Senator Michale McDowell has said he is “alarmed” by what he called a “sharp decline” in the numbers of those volunteering for the civil defence.
Speaking in the Seanad McDowell said that this was “an awful pity” quoting figures which show that while in 2015 there were 4,000 civil defence volunteers the latest figures show the number has declined to 2,500.
McDowell cited figures published two years ago in Civil Defence Towards 2030 saying that at the time of publication the number of volunteers had declined to 3,500.
“There’s a strategy towards 2030 for civil defence but if the situation is that the number of volunteers has gone down from 4,000 in 2015, to 3,500 on the website, to almost 2,500 now, there is a problem,” he said.
“It’s not just a problem with the civil defence,” he said adding, “it’s a problem right across the board in this country,”
The former Minister for Justice said the Garda Reserve force which was “established with some political difficulty” aimed to have 1,200 but has been “allowed almost completely to collapse,”
He continued that the 1,200 members had now dwindled down to approximately 300.
Saying that there had been “absolutely no significant recruitment over the years” he commented that existing members of the Garda reserve were “getting older” and “leaving with a sense of sadness and futility” after volunteering to be part of what “was to be a valuable part of the policing service”.
“Unfortunately the whole system was allowed to atrophy for a number of reasons that I’ve spoken about in this house before,” he said.
Pointing to a Garda reserve strategy document McDowell said more onus needed to be put on actual recruitment rather than strategy documents saying that numbers in the reserve defence were also “dwindling all the time,”
Pointing to changing social attitudes as one possible reason behind low volunteer numbers, he said that “different departmental attitudes” likely also played a part.
Looking at the current civil defence strategy document he said, “I don’t see anything in it about numbers,”
“If civil defence is distributed across 35 local authority nodes” he said, figures between 2,500 and 3,500 volunteers nationwide meant that the average volunteer number in local authorities was as low as 100 members.
“That’s a low figure,” he said, adding that it was a threshold which if fallen below would make it “more and more difficult to keep up morale,”
McDowell said continued low numbers would make it difficult to go about civil defence duties like assistance during Fleadh Cheoils, rescue operations, and pandemic duties.
Referring again to the low recruit numbers he said “that should not be”.
“The Department of Defence itself should recognise that even the permanent defence forces are in a state of decline,” he said adding, “numbers are falling, recruitment is difficult,”
“If being a soldier in our army is a career it has to be paid well,” he said adding that “if being a sailor on the navy is a career it has to be paid well,”
“We can’t go on as we are allowing our defence budget to be as small as it is,” he said, adding that “far, far more” needed to be invested.
He said it was vital that purchase be made of two transport aircrafts as the Irish Defence forces were “currently not in a position” to evacuate large numbers of people or move large amounts of material without international assistance.
“We need a defence force capable of dealing with security situations which could yet still reemerge in Ireland or which could come from outside Ireland that we don’t even spend much time worrying about,” he said.
“If volunteerism is important let’s do something about it,” he said.