Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence

Retention of Defence Forces Personnel: Discussion with Representative Association of Commissioned Officers

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Chairman and I thank Commandant Conor King, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Priestley, and Commandant Shane Keogh for coming before us. Commandant King has painted a very stark picture of the decimation, demoralisation and destruction of the Defence Forces under the tenure of the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. The common thread of defence policy in recent years has been his tenure in the Department of Defence and his refusal to budge on some of the key issues, as Commandant King has mentioned. The points outlined in respect of the dysfunctional cycle of turnover, the premature voluntary retirements, the fact that the turnover rate is up this year on previous years, the total deficiencies around the capacity and strength, and the recommendation for an external organisational review demonstrate the difficulty RACO has as an organisation in addressing properly the issues with the Department of Defence. It is shameful that a Department would treat a representative organisation with such disrespect and disregard.

I acknowledge the presence of Mr. Cathal Berry in the Visitors Gallery. He has provided a very alarming but unsurprising account in recent days. I thank him for his honesty and integrity in speaking out on behalf of the men and women of our Defence Forces, who are suffering daily.

Commandant King has highlighted the ongoing line and rhetoric from the Government that it will recruit its way out of this crisis, and one of the consistent responses from RACO and the other organisation in the Defence Forces is around retention initiatives. Will Commandant King provide some detail about what retention issues he would bring in? It is a fact that Ireland is breaching the working time directive on an ongoing basis when it comes to our Defence Forces. How has RACO engaged with the Department on that? The management of the Defence Forces have been brought kicking and screaming to court on the issue by the representative organisations. Will Commandant King provide some insight into his engagement with them? How does he envisage the future of representation of the Defence Forces and formalising it in a greater and substantive way? Will he provide a bit of detail on the relationship of RACO with the Department of Defence? One of the criticisms from Mr. Cathal Berry and others who have retired is that there is a serious issue in the Department of Defence and that is the net point that is coming up repeatedly.

In his opening statement, Commandant King stated that the White Paper implementation approach has not yielded any tangible impact and "RACO views it as nothing more than a box-ticking exercise". Is it a barrier to progress on some of the key issues? Commandant King has mentioned the fall in the numbers in the Defence Forces, the difficulties around pay and conditions, and the fact that the turnover rate is rising and the Defence Forces cannot meet their White Paper target. Will Commandant King provide some detail about the implications of this retention crisis for the viability of the Defence Forces and the security of the State? For example, is the emergency ambulance service in Athlone under threat? Will he provide some detail? There is public alarm about what happened with the gorse fires and the response time to the fires in recent days.

We have also had the Department of Defence stating there are no problems with the strength of the Defence Forces. It states the organisation is at 93%. This level of inaccuracy and spin from a Department is very worrying. How do the witnesses respond to its ongoing refusal to acknowledge the core crisis we have? The witnesses have said there is a poor level of governance in the Department. Will they outline their insight on this?


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