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brian molloy

Change agent: Meet the civilian tasked with leading the transformation of Ireland's armed forces

Brian Molloy sat down this week with The Journal to speak about the biggest organisational reimaging in the history of the State.

THE HEAD OF the Irish Defence Forces change programme has said completing the huge project by the 2028 deadline will be “very challenging” but the ordered military culture will be key to pushing it through.

Brian Molloy sat down this week with The Journal to speak about the biggest organisational reimaging in the history of the State.

He spoke about how the mammoth task will see cultural, organisational, structural, operational and digital transformation across the Air Corps, Army and Naval Service. 

The process must all be realised by 2028.

“Getting to there from where we are now is going to involve just a remarkable degree of change across every aspect of how we operate,” he said. 

The project will see cultural changes to bring the Irish Defence Forces into the modern era as a modern and inclusive employer, there’ll be a change to promotions and management structures, how the military are organised and deployed as well as a major digital modernisation.

Ultimately there are more than 130 individual tasks to be completed and Molloy is the ringmaster of that enterprise. 

But Molloy is no stranger to huge projects. He took up his new role in June having spent time in a senior position in the Department of Social Protection. 

He had also worked in the private sector in financial services delivering change and transformation projects.

This diverse career included spending time in the UK on a major project with a financial institution on a transformation programme and was the head of a stem cell company – his CV reads like a man focused on an array of successful bouts of major project managing. 

Molloy has no background in service in the Defence Forces but has a large number of family members, going back generations, who served in An Garda Síochána.

His role now is a key recommendation in the Commission on the Defence Forces (CODF) – a study which identified critical shortcomings in the Irish military’s resourcing, staffing and equipment.

Last year was a busy one for reports with the CODF and the Independent Review Group which looked at allegations of bullying and assaults in the Irish Defence Forces. 

Molloy’s task is to implement the High Level Action Plan and devised the strategy to push through the change needed to bring Irish army, navy and Air Corps up to the required standard. He reports directly to the Chief of Staff and is a civilian on the senior leadership team of the Irish Defence Forces. 

Molloy’s job came out of the landmark Commission on the Defence Forces. The document that looked at the failings and degradation of the Irish military over a lack of investment and resourcing and ineffective staffing management.

Breaking with tradition

When we met him in McKee Barracks he was one of the only people not wearing a uniform – a civilian in a traditional military world – a big break from convention.

But Molloy referenced the importance of military tradition – one key consideration for him is how that culture fits into the change programme. 

“You get that [tradition] in every organisation. So that change is difficult and fundamental levels of change, which is what we’re talking about here, is extremely difficult.

“From a day-to-day operational perspective, the way we operate is going to be different, the way careers are managed, the way promotions are offered and are dealt with is going to be different, the career and talent management process is going to be different,” he added. 

One key driving force, repeatedly mentioned by Molloy in the interview is the security of “political buy in”. He said that the Tánaiste Micheál Martin’s support has been a key enabler for him to go about his work. 

53500290775_c53cb15c14_o An Irish Army recruit in training. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

‘Has to be done right’

He also repeatedly mentioned that while there are major issues around recruitment and retention of staff that the message must go out that the change programme is not just about capability building but also about showing the importance of shifting a culture and work environment.

“We have to make sure it is done right, and that’s why retention is such a big focus in terms of the transformation program, and from the strategic HR perspective, is to make the defense forces attractive for those people that we already have, that we’ve invested money in, we’ve invested time in and they have given a huge amount of service to us to make sure that we’re providing them with an environment and what opportunities that are attractive for them to continue their career,” he added. 

Molloy said that one key area is to get the message out that the Irish Defence Forces is much more than just straight military service.

He said young people have a range of options to fulfil their interests – using examples of cyber security, medics and engineering all set to grow in complexity and range within the change programme. As part of that they will undergo major training and have college courses paid for while being paid a wage. 

Stating that military service may be a solution to many in a cost of living crisis as accomodation and food costs are all covered in service. 

Molloy said the Detailed Implementation Plan, published in November, sets out in clear detail a rigid timeline to realise the major capability deadlines. 

These deadlines include a primary radar project to give Ireland, for the first time, an ability to monitor its airspace and the seas. It also includes more modern armoured vehicles, better ships and a fleet of new aircraft. 

One key organisational effort to get those projects across the line is the establishment of a joint civil service and military team whose sole task is to deliver on those key capability projects.

The projects are divided up so that there is a senior officer from Irish Defence Forces and an official from the Department of Defence working together to make the plan a reality. 

There have also been recent meetings with An Garda Síochána and Microsoft – two entities engaged in major transformation projects. 

Molloy used the word “owner” to denote those officials who are tasked with delivering it – all by 2028.

53410893127_642802371b_o An Irish Naval Service Guard of Honour. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

Ambition

The ambition is huge, he said, but he believes it is achievable. He believes there is a “relationship between the resource capability and the retention piece”. 

When asked is there any particular element that gives him sleepless nights he joked: “All of them”.

“The reality is the deadlines and the time period that we’re operating to is hugely challenging. The breadth of the transformation is phenomenal. 

“One of the biggest difficulties we have is implementing all of these transformations, when we’re already under resourced in terms of the numbers [of people] that we have, compared to where we want to be, and getting the new numbers up, takes a resource in itself,” he added. 

There has been some criticism in recent months of the pace of change but Molloy answers simply: “judge us on what we deliver.”

Molloy stressed, using his private sector experience, that it is a “huge ask” but he believes that it will be achieved using the commitment of the military. 

“We need to transform but to achieve what has been committed to by the Government is a huge ask – there’s a huge commitment to doing it.

“In terms of that military culture of: if you’re asked to do it you do it, if you’re tasked with it you do it, and there is that willingness to take things on and make sure that they’re actually done, and probably more than would be possible in a private sector environment,” he said. 

To read more from The Journal on the path from the Commission on the Defence Forces to the Action Plan click here. And to read the action plan with its timelines of delivery follow this link.

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