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Army soldiers on training exercises in the Curragh. (File photo) Eamonn Farrell/

Taoiseach says Defence Forces members 'stand ready' to support civil authorities if necessary

Members have been told to be prepared to provide assistance to civil authorities.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Mar 2020

THE DEFENCE FORCES stand ready to support civil authorities if necessary, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Speaking to the media in Washington DC following his meeting with US President Donald Trump, he said the chief of staff of the defence forces as well as the Garda Commissioner have been briefed about plans “over the last few weeks”.

When asked specifically about whether they will help with quarantine zones, Varadkar said he could not go into detail about the plans. 

Covid-19 was added to the existing list of notifiable diseases in Ireland after Minister for Health Simon Harris signed the Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Regulations 2020 three weeks ago.

Provisions were already in place to allow for the quarantining of people with other infectious diseases such as TB, smallpox and cholera, however coronavirus has been added to the list. 

Members of the defence forces have been told to report to barracks from Monday and to be on standby to support civil authorities.

The move was confirmed this afternoon following the unprecedented decision taken by the Irish government to shut schools and public facilities as a response to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

It’s understood that members will be on standby in their barracks to provide whatever support is deemed necessary during the upcoming weeks. 

Members will likely be involved in Aid to the Civil Authority (ATCA) operations, which are nationwide assistance operations, similar to that provided during events such as extreme weather or during the Pope’s visit in 2018. 

Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) Operations are security operations to assist gardaí but the Defence Forces has not said this is to be expected. 

In a statement this afternoon, the Defence Forces said: 

We confirms that we have notified our personnel of the impending change to our force posture and all non-essential activities have been suspended. Our focus now is to maximise our preparedness to respond to requests for assistance from the Civil Authorities. Protecting our personnel is our priority and is key to maintaining our capability to provide support to communities and civil authorities, when requested.

“For operational security reasons, we will not comment on specific dispositions of troops or on internal unit procedures at this time,” the statement added. 

A notice issued to Defence Forces members and circulated online told members to be ready for “an IMMEDIATE NOTICE TO MOVE” and to prepare a pack for 72 hours in the field that should be brought to barracks from Monday 16 March.

The pack should include wet gear, warm gear, 72-hour rations, water, a sleeping bag, a roll mat, a change of clothes, a hygiene kit and a first aid kit.

Speaking about the potential deployment of personnel, security analyst and former Defence Forces officer Tom Clonan described the type of operations that may take place:

I imagine, they’ll be involved in these things like if there’s. If there are any gaps in like public transport or emergency response or supply chain logistics. That’s where the army would step in and they can also help out with paramedics and things. 

“One of the strengths that the army has is that they do most of the things that are carried out in civil society. Dentistry, nursing, supply chain logistics, engineering, so they’ll just be on standby to provide whatever support he government might need.”

With reporting from Christina Finn in Washington DC

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