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Loss of skilled Defence Forces staff due to poor pay 'has left Ireland vulnerable'

Commandant Conor King has written a detailed academic paper which analyses the retention crisis in the Defence Forces.

Commandant Conor King, Raco General Secretary.
Commandant Conor King, Raco General Secretary.

ONE OF THE greatest threats to national security is caused by a loss of highly skilled Defence Forces experts because of inadequate pay and inferior conditions, a military analysis has found. 

The paper, by Commandant Conor King of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), paints a bleak picture of the reality for highly trained operators. 

Commandant King, who is Raco General Secretary,  outlines in his analysis the vulnerability created by the State in protecting its own borders.

He also documents how the Defence Forces spend large sums of money on training of highly skilled experts but lose them through pay and conditions. 

King’s findings in his academic paper, “Resourcing The State’s National Insurance Policy – The Case For Defence” are published in the Irish Defence Forces’ Review and examines the effectiveness of the Irish defence ecosystem by identifying key threats.  

“A capacity to respond quickly, professionally and in an agile manner to imminent threats is only possible if the Defence Forces retains the skills acquired through years of training and experience at home and overseas.

“The difficulties experienced by the organisation in retaining highly skilled personnel due to inadequate remuneration and inferior conditions of service has had a severe impact on its operational capability, which has left the State vulnerable,” King said. 

The commandant said that Government has said at least two of the major threats identified in risk assessment, the pandemic and cyber-attacks, has shown how the State must scramble to respond when they have come to fruition.

Black Swan

Such incidents are known in military speak as “Black Swan” – so named because they are surprising alternations to normal activity. 

“Global pandemics and cyber-attacks were, until recently, high-level threats that we have acknowledged as being possible, without preparing as if they were probable. As we are all too aware, both have come to pass, and the State has scrambled to mitigate the threat.

“The significant contribution by the Defence Forces to this response has shown their adaptability, capability and utility in times of national crisis. But it has also shown that Defence requirements are not matched by Defence investment, particularly when it comes to resourcing and retaining trained and experienced personnel and equipment,” he added. 

King said that the arrival of Covid-19 in Ireland shows the need for appropriate funding for “a national insurance policy” like the Defence Forces. 

“A strong Defence Force, as the State’s insurance policy, is vital to the security and resilience essential to our continued prosperity in the face of rising national and global risk,” he added. 

King, in his analysis, used a threat and risk matrix to calculate the most likely threats. 

Unsurprisingly he found a pandemic close to the top, with other incidents such as cyber attacks, maritime and air incidents and animal disease as the other high risk potential issues. 

The commandant said that the Permanent Defence Force has been responding to a cyber attack and the pandemic but at its lowest strength since the foundation of the State.

“Years of neglect have resulted in an unsustainable rate of turnover and the loss of experienced personnel across all ranks, particular the junior leaders at Sergeant and Captain rank (and Naval Service equivalent), responsible for the delivery of day-to-day and public-facing operations,” he said. 

Spy ship

King also examined recent military threats such as the Yantar Russian spy ship off the coast of Donegal in August, 2021. It took up position over internet communication cables.

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He said that the threat posed by the vessel could not be determined adequately due to an inability of the Naval Service to examine its subsurface activities.

kaliningrad-russia-29th-june-2015-the-russian-oceanographic-research-vessel-yantar-on-the-grounds-of-the-yantar-baltic-shipbuilding-plant-vitaly-nevartassalamy-live-news The Russian oceanographic research vessel Yantar on the grounds of the Yantar Baltic Shipbuilding Plant. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

He also looked at the lack of an airlift capacity in the Air Corps associated with the Army Ranger Wing operation in Afghanistan.

King listed the incursions of Russian bombers on the West Coast as an issue that needed attention. He stated the aircraft were unhindered and unmonitored due to a lack of specialist military radar.

He also warned of the risk of foreign espionage in Ireland and in EU states. 

“This paper provided three brief examples of how this under-resourcing threatens the sovereignty of our skies, the economic security of our communications and data industry, and our ability to assist Irish citizens and troops abroad in times of crisis.

“A capacity to respond quickly, professionally and in an agile manner to imminent threats is only possible if the Defence Forces can resource these capabilities, thereby retaining the skills acquired through years of training and operational experience at home and overseas.

“A strong, highly-motivated, well-resourced Defence Forces is essential as the national insurance policy that will mitigate these risks and protect Irish interests at home and abroad,” Commandant King added.  

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