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Niall O'Connor/The Journal

Long-awaited report finds Ireland's Defence Forces in need of 'transformational change'

The Minister for Defence said the report proposes “significant changes for the Defence Forces and Defence provision in Ireland”.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Feb 2022

A MAJOR REPORT on the future of the Defence Forces has been published this afternoon with recommendations on the military’s structures, equipment and personnel.

Its key recommendations would change military hierarchy, create a larger navy and introduce more aircraft.

Additionally, it says there should be more cyber security specialists and makes significant recommendations on pay.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney brought the report to Cabinet yesterday after it was written by the Commission on the Defence Forces.

In a statement, Coveney said the report proposes “significant changes for the Defence Forces and Defence provision in Ireland”.

“The report poses serious questions that we as a society must carefully consider,” Coveney said.

“This includes the type of defence capabilities that we should retain and the level of resourcing that we are willing to commit to equip and train our Defence Forces for the roles that we require them to undertake,” he said.

“I hope that this report will foster real debate about the defence that we need as a modern European country.”

Here are the main takeaways from the report:


The report recommends that greater transparency “of the wider benefits of membership of the Defence Forces should become a central feature of future recruitment campaigns, which should be supported by external expertise”.

Equity of existing pay and allowance structures should be enhanced in several ways:

  • removing the requirement for a 3 Star Private/Able Seaman to ‘mark time’ for the first three years at that rank
  • ensuring that all personnel of Private 3 Star/Able Seaman rank are paid the full rate of MSA applicable to the rank
  • providing immediate access to the Sea‐going Service Commitment Scheme to direct entry personnel in the Navy
  • replacing the existing sea‐going allowances with less complex sea‐going duty measures
  • and introducing Long Service Increments to the pay scales of all ranks of enlisted personnel.

It advises introducing a mechanism for ongoing review of how existing specialist pay rates and allowances are applied to groups and categories of military personnel.

That would also allow for making recommendations, within public pay policy parameters, where adjustments are required. 

“On the basis that all personnel should, in the first instance, be paid the full rate of MSA [Military Service Allowance] applicable to their rank, MSA should be abolished and the full applicable rate integrated into core pay,” the report says.

The Permanent Defence Force (PDF) Representative Associations should be facilitated if it wishes to pursue associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The Defence Forces should “urgently develop revamped and efficient recruitment processes” for reserve forces.

Employment protection legislation should be considered and discussed with employer representative bodies and trade unions to protect reserve members.


The report calls Ireland’s defence funding an “outlier” compared to other countries in western and northern Europe.

It estimates the budget needs an annual increase of 50% to bring it up to €1,500 million per year – or, to reach an even higher standard, up to €3,000 million.

“The Commission acknowledges the great challenge faced in managing the public finances in the wake of the financial crash and more recently the impact of the Covid‐19 pandemic,” it says.

“It recognises that budgetary policy must be framed within a prudent macro‐economic framework and in the light of many competing demands.

It is clear to the Commission that the current level of financial commitment delivers military capabilities which are inadequate for the Defence of Ireland and its people from the threats identified in this report.

Staying at the current level of funding will “severely constrain” the Defence Forces’ capacity to maintain its overseas commitments.


The Commission identified two major threats in the maritime domain – potential interruptions to sea lanes or strategic ports, and to the subsurface communications cables that run between North America and Europe near the Irish coast.

It recommends several measures to enhance the Defence Forces’ ability to protect Ireland’s ports and access to them, as well as to detect and deter interference with cables.

There should be a significantly increased Navy with a doubling of the Navy Reserve, including new reserve units in Galway, the north west and north east.

It advises an increased naval presence in Ireland’s territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone and at least two naval vessels capable of detecting and clearing mines and maritime improvised explosive devices.

Air Corps rebrand

The Air Corps should be rebranded as an Air Force and new aircraft should be purchased including ones capable of transporting troops.

More helicopters should also be purchased for an Irish military air ambulance service, the report recommends.

It recommends that primary radar should be developed immediately to enable detection of all aircraft in Irish air space.

The Defence Forces should have modern counter drone systems and air defence systems to protect Irish troops overseas and strategic locations at home during emergencies.

Consideration should be given to developing an air policing capability that would respond to threats in Irish air space and protect civilian air traffic.

Image from iOS (1) The launch of the report at the Curragh this afternoon Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Protection of troops

The report expects a “more demanding peacekeeping environment” in the future due to various threats.

Those include “erosion of global norms, proliferation of weapons and EDTs to non‐state actors and networks, technology transfer between terrorist networks (e.g. drones and improvised explosive devices) and opportunistic collaboration between terrorist groups and criminal networks will combine to present tougher environments”.

The Defence Forces needs new modern armoured personnel carrier fleet for the army to enhance protection, the report says.

It needs to strengthen military intelligence and cyber capabilities to counter espionage and hybrid threats, both in Ireland and to support peacekeepers abroad.

It should have greater air lift by procuring at least one transport aircraft and the developing pooling and sharing arrangements with European air lift initiatives.

Climate change 

The report identifies that climate change will be a “driver of conflicts due to environmental degradation and resource scarcity”.

It says climate change will impact on Defence Forces’ operational environment and that future personnel must be trained and equipped to operate under more extreme climate and weather conditions.

“The role of the Air Corps in dealing with wildland fires and of the Army in assisting flood victims in recent years is also important, and will almost certainly become much more so in the coming years as we deal with the already predictable consequences of climate change,” the report says.

It is likely that the Defence Forces will need to increase their awareness of the impact of climate change on security, as well as developing adaptation and mitigation measures.

“However, as military forces evolve to implement green technologies,such progression cannot result in military capabilities being degraded,” it says.

“In light of this, the Commission suggests that a more detailed analysis of green defence solutions is examined and assessed during the initial stages of capability development.”

Cyber security

An additional 100 in cyber defence specialists should be recruited to the Defence Forces.

It recommends “significantly strengthening the military intelligence and cyber defence capabilities of the Defence Forces, including through the creation of a Joint Cyber Defence Command”.

The share of expenses related to research and technology in the Defence budget should be increased to “deliver on cutting-edge defence capabilities to support national and European technological development and resilience, spanning areas such as artificial intelligence, cyber defence, unmanned systems and robotics”.

New Chief of Defence

A new position of Chief of Defence (CHOD) would command all military services.

The Chief of Defence “would be supported by a newly created Defence Forces’ Headquarters, as well as by three Service Chiefs of equal rank (covering the land, air and maritime domains), a new Vice CHOD / Joint Force Commander, and an externally recruited Head of Transformation”.

Additionally, a new senior soldier should be appointed from the enlisted non-officer ranks.

That soldier would sit on the defence staff in a new departure for the Irish military.

Cautious welcome

Both the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers and PDFORRA which represents the rank and file members of the Defence Forces welcomed the report. 

General Secretary Commandant Conor King of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) welcomed the report but said it makes for worrying reading.

King said that commitment to improvement from Government and senior management was now critical to allow Defence Forces personnel to believe in the project.

“We agree with the Commission’s assertion that the continuation of “business as usual” in terms of capability provision will leave this country without a credible military capability to protect Ireland, its people and its resources for any sustained period. This sobering analysis should be the springboard for the provision of adequate funding and resourcing for Óglaigh na hÉireann by government.” 

Raco welcomed the Commission’s call for essential change, however, it says implementation cannot be long-fingered in order to achieve the collective ambition of transformation. 

“The recommendations in this report will need to be pursued relentlessly, with strong external and parliamentary oversight. In this regard, the recommendation for an independent chair to oversee implementation is welcome and badly needed.  

“An ultimate sign of the Minister and government’s resolve in implementing improvements for the women and men of Óglaigh na hÉireann would be to immediately and without further delay implement the outstanding agreed commitments arising from the Public Service Pay Commission High-Level Plan,” he added.

Mark Keane, President  of PDFORRA said that discussions with military members is critical for the successful introduction of the report recommendations.  

“ PDFORRA, welcomes the observation within the Commission’s report  that the representative associations will be important in supporting the implementation process, and this will require routine engagement as they could play a very constructive role in championing the reform agenda.

Keane said that there must be immediate action by Government to permit PDFORRA and Raco access to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions as recommended by the Commission.

“While PDFORRA has actively engaged and has expressed our skepticism about the implementation of reforms in the past, it is now up to the Government to prove us wrong, and we will be happy if they do.

“The Commission has given us a creditable road map out of the current crisis, it now falls to the Government to provide the necessary resources to extract ourselves from the current crisis,” he said. 

With reporting by Niall O’Connor

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