A Newbridge Local Election Candidate says the Government is 'showing little more than contempt for the men and women who serve in our Defence Forces.'
Following a meeting last night regarding pay and conditions for the Defence Forces, Antoinette Buckley with six immediate family members participate in the Army Band both in the past and at present said: “There have been serious issues with retention in the Defence Forces over the past number of years with numbers now well below 9,000. The latest figures from the end of March reveal that there are now just 8,847 personnel – that’s 653 below current agreed strength.”
She said:“While pay and conditions are obviously the main factors, there are other contentious issues which include the fact that many Defence Forces members feel completely undervalued by this Government. Twice last year we saw troops returning from a tour of duty, including troops from this district, having their return dates delayed.”
She said:“Yesterday I attended a public meeting organised by spouses of Defence Forces members. Defence Force members are unable to participate in any kind of protests or work stoppages so it is left to their families and to veterans to stand up and have their voices heard. It’s very hard to hear them talk of being unable to make ends meet.
Co Kildare Defence Forces serving at The Curragh are struggling to meet the costs of paying for their children to sit the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams, according to a leading campaigner for improved pay and conditions.
Several Curragh based soldiers are forced to live in poverty says Kildare's representative of the Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces, Sarah Walshe.
A meeting took place at Newbridge Town Hall on Tuesday, May 14, while another meeting will take place at Portarlington Community Centre, on Thursday, May 16, at 8.30pm. These meetings come just before announcements are expected soon on pay increases for Defence Forces personnel, following a long campaign by families of members.
Ms Walshe says that a generation at The Curragh has been destroyed due to poor terms and conditions and due to lack of pay, and lack of housing, army families can no longer reside in Co Kildare.
According to Ms Walshe, of group Wives and Partners of Defences Forces, there are many army members in The Curragh receiving Housing Assistance Payments, to assist with their rent, but landlords are often unwilling to accept this, leaving many at risk of homelessness.
She said: “I am happy with the turnout at the meeting in Newbridge on Tuesday night, it was at short notice. The main issue that came up was pay, there are now several different contracts and staff on different terms and conditions, it is confusing and having an impact. People are concerned about how lack of pay in the Defence Forces is having on community life in The Curragh.”
Ms Walshe became a representative for Co Kildare's Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces in 2016, and has been campaigning for improved conditions ever since.
She said: “People have been saying that they can't afford to send their children to college, there is no spare money in a lot of households. We have not received any information when a report is coming out on pay.”
In relation to a recent report that a significant amount of Defence Forces throughout the country are taking sick leave, Ms Walshe says that Defence Forces do not receive an indefinite amount of sick leave and can only get 12 weeks.
Meanwhile, she is concerned that burnout and mental health issues are now a major concern among underpaid and under-resourced members of the Defence Forces in Co Kildare.