Driver fatigue could affect the ability of soldiers to police the border area after Brexit, according to the association representing enlisted Defence Forces personnel.

Speaking at the PDFORRA annual conference in Carlow, its Health and Safety Officer Ray McKenna said the association had raised concerns about personnel driving Defence Forces vehicles without sufficient rest periods.

Mr McKenna said personnel were being assigned to drive vehicles to the ranges, take part in range practices and exercises, and then drive vehicles back to their units.

He cited a case in which a driver had been behind the wheel for 35 hours, and that while he had not been driving for all of this time, he had not had sufficient rest to ensure the safety of his passengers, other road users and himself.

Mr McKenna told the 100 PDFORRA delegates that with Brexit looming, and the ever increasing threat that members would be back out patrolling all 500km of the border, their health, safety and welfare entitlements were of paramount importance and must not be forgotten about.

He noted that while the Defence Forces are exempt from certain regulatory restrictions on driving hours, management has what he called the obvious duty of care in relation to time spent behind the wheel on operations and training, adding that this responsibility lay with the commanding officer of the personnel involved.

PDFORRA has called for the introduction of a "driver rest card" system to ensure members get the breaks due to them, and that they are sufficiently rested before they are obliged to drive back to their units.

Mr McKenna told delegates that such a system is used by the British army, and that further discussions are planned on the issue.

Earlier, speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Defence Forces Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett said he was confident that he had the capability to meet the priorities of the Government including Brexit - despite staffing levels being 10% below where they should be.

He acknowledged there were significant staffing difficulties, and that it could take a few years before the target staffing level of 9,500 is met.

Asked how well prepared the Defence Forces are to deal with Brexit, he said it is a political issue and it would not be appropriate for him to comment, other than to say that when the parameters and priorities of Government were clear, the organisation would have the capability to address them.

Raw sewage seeping into work areas at barracks, conference told

Raw sewage was seeping into work areas at McKee Barracks in Cabra, causing potential neurological damage and stress to staff, PDFORRA has claimed.

The conference heard that in 2017, the Communications Centre at the Barracks flooded with raw sewage requiring remedial works - including a deep clean and the fitting of a specialist pump to prevent further flooding.

However, a PDFORRA member working in this area had reported that the odour from raw sewage just outside the entrance to the office was still "strong and very evident" every day.

Health and Safety Officer Ray McKenna told delegates: "This material may in itself have health issues depending on its toxicological properties. From speaking to some of the staff, the odour is having a neurological effect on them causing stress.

"On most days, especially when it's warm, workers have reported that they can taste the sewage on the tongue. Workers have concerns that if they can taste sewage in their mouths, then it must very strong and everywhere in the air".

Mr McKenna said members were doing 20-hour shifts in conditions where faeces and urine were open to the air just outside the only entrance to the communications centre, and that family members had complained of a bad smell from their loved one's clothing when they returned from work. 

He said members were also concerned about the potential for disease-causing germs if sewage were not disposed of properly.

He acknowledged that further remedial works are due to start soon - but noted that if the system is not properly maintained after those works are completed, the difficulties will recur.