Today I wrote to the Taoiseach in his capacity as Minister of Defence regarding the recent Public Appointments Service advertisement for a new post of Assistant Secretary Defence Capability (People) Department of Defence at a salary of between €128,000 and €146,000 per annum. I wrote because I was at a loss to understand the rationale for this new post as both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces already have very well staffed and effective HR sections which manage the recruitment, induction, training, development and other HR services for their civilian, civil service and military personnel.
I first became aware that this post was being created some months ago and sought, under Freedom of Information legislation, to determine what changes to the structure of the Department of Defence necessitated the creation of this post. Being aware that the creation of any Public Service post requires the prior approval of the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform, I also sought copies of all requests from the Department of Defence to DPER including all correspondence between the two Departments. My request was denied under Section 29 (1) of the FOI Act on the grounds that the details "would be contrary to the public interest" but I was informed that 73 letters or emails had been exchanged between the two Departments on the matter. I have since appealed the decision as I firmly believe that a full justification for this appointment is very much in the public interest. We need an explanation not only for the purposes of transparency, public accountability and Oireachtas oversight, but also to assure the public and military personnel that resources are being allocated to the areas most needed by the Defence Organisation.
It is no secret that the Defence Forces are in crisis due to prolonged under funding. Our Air Corps currently has 33 pilot vacancies, a shortfall of 30% with a 32% shortfall in technicians. The Ordnance (Bomb Disposal) unit provides for 37 operational officers but currently there are only 13 trained officers of whom 11 are available in Ireland with each undertaking between 11 and 21 duties per month. Overall the Naval Service is short some 38 Commissioned Officers or is 21% below its establishment. The effective strength of the Permanent Defence Forces currently stands at 9,070 yet the Government's commitment is to maintaining the establishment of the PDF at 9,500. This is a massive shortfall and the full focus of the Department of Defence should be on this challenge.
That the DoD response is to bump up its own administrative capacity reveals a worrying disconnect between the critical staffing needs of the PDF and the ambitions of the Department charged with supporting it. It shows an unawareness of the extent and implications of the staffing crisis and betrays an outrageous disregard for priority setting in resource allocation.
I strongly believe that there is considerable public support for forsaking this appointment in favour of an immediate equivalent increase of funding for the Air Corps. Instead of hiring a new Assistant Secretary, the reinstatement of the Air Corps Service Incentive Scheme could be used to retain up to 7 new pilots. This would be both operationally wise, politically favourable and would go a long way to improving the low morale of service men and women of all ranks.
In the candidate information booklet for the proposed post the Department of Defence describes itself as a "lean organisation with a track record of successfully implementing reform and transformation". This proposed appointment flies in the face of this statement on every level and should be reconsidered.
Today I asked the Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD and the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe TD to refer this proposed appointment to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence and the the Public Accounts Committee as a matter of urgency.