Many of us in this House have met the wives and partners of Defence Forces personnel and the representative organisations of rank and file and commissioned officers, PDFORRA and RACO. We have read the Defence Forces climate survey by the University of Limerick, which was published last year. Today, we read in a major story in The Irish Times that two naval vessels, the LÉ Orla and the LÉ Niamh, were unable to set sail due to crew shortages and reservists were drafted in to crew the LÉ Eithne. If we look at all of that together, the picture being painted is one in which the Defence Forces are very seriously depleted and going through a severe retention crisis, with a shortage of specialist personnel in terms of bomb disposal experts and so forth, very low morale all around and poor pay and conditions of service.
In addition, among the Defences Forces, there is a very real sense of a lack of respect and, indeed, contempt from Government towards the Defence Forces. This view is also being articulated by retired personnel who are particularly angry at what they see as a continuing dismantling of our Defence Forces, a once proud force representing our country. One former retired officer describes the relationship between the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence as "toxic, broken, dysfunctional and dangerous". The general secretary of RACO said the Defence Forces "governance and command structure is breaking down". Within the Air Corps, we are told there is a shortfall in pilots of 30%. It is clear there is a depletion among the officer ranks, with some even buying their way out of the Army. There is a critical shortage of specialist officers, from Army bomb disposal experts to aeronautical engineers and pilots.
We remember the quotes from members of the Defence Forces in the Defence Forces climate survey.
One said the Defence Forces are being turned into a JobBridge scheme. The authors spoke about private soldiers struggling to survive and depending on their parents. Others were saying they could not get a mortgage. Another said he had to live with his parents along with his wife and kids. The officers were saying that they could not help them. The only thing they can do is give the soldiers time off so they can save a day's childcare. Through all of this, the Government is in denial.
Does the Taoiseach accept that morale is very low within the Defence Forces, that the conditions of service are very poor, and that there is a retention crisis? Will he confirm the report in The Irish Times this morning regarding the inability of two vessels to set sail because of the shortage of crew?