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Row between two government departments over cost of ramping up Ireland's Defence spending

Simon Coveney was due to deliver an action plan on defence to Cabinet in June.

The Irish Army Ranger Wing on a recent NATO exercise.
The Irish Army Ranger Wing on a recent NATO exercise.
Image: Irish Defence Forces

THE DELAY IN bringing a memo to cabinet for the implementation of the Commission on Defence Forces recommendations has been blamed on friction between two Government departments, sources have said. 

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney was due to bring an action plan to the Cabinet in regard to the Commission at the start of this month. It is likely now to happen within the next two weeks. 

It has been pushed back as the Department of Defence (DOD) and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) engage in discussions on funding.

The Action Plan is understood to contain more than 60 sperate implementation goals. 

The Commission itself was appointed by Government to come up with a review of the state of the Defence Forces. It returned with an evidence based assessment of Ireland’s military which essentially said it was not fit for purpose. 

It called for a major investment in the three services, the Air Corps, Navy and Army along with recommendations set out in three levels of ambition. The Government are set to adopt a middle road with some of the most ambitious elements included. 

Those discussions between the two departments are said to be tense with one source saying that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are anxious to scale back the ambition of the proposals suggested by Minister Coveney, his team and Defence Forces command staff. 

Sources with knowledge of the discussions said that there had been significant progress on developing the implementation plan with the military and civil servants in the Department of Defence working closely together.

Minister Coveney has hailed the work and the DOD is pushing forward with a major investment in the Defence Forces. 

52167467121_4bc650188a_o Lt Gen Sean Clancy (on the far right) with Defence Secretary General Jacqui McCrum on his left at a recent NATO bomb disposal event. Source: Irish Defence Forces

Public Expenditure

But, according to multiple sources, the public expenditure department has placed a road block in the way of the plan and are trying to prevent the major investment in Defence. 

“These discussions are at a very sensitive stage. The issue centres around a multi-year funding model that DPER are refusing to commit to,” a source said. 

“The DOD are moving for a hugely ambitious plan and in fairness to them there has been a lot of criticism in the Defence Forces about the DOD in the past but this has been a breath of fresh air.

“The problem is DPER and their refusal to fund this on a multi year investment basis.”

It is understood that Coveney has continued to make representations to his cabinet colleague Michael McGrath, the Minister it the head of the DPER, but these have been difficult discussions.

Coveney and McGrath are election rivals based in the same Cork South Central constituency which has a large Defence Forces population due to the nearby Naval Base at Haulbowline and the army base at Collins Barracks.  

Coveney told the Dáil on Tuesday night that he hoped that the memo would be delivered to cabinet in the next two weeks.

Although he was not explicit in the difficulties faced by his department he did say that progress required an “interdepartmental discussion”.

In response to a question from Fianna Fáil’s Eamon O Cuiv, Coveney said: “All I can say to him is that I have given a commitment to bring to the Government recommendations from the commission report in the month of June.

We are at the end of June now, so that will be done very shortly – next week, I hope. If, however, we cannot get agreement next week, it will be the following week, but I hope to be able to do this shortly.

52167477733_b6618fe19d_o DOD General Secretary Jacqui McCrum and Lt Gen Sean Clancy. Source: Irish Defence Forces

The military had set up a dedicated “cell” in Defence Forces Headquarters manned by a small group of senior officers. They have been directly liaising with their civilian counterparts in the DOD to implement the recommendations of the report. 

Get this right

Coveney gave an insight into some of the work done by his department in his comments to the Dáil this week. 

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“There has been an enormous amount of work by both the Chief of Staff [Lt Gen Sean Clancy] and his team and by my Secretary General [Jacqui McCrum] and her team on trying to get this right.

“The civil-military co-operation in turning this commission report into an action plan is the single most impressive process of co-operation I have seen between civil and military in the Department of Defence, in my time anyway, and previously,” he said. 

The Minister said that there was a particularly strong working relationship between Clancy and McCrum to bring forward the “really credible and good report with a very strong evidence base”.

“This will cost a lot of money, and it is not easy to get a series of recommendations of this scale agreed. We are working with other Government colleagues to be able to do that as soon as we possibly can,” he told the Dáil. 

A statement from the Department of Defence confirmed that officials were hopeful it would go to cabinet before the summer recess. 

“Following publication of the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces on 9 February last, detailed consideration of its wide range of recommendations has been undertaken by the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces and this has included stakeholder consultation.  

“Arising from this process, the Minister for Defence intends to bring a Memorandum to Government containing a proposed response to the Commission’s recommendations, along with a High-level Action Plan, before the Summer recess,” a spokesman said. 

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, said his department and the DOD were working to find the funding. 

“I can assure you there isn’t any friction whatsoever. There are of course, ongoing discussions, that we’re making really good progress and I think we’ll bring that to a successful conclusion very shortly.

“It is timely now for the government to indicate its response to the Commission on defense forces and I think we will have a really strong package to say I expect that would be very shortly so myself and Minister Coveney and our two department have been working very collaboratively to bring that forward,” he said.

Updated at 15.28 with additional reporting from Christina Finn. 

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