The White Paper on Defence of 2015 commits to maintaining the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel. This strength provision includes those in training and there is no separate training establishment for recruits to the Permanent Defence Force. This strength provides for all roles assigned to the Defence Forces, at home and overseas. The strength of the Permanent Defence Force on 30 April 2019 stood at 8,828 personnel. This strength figure excludes those on a career break or seconded.
The Permanent Defence Force is actively deployed on an ongoing basis and Defence Forces units provide personnel for overseas service and deployments at home. Personnel are drawn from units across the organisation and posted on the basis of operational needs. Personnel also engage in training on an ongoing basis and this is a key aspect of maintaining and developing capability. This is not a new development and units have always had personnel posted on such activities.
The suggestion that such individuals should not be considered part of the strength of the Permanent Defence Force would appear to be based on the premise that only the strength of personnel in units in barracks matters. This is not the case. The ongoing deployment of personnel highlights the valued contribution that the Defence Forces make to international peace and security and in a wide variety of roles at home. The training of individuals also represents a continued investment in capability.
As I have previously outlined, particular recruitment and retention challenges exist in the Permanent Defence Force. I understand that many military forces internationally are experiencing difficulties, including with specialists such as pilots, and that this is not unique to Ireland.
Despite recent highly negative media and political commentary, it must be highlighted that the Defence Forces offer an interesting, varied and rewarding career. Starting pay for both enlisted personnel and officers is competitive when viewed against other career choices with similar entry requirements. There is also a range of allowances paid in addition to basic pay.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
There is also significant ongoing work aimed at making the Defence Forces an attractive career for those currently serving. There are ongoing promotion opportunities. The Defence Forces offer significant opportunities for personnel to develop skills and earn qualifications throughout their career, while receiving full pay. There are opportunities to gain unique experiences, including on overseas service. There is also ongoing work to enhance work-life balance.
Clearly the Government’s goal is to meet the strength target of 9,500 personnel. There are ongoing challenges in this regard. The independent Public Service Pay Commission has been tasked with examining such recruitment and retention issues. I expect that the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform will bring its report to the Cabinet in the near future. The Government will consider any recommendations made.