In 1916, a group of citizen volunteers fought for Irish freedom during the Easter Rising. They were not professional soldiers. They were not paid for what they did. But their actions paved the way for the creation of the modern Irish Republic.
One hundred years on, the memory of those original citizen volunteers was honoured across the country earlier this year. However, in 2016, the closest thing that the Irish Defence Forces’ currently has to those original volunteers – the volunteer soldiers and sailors of the Reserve Defence Forces (formerly An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, or FCÁ) – are being widely mistreated and undervalued.
This undervaluing is arguably most apparent in the area of recruitment to the Reserve. The Reserve has an establishment of 4,069 personnel, yet its current strength is only 2,281, or 56% of what it should have.
This is not due to lack of interest – there are thousands of applications every year – but rather due to mishandling of the recruitment process by the Defence Forces.
‘The strength of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) is currently 9,025, or about 95% of its establishment of 9,500’, says Mr Neil Richardson, General Secretary of the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association (RDFRA).
‘To remedy this, the PDF is currently engaged in a massive – and effective – recruitment drive. Meanwhile, the Reserve is not being properly facilitated to fill the nearly 2,000 vacancies in the force, despite the continually high level of applications’.
Firstly, when applying for the Reserve, applicants are faced with open-ended closing dates for each recruitment competition. This means it could be months before anyone from Defence Forces recruitment makes contact, or before they start their recruitment tests.
‘For Irish citizens joining a voluntary force – where the majority of the work they do will be completely unpaid – these lengthy waiting periods often see many become disillusioned and they simply discontinue the process, looking elsewhere to volunteer and express their patriotism’, adds Mr Richardson.
For those who stick with the process, medical testing is the next hurdle that they encounter. The Defence Forces has – due to an internal lack of medical capacity – recently imposed a limit on the amount of recruitment medicals that it will deliver to Reserve applicants.
This means that an individual Reserve unit might have 100 willing and enthusiastic applicants, but they are told that only twenty can be medically tested, thereby preventing the other eighty from ever seeing a uniform.
Reserve Defence Forces on military maneuvers
For those that are facilitated with medicals, these are often provided exclusively during normal working hours, despite the Defence Forces’ stated policy of being a 24/7 organisation.
As volunteers who already have fulltime employment or education commitments elsewhere, many Reserve applicants find it impossible to take time off to attend these examinations. And so the pool of applicants gets smaller.
Finally, Reserve applicants encounter the largest hurdle of them all. ‘The Defence Forces’ processing of Garda Security Vetting and Garda Security Clearance applications for the Reserve is particularly poor’, states Mr Richardson.
‘Priority is given to PDF applications – despite the fact that An Garda Síochána do all the processing work and the Defence Forces simply forwards applications and receives returns. In can often take an incredible eighteen months – or more – to security clear a Reserve applicant. Not many have the patience to wait such a needlessly long time to join a volunteer organisation’.
The mishandling of Reserve recruitment is shown in the figures. In 2016, despite having nearly 2,000 vacancies, the Reserve was only facilitated to induct seventy-two new members. Hundreds applied for places, but fell by the wayside during the various stages of the recruitment process.
‘The State has an excellent asset at its disposal in the Reserve’, concludes Mr Richardson. ‘The majority of the work carried out by Reservists is voluntary, so it comes at no cost. Nowadays, most Reservists work alongside their PDF counterparts in multiple roles, assisting with various activities as needed. Reservists also bring a huge wealth of outside skills and qualifications to the Defence Forces, adding value wherever they serve’.
‘Reservists are willing and enthusiastic citizen volunteers, and there are thousands of young Irish men and women who are looking to join every year, but who are prevented from doing so. The Defence Forces could be improving their personal development; providing them with leadership, motivation, resilience, planning, organising, decision making and problem solving skills, along with training and recognised qualifications, but this is not happening. It is unacceptable to see the force be mishandled and undervalued as much as it is’.