Recruits applying to forces ‘to protect benefits’
MANY people applying to join the Defence Forces are doing so to protect their social welfare payments and to satisfy the officials that they are actively seeking employment, the Irish Independent can reveal.
Confidential figures seen by this newspaper show that a staggering 70pc of applicants in recent Defence Force recruitment campaigns did not present themselves for the initial physical fitness test.
But senior military sources revealed that the Department of Defence automatically issues an online electronic receipt to applicants, which is then presented to the Department of Social Protection as proof that they are seeking work.
According to the same figures, up to half of the potential recruits who actually turn up for the test are failing to reach a “basic level of physical competency” and are rejected.
Military sources claim the Department of Defence is using the high number of initial applications to make the claim that the recruitment campaigns are attracting thousands, and are therefore successful.
But despite the maximum recruitment drive that began last year, the current strength of the Defence Forces is just over 8,900 – or 600 below what is required to carry out its basic duties on land, sea and air.
So far this year a total of 750 troops were recruited but 200 – or 30pc – left before completing basic training. Of the remainder, just 417 troops passed out as 2 Star privates while some 700 experienced soldiers, airmen and sailors left in the same period.
Between January and August this year, another 72 commissioned officers resigned, leaving every unit in the Defence Forces operating with 50pc or less of the required number of officers.
Currently there are vacancies for 900, which includes a shortfall of 450 sergeants, one of the most important ranks in any military organisation.
Military sources say the unprecedented brain drain has left the Army, Navy and Air Corps “barely capable to perform even basic operational duties”.
Such is the “panic” to reverse the exodus, potential soldiers are starting recruit training in advance of individual security checks by the Garda vetting service, which can take between three and six months to complete.
Instead, the Defence Forces are being forced to Google new applicants and rely on a letter of reference from a “person of good standing”, such as a garda, priest or football team manager known to the recruit.
“The repeated line from the minister and the department is that the recruitment drives are attracting large numbers, but 70pc of them are not turning up for the initial physical training test,” a senior source said.
“One of the main reasons for this is that those on unemployment benefit have to be seen to be seeking employment. They can prove to the Department of Social Protection they have applied by presenting an online electronic receipt of application.”