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Representative group for Defence Forces officers set to criticise Government over 'ticking retention timebomb'

RACO will tell the Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs that cuts to the military budget is to blame for the retention crisis.

Image: Niall Carson

A GROUP REPRESENTING Commissioned officers in the Defence Forces is set to launch a stinging critique of Government when its members appear before a Dáil committee today.

The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.

RACO’s main disagreement with the Department of Defence is centred around the retention crisis.

The issued is centred around soldiers, sailors and aircrew leaving the Defence Forces over pay and conditions. RACO have said this is caused by cuts to pay and conditions.  

In a statement RACO said they will highlight the ongoing retention crisis in the Defence Forces.

“(It) stems from the failure to adequately resource Defence in order to retain highly qualified and experienced personnel to maintain capability.

“The greatest challenge to the Defence Forces today is simply staffing its appointments, particularly at the middle ranking officer and NCO level. It has been demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that we cannot hope to recruit our way out of this retention crisis,” the statement said. 

RACO said that following the commissioning of the latest in a line of large cadet classes, 35% of all Commissioned officers have less than 5 years’ service. 

“This has severe implications for governance and supervision and increases organisational risk. It is telling that of all the White Paper projects reportedly closed thus far, five years into the process, none have had any tangible impact on the retention of personnel.

“Since 2016 the organisation has inducted 3,116 personnel while losing 3,679 (41% of the average strength for those 5 years). This rate of churn has also led to a crippling recruitment effort, delivered by our members, with inadequate supports,” it added. 

RACO said that that a plan, entitled ‘Strengthening our Defence Forces’ introduced by Government in July 2019 has failed.

“Disappointingly it has been allowed to fail by Defence senior management, and by government, through a lack of political will to resource it, and an absence of meaningful oversight.

“Having 7 of 15 projects still behind schedule 2 years into a one-year plan would be unacceptable at any time, but the fact that this is occurring in a government plan sponsored and monitored by the Department of An Taoiseach, in the face of the well documented DF recruitment and retention crisis is unconscionable.

“This does not bode well for future expansion to meet unmet defence and security needs that the ongoing Commission on the Defence Forces will surely identify,” the statement added. 

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RACO said that they have sought engagement from the Department of Defence on the implementation of the Working Time Directive in an effort to “vindicate the rights of our members”. 

RACO also claimed that large numbers of officers who joined the Defence Forces over the last eight years are already planning to leave the organisation well in advance of their mandatory retirement age, due to inadequate pension provisions.

“To put this in context, this cohort makes up 45% of our membership.

“This is the ticking retention time-bomb that will undo any other good work done by our members who have worked so tirelessly to facilitate the unprecedented induction training levels.

“If this is not resolved, then all the effort put in to inducting and training the recent extraordinarily large cadet classes will have been for nothing.

“It is the very antithesis of ‘Value for Money’ and threatens future organisational viability,” the body said. 

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