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Defence Forces facing 'serious problems' with recruitment and retention

A Commission on the Defence Forces is due to deliver a report this year on challenges within the armed forces.

Image: Shutterstock/Ross Mahon

THE DEFENCE FORCES in Ireland are facing “serious problems” with the recruitment and retention of members.

With the establishment of a commission to examine issues in the Defence Forces, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney said that the forces are facing a series of significant problems.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Coveney said that the challenges around recruitment and retention are going to be dealt with “head on”.

The government approved the establishment of a Commission on the Defence Forces in December 2020, which had been laid out by the coalition parties in the Programme for Government.

Coveney said that the commission “has a remit that is much broader than previous commissions”.

“It goes way beyond pay, but it also deals with pay structures, which I know people want addressed,” he said.

The government is also looking at setting up a separate pay body for the Defence Forces that would separate their pay negotiation from collective public sector pay deals. 

“I’ve given them an instruction to be ambitious and be radical if necessary and I have let my colleagues in government know that when the recommendations from the commission come back, the government needs to prioritise that quickly.”

However, Independent TD Denis Naughten said that the commission was missing out by not looking at the relationship between the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence in a similar manner to how a commission on policing looked at the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána.

“I do think that this is an issue that is missing in terms of this particular commission. If it is going to be structured like the commission on policing, it needs to look at that aspect and needs to make recommendations in terms of that particular relationships,” Naughten said.

“We also really need to tackle the issue of pay conditions. There’s something fundamentally wrong in a system where the number of frontline personnel in our Defence Forces is falling at a time where the number of staff in the Department of Defence are increasing,” he said.

Similarly, Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said that addressing pay for members of the Defence Forces would be crucial.

“It’s not just the numbers that are low in our Defence Forces. Morale is on the floor,” O’Reilly said.

“The fact is that the issue around pay has to be addressed. What the commission is doing is deferring the issue of pay,” she said.

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“Unless there is a basic living wage for new entrants into the Defence Forces, the issues around recruitment and retention will not be effectively dealt with and we will continue to lose highly trained, highly skilled men and women.”

O’Reilly said that “if the issue of pay and the issue of the relationship between the Defence Forces and the Department is not comprehensively addressed, then the issue around recruitment and retention will not be sorted, and it has to be dealt with”.

The Commission on the Defence Forces is being chaired by Aidan O’Driscoll, former Secretary General of the Department of Justice and of the Department of Agriculture.

There are 14 members on the commission, including retired members of the Irish Defence Forces, academics, and international experts.

The commission is expected to deliver its report by the end of 2021.

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