The chairman of the Commission on the Defence Forces has said he and his committee members want to meet as many military personnel as possible in the coming months and will be “actively encouraging them to speak their minds”.
Commission chairman Aidan O'Driscoll has also said they “will not shy away” from commenting on PDForra's wish to affiliate with the umbrella union body Ictu if he feels it warrants them mentioning it in their report to Government, which is set to be finalised by the end of the year.
Mr O'Driscoll said that while the commission has no remit to address pay in the Defence Forces, he acknowledged that highly-trained personnel are attracting better wages in the private sector and more “attractive conditions” would be needed to retain them in the military.
He made his comments while addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, adding that the 520-plus submissions received by his commission “represented a tremendous response”.
Mr O'Driscoll said the submissions – which came from military personnel, military representative associations and members of the public – would be published in batches on its website, beginning from next month.
He said the commission was working on three strands – firstly identifying the issues facing the Defence Forces, secondly providing a detailed analysis of them and thirdly preparing conclusions. He said it was hoped to start drawing up the latter in the autumn.
Mr O'Driscoll said the terms of reference were “quite extensive” and included short-, medium- and long-term recommendations for the future of the Defence Forces. These would include the need to address such issues as cybersecurity and climate change within the defence remit and ensure the country's military remains “agile” and able to respond to threats.
He said Covid-19 restrictions had only allowed commission members to visit two military barracks to date. However, he added as restrictions eased they intend to visit all military installations in the country.
“We hope to meet as many personnel as possible and will be actively encouraging personnel of all ranks to speak their minds,” Mr O'Driscoll said.
He told Oireachtas members his commission “has done a lot of listening and reading in the past four months”.
The commission boss said just 7% of the Defence Forces were women and as such it seems as they are “effectively recruiting from half the population”.
But he added that senior military staff were trying to make as many roles as possible in the Defence Forces “family-friendly” to address this imbalance.
He said the commission was very aware that the Reserve Defence Forces (RDF) were hugely important. Fine Gael TD David Stanton, a former officer in the FCA, said he could remember when they numbered 15,000, but were now just 1,500.
Addressing the ongoing serious retention issue across the military, Mr O'Driscoll said he recognised there was serious competition from the private sector.
He said the Defence Forces produced highly-trained people and they were therefore extremely valuable to private companies, where they commanded higher wages.
“Ultimately, you must provide the conditions which are attractive [in order to retain people],” he said.
Mr O'Driscoll said his commission will be looking at best practice in similar sized countries, focusing on the military in Denmank, Finland and New Zealand for examples of this.