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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Oct 1996

Vol. 470 No. 1

Adjournment Debate. - Defence Forces Recruitment.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael Smith.

That is satisfactory.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter and the Minister for being present to reply. This matter relates to the recently announced recruitment drive for the Defence Forces, in particular, the very low age cut-off, and the fact that FCA service is not being taken into account for age qualifying criteria.

Even though it is late and limited, I welcome the recruitment drive for the Defence Forces. I say this as someone from Athlone, a town which has depended for much of its modern life on the local Custume Barracks, the headquarters of the Western Command. To say that the advertisements in the daily and Sunday newspapers for new recruits caused consternation in Athlone and, I am sure, other Army towns, would be to minimise the shock at the very low cut-off age of 22 years. During the period 1974-94 the cut-off age was much higher I think it was as high as 35 at one stage and 27 at another stage. The Gleeson and Price Waterhouse reports referred to a new, young and vibrant Army. No one would quibble with the recruitment of younger personnel but I do not think anyone expected the cut-off age to be as low as 22 years.

This cut-off age will inhibit many worthwhile people from applying for recruitment to the Defence Forces. Most young people now do their leaving certificate while many others do repeat leaving certificate and PLC courses or spend two to three years at a regional college. Many young people keen to enter the Army will be precluded from recruitment by this ridiculously low cut-off age. Heretofore people who served for three years in An Slua Muirí or the FCA had those years added on in determining eligibility for recruitment. However, this will not apply in this recruitment drive.

I thank the Minister for finally initiating this recruitment drive but I ask him to raise the cut-off age. The valuable experience gained through membership of An Slua Muirí and the FCA would add to a young person's ability to perform as a member of the Defence Forces. The cut-off age of 22 is ridiculous and I ask the Minister to raise it.

I support the points made by Deputy O'Rourke in seeking to have the cut-off age for recruitment to the Defence Forces raised. While we were happy to hear this announcement it had been promised at least seven times over the past year and a half this recruitment drive will be clearly inhibited by the qualifying criteria. The age profile in the Army has caused problems and we do not need further restrictions. Rather there should be consistent annual recruitment open to the best possible personnel in terms of their interests and how they see their future in the Defence Forces.

It will also be necessary to review the five year contract in the context of this recruitment drive so that those who are eligible and want to be involved can have a longer term future in the Defence Forces.

I ask the Minister to review his decision and, more importantly, to ensure that the basis for consistent recruitment to the Permanent Defence Forces is established once and for all because long periods without recruitment exacerbates the age profile difficulty. We would be pleased if the Minister reconsidered this matter.

I thank Deputies O'Rourke and Smith for providing me with this opportunity to address the House on the question of recruitment to the Permanent Defence Forces. I am also happy to set the record straight on a number of the issues raised.

One of the most serious problems facing the Defence Forces, which was identified by the Efficiency Audit Group and its consultants Price Waterhouse, is the unsatisfactory age profile of personnel. Left unaddressed, this problem would have compounded until the operational effectiveness of the Permanent Defence Forces was seriously compromised. The recommendations of the Efficiency Audit Group on a voluntary early retirement scheme to allow older and less fit personnel leave on favourable severance terms, combined with an intake of 1,000 recruits over the three year life of the first phase implementation plan, is designed to redress this problem.

As the House may be aware, advertisements seeking applicants for positions in the Permanent Defence Forces appeared in the newspapers last week and the selection process has begun. It is intended to take in 200 recruits before the end of this year and it is my intention that further recruitment will take place again next year. Over the period of the implementation plan, up to 1,000 young people will be provided with an opportunity to acquire a skill, self-discipline and character development in the Permanent Defence Forces.

It is true that the age limits under which new recruits are inducted into the Defence Forces have been reduced in the case of the present competition from 27 years to 22 years. This follows specifically on the recommendations of the Efficiency Audit Group and its consultants. The purpose of this modification is to specifically address the age profile problem. If we are trying to reduce the average age of the Defence Forces, it makes sense to recruit people at a younger age. The military authorities fully support this policy.

I am convinced that it is more sensible for those who will not make a long-term career in the Defence Forces to return to the jobs market at a young age, when they are relatively more employable and having acquired job experience and skills in the Defence Forces. As I previously said in the House, soldiering is essentially a young person's profession. If we are to maintain the operational effectiveness of the Defence Forces, it is essential that we continue to introduce new and young blood into the organisation.

On the question of service with the FCA and An Slua Muirí, the policy of extending the PDF enlistment age limits in the past for service with the Reserve Forces was designed to address the circumstances of the time when securing adequate recruitment to the PDF could prove difficult. This is no longer the case. It is not true that extra points were awarded to candidates who had service with the Reserve. However, there is no doubt the military authorities, in selecting recruits for the Permanent Defence Forces, have shown an understandable preference for those who have demonstrated their commitment to military life by their membership, as teenagers, of the FCA and An Slua Muirí. Thus, while there is no formal system of advantage for membership of the Reserve, the type of person who gives voluntary service with the Reserve is often the type of person the Permanent Defence Forces want to recruit. In the last group of recruits inducted in 1994 two thirds had previous service with the FCA and An Slua Muirí. I expect this pattern will be reflected in this year's intake.

I am sure Deputy O'Rourke will agree that recruitment to the Defence Forces as quickly as possible of young, committed and enthusiastic recruits is an essential ingredient for the far-reaching programme of restructuring and reform this Government has undertaken in respect of the Defence Forces.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 October 1996.