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Group representing Irish military officers claims membership 'fearful' of Commission report

The Commission on the Defence Forces has been meeting over the last year.

A GROUP REPRESENTING Defence Force officers has said its membership is “fearful” that a report will fail to address problems with staffing in the military. 

The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) made the comments this weekend ahead of the publication of the Commission on Defence report. 

Following repeated reports and commentary from former members of the Defence Forces the Government decided to set up the independent commission. Its terms of reference have enabled it to examine pay, conditions and resourcing across the Defence Forces.   

The Commission on the Defence Forces was to examine the nature of the work of the Defence Forces and make recommendations for the future. It is due for publication next week.

A number of international experts, former Defence Forces members as well as senior civil servants were involved in the process which included visiting military bases. 

The Journal understands that staff from the Department of Defence are drafting the report.

Sources have said that a key industrial relations recommendation will be that representative bodies should be permitted to join the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. 

One key area of concern for the membership is the problem of retention of experienced staff within the military – this has been raised repeated by both PDFORRA, which represents rank and file members, and RACO which represents officers.

There are now strong concerns among serving officers, according to RACO, that this report will not directly address the issue. 

Sources have said that it is expected that the Commission will need to recommend an increased establishment (maximum allowable headcount) figure for the Defence Forces to meet its assigned roles, making the retention of personnel even more urgent.

A RACO spokesperson said that they have determined that the issue of preventing the turnover of staff will not be addressed in the report. 

“The retention crisis in the Defence Forces has left our members extremely concerned that this will be another wasted exercise, which would be devastating for morale, and a catalyst for further departures.

“Our members are fearful that mistakes of the 2019, Defence Forces specific, Public Service Pay Commission could be repeated.

“The organisation continues to live with the effects of the sub optimal report that was produced and what we believe resulted in a further loss of 500 personnel since the report was published in July 2019.

“The Commission must surely realise that the DF cannot hope to increase its headcount without reducing its turnover rate. It has been proven over the last 5 years that the DF cannot recruit its way out of this retention crisis.,” the spokesperson said. 

Raco said in their statement that the Commission members had visited all Irish military institutions and were told of the major problems facing members. 

“Furthermore, the Commission has visited every barracks, and we are fully aware that crucial issues such as pension provisions, working time directive, access to overtime and retention initiatives such as service commitment schemes for technical personnel (Bomb Disposal, Engineers, Cyber experts, Medical Officers etc.) and specialised instructors allowance have been raised repeatedly with the Commission members.

“These concerns must be reflected in the report if it is to be a truly honest and realistic reflection of the staffing crisis experienced by DF members,” the spokesperson added. 

Recently former Army Ranger Cathal Berry TD had sought assurances from Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Dáil on 14 December last on the independence of the Commission’s process and potential findings.

He asked the Taoiseach to provide reassurance to the House that the Commission was autonomous, independent, has editorial autonomy, and is free from any bureaucratic interference.

The Taoiseach replied that this is an opportunity to look radically at the entire situation, stating that “we do need to change; we do need to improve, in terms of our capabilities, and the retention of skilled personnel”.

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