'Reductions in morale and unsustainable turnover' - calls for Department of Defence to be included in review

Military officers want the Government to include the Department of Defence in its planned review of the Defence Forces. new commission ...

Military officers want the Government to include the Department of Defence in its planned review of the Defence Forces.

new commission to take a fresh look at defence issues was proposed by the government last year as the military attempted to cope with falling numbers due largely to a retention crisis created by poor pay.

The terms of reference for the commission are on the agenda for today’s meeting of the Cabinet but the review at the moment is being set up to deal solely with the military.

Officers have now issued a call for its terms to be extended to focus also on the civilian side of the defence organisation.

Personnel strength within the department has remained largely untouched over the past few decades while numbers within the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service have dropped from more than 12,000 down to under 8,500, more than a thousand less than its establishment strength.

The call for a wider-based and independently led commission has been made by RACO, the association representing military officers from cadet up to colonel, with backing from their colleagues in ARCO, the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers.

RACO general secretary Comdt Conor King warned that a commission examining the Defence Forces in isolation would be unnecessarily limited and would fail to contextualise military outputs if it did not also look at issues of policy, human resources, governance and finance associated with the department.

He said the Defence Forces had an unhappy history of being reviewed in isolation since 1969 by various groups ranging from the Gleeson Commission to two Efficiency Audit Groups, the Price Waterhouse report, successive government white papers and to the 2012 re-organisation.

“Unhappy, as the outcome of each review has generally resulted in cuts to military personnel numbers and presumably unforeseen consequences such as reductions in morale and increased unsustainable turnover”, Comdt King said.

Five decades ago, the Gleeson report referred to “a rigorous interpretation by the Department of Defence of the requirement of civil control and an extensive duplication of function” between the senior department officials and military headquarters.

Gleeson recommended a review by professional management consultants on military-civilian relationships and this was taken up by the first Efficiency Audit Group, which attempted to examine the department secretariat and the three military branches.

That group put forward several radical proposals for the re-organisation of the civilian side and said that its role should be confined to policy and audit with numbers reduced to 100. At the moment, it’s strength is around 350.

In parallel, it was recommended that the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces should become the accounting officer.

In 2006, the Garda Commissioner became that organisation’s accounting officer but the military proposal never made the final draft.

Retired brigadier general and president of ARCO, Paul Pakenham said in a recent address to a webinar on the new commission that the department had, for many years, protected its own interests and, in the opinion of ARCO, would endeavour to influence the composition, terms of reference and recommendations of the new commission.

He added: “A review of the secretariat, especially the civilian-military interface, must be included in the commission’s terms of reference”.

Comdt King said, however, there were possibilities that could, and must, be grasped through this once in a generation opportunity to reimagine and strengthen defence.

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Newsrust: 'Reductions in morale and unsustainable turnover' - calls for Department of Defence to be included in review
'Reductions in morale and unsustainable turnover' - calls for Department of Defence to be included in review
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