Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish has told the Dáil that there is a crisis of morale within the Defence Forces, due to poor pay and conditions of employment that had some personnel living close to the poverty line.
He said that matters were not helped by operational changes such as those which have resulted in soldiers in Renmore Barracks in Galway unable to get a pair of boots without travelling to Cork for them.
“I note the recent advertisement of an additional assistant secretary general post in the Department of Defence. As the Defence Forces has a well-established HR structure, I presume the person appointed will be responsible for just 440 civilian staff in the Department. The new and additional post will attract a salary of between €128,000 and €149,000.
“How does that appointment look to a soldier who is struggling to make ends meet and sleeping in his car while his wife and children are many miles away?” asked Deputy Grealish.
“Low pay is the biggest factor affecting recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces. In the wide-ranging Defence Forces climate survey of 2015, pay emerged time and time again as the major bone of contention. Of those interviewed, 78% did not feel their pay was fair. The survey report concluded that the issue must be addressed because if it is not, the Defence Forces will continue to lose highly qualified and skilled members.
“There is a crisis of morale in our Defence Forces, as was evident in last night's ‘Prime Time’ programme. Large numbers of members are leaving each year.
“There are big operational problems which have led to ridiculous situations, such as the fact a soldier in Renmore barracks in Galway cannot get a new pair of boots or other kit but must instead go to Cork.
“All this and poor levels of pay make for a poor working environment. The men and women who do such a wonderful job as soldiers, sailors or air crew at home and abroad while they are highly regarded for their professionalism must be treated better and properly rewarded for their loyalty,” he added.
Deputy Grealish, in his address to the Dáil, also raised the issue of severance arrangements for enlisted personnel .
“I have put down this question on severance arrangements in view of the fact that members of the Defence Forces below the rank of sergeant have been allowed to serve a maximum of 21 years. Members at the rank of sergeant or higher may stay on until they are 50 years of age.
“As a result, more than 100 personnel a year are, in essence, forced out, many of whom are only in their early 40s. As finding other employment at that age can be very difficult, it is vital that we look after them properly,” he added.