Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, has expressed deep concern that the recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Forces is approaching a tipping point from which they will be unable to recover.
The Wicklow TD said:
“Last week we were given the news that the government had taken the decision to put two naval vessels, the LE Niamh and the LE Róisín, into storage, effectively taking them out of service.
“This leaves the naval service with just four vessels to defend one of the largest maritime patrol areas in Europe, at a time of international crisis.
“Figures released to me indicate that the current strength of the permanent defence forces (PDF) has now fallen below 8,000 for the first time, to 7,987. This is a staggering 1,543 below the established strength of the PDF.
“We are rapidly approaching the point of no return.
“The tipping point from which the PDF cannot recover. These are not just bland figures representing individual military personnel. They represent the institutional memory of the Irish defence forces. These are the veterans, with decades of experience, they are simply irreplaceable.
“The government talks about cultural transformation. The most important element in cultural transformation of any organisation, are the cultural architects. The individuals who embody the values, the learning, and the professionalism of an organisation.
“With veterans leaving the PDF at twice the rate of recruits coming in, this is a crisis of a whole other order.
“The failure of this government to address the recruitment and retention crisis has decimated the PDF to the point that it now represents the single biggest security threat to the state.
“The crisis is affecting all branches of the PDF. The army is down to 6478, which is 1042 below the establishment figure. The Air Corp is reduced to 709, which is 177 below the establishment figure. While the Naval Service is now reduced to 800, which is 294 below the establishment figure.
“From January 1st to 26th, less than four weeks, the naval service was forced to cancel 12 scheduled patrols.
“The understaffing of the PDF is placing incredible strains on remaining members. One member of the naval service has reported that in one year alone they spent 320 days onboard ship.
“It is almost routine now for PDF members to regularly work 70 hours a week.
“The government knows what needs to be done to address these issues – they have accepted the recommendations contained in the report from the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces. Yet they have refused to act on them.
“In fact, they have deferred the majority of recommendations that deal with pay and allowances for further evaluation – in other words they kicked them down the road.
“Six months later, we are still waiting to see the implementation of the Working Time Directive.
“The government needs to act, and to act urgently, to stem the exodus from the defence forces. Time is running out. If they continue with their current approach, the point where the defence forces are no longer capable of performing their assigned role in guaranteeing the security of the state will soon be reached.”