Alarm as Army moves to lift colour-blind bar

Don’t lower stan­dards, pay sol­diers fair pay, Leo is warned

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Anne Sheri­dan anne.sheri­[email protected] mailon­sun­day.ie

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

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