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Defence Forces aims for almost one in ten female recruits in 2023, says chief-of-staff

The chief-of-staff of the Defence Forces has said he hopes that almost one in 10 recruits in 2023 will be women. Lieut Gen Seán Clancy said on Tuesday that comprised 7.2 per cent of military personnel in Ireland. That compares with a figure of 11.5 per cent in the UK. However, Lieut Gen Clancy said the UK was atypical and the EU average was closer to 7 per cent.

“My ambition and target is for 9 per cent women intake (in 2023),” he told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on Tuesday.

Lieut Gen Clancy and the secretary general of the Department of Defence, Jacquie McCrum, attended a meeting of the committee on Wednesday to talk about a number of priority issues for the Defence Forces, principally recruitment and retention issues. The systemic issues of sexism, sexual assaults and gender-based bias highlighted by Women for Honour – and now subject to a judge-led inquiry – were raised briefly.

Ms McCrum told the committee, chaired by Fine Gael TD Charles Flanagan, that gender balance continued to be a key area of focus. She said the management board of her department now had a majority women membership. A Civil-Military Defence Women’s Network was established in 2022 and was “thriving”, she added. In addition, she said that access to private secondary medical care for all ranks, and access to private maternity care for all women in the Defence Forces, was now available.

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“It is a tangible recognition of the value we place on women, and builds on the support needed to attract and retain women in our defence forces. Female participation and career development is necessary for a modern day defence force. It is, and will remain, a priority until the women strength in the permanent defence forces reaches a level comparable with the best international rates.”

In the past 18 months, a number of plans and groups – including an external oversight board – have been established to deal with the issues raised by the Women of Honour and also the difficulties the armed services have in retaining personnel. Minister for Defence Micheál Martin has said his priority is a transformation in the Defence Forces that will result in “cultural change” above anything else.

Lieut Gen Clancy and Ms McCrum pointed out that while certain activities pertaining to military service were outside the scope of the Working Time Directive, the Defence Forces had implemented many of its provisions to ensure a proper work-life balance while still maintaining military support for the State.

It was pointed out that salaries had been increased and many other issues addressed. “Many aspects of military service have the potential to influence retention rates, including, career opportunities, remuneration, intensity of training and operational missions, work-life balance considerations, and infrastructure and equipment developments.

“The ongoing transformation programme goes to the heart of these influencing factors as we seek to improve an individual’s work-life balance, career development and cultural and working experience,” said Lieut Gen Clancy. He also said that some overseas deployments had been scaled back, and remote working practices had been developed.

In terms of recruitment the binary “pass-fail” system of entry had been replaced by a red, amber and green system where those who got an “amber” rating could still follow a pathway into military services.

He said that the figures so far this year for the Naval Service (which has faced the biggest challenges) have been “very positive in that respect”.

Several members of the committee, including Fine Gael TD David Stanton, asked if the psychometric tests used to screen potential entrants was acting as a bar or disincentive to recruitment. Others, including Matt Carthy (Sinn Féin) and Senator Joe O’Reilly (Fine Gael), expressed concern about the low levels of recruitment in the Defence Forces Reserve.