The country's military officers are enduring more burnout and stress than ever before as work/life balance continues to deteriorate, while 'governance and oversight' of units is becoming an increasing issue due to manpower shortages.
These are some of the key issues which will be discussed at the annual RACO (Representative Association of Commissioned Officers) conference which gets underway today (Mon).
Little has been done to address many of these issues, which were extensively highlighted in a study carried out as far back as 2016 by University of Limerick academics on the then state of the Defence Forces. In total, they interviewed 700 personnel across ranks who spoke about a wide range of issues impacting their home life and jobs.
Double and treble-jobbing has increased since then as those left behind plug gaps due to continuing numbers quitting the country's military. The Defence Forces are currently 1,000 short of the minimum number of personnel they're supposed to have.
Some officers are working up to 70 hours a week and the Working Time Directive has yet to be implemented by the government throughout the Defence Forces.
Such is the level of frustration with management’s unwillingness to engage, 10 RACO members have lodged cases on the Directive in the High Court. The Department of Defence has yet to lodge a defence on these.
RACO is also expected to call for a specialist allowance to be provided to certain experts in Air Traffic Control, bomb disposal, cyber security and engineering which would hopefully stop them from quitting for better terms and conditions in the private sector.
“If we don't retain these personnel then the whole organisation will fall apart,” RACO president Commandant Luke Foley told the Irish Examiner.
Delegates are expected to discuss a motion calling for the scrapping of a loyalty bonus which Minister for Defence Simon Coveney introduced for the Naval Service earlier this year.
The Sea Service Commitment Scheme offers personnel the chance to get an extra €10,000 before tax, paid in four tranches if they sign up for two years of sea patrols.
However, the scheme had one major flaw – it's only applicable to those who've more than three years' service and thus ruled out 40% of navy personnel.
Instead, RACO wants it replaced with across the board increases to the Patrol Duty Allowance (PDA) which is given to all serving at sea and is a more regular payment than the one Mr Coveney introduced.
Another issue expected to be highlighted is the mandatory selection of personnel for overseas duties, which is becoming a big issue to dwindling numbers, especially for specialist officers and enlisted troops.
RACO general secretary Comdt Conor King said with 560 military personnel deployed, and the same amount preparing to, Ireland is now “over-committed” to overseas missions because of the shortfall in personnel.
RACO delegates will also be debating the association’s future industrial relations status, and how it will respond to the likelihood of Defence Forces representative associations being permitted to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, as well as the association’s response to the recent RTÉ 'Women of Honour' documentary.
The conference, at Kilashee House Hotel in Naas, Co Kildare, will debate 27 motions that have been drafted by delegates representing the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. A total of 50 delegates will attend.