“Clear and irrefutable evidence” of change is needed to increase public trust in the Irish Defence Forces, a Dáil committee has been told.
Julie Sinnamon, independent chairwoman of the Implementation Oversight Group, said that the proposed transformative change within the Irish military was “unprecedented”.
However, the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence also heard concerns about the reduction in headcount within the forces.
Ms Sinnamon leads the groupcreated to oversee change following a report by the Commission on the Defence Forces last year which recommended changes to structures, defence capabilities, organisation, culture and funding.
In addition, earlier this year a damning Independent Review Group report detailed allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying and discrimination in the military.
Ms Sinnamon told the committee that her group had met six times since last November and had been focusing on implementing 38 early actions to support “proposed transformative change”.
She said: “As the Tanaiste (Micheál Martin) has previously stated, and I wholeheartedly agree, it is important for this plan to be completed expeditiously, but it is more important that we get it right.
“This is particularly important in the context of the recent report of the Independent Review Group of dignity and equality issues in the defence forces.”
The senior civil servant said the scale of the proposed transformation effort in the military is “unprecedented”.
She told the committee that more than 90 per cent of early actions had been completed, including the design of gender, diversity and unconscious bias training and commencement of a strategic defence review.
She added: “Clear and irrefutable evidence of change on the ground is the only thing that will rebuild the confidence of serving members and enhance the trust of the public they serve.”
Cathal Berry, independent TD and former Army Ranger commander said the pace of change had been “quite slow” compared to the rest of Europe.
He said: “Everyone else seemed to be scaling up their defence capability within weeks of the invasion of Ukraine, but we are still moving at the pace of a snail.
“The only real metric that matters is the headcount in the organisation.
“If you want a get a parameter in terms of are things improving, look at the headcount.
“Unfortunately the headcount has been dropping consistently, even in the last few months, so people are losing confidence in this process.
“There are only 7,800 people in the Defence Forces now.
“There used to be 10,500.
“So the number has dropped by 25% in the last 10 years which is awful.
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“If any other profession was dropping their strength by 25% it would cause mayhem.”
Ms Sinnamon said the challenge of reversing the decreasing headcount in the Defence Forces was a substantial issue.
She said: “In order to reverse it, it needs stepping up the recruitment side, all of the changes that have been made to date and more changes that will be needed.”