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Irish Defence Forces officer warns staffing crisis jeopardising UN overseas missions

Raco are holding their annual conference in Kildare.

Image: Irish Defence Forces

IRISH DEFENCE FORCE officers have warned that the staffing crisis in the military is jeopardising UN missions overseas. 

Commandant Conor King, General Secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), has said an “inadequate establishment” is undermining the commitments to UN duty. 

Ireland held the presidency of the UN Security Council in September – troops are on peace keeping missions in Lebanon, Africa and other war thorn locations.

King was speaking today at the Raco conference in Naas, Co Kildare where the crisis in the Defence Forces has been outlined. 

The issues raised by the officers include the Air Corps air traffic control service at 50% strength, naval ships unable to go to sea, unqualified trainees filling the manpower gap.

The conference also unanimous vote in support of the Women of Honour group.

 Ireland’s commitment on overseas missions was part of the main thrust of Conor King’s speech. 

“At the heart of this problem is an inadequate establishment that is driving up workload, driving down job satisfaction, and impacting retention.

“They have deployed having spent three months in various phases of pre-deployment training.

“The continuous cycle of pre-deployment training, actual deployment and post-deployment recovery means that in real terms, two Captains are missing from the Army strength for every one appointment overseas for most of the deployment period.

“The net result is that, on a continual basis, the army is missing 20% of its authorised strength of Captains due to overseas service. 

“Our members are proud of our record of service; however, the retention crisis has resulted in a significant impact on the frequency with which our personnel are required to travel, with an increased reliance on mandatory selection, and its associated damage to morale and family life.

“According to military management, in 2020 almost 25% of the deployable Army strength deployed overseas. Put simply, the Defence Forces is overcommitted overseas,” he said. 

1-IMG_9573 Commandant Conor King, speaking at the conference. Source: Picasa

King said that the training and deployment tempo is such that units are operating with reduced amounts of captain rank members.

“This is a continuous deficit of 9% of Army Captains at unit level. Combining these two important activities, leads to a deficit of 29% of Captains within the Army establishment.

“As current overall strength of Captains in the Army is already at a low of 78%, the reality is a deployable Captain strength at home of only 49%,” he added. 

Strategic heavy lift

 

Following The Journal‘s investigation into the refusal by the Department of Defence of the offer of two second hand heavy lift aircraft, King has said the refusal has affected the safety of troops.   

“Government spending on Defence, the lowest in the EU by any identifiable metric, is dangerously inadequate.

“We must never apologise for the maintenance and resourcing of the State’s insurance policy. Furthermore, we cannot continue to rely on pay savings to fund capability development.

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“Enhanced capability ensures the protection, health, safety, and wellbeing of our personnel, inspires pride in the service, and improves retention.

“Critical enablers possessed by normal military forces such as strategic airlift are not only logistical and strategic assets, but they also enhance the wellbeing of personnel by ensuring that they can be deployed and recovered from overseas missions in a safe and timely manner,” he explained. 

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney praised the Defence Forces for their peacekeeping missions and accepted that there were difficulties. 

“I am aware of the pressures on overseas units and I want to work with RACO on this,” he said.  

“Our ongoing excellent reputation in the field of international peacekeeping continues to be internationally recognised. This is something for which all members of our Defence Forces deserve great credit.

“I am very proud of the professional role we undertake overseas and was delighted to have had the opportunity to witness, at first-hand, the work undertaken during my visit to Lebanon last July,” he added. 

The Minister said that the missions re-enforced Ireland’s reputation in the international community. 

“September 2021 marked the start of Ireland’s Presidency of the UN Security Council, for a two year period. We joined at a time of international instability and our tenure on the Council will be guided by the principles of Building Peace, Strengthening Conflict-Prevention and Ensuring Accountability.

“As a reflection of those principles, Ireland used its Presidency of the Security Council to ensure the prioritisation of the issue of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

“Indeed, the subsequent first ever Irish-led Presidential text, which received full consensus among the members of the Security Council, was a clear statement of the priority that Ireland attaches to the issue of peacekeeping,” he added. 

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