By Sean O’Riordan
The Defence Forces are suffering from “review fatigue” and can’t wait another 36 months for an Independent Pay Review Body to find the obvious – improved wages are the only way to stop the increasing exodus of personnel.
That’s according to RACO, the organisation which represents 1,100 of the country’s military officers. It has pointed out there have been numerous reviews of the Defence Forces in the last 10 years and the last from the Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC) highlighted the crux of the matter.
It included a report compiled on its behalf by Research Matters which stated: “Without immediate and substantial intervention, particularly in respect of pay, allowances and pension entitlements, the organisation may, within a short time, face major difficulties in maintaining its personnel and in carrying out its mandate.”
This recommendation was made last year. The government has decided not to implement it, but instead set up a new Commission on Defence, which is unlikely to make its findings known until early 2022. Only after that will the government set up the promised Independent Pay Review Body.
“It is an undisputed and well-documented fact that we have allowed our Defence Forces to fall into a state of near permanent decline. RACO believes that by the time the experts have figured out what exactly the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps are for, it may well be too late, and there may be no troops left to deploy,” RACO general secretary Comdt Conor King said.
RACO assistant general secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Priestly, said his organisation wishes Simon Coveney well in his new role as Minister for Defence but pointed out the Programme for Government suggests it will be at least another 36 months before an independent Pay Commission will report to address the current recruitment and retention crisis.
“As the PSPC revealed in 2019, we are all aware of what difficulties the Defence Forces are currently facing. Now is the right time for the right actions on pay,” he said.
RACO says the government needs to address the issues of retention and recruitment as a matter of extreme urgency.
The association provided figures to the Irish Examiner which show a major decline in personnel numbers across the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps.
In 2008 there were 8,507 in the Army. As of about a month ago that had reduced to 6,837. Over the same period the Air Corps has reduced from 832 to 727, while the Naval Service has gone from 1070 to 887.
Retention has now become more vital than recruitment.
“New recruits are the lifeline of any military organisation. Before Covid-19, the Department of Defence appeared to be pursuing a policy of recruiting our way out of a retention crisis. Now in the midst of an international pandemic, recruitment and training of military personnel is severely constrained,” Lieut Col Priestly said.