discharge by purchase, at a combined cost of €37,620.50, an average of €488.58, and 138 have left through other discharges.
“The objective was to solve the retention crisis, and it has exacerbated,” Mr Berry said.
“Three civil service members in the department last year earned €10,000 a year in overtime. Frugality of salaries only extends to those in uniforms.”