I recently expressed concern about the continuing decrease in the number of Defence Forces personnel. Figures I recently obtained show that the numbers serving in the permanent Defence Forces have fallen yet again – with only 9,010 members recorded as of 31st May 2018.
The Defence Forces has an approved establishment strength of 9,500 but has never come close to achieving that over the past five years. Kildare is proud of its military tradition but recent years have shown a big problem with retention within the force. Despite taking on 2,000 recruits since 2015, the numbers continue to fall – indeed they are down 270 members since then.
The Defence Forces conducted a survey of 167 personnel who paid to leave the Defence Forces early and it revealed that the vast majority are departing for better pay and conditions elsewhere. This crisis in retention must be addressed with urgency if we are to keep our approved establishment strength at 9,500.
The Department also needs to implement previously agreed increases. I asked Minister Kehoe earlier this month if the Army Ranger wing had received an increase agreed-upon in 2005 and his answer was that a number of outstanding adjudication findings across the public service have still not been implemented. This is not good enough for the Ranger Wing and many other sectors of the Defence Forces who will continue to leave the forces in search of better pay and conditions.
Excessive recruiting has been implemented in a misguided attempt to solve retention problems. We need stability, policy and resource certainty so that the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces themselves have staffing and support levels needed to deal with current and emerging threats.