Defence forces under siege - Our troops deserve better

THE lot of a peace-time army, especially in a country that insists on its neutrality, is not always a happy one.

Inactivity, other than occasional ceremonial duties, leads to boredom. Morale tumbles. Social demands means resources are diverted.

This situation is exacerbated in times of economic crisis when pay, manning levels, infrastructure, training and the imperative of constant modernisation are neglected.

All these dispiriting factors have come together to undermine our defence forces and have been documented in a challenging University of Limerick report.

The report points out that soldiers’ pay is so poor that some must rely on supplementary welfare payments.

Soldiering may sometimes be a high-risk vocation but it never was a high-reward one.

The report also warns of what it describes as a constant brain drain and an inability to provide basic services — a situation seen in the most tragic way when Air Corps difficulties meant a Coast Guard helicopter undertook a mission that proved fatal off Mayo just three months ago.

Every good general knows that crisis brings some opportunity. Maybe we should rethink the role of the defence forces in terms of what they offer recruits.

At a time when so much of third-level education is in flux, at a time when we have very high student numbers, might it be worthwhile to make education a more active element in a soldier’s life?

That, and better pay, might help resolve some of these pressing issues.

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