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Expense of citizenship 'stopping some Defence Force members from serving on UN missions'

PDFORRA has called on Minister Coveney to ‘do the right thing’ and grant citizenship to migrant soldiers.

THE ORGANISATION representing rank and file Defence Forces members has called on the Government to provide citizenship free of charge to non-Irish citizens who join the military. 

Mark Keane, President of PDFORRA said in a speech that the expense involved in obtaining citizenship in Ireland is blocking a number of soldiers, aircrew and sailors from serving on UN peacekeeping missions. 

Ger Guinan, General Secretary of PDFORRA, said that people who aren’t Irish citizens and who serve in the Permanent Defence Forces should be granted citizenship after five years of service. 

Keane made his comments during an address at the annual conference of the body in Killarney and called on the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney to act.

“Today we see a new generation, willing to place themselves in that very same danger in the service of peace and freedom – very laudable you would think – and yet our government is denying them the opportunity to serve overseas, why? Because they were not born on this island.

“Minister, they need two passports to undertake this duty. How hard can it be to make this happen without making them pay through the nose for their willingness to sacrifice and serve.

“In failing to address this situation you are also compromising their future prospects in the Defence Forces,” he claimed. He said that it is red tape that’s involved, and Coveney has “the authority both as Minister for Foreign affairs and Minister for Defence to cut through it”.

It would be good for the UN, it would be good for the Defence Forces, it would be good for the individuals concerned.  But most of all Minister, it’s the right thing to do.

Guinan, meanwhile, said that PDFORRA has sought that the service of resident non-nationals who enlist in the Defence Forces “be appropriately recognised by the State through the grant of free citizenship upon the expiry of an appropriate time frame, providing that these personnel hold a conduct rating of ‘good’”.

Guinan added that the troops “risk life and limb with their comrades” but are then “den[ied]… through economic means the ability to become citizens of our State”.

“PDFORRA has highlighted this issue as far back as 2018, but it does not appear to be gaining any traction. There seems to be an attitude of: let them apply the same as everyone else.

“When considering that the Government allows citizens of other nations to hold Irish Passports if they pay a certain amount of money, it has to be asked – are we prepared to have soldiers risk their lives with a tricolour on their arm and then deny them though force of economic necessity the ability to become citizens.”

Guinan said that obtaining citizenship can cost “thousands” of euro and that Defence Force members cannot afford this as they are “relatively poorly paid”.

“Consequently, PDFORRA believe that the time has not come for a protocol to be put into place that permits enlisted personnel to be given citizenship upon the expiry of five years honourable service to the State.

He said this should be agreed between the Department of Defence and the Department of Justice within a timeframe of six months.

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Meanwhile, PDFORRA has called for a reversal of cuts introduced to Defence Force members through the Haddington Road Agreement. 

Gerard Guinan said “comparable restoration measures must be applied to Defence Forces personnel as those being applied in the rest of the public sector”. 

“Any failure to provide some comparable restoration measures will only result in further difficulties to recruit and retain personnel within our Defence Forces.

“If we are going to treat members of the Defence Forces as lesser employees then Government can’t be surprised when there is nobody there to fulfil the roles assigned,” he said. 

PDFORRA also called for the work carried out by Defence Forces personnel during the pandemic be recognised.

 ”Most, if not all citizens recognise the sizeable contribution made by public servants and others during the Covid crisis, it would be a welcome display of recognition if some provision was made in recognition of the contribution made,” Keane said. 

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