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Defence Forces units train with NATO and EU partners but retention concerns continue

The Department of Defence and Defence Forces annual report was launched this week.

Irish soldiers during helicopter training.
Irish soldiers during helicopter training.
Image: Irish Defence Forces

IRELAND’S MILITARY HAS participated in a large number of international operations, including NATO capability assessments, the Government has revealed. 

The Annual Report of the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces, which was released this week, outlines the number of missions participated in and how many troops are deployed. 

It confirmed that a number of units of the Defence Forces have undergone studies by NATO experts – including the naval vessel LÉ George Bernard Shaw and the Army Ranger Wing with the Special Operations Land Task Group HQ of NATO-led evaluations in 2021.

There has been, more recently, a NATO study of the Irish Army’s artillery capability.

Ireland is not a member of NATO but has a relationship with the alliance as part of the State’s participation in Partnership for Peace Planning and Review Process (PARP) mechanism.

“Ireland’s involvement in PARP is focused on enhancing Defence Forces interoperability in multi-national operations and contributing to the development of military capabilities in accordance with international standards,” the report said.

The involvement was set out in the White Paper on Defence and sees Ireland work on the capability of Irish units to work with NATO units, which is covered under Partnership Interoperability Advocacy Group (PIAG).

The military also participate in Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) which is an evaluation and feedback process in which NATO evaluates Ireland’s capabilities. 

“The main benefit to participation in OCC is that Defence Forces training is benchmarked through external evaluation by NATO to the highest interoperable standards,” the report found. 

The involvement with NATO is directly linked also to the European Union and last year key diplomatic work was carried out on implementing a joint declaration between the EU and NATO. This co-operation document established a “common set of proposals”.

The report this week said that the European Union, and laterally Ireland, would benefit from this as the proposals focus on cooperation in the key areas of countering hybrid threats, operational cooperation including maritime issues, cyber security and defence, defence capabilities, defence industry and research, exercises and defence and security capacity building.

It is anticipated that a new joint declaration covering other areas such as disruptive technologies, crisis management and the security and defence implications of climate change will be established later this year.

PESCO

One key area of involvement for the Irish State is the Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO) element of the EU Global Strategy. 

The report outlines Ireland was involved in one PESCO project at the Greek led maritime surveillance – it was an observer on a further nine missions. 

The Dáil recently voted in favour of the Defence Forces full involvement in four projects relating to cyber threats, disaster relief capability, Special Operations Forces medical training and systems for mine countermeasures. 

The PESCO backed special forces medical project will be a major expansion in the capability for the Army Ranger Wing with funding for greater training for its medics. 

Involvement in PESCO had been criticised by Sinn Fein, but was defended by Minister for Defence Simon Coveney during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs.

The 148 page report is positive in tone, with very little detail on operations, and there appears to be little to no outline of the challenges faced by the Defence Forces.

There are concerning statistics around recruitment and a reserve strength of 1,760, with of those members 271 frontline capable. The reserves is recommended to have 4,069 members. 

At the start of 2022 there were 8,468 personnel in the Permanent Defence Forces across the three services – that is 1,000 below its establishment strength.

The Commission on the Defence Forces Action Plan released by Government has committed to recruiting another 3,000 personnel to bring the organisation to a new establishment strength of 11,500.

Retention

52093278113_4b68d66ea4_o Members of the Irish Army's Cavalry reserve in training. Source: Irish Defence Forces

The Journal has extensively covered the retention crisis in the Defence Forces with pay and conditions a major stumbling block.

The report also mentions the implementation of the European Working Time Directive, which has been a particularly strong bugbear for the Defence Forces Representative bodies of RACO and PDFORRA.

It said it has established a subcommittee of the Defence Conciliation and Arbitration Council. This body comprises the Representative Associations as well as military and civil management.

“Discussions with the Defence Forces Representative Associations will continue to be undertaken, through this forum, as the current work evolves,” it said. 

A RACO spokesperson has criticised this assertion, pointing out that the Department of Defence has refused to hold a meeting of the subcommittee for three years.

“This is disingenuous, disappointing and the only people who suffer are the women and men of the Defence Forces who continue to do more with less, in breach of basic employee rights and health and safety provisions.

“Until the Working Time Directive is implemented in a collaborative way by collective agreement there will be no increase in the strength of the organisation, as it will not be an attractive place to work.

“We also note that no mention is made of the fact that the C&A scheme has been deliberately left without a third party adjudicator for over a year. Time for honesty.”

Meanwhile, on Brexit, the report mentions challenges associated with Brexit in a short paragraph and said it was involved in identifying “key strategic, operational and policy issues arising from Brexit”.

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