Tuesday, 26 February 2019
Department of Defence
Defence Forces Strength
50. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason the whole-time equivalent number of those serving in the Defence Forces has dropped from 9,173 at the end of 2017 to 8,957 at the end of 2018; and the measures he will take to address the recruitment crisis in the Defence Forces. [9222/19]
The Government remains committed to achieving the strength target of at least 9,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) and, within this context, my focus remains on maximising numbers as quickly as possible with the assistance of the Chief of Staff. However, there are a number of factors, some of which are hard to predict, which will impact on the timeframe for achieving the 9,500 target.
One such factor is the number of personnel departing in any given year. Given the unique and demanding nature of military life, there is understandably a relatively high level of turnover among Defence Forces personnel. This is not new.
The White Paper on Defence recognises that continuous recruitment is the lifeblood of the Defence Forces and significant on-going targeted recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force will continue in 2019 with the recruitment plan targeting some 800 new entrants across all services and competition streams throughout the year. As outlined, the precise net gain in strength will be dependent on a variety of factors. This includes the number of trained personnel that depart, the achievement of recruitment targets and the number of trainees that successfully complete training, all of which can vary year on year. The recruitment process itself is monitored and appraised on a continuous basis to ensure it remains fit for purpose.
I have previously acknowledged that challenges exist in recruiting and retaining some specialists such as Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, and certain Technicians. These specialist can prove difficult to retain where, as in the current economic environment and jobs market, there are demands for such specialists in other sectors. I understand that this is a challenge being faced by military forces elsewhere and is not confined to Ireland.
In addition to traditional recruitment methods, a range of alternative recruitment approaches are being developed, aimed at addressing such vacancies in specialist areas. A scheme has been introduced which permits former Officers with specialist skills to re-enter the Permanent Defence Force and arrangements are in train to provide a similar scheme for former enlisted personnel.
Currently there is direct entry provision for those with professional qualifications which is utilised for the recruitment of Medical Officers and Engineers. A working group is examining the scope for greater use of such direct entry recruitment for certain specialist positions.
I would assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to retaining the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and to undertake the tasks laid down by Government both at home and overseas.