The revelation that one in five members of our Defence Forces is living below the poverty line is a damning indictment of what we, as a nation, hold dear.
The plight of our hard-up troops has been revealed at the annual conference of PDForra, the association representing soldiers, sailors, and aircrew.
According to its general secretary, Gerry Rooney, 1,600 troops — representing 20% of enlisted personnel — are receiving social welfare in the form of the Family Income Supplement. A small but increasing number do not have the money to travel to and from work and are sleeping in their cars unable to afford the longer commutes resulting from the closure of army barracks.
In response, a spokeswoman for the Defence Forces acknowledged that personnel were owed a duty of care and said accommodation facilities were available in barracks for those who could not travel home every night from duty.
However, according to PDForra, while personnel could sleep overnight in barracks and receive daily rations, they have to pay for the facilities at a cost of about €2,500 a year — a considerable amount for anyone already on the breadline.
Like many who work in the public service, members of the Defence Forces have been subject to cuts of around 20% — including pension-related deductions and various changes to tax and PRSI. These cuts in pay rates have come about mostly under the Haddington Road agreement, since 2009.
But, while the majority of public servants still enjoy a decent standard of living, many of our military do not. Do we need to be reminded that these are the very people who are called upon to put their lives on the line on our behalf?
While the main purpose of our Defence Forces is to defend the State against armed aggression, our sailors help patrol the seas to protect our fishing, the air corps take on search and rescue missions, while the army assists the gardaí and takes part in peacekeeping missions abroad.
The international esteem in which Irish peacekeepers are held was illustrated as recently as last Friday when Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan revealed plans for African military officers to be trained in peacekeeping skills at the Curragh Camp in Co Kildare and Haulbowline, Co Cork.
The initiative was announced at the UN peacekeeping summit chaired by US vice president Joe Biden in New York, and also attended by Defence Minister Simon Coveney.
It is to be assumed these soldiers from Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda will be afforded proper accommodation and support in Ireland and that they will not have to endure the hardship of some of their Irish counterparts.
From the Congo in 1960 to Syria last year, Irish UN troops have distinguished themselves, and Ireland’s UN mission in the Golan Heights has only recently illustrated the increasing dangers to which Irish troops are exposed.
Last month, Syrian rebels kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers and a Filipino UN detachment had to be rescued by an Irish UN reaction force. Our boys have shown time and again what they are worth. Surely they deserve better than having to sleep in a car.
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