For some time we, and Deputy Lisa Chambers in particular, have been raising with the Government the crisis among all ranks and at all levels in the Defence Forces in terms of morale, the retention of specialist personnel, pay and conditions, the retention of members generally and health and safety to no avail. It is fair to say that the Government's collective head is in the sand regarding the crisis relating to this issue.
Researchers at the University of Limerick, in an unprecedented piece of work, having interviewed and gained observations from more than 600 serving personnel reveal a shocking story of neglect of our Defence Forces, which underpin our very democracy. There is near unanimous agreement, across all ranks and age profiles, that the Defence Forces, comprising the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps, are all at risk. Some officers have told how they are kept awake at night by concerns about whether work carried out on aircraft in the Air Corps leaves them safe for flying because so many experienced personnel have left. One officer said, "There is going to be a huge safety issue in the Air Corps", while another, referring to pay and conditions, stated, "The Defence Forces has been turned into a JobBridge". Some chaplains have said that they have given up encouraging people to say in the uniform. A number of privates spoke of struggling to survive, often depending on their parents.
I will cite some quotations, namely: "People have to leave to survive"; "I can't get a mortgage. Some members are even on family income supplement."; and "People are sleeping in cars." At one point, someone says, "This is unacceptable". In the context of health and safety issues, one senior officer, citing absence of middle management as a significant cause, stated, "We are already seeing it in the Army - little accidents. There is going to be a big accident". Two other quotes are: "It's going to come and if it keeps on unravelling it will come. We fear a serious incident with a number of deaths ... It could be overseas"; and "In the Air Corps we have seen that [already] with three or four fatal accidents".
Air Corps ground crews are working too many hours. In the Naval Service, there are not enough personnel to man seven ships, never mind eight. Women returning from maternity leave feel they are discriminated against, often paraded. People feel that under no circumstances can they access mental health services or admit they are affected by stress or any similar issue.