Chambers calls for urgent action on Defence Forces retention issues

Senator Lisa Chambers

Senator Lisa Chambers

Fianna Fáil European Election candidate for the Midlands North West, Senator Lisa Chambers, has expressed deep concern over the current strength of the Defence Forces, which fell to 7,500 personnel last month.

This number is significantly below the target of 9,500 and far from the Government’s commitment to achieve 11,500 personnel as outlined in the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces report.

Senator Chambers, a former Army Reserve Officer with 13 years of service in the Defence Forces, emphasised the urgent need to address the serious retention issues plaguing the Defence Forces.

“Without addressing retention, we have no hope of achieving the ambitious target of 11,500 personnel.

“Tánaiste Micheál Martin has made commendable strides in improving pay and conditions since taking over at the Department of Defence, and there has been significant engagement with both the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence. However, a renewed focus is crucial now, given the alarming decline in numbers,” Senator Chambers said.

Highlighting the pension issue as a critical factor, Senator Chambers pointed out.

“The elephant in the room is the pension. The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO ) has consistently called for the reversal of the changes introduced in 2013 and the implementation of the Working Time Directive protections as solutions to the retention problem. Unless we make it attractive for personnel to stay in the Defence Forces for longer periods, they will continue to leave early in their careers,” the Senator added.

Recent figures revealed that one in four servicemen have quit the Irish Defence Forces in just 27 months, with a total of 1,804 personnel leaving between January 1, 2022, and March 31, 2024. This exodus has left the Defence Forces at their lowest strength in history, with only 7,510 personnel remaining, far below the required 9,500.

The Commission on the Defence Forces report outlined three Levels of Ambition. Level of Ambition 2 (LOA2 ) aims to build on current structures, with targeted investment in priority areas, including an increase in personnel to 11,500.

“While Level of Ambition 2 represents a step in the right direction, recent geopolitical developments, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, necessitate a reassessment of our defence strategy. The commitment to move to LOA2 was given before the Russian invasion.

“It is my belief that we should be moving to LOA3 to ensure Ireland’s security and sovereignty in an increasingly uncertain world. LOA3 would mean developing full spectrum defence capabilities to protect Ireland and its people to an extent comparable to similar sized countries in Europe.

“The cost to the state and taxpayers in training members of the Navy, Army, and Air Corps is substantial. These highly specialised skills, once lost, are difficult to replace as they cannot be simply recruited from the private sector—they must be developed internally.

“Historically, the pension scheme was sufficient to retain personnel for long-term careers. However, the 2013 changes have made long-term careers financially unfeasible due to forced early retirement compared to other civil service sectors,” Senator Chambers stated.

Senator Chambers underscored the importance of a robust retention policy that addresses the pension issue, calling for immediate and effective policy reforms.

“We must implement policies that make long-term careers in the Defence Forces attractive again. This will not only ensure we retain skilled personnel but also protect the significant investment made in their training.”

“The Government must prioritise the retention of Defence Forces personnel. By addressing the pension issue and improving overall conditions, we can ensure that the Defence Forces remain a viable and attractive career option for both current members and new recruits,” the Senator concluded.

 

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