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'Soldiers are living on the breadline': More than 3,000 quit Defence Forces in four years

Raco is calling for the introduction of an independent pay review body to help address the staff retention crisis.

Image: Defences Forces

IRISH SOLDIERS ARE “living on the breadline” and looking for the government to give them a reason to stay, a representative body told TDs and Sentors today. 

The Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence has this morning been hearing from the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) about the staff retention crisis in the Defence Forces. 

Some 3,200 personnel left the Defence Forces between 2014 and 2018. This figure was described by General Secretary of Raco, Commandant Conor King, as “an astonishing 34.7%” of the average strength for those years.

“Before people think that this is due to the early mandatory retirement ages for Defence Forces personnel, I must state that 82% of these were premature voluntary retirements,” he said. 

King referenced the recent high profile recruitment drives in 2017 and last year. Despite this push to increase numbers, there was a net loss of 120 personnel last year. 

“There were 256 discharges in the first four months of 2019. This is by far the highest figure since the reorganisation of 2012. In April 2019 alone there were an unprecedented 86 discharges,” he said. 

King said the army is struggling to fulfill its assigned tasks, domestically and internationally.

Ships are unable to go to sea and aircraft are not flying as a result of personnel shortages. Yet the Department of Defence continues to prioritise costly recruitment policies in favour of tangible retention initiatives.

Below the average public sector wage

He also said that inadequate supervision and mentoring as experienced staff leave the force, combined with inadequate trained manning levels, is leading to burnout among staff. 

King pointed out that 87% of all Defence Forces personnel earn “well below the average public sector wage”.

“The fact that the lowest paid public sector organisation in the State is also the most defenceless in terms of advocating for its rights is deeply unfair and disrespectful to the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann, many of whom are forced to rely on social welfare to support their families,” he told the committee. 

Normal public service employment conditions do not apply to those in the Defence Forces, they have no right to strike and can be called on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The health and safety provisions of the EU Working Time Directive also do not currently apply to the Defence Forces.

“The Defence Forces is currently surviving on the goodwill and loyalty of its personnel; that willingness to go over and above the call of duty to achieve the mission or complete the task,” King said. 

The inability of personnel to take to the streets in protest at their appalling service conditions has resulted in them voting with their feet and leaving the organisation.

Raco is calling for the introduction of a specific independent Defence Forces pay review body to ensure members are fairly treated and to help tackle the retention crisis. 

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