Retired army brass have sights on TDs
Former off icers liaise with troops to unseat politicians in protest at years of alleged neglect
FURIOUS ex-army officers are planning to ‘politically take out’ several ‘vulnerable’ TDs and ministers in what one called ‘an act of restitution’ for years of underinvestment in the army, the Irish Mail on Sunday has learned.
A ‘strategy group’ – which consists of retired rather than serving officers – has met and is planning to meet on a regular basis to secure what the source termed ‘payback’ for years of perceived neglect.
The chief target of any electoral coup will be the long-term Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe, who retained his Dáil seat by a margin of 52 votes on the 14th and final count in 2016.
Demonstrations have already begun outside the Wexford constituency office of Mr Kehoe and they are likely to intensify.
Mr Kehoe, who is already being targeted by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, has served in the Department of Defence since 2011.
The former Enda Kenny ally who has gone on to become a close Leo Varadkar ally, has been involved in numerous spats with the armed forces.
Soldiers’ representative groups are particularly angry over the number of Defence Forces members who are on family income supplement and a shortfall of up to 700 members, which has left key gaps in the army and navy.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney, whose seat could be vulnerable, is also on the list over his role in closing the Athlone, Mullingar and Longford barracks.
Mr Coveney is viewed with some hostility over his role in downgrading the Army Reserve. ‘We are engaged in a very Irish coup,’ one source said. ‘Democracy will be used to remind ministers of the consequences of their acts.’ Fine Gael party chairman Martin Heydon would also be vulnerable to a campaign in his Kildare constituency which houses the main army base in the Curragh. The MoS has also learned that other TDs who are being targeted include Fine Gael’s Pat Deering, Peter Burke and Senator Jerry Buttimer, who is battling to return to the Dáil with Simon Coveney in the very tight Cork South Central constituency. Independent TDs who support the Government such as Seán Canney, Michael Lowry and Michael Harty are also on the list.
The reasoning behind using only retired officers to lead the campaign is that soldiers are not allowed to engage in political activity.
The group will, however, liaise closely with serving soldiers.
The unprecedented move comes against a backdrop of growing tension between the Army, the Navy and Mr Kehoe over pay, conditions and the absence of investment in the Defence Forces.
Recently, open conflict broke out between the Government and the Army over a proposed march by soldiers to protest their serving conditions.
The decision to engage in a political response was made in the wake of the row.
One senior source said: ‘We may not be entitled to strike or to join a trade union, but we can vote.’
The source added: ‘The Government would be wise to be wary. This won’t be Dads’ Army. Ireland’s officer corps contains some of the best strategic minds in the country.’
They added: ‘No-one can organise better than the army. There is an ongoing code of loyalty, obedience and discipline which could have a serious impact in targeted areas’.
It is believed that at this point the plan is to disrupt the campaigns of selected TDs, rather than to run ‘army candidates’.
Senator Gerald Craughwell, a high-profile army advocate, said there was real anger in the ranks, claiming: ‘This is the fruit of longterm neglect.’
He added: ‘It is deeply regrettable that veterans have been forced to target sitting members of the Dáil and Seanad to secure a respectful hearing of their justified claims.’
‘No-one can organise better than the army’ ‘The Government would be wise to be wary’
sUppORT: Gerard Craughwell