Ireland’s reputation being ‘rubbished’ by Defence Forces recruitment and retention issues

Independent TD Verona Murphy makes criticism as senior Department of Defence officials appear at Public Accounts Committee

Ireland’s reputation is being “rubbished” due to issues with recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces, which is “haemorrhaging staff”, the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has heard.

Independent TD Verona Murphy made the criticisms as senior Department of Defence officials appeared before the committee on Thursday.

Department of Defence secretary general Jacqui McCrum defended efforts to boost recruitment and retention, and said there are “green shoots” when it comes to Naval Service recruitment levels this year.

The PAC was told that there is currently around 7,500 personnel across the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, some 2,000 short of the 9,500 it should have under the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces.


Ms McCrum said the Commission recommended that there would be 11,500 personnel by 2028, and said “we are significantly below that strength”.

Ms Murphy said Naval Service ships are tied up at piers because they cannot be staffed and this is “not good enough”.

Ms McCrum outlined a 34 per cent increase in the starting salary for new recruits, up to €39,000, which was introduced in a bid to attract more people. She said 8,000 had applied to join the Defence Forces last year.

Wexford TD Ms Murphy asked about Irish troops being pulled out of UNDOF, a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Syria.

This was done “on the basis of military advice”, Ms McCrum, said with Ireland contributing to an EU battlegroup, and she conceded that a lack of personnel “may have been a part of that issue”.

In response, Ms Murphy said: “our reputation is just being rubbished because of our recruitment and retention issues.”

She asked how many of the 8,000 applicants to the Defence Forces in 2023 had been recruited, and Ms McCrum confirmed later in the meeting that it was 415. Some 755 personnel left in the same period.

“I would call that haemorrhaging staff,” Ms Murphy said.

Aside from the pay increase for new recruits, the secretary general listed retention measures that have been put in place.

These included increasing the joining age limit to 39 and the retirement age to 60, with plans to extend this to 62, as well as introducing private healthcare for Defence Forces personnel.

The PAC was told that staffing issues mean the Naval Service can currently deploy just two of its eight vessels for patrols, with one left on standby.

Changes in how the Naval Service operates means there have been no patrol days cancelled since August last year, the committee was told.

Ms McCrum confirmed to Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley that there was a period where it was only possible to send one ship on patrol, and she said the Department and Defence Forces were “very concerned about that”.

She told TDs that efforts have been made to upgrade the base at Haulbowline; the Naval Patrol Duty Allowance has been doubled; and there are plans to make the job more family friendly, in an attempt to attract more people into the Naval Service.

Its numbers currently stand at 722, when there should be 1,094 personnel.

A shortage of technicians is also impacting on the ability to deploy ships, and there has been an increase in the age limit for technical staff to join the Naval Service in a bid to address this.

Last year, 68 Naval Service personnel were recruited, but 95 left. Ms McCrum said in the first three months of 2024 some 31 personnel were recruited and just 14 had left.

She described this as “green shoots” in terms of recruitment into the Naval Service.

Ms Murphy said it was still a “deficit position” with the secretary general replying: “we have to stabilise these numbers first” and that she hoped the impact of the retention measures will be seen this year.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times