Exclusive: By Jimmy Rhatigan
Pic: Donal Foley
THERE IS solace today and perhaps peace of mind for our pittance-paid beleaguered young solders.
Good news is that our United Nations Veterans at Post 8, Kilkenny are to put their full weight behind a battle to garner proper wages for serving soldiers whose options are to quit the army or to feed and clothe their children with the aid of a social welfare allowance to bolster wage packets that have been described as paltry.
The Reporter was privileged to be recruited to Stephens Military Barracks to hear the angst and listen to the action plans of old comrades who over the years had put their lives on the line in war-torn zones such as The Lebanon, Cyprus and the Congo.
We were met by a trinity of soldier colleagues who took pride in their uniforms, loved serving their country and were happy to fly the Tricolour in distant lands where they usually spent half a year at a time, often putting their lives on the line as they swapped irregular messages of greeting with children who were without a parent for six months.
Lowest paid civil servants in the country
We were at the heart of a war council of sorts, not with men of violence but with peace-loving retired servants of our State who were champing at the bit, eager to protect a tradition they loved and determined to save from what they believed could be extinction.
In the NCOs Mess (Non Commissioned Officers) off the main Square at Stephens Barracks, the uniformed trio of retired soldiers spoke of their support for Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces with whom veterans had marched in a Dáil protest.
Retired Sergeants John Doyle, a father of eight from the Gaol Road, Kevin McGarry, a father of three from McDonagh Street, with Corporal Paddy O’Meara of Melville heights, a dad of three, were in fighting form.
“Our soldiers are among the lowest paid civil servants in the country so it is no surprise that we have under 9,000 in our Defence Forces, the lowest man and woman power for over half a century,” said John Doyle.
Kevin McGarry described army wages as disgraceful and recalled that when he was posted to the re-opening of Stephens Barracks as a private in 1959 his wages were £2/14/6 in old money.
“Compare that to today’s wages and you will find that there has been no improvement whatsoever in 50 years, in fact the opposite may be the case,” he added.
The old comrades agreed that successive Governments knew they had the soldiers in strait jackets, over a barrel, as it were, as Defence Forces members could not go on strike, or protest.
They cited what they called the paltry remuneration for soldiers on 24-hour duty at Portlaoise Prison, one of Europe’s top security prisons. Take home pay was €1 an hour.
53% of soldiers on Family Income Support
They recalled how their own pensions had been hit by Government and said the aim would appear to be that in the future there would be no pensions at all for serving soldiers – if there are still serving soldiers!
Risk your lives but we still won’t treat you properly, was the motto from the top, the civil service in tandem with politicians, the get-together agreed.
Kevin said the soldiers of today were being disgracefully treated, or ill treated. He said that throughout his army career which he loved, he had immense pride in the uniform and in the blue beret.
“Were I eligible to join today, I would not even consider it. Wages are awful, embarrassingly low and an insult to hard working soldiers,” said Kevin.
“If Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe does not make drastic changes, he will be out of work,” said Paddy O’Meara. “We simply won’t have an army.”
John Doyle re-iterated Post 8’s support for local soldiers and army veterans’ backing right around the country for the present generation.
He said the top brass in our army had also told the veterans that they were in full support of the wives’ and spouses’ battle for better pay.
Paddy reminded that our army was one of the most respected throughout the world, yet successive Governments, through the Department of Defence, continued to treat our soldiers like dirt.
In a Post 8 UN Veteran’s statement, colleagues of yesteryear said the present treatment of the Defence was short sighted, irresponsible and bordering on the reckless.
That just about summed up the feelings of the mess meeting.
And the old brigade plan to do all in their power to break a chain of ill treatment that led to rock bottom morale and family suffering.
Post 8 Kilkenny UN veterans has 30 members and growing. Chairman is John Doyle; secretary, Michael Furlong; treasurer, Joe Darcy.