'Very serious issue' facing recruitment in Defence Forces, says Micheál Martin

The Defence Minister said that the introduction of Working Time Directive would make a career within the Defence Forces a more attractive prospect for school leavers
'Very serious issue' facing recruitment in Defence Forces, says Micheál Martin

Tánaiste Micheál Martin, with Chief of Staff Lt Gen Sean Clancy, Cdre Michael Malone, flag officer command naval base, and Capt Ken Minehane, officer commanding naval operations command, during his visit to the naval base in Haulbowline. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

TÁNAISTE Micheál Martin has acknowledged the “very serious issue” facing the Defence Forces when it comes to personnel numbers and hopes proposals to introduce the European Working Time Directive will improve the situation.

Speaking during a visit to Haulbowline Naval base in Co Cork, the Defence Minister said that the introduction of the directive would make a career within the Defence Forces a more attractive prospect for school leavers. It is one of a number of measures he believes will assist with recruitment and retention.

“The Working Time Directive has to be introduced in my view and I have already given instructions in that regard. This relates to quality of life and life balance. To me, it is a way to ensure sustainability into the future.

“There are parts of the Defence Forces already in practice operating the Working Time Directive. I remember when I was Minister for Health people saying, ‘oh [the Working Time Directive] can’t be done. The world will collapse.’ The world didn’t collapse.”

Mr Martin said that he wants to see the Working Time Directive introduced in the Defence Forces in a timely manner.

“Hopefully within the year we will have the proposals finalised in that regard. Obviously it will take time to phase in and so on.”

The Working Time Directive is a key part of European labour law. It gives EU workers up to four weeks in paid holidays each year, a right to work no more than 48 hours per week, and daily rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours, and it restricts excessive night work.

Mr Martin described as “very serious” a situation that has seen personnel numbers in the navy fall to 770.

“770 is what I understand is the current strength, which is too low. And there is a very serious issue facing us in recruitment, and retention is a key issue for me as minister for defence.

“We have had recent meetings with military management and the chief of staff and the flag commander on this very specific issue. I have made it clear we have to look at all options in terms of strengthening our navy.”

Mr Martin said that he expects to see more civilianisation across the Defence Forces.

“It was interesting this morning I met with a team in the Fishery Protection which involves both civilian and naval personnel working side by side on specific measures which has improved the efficiency of their work.

“This is happening already. That will continue.

“I think we will see more generally across the Defence Forces not in lieu of but as an additional support to the Defence personnel.

“But also we are looking at various training and education programmes.

“And we are doing very basic analysis of how in a very competitive labour situation we can make a distinctive appeal to young people coming out of schools to join our navy and our Defence Forces.”

The Tánaiste described as “significant” the improvements in basic pay over the last year.

“But we have more to do more broadly in respect of creating a quality of life for both those who are working in the navy and in our Defence Forces more broadly.

“And we are working on further proposals in that regard.

“But the situation is very serious. I am very conscious of that and we will be working flat out to improve the situation. There are no immediate quick fixes.”

Mr Martin said that his department is considering raising age limits for retirement in the Defence Forces in order to retain personnel.

“There is a very clear argument that people are leaving too early in the modern era. We are looking at that. We are examining that at the moment but we have to do it with other departments and the Department of Public Expenditure.

“But in terms of recruitment more generally it has to be grounded in a good analysis of where young people are today.

“What it takes and what maybe we could do differently within the navy in terms of work experience.”

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