The true extent of the hollowing out of the Defence Forces has been laid bare, with the air corps and naval service now short nearly one fifth of the personnel they require with the army down by nearly 10%.
The Government has been warned unless the situation is reversed, the Defence Forces will find it “increasingly difficult” to carry out its various roles in protecting State security, fisheries, and mounting anti-drugs operations and overseas peacekeeping missions.
While Defence Minister Simon Coveney has promised to seek emergency measures to bolster numbers in the naval service, it's become apparent significant measures are needed to retain personnel in the other two arms of the Defence Forces, which continue to haemorrhage
highly trained people at an unsustainable rate.
There are more than 200 positions currently unfilled in the naval service, which is nearly 20% short of the minimum strength it is supposed to have. It is supposed to have 1,094 personnel but currently has 883.
In total, 139 left the navy last year and more have signalled they intend to depart.
The number of lieutenants is at 60% of what it should be and there are 138 unfilled positions at junior non-commissioned officer (NCO) rank.
It is critically short in certain areas of expertise. For example, there are 20 vacancies for leading electricians and a further 28 for petty Officer engine room artificers serving at sea.
They have an in-depth knowledge of a ship's engineering equipment, including its main engines and auxiliary engineering equipment.
In addition, there are 18 vacancies for electronic technicians. There are currently only six of them and it can take up to six years to fully train some.
The army's current strength is at 6,816 personnel, whereas it should be 7,520. Five out of seven infantry battalions are at 80% or less of the numbers they should have.
They have only 82% of middle-management captains they need and there are 404 vacancies at junior NCO rank.
The army has 704 unfilled positions, which is 9.4% of its strength. A total of 655 personnel left the army last year.
The air corps' minimum strength is defined as 886 personnel of all ranks, but it is now at 724. There were 88 personnel that left last year.
The ranks of captains are at 62% of what they should be and there are 78 vacancies for junior NCOs. In total there 162 vacancies across all ranks, which represents 18.3% of its strength.
The current strength of the whole Defence Forces is 8,424 personnel, more than 1,000 short of the establishment figure.
Both military representative associations, RACO (for officers) and PDForra (for enlisted personnel), have highlighted yet again the urgent need for Mr Coveney to address retention and recruitment issues.
“There can be little doubt that investment in the greatest resource the Defence Forces has, our members, is an absolute necessity. There is no point in having ships, armoured personnel carriers and new aircraft worth millions sitting in docks, garages and hangers without the personnel to crew, man and maintain these valuable assets of the State,” PDForra general secretary Gerard Guinan said.
RACO general secretary Commandant Conor King said his members remain hopeful Mr Coveney will follow through on his commitments to put urgent retention interventions in place.
“There can be no doubt whatsoever that without these urgent measures that we have discussed with the Minister, the strength of the Defence Forces will continue to drop. We will continue to haemorrhage trained and skilled personnel and will find it increasingly difficult to carry out our assigned roles,” Comdt King said.
Retired colonel Dorcha Lee, former head of the military police, said the commission on Defence Forces, which is due to report late next year on recommendations for its future, should speed up work on finding ways of addressing the retention crisis and issue an interim report as soon as possible.