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Airman Sam Gibney/Irish Defence Forces
Sean Clancy

Military chief on Defence Forces overhaul: 'It's a marathon - not a sprint'

Lietenant General Sean Clancy was speaking following the publication of the Commission on the Defence Forces Action Plan.

THE CHIEF OF Staff of the Defence Forces said that the Government Action Plan is a major step change for the organisation, but cautioned that it will take time to implement.

The government launched a new defence plan today at McKee Barracks, which would see 6,000 extra troops, sailor and aircrew, over the next six years. Cabinet also agreed yesterday to go ahead with the largest increase in the defence budget in the history of the state, bringing it from €1.1 billion to €1.5 billion by 2028.

The increase was one of the scenarios for investment in Irish forces set out in a capability framework devised by the Commission on the Defence Forces in February.

Lieutenant General Sean Clancy, speaking at McKee Barracks earlier, said that although some measures are still be considered and added that they will not go unfulfilled – there will be implementation.

Clancy said there will be a lot of work to make the plan a reality and added it will take time but he was satisfied with the strategy. 

Clancy added: “To recognise the significance of the step that’s been taken, shouldn’t be underestimated – the resources were there to back it. These were always my bottom lines.

“They’ve all been delivered by the Cabinet to us. So now our job is to deliver it in return in terms of transformation. So I’m very satisfied.

“This is a marathon not a sprint. It’s a huge step change. We’ve spoken to people the length and breadth of the Defense Forces on my own ministry and the appetite is clearly there. I think we’re in a really seminal moment,” he said.

The action plan lists out the 130 recommendations made by the Commission on Defence Forces and these measures are then categorised into varying degrees of likely implementation. 

The rest are broken down into “accept in principle” which means that further consideration must be carried out on how to implement and “further evaluation” means that while it is a desirable measure it needs further examination.

Finally “revert” means it will go back to Government at a later time to examine the recommendation. 

Clancy said that there is no question that it will just be the 38 of the 130 recommendations contained in the Action Plan. 

He said that some of the recommendations will require changes in legislation – especially in the decision to create a Chief of Defence (CHOD). 

The Chief of Defence would have a greater control over military expenditure and command than the current Chief of Staff role. It would modernise the Irish Defence apparatus to align with international best practice. 

The CHOD post has been marked as “revert” in the action plan. 

The Chief of Staff said that there is a need for further evaluation to understand the intent of the military move.

He said there will need to be fresh consideration of cost, the effect on Government and then military leaders will make a detailed case for its implementation.

He used the example of the CHOD which he said “was hugely impactful in terms of legislation” and how the current command and control system would have to be changed – perhaps with new military legislation. 

New laws may need to be drafted to give such powers to a person outside of Government – much of the power to manage the finances of the Defence Forces is retained by civil servants in the Department of Defence at present.  

The arrival of a CHOD would see some of these powers given to that Defence Chief. 

“And that is a significant change that will require us to revert back to government to ensure government are satisfied that the changes we propose are what they would expect.

“I think anyone would expect us to do that. So the totality of the recommendations in effect will be implemented. It’s just the timing and the planning and the sequencing of that implementation will be important,” he explained. 

52213988770_a3909c8c2b_o Sean Clancy delivering a speech at McKee Barracks at the launch of the Government Action plan. Airman Sam Gibney Airman Sam Gibney

Clancy said that he is satisfied with the action plan’s focus on the 50% budget increase which matches the middle level of ambition as recommended by the Commission.

Earlier Minister for Defence Simon Coveney had said that the plan was for the Defence Forces to complete the transformation up to 2028 so that it is fit for purpose.

After that it would then look at expanding that ambition into the highest level which could include more ambitious plans. One category in that section of the report suggested the purchase of fighter jets for the Air Corps.     

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