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New Plan

Defence spending boost confirmed but doubt cast over several key reform proposals

A new high level action plan on the Defence Forces has been launched this morning.

LAST UPDATE | 13 Jul 2022

THE DEFENCE BUDGET is set to rise from €1.1 billion to €1.5 billion by 2028 in the wake of a major report but question marks have been placed over several of its landmark recommendations.

Cabinet agreed yesterday to go ahead with the largest increase in the defence budget in the history of the state.

The Government has approved a move to “Level of Ambition 2” (LOA2) – one of the scenarios for investment in Irish forces set out in a capability framework devised by the Commission on the Defence Forces, published in February – which will result in the defence budget rising to €1.5 billion.

However, a new high-level action plan by the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces in response to the Commission’s report has not accepted several of its key recommendations on hierarchy and equipment.

The Minister for Defence Simon Coveney – along with the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan – is launching the new defence plan at McKee Barracks in Dublin this morning. Senior members of the Defence Forces, including Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, are also in attendance.

Coveney said that the plan would see 6,000 extra troops, sailor and aircrew, over the next six years.

Speaking at the event, Coveney said that “quite simply, we have had historic underinvestment in defence”.

“Ireland is a palpable outlier when it comes to investment in our military by international and by European standards,” Coveney said, citing the Commission on the Defence Forces’ report.

He said that “while the Commission reported before the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the government’s decision to address the historic underfunding of the defence forces will inevitably be seen in the context of the fundamentally changed security and defence landscape across Europe”.

The government has said it will allow for the required transformation and investment in recruitment and equipment identified by the commission in its report earlier this year.

The move to LOA2 will require an additional 2,000 civil and military personnel over and above the current establishment of 9,500.

“It’s a program which will require a significant transformational change to address the culture of the defense forces to make it a working environment which is safe, where everybody is valued, where every member can trust the organisation, its processes and its structures,” Coveney said today.

“It will be a modern workplace where unacceptable behaviours are called out and transparently dealt with in the future, where a career progression based on merit is available for those with ability, ambition, and commitment, and where opportunities to be more and to realise their full potential are available to all members of defence forces regardless of rank.”

Defence Budget 004 Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and Transport Eamon Ryan; Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney; Taoiseach Micheál Martin; and Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Sean Clancy at McKee Barracks in Dublin today. Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

The Commission’s report outlined 130 recommendations. The action plan has accepted the majority of them – 48 fully and 55 “in principle” – with another 17 subject to further evaluation.

However, it is reverting to the government on 10 of the recommendations, including several top-line findings.

These include the creation of a chief of defence (CHOD) and the creation of a Defence Forces headquarters reporting to the CHOD, and that the army, air corps and navy should become services with service headquarters.

The action plan wants to revert to government on recommendations regarding a substantial mechanisation boost for infantry; that the navy would have a fleet of 12 with appropriate technology by 2040; that the air corps would develop air combat and intercept capability through acquiring a squadron of jet combat aircraft; and the implementation of an additional 200 cyber defence specialists.

Explaining why some actions have been labelled for reverting, the plan says that the recommendations from the Commission “include many that are complex in nature, have potential legislative changes and may require significant time to fully implement”.

“For example, it is the Minister’s intention to revert to Government on the proposed changes to the Defence Forces’ structures and, in particular, the reform of high-level Command and Control of the Defence Forces.

“This includes the creation of a Chief of Defence (CHOD), supported by a Vice CHOD, with the appropriate military Command and Control authority of the Defence Forces. Legal advice has been sought from the Attorney General.

“Clarification of the Minister’s role and the future role of the Department of Defence may be required following receipt of that advice.”

It said the minister favours the implementation of those recommendations subject to the advice from the Attorney General on any potential Constitutional and legal implications.

Defence Budget 009 Taoiseach Micheál Martin has a discussion with Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán Clancy in McKee Barracks with Brigadier General Tony Cudmore to the left. Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Lt General Clancy said that he situation in Ukraine, climate change and a broader shift in the geopolitical environment across the globe means that there is a need to strengthen Ireland’s defences.   

“These trends all point to the necessity to have a fit for purpose military and a very clear approach to defense and security within this State. Since the national army took their very first tentative steps onto our nation’s streets over 100 years ago, our people, the people of Óglaigh na hÉireann, here and have been the foundation of our organization’s success. This change process will be no different.

“Implementing the human resource initiatives of the action plan early in this process will allow us to develop it better offering a better career path for our people, support retention of our experienced people and our skills people and attract new people to join our defense forces, our ranks and to be able to be more.

“This in turn would provide a foundation that will facilitate and support implementation of the structures and capability aspects of the actual plan and thereby help to develop an agile, flexible and adaptive organisation capable of responding to those challenges that are current and those that we will face in the future,” he said. 

The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) said in a statement that it welcomes any investment in the Defence Forces but is still concerned about plans for pay.

The plan, according to the association, would see officers “treated less favourably than their enlisted colleagues in terms of Military Service and Instructor’s allowances”.

The association said: “This should have been a positive story for the Defence Forces. Any improvements in capability provision are welcomed, however, there can be no defence capability without people”. The statement added that the plan will fail without the buy-in of commissioned leaders.

Speaking in the Dáil, Independent TD and former member of the Defence Forces Dr Cathal Berry stressed the importance of the planned increase in numbers.

“The strength of our military is the lowest it has been for 50 years right now at less than 8,300 people. It has not been this low in half a century, and we need to get that number up,” he said, highlighting the departure of 203 people from the Defence Forces this year.

“That is ten people a week. That’s not turn-over Taoiseach, that is attrition and no organisation can put up with that level of attrition,” he said.

Commenting on the framework, the Taoiseach said: “The action plan we are launching today makes a clear commitment about our ambition for defence – just as our Defence Forces strengthen the nation, we must ensure that we strengthen our Defence Forces.

“This single biggest investment in the history of the state shows the Government’s strong commitment to urgently support the Defence Forces transition into a modern military force that is agile, with the appropriate capability, culture and values that reflect modern workplace and today’s Irish society.”

- Reporting by Niall O’Connor, Lauren Boland and Sarah McGuinness

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