The depth of anger, frustration, despair and sense of betrayal within our military families and communities is at an extraordinary level. Families who for generations have contributed so much to our democracy, along with our peacekeeping overseas, and who have such pride in the history of our Defence Forces cannot comprehend what is happening to them. A former head of the Army Ranger Wing, Commandant Cathal Berry, who subsequently headed up the health service in the military, said:
The sense of absolute betrayal is palpable. It is visceral. I have not seen anything even remotely like it in 23 years’ service.
On the Government, the previous Government, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, he said: "To reduce a highly effective and proud organisation to an utterly demoralised outfit over an eight-year period is some achievement."
This level of criticism is unprecedented from a former head of the Army Ranger Wing. It should not be surprising, however, to the Taoiseach and the Government. The lack of morale, along with the retention crisis within the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, has reduced the capacity and strength of the Defence Forces to an all-time low. The Taoiseach has been alerted to this time and again in the House and outside it. I attended a protest march in Cork last month led by retired former Army, Naval Service and Air Corps personnel. Their language, commentary and speeches at that meeting were on a par with what Commandant Berry has said. Former Army officers warned about the dismantling of our Defence Forces, the haemorrhaging of experienced personnel, the reduction of their capacity and the length of time it will take to repair and recover from this damage.
Naval ships have been unable to sail because of a lack of crew. Up to 50 sailors are sleeping on board naval ships because they cannot afford soaring rents when off-duty. The Taoiseach is aware of the University of Limerick’s research into the conditions of many Army officers. There are significant safety issues in the Air Corps. Commandant Berry recalled how a recent recruit who had been in the Army for 12 weeks and was in line for the best soldier award had to go back to his old job working in a meat factory with twice the pay for half the hours. He said he was not leaving because he hates the Army but because he loves it. He said he cannot sit back any more and watch the Defence Forces being completely dismantled and demoralised before his eyes. He spoke about the humiliation and suffocation of the Defence Forces.
Does the Taoiseach feel ashamed of the manner in which he, the Government and the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, have demoralised and dismantled our Defence Forces? Does he understand the level of anger within Defence Force families and personnel about this continuing neglect? When is the Government going to finally respond to this crisis in an effective and comprehensive manner?