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The launch of the report at the Curragh this afternoon

Report detailing military weaknesses sends clear and 'blunt' message to govt - Coveney

A new report calls for major increases in Government spending on the Defence Forces.

THE MINISTER FOR Defence will need to make a “persuasive political argument” to secure additional funding for the Defence Forces.

The report “bluntly” puts it up to government to respond to critical gaps, the minister said this afternoon.

A new report published today by the Commission on the Defence Forces makes detailed recommendations on how to raise the forces’ capabilities, including an expansion in funding from the government.

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. 

Speaking to reporters at the launch of the report, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney said he will need turn the report’s recommendations into a “persuasive political argument” to secure the funding.

Coveney said he was “under no illusions” about current capacity constraints for the Defence Forces and that he was not surprised by the report’s findings.

“When we were trying to get Irish citizens out of Kabul, many people questioned why we didn’t have a long-range strategic lift capacity to be able to go and get people ourselves, why we had to rely on other countries in terms of seats on planes,” the minister said.

“People have also asked the question around why don’t we have a full picture of what’s happening off our west coast in terms of air and sea, and so we’re looking at radar capacity, land-based radar capacity in that regard,” he said.

These are practical things that the Commission has put on paper and bluntly puts it up to Government in terms of the need for response.

“My job is to turn that argument into a persuasive political argument so that when we are competing for finite resources, in the context of budgets, that these issues need to be prioritised.

“And in my view, as Minister for Defence, they absolutely need to be, because any modern, sovereign, independent state, particularly a state that is not aligned militarily, has got to have at least basic capacity in terms of their responsibilities both at home and abroad.”

image_from_ios Members of the Defence Forces at the Curragh Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

The Journal asked Coveney whether there is a possibility that barracks will be sold to fund some of the new measures.

He said that is “not on [his] radar”.

“I don’t think so. I mean, there’s no recommendation in this report for the closure of any barracks,” Coveney said.

“I think this one of the really challenging things in this report will actually be for the Chief of Staff and his new Chief of Army to restructure the army on a regional base model around the country based on international best practice that the Commission has looked at.

“That will be a big challenge. But I don’t envisage closure of barracks as part of that process.

“I think we need the barracks that we have and we hope to have a lot more personnel in the Defence Forces.

“We’re going to need barracks and training facilities for all those extra people, which is why I don’t envisage shrinking the footprint. If anything, we’ll be increasing it.”

Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Seán Clancy said that the government will need to properly fund the Defence Forces for it to be able to carry out its responsibilities.

“In terms of resources, I think we can all agree that there’s levels of ambition that have been set down, and whatever the government decides for the defence forces in terms of policy and what tasks it would like it to fulfil, then that has to be adequately resourced,” Clancy said.

Without those resources, it’s simply not credible to ask the Defence Force to do something without appropriate resourcing.

“If we get the resourcing, then we can build and achieve what the government wants us to do.”

New threats

The Commission’s report identifies multiple threats that face the Defence Forces, including cyber security risks.

It recommends significantly strengthening military intelligence and cyber defence capabilities and creating a Joint Cyber Defence Command.

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

Minister Coveney said that “in terms of new threats, the cyber threat is perhaps one that is both new and really significant”.

“We know that. We know what happens when our health system gets targeted by a cyber attack. It’s devastating and people’s lives are put at risk,” he said.

“This idea that because Ireland is neutral, because we’re on the western shores of the European Union, because we don’t have any enemies – in terms of, certainly, no perceived enemies anyway – that somehow we don’t have to invest in defence, that is a very naive view that that is challenged very strongly in this report.”

Lieutenant General Clancy said that among the key elements of the report are “human resources and structures around human resources”.

“The cultural change that’s required in the defence forces, I’m determined to lead and deliver on that, as are all members of the Defence Forces,” he said.

“Overall, the resources have to be delivered in order to deliver the capabilities which are assigned to it.”

With reporting by Niall O’Connor

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