Re­tired army brass have sights on TDs

For­mer off icers li­aise with troops to un­seat politi­cians in protest at years of al­leged ne­glect

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By John Dren­nan news@mailon­sun­

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

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