Re­cruits ap­ply­ing to forces ‘to pro­tect ben­e­fits’

Irish Independent - - News - Paul Williams

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.”

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