Alarm as Army moves to lift colour-blind bar
Don’t lower standards, pay soldiers fair pay, Leo is warned
INDICATIONS that standards may be dropped for our Defences Forces, just to fill the growing number of vacancies, has alarmed politicians and former soldiers.
It is now being mooted that colour-blind people may be allowed to sign up, although they have been disqualified for decades.
However, Senator Gerard Craughwell, who has served in the Defence Forces, said that changing the ‘core standards’ for such crucial roles would be a ‘cause of worry’, while ex-Defence Minister Willie O’Dea warned that ‘there are some very dangerous situations in peacekeeping abroad’.
The move comes amid growing worries over the lack of recruitment and retention, and anger at Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comment that people don’t join the Defence Forces just for the money.
Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, told the Dáil: ‘I have a working group looking at the issue of colour blindness and transgender issues in the context of how we can have institutions that are appropriate. One of the impediments is that 9% of the male community are colour blind, while only 1% of the female community are. That helps me in one area in bringing more men into the organisation, but it does not help me on the female side.’
Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers expressed concerns that some applicants may already have been allowed to join, despite failing this test. He specifically asked Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe if any Air Corps pilots had been recruited in recent years, despite failing a colour-blindness test. However, even though he was told last October that the information would be provided, he is still waiting.
Mr Chambers said: ‘I would be concerned by any knee-jerk reaction or lowering of recruitment standards, as a desperate quick-fix to the retention issue.’ He told the Irish Mail on Sunday: ‘The focus should be on addressing the root causes of the retention and recruitment crisis, the poor pay and conditions,’ Minister Kehoe said: ‘Following its introduction in 2012 for general service recruits, the military authorities have revised the approach to psychometric testing a number of times.’
He added that the issue is a complex one, particularly in relation to a safe working environment.
A spokesperson for the Defence Forces said that candidates must get a Grade 1 in the colour vision test at present, which is people with normal colour vision, as determined by Ishihara’s Test. A Study Group was convened last June to examine the standards and its report will go to the minister.
Mr O’Dea, told the MoS: ‘My understanding always was that someone who is colour blind would have a major issue getting in. There are some very dangerous situations in peace-keeping abroad.
‘It’s a bit cynical to lower the standards – standards that were there for good reason –in order to get people in.’ The Fianna Fáil TD said: ‘The only way to recruit and retain members is to pay them properly. I thought Leo Varadkar’s remarks during the week, that it’s not all about money, is daft. I naturally sympathise with people who are colour blind, but why should people be endangered simply because the State is not prepared to pay the Army properly. If technology could overcome these issues and give people the same chance as anyone else than fine.’ Senator Craughwell said: ‘We are now beginning to drop all the standards to try to entice people who would not have ordinarily been accepted throughout history, purely to try to fill the gap that is there, and the gap is quite serious now.
‘Are we shooting for the lowest common denominator now, which will ultimately bring with it serious concerns in the future. Anything that changes the requirement that were there to be in the Defence Forces has to be a worry.’
He added: ‘Remember, we are talking about people who have the power to kill or be killed, and that is taking it to the extreme. I do have a difficulty in changing core standards. I was absolutely incensed to hear Leo Varadkar say that people don’t join the Defence Forces for money, but for other things. Of course, they do, but they can’t live in poverty. That is no way to build an Army. Wives and children are
‘Some very dangerous peace-keeping situations’ ‘The only way is to pay them properly’
couch-surfing while their husbands are abroad.’ Derek Priestley, Deputy General Secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), welcomed the study and said it would ‘open up the pool of potential new entrants to meet recruitment targets. I would anticipate positions within the DF could be opened up to certain categories of colour vision deficiency. But military service and operations requires high levels of physical fitness and robust healthy personnel, with good eyesight. Therefore, one would expect specialist positions in EOD [Bomb disposal], aviation, maritime and ARW [Rangers] operations could not accept any level of colour vision deficiency,’ he said.
peace-keeping heroes: Fears the standards will be dropped as Army fails to recruit and retain enough soldiers
Mark Mellett: Has working group set up