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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 1°C
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Strategic gap

Missing in action: Ireland's national security strategy has been in the works since 2019

“There are multiple geopolitical risks at the moment… but yet all Ireland does is pay lip service to national security,” said TD Cathal Berry.

ALMOST FOUR YEARS after public consultation first started Ireland is yet to produce a National Security strategy, with one TD stating that it is a sign of a “major cultural problem” in official Ireland.

Security sources working in the sector said the document is a critical way to manage Ireland’s multiple agencies with responsibility for responding to threats. 

In December of last year Micheál Martin, who was then Taoiseach, said that the strategy was being worked on. Public consultation began in December 2019.

But questions The Journal asked this week about the progress on the document were left unanswered. 

One senior security source said that such a document would be a help to agencies to understand their specific role in a crisis. 

“Once this document is produced there would be no arguments or doubts about who is doing what. Agencies then will have defined roles and know exactly what they are working on.

“The most important aspect is that there would be deconfliction between the various bodies when responding to a crisis but also it could develop processes whereby gardaí would mix their capabilities better in situations with the military.

“It would also be helpful to departments such as the Department of Enterprise when pursuing investment or foreign direct investment possibilities with states which may or may not fit in with Ireland’s strategic goals,” the source explained. 

The source said there are concerns within the Irish security community about the delay and the risk that there may be a document drafted that does not cover what is needed. 

“The issue for all involved is that the concern is that a badly written strategy document could be as bad as not having one and we have, in the past, seen other documents that are so vague and ill-defined that they have muddied the waters,” a senior security source explained. 

Officials inside the Department of the Taoiseach have responsibility for national security management. The National Security Analysis Centre (NSAC) is based in the department.

NSAC is an incredibly secretive organisation. Efforts by this website to interview its officials have either been refused or just ignored. 

A spokesperson from the Department of the Taoiseach echoed comments by Micheál Martin in the Dáil last year. 

It said work is ongoing in drawing up the strategy and is being coordinated by the National Security Analysis Centre and draws on inputs from a range of relevant stakeholders.

“While progress was necessarily slowed by the pandemic, planning, consultation and analysis in preparing a draft strategy covering a broad range of national security issues has continued.

“Further work is ongoing to address more recent security, defence and international developments and their related impacts, notably the serious deterioration in the European security environment and the related political and economic impacts,” it said.

It also referenced the “growing impact of cyber and hybrid threats”.

“This work will also take account of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy and the implementation of recommendations from the Commission on the Defence Forces,” the statement said. 

1916 comemoration 375 Sam Boal Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Sam Boal

The Tánaiste, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, generally refuses to answer any questions about national security at press conferences, stating that the Government does not discuss the topic publicly. 

The Department of Defence referred our request for comment to the Department of the Taoiseach. 


In off-the-record chats with officials there are concerns expressed about the commitment of the Government given the length of the delay in preparing such a document here. 

But one former official who will speak and whose views are backed up with a detailed understanding having served as an officer in the national strategic asset of the Army Ranger Wing, is TD Cathal Berry. 

“The fact that there is no strategy document is part of a major cultural problem – it is the biggest security problem here – they simply don’t take it seriously.

“A perfect example of the risk is how the State took a cavalier approach to the banks and the consequence was the economic crash 15 years ago. No one believed there was a risk then and we are doing the same now with our security.

“The official that is responsible for this, through no fault of his own, has a number of other roles to fulfil also – the Government is treating this as if it is a part time job.

“There are multiple geopolitical risks at the moment, west Africa, Ukraine, the behaviour of countries like Russia and China – all of that is happening but yet all Ireland does is pay lip service to national security,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers said that is mirrored by other delays across the security sector.

“In December 2019, RACO made a comprehensive submission on behalf of its members to the public consultation on the development of a National Security Strategy.

“That one hasn’t materialised almost 4 years later is disappointing, but perhaps emblematic of the State’s general approach to Defence and Security.

“This is also evidenced by delays in implementation of crucial recommendations of the Defence White Paper, Pay Commission and  Commission on the Defence Forces, with serious consequences for morale, retention and capability,” the spokesperson said. 

National Security Analysis Centre

A source has told The Journal that the senior civil servant running NSAC is assisted by a small team of people with some occasional inputs by members of the military and the gardaí. 

In a 2021 Dáil debate Micheál Martin described the role of NSAC. 

He said it was established by the Government as part of the implementation of recommendations contained in the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. It was published in 2018.

This document looked at the modernisation and reform of the activities of An Garda Síochána. 

“Its primary remit is to provide high-quality, strategic analysis to the Taoiseach and Government of the key threats to Ireland’s national security.

“The strategic analysis of threats is undertaken by personnel seconded from the various Departments and other State bodies with functions in the security area, and through liaison and close co-ordination with those partner Departments and agencies, including the National Cyber Security Centre.

“There is also ongoing liaison with EU and international counterparts and others,” he said. 

Martin said the director of NSAC was appointed when it was formed and a Deputy Director joined in 2020.

“The work of the Centre is supported also by administrative personnel from the Department of the Taoiseach with salaries and operational costs where needed, funded from the Departments’ Vote,” he added. 

At the time Martin said that the centre had been active in 2021 in supporting aspects of the Government’s response to Covid-19 and in support and co-ordination for the Ministerial group overseeing the response to the cyber-attack on the HSE.

In December 2022 Martin again addressed questions about the National Security Strategy. 

He sought to reassure the Dáil that it is a “priority concern and the Government is carrying out very substantial work in building and sustaining our security and resilience across sectors, including justice, defence, the economy, energy and cyber”.

armed-garda-officers-at-ireland-west-airport-knock-in-county-mayo-ahead-of-the-arrival-of-us-president-joe-biden-on-the-last-day-of-his-visit-to-the-island-of-ireland-picture-date-friday-april-14 Alamy Stock Photo An Emergency Response Unit garda. Alamy Stock Photo

The then-Taoiseach said that the department were working on “drawing up a national security strategy”.

He admitted it had been “necessarily constrained by the Covid-19 pandemic” but stated that planning, consultation and analysis had continued. 

There was reference to the changing security environment with the invasion of Ukraine and that the work had been further side tracked.

Other similar nations have a developed national security strategy and a document to inform how state entities respond to threats. 

In recent weeks New Zealand, which has been going through a similar defence and security issue to Ireland as they struggle to staff their military, has published a new policy document. 

Writing in The Conversation, noted New Zealand professor of law Alexander Gillespie outlined how the Government went about its task.  

“The new strategy identifies 12 national security issues, ranging from terrorism and climate change to attempts to subvert New Zealand democracy. While no one challenge is expressly prioritised, there is a clear emphasis on geostrategic competition and the threats to a rules-based international system.

“Many of the assumptions about global and regional affairs that have underpinned New Zealand’s foreign policy for a generation or more are coming under real and sustained pressure.

“The rules-based order that has allowed the country to thrive peacefully is under stress. The risk of open conflict is heightened, with the wider Indo-Pacific region at the centre of geopolitical contests,” he wrote. 

He also echoed the security source’s concerns around economic factors, such as the expansion in the pacific of China. 

“There are also unpredictable but significant risks – especially economic ones – from those tensions, even without a descent into military conflict. And there is the potential for more than one negative event to occur at the same time,” he added. 

It is difficult to convince Irish officials in the various agencies to speak on any level on the intricacies of Ireland’s national security policy.

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