Recruitment to the Defence Forces has been impacted by the Covid-19 Pandemic and induction of new recruits has been postponed, the Dáil has heard.

Minister with Responsiblity for Defence Paul Kehoe said the current strength of the Defence Forces is 8,485, which is lower than what had been planned as the capacity to induct and train recruits has been severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. 

He told the Dáil that 160 extra general service recruits were expected to have been inducted at this point. 

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked Mr Kehoe if he accepted any responsibility for having the Defence Forces "under-strength, Ill-resourced and badly paid." 

He said this had impacted on their ability to fully deliver for the State during the Covid -19 crisis. 

Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy asked if the Defence Forces can be guaranteed restructuring in terms of their pay and terms and conditions because "we have a retention issue".

Deputy Troy said part of the reason for that was the abolition of the 4th Western Brigade, which left no career progression strategy.

He said he wanted a commitment in the new programme for government that "we would look at re-establishing it back to brigade headquarters status in Athlone".

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil's Jack Chambers said the rotation and return of Defence Forces personnel serving in Lebanon is causing  anxiety for families who are awaiting their return and there is "unhappiness" about how developments have been communicated with them.

In response, Minister Kehoe said the UN Secretary General had cancelled all rotations from all UN missions which he said caused distress to members and their families.

He said that his department and  the Department of Foreign Affairs were working to see if they can get members back home earlier than the end of June and said they had now secured two dates, but he did not want to go back to families until he had a specific date. 

Green Party TD Roderic O'Gorman said there was a lot of uncertainty and stress for members of the peacekeeping forces who were told their rotations to Lebanon were being suspended over Covid-19 lockdowns.

He asked whether those returning would be now asked to quarantine and what level of contact troops would have with families during that time.

Mr Kehoe said personnel returning from the Lebanon have the option of either quarantining in their home or a barracks and those deploying out to the Lebanon will quarantine together for two weeks ahead of their departure.

Deputy Chambers also said poor pay and conditions continue to overshadow many aspects of the Defence Forces, which remains the worst paid in the public sector. 

He said that it was no surprise to see the ongoing rates of turnover and not meeting the white paper target of 9,500. 

Mr Chamber said the strength is now below 8,500, which he said is well below the minimum strength figure.

Separately, Labour TD Sean Sherlock asked when PDFORRA will be able to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Minister  Kehoe said there were discussions between the two parties, and described it as a very sensitive matter and said he would respond with the exact state of play.