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Sunday 24 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Irish Defence Forces Simon Coveney, Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs, discusses drone technology with Irish manufacturers.
Coveney: 'No arms industry' but Ireland should explore military trade opportunities
The event, entitled “Building the ecosystem, Identifying connections for collaborations in security, defence and dual-use technologies”, was held in the Aviva Stadium.

THE MINISTER FOR Defence, Simon Coveney, wants to see greater involvement by Irish companies in the global military industry.

Coveney was speaking at an event in Dublin yesterday in which companies in the Irish defence sector met to discuss growth possibilities. 

He also called for an ‘honest discussion’ around Ireland’s defence capabilities, telling the audience that a collective EU response is required because of the current threats to national security. 

The event, entitled “Building the ecosystem, Identifying connections for collaborations in security, defence and dual-use technologies”, was held in the Aviva Stadium. 

The embassies of the Czech Republic and Finland along with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Defence Forces attended.

The Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Chief of Staff Lt Gen Sean Clancy also spoke to participants and viewed exhibits which included drone, secure radio and bomb disposal technology. 

Speaking to delegates, Coveney said that the event was designed to build alliances and partnerships in the sector.   

“I am pretty sure that the conversations that many of you have will be about building relationships between entities and companies and SMEs and academics in Ireland and counterparts in other parts of Europe so that we can build partnerships/ alliances that together build the kind of technologies that can ensure that we can keep our Defence Forces safe when they’re deployed abroad.

“(It will) ensure that we can respond collectively, as a European Union, and as individual member states to the increasingly complex threats that we ask our security forces and our defense forces to deal with on a monthly and annual basis,” he said. 

Coveney said that he believes there is an urgency in how Ireland will have to respond to the current national security threat environment. 

“In many ways, this is a technological race, where states need to be ahead of those that want to undermine the systems and stability that we live by and Ireland is no different to other countries.

“Yes, we are not aligned militarily. Yes, we are neutral in that regard, although we are not neutral on many conflicts in different parts of the world,” he added. 

Although he noted that Ireland does not have an “arms industry”, he said its capacity to contribute to the defence industry is “extraordinary”.

Coveney said the presence of some of the world’s largest companies in Ireland means that there is a skill set in the workforce that can be turned to exploit defence possibilities. 

“So, as Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs, I want us to explore those opportunities in a way that’s responsible, and a way that’s consistent with Irish foreign policy,” he added. 

IMG_2605 Niall O'Connor / The Journal Julie Behan and Roy Geraghty of Reamda which builds bomb disposal robot technology. Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Defence storm

Pat O’Connor, a former Irish army officer and chairman of the Irish Defence and Security Association, said that Ireland would suffer from the “storm” of global instability, the war in Ukraine and “climate collapse”. 

“As a nation, Ireland has to look at that storm that is gathered and decide what we’re going to do to protect our society, our people and our economy.

“Of course, we need to do this in a way that aligns with our national values, traditional peacekeeping and military neutrality, while protecting, promoting and sustaining our national advantage as a global hub of technology and talent.

“The Irish Defense and Security Association was established in order to support Ireland to develop the capability it needs to protect our society, our people and our economy in the face of these growing threats,” he said. 

O’Connor said that he believed that indigenous Irish companies, working in the defence sector, were critical to building Ireland’s defence capacity.

“We are small and medium enterprises, we are research organisations and international partners, who share concerns about Ireland’s vulnerability, but also share optimism that the vulnerability can be changed, can be mitigated and also turn it into a benefit for Ireland,” he added. 

Last week’s budget announced a €1.174 billion allocation to Defence Group funding – an increase of €67 million on the 2022 amount.

O’Connor said his organisation assesses that Ireland will spend €2.5 billion on defence in the next 10 years. He believes that Irish companies should profit from that increased spending. 

“That will be ships, vehicles, aircraft, primary radar and cyber. So what we want to see is that spend, which is coming from the Irish taxpayer, also have a positive impact on the Irish economy. So that means we need to see greater industrial participation.

“We’re trying to ensure is that those international players are partnering with Irish, small and medium enterprises right across the country,” he added. 

The Journal spoke to some of the exhibitors, including Tralee-based company Reamda which builds bomb disposal robots.

Julie Behan, director of research and development at the company, said their firm is the sole supplier of bomb disposal vehicles to the Defence Forces.

“We have a very close research relationship with the Defence Forces and they come to us and say to us that the arm on the robot should be a particular shape for example. 

“They have been crucial for the development of our company. In terms of manufacturing we keep a lot of it local and for recruitment we can get a lot of local talent,” she said. 

IMG_2595 Niall O'Connor / The Journal Ciaran O'Callaghan of A-techSYN drone company. Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal


Another exhibitor was A-techSYN, a drone manufacturer based in Shannon, Co Clare. 

Ciaran O’Callaghan, head of aviation, flight operations and safety, said his company are examining a project with the Irish navy in which drones can be launched from ships at sea.

He said that the drone, which can take off vertically, can be fitted with gimbles to allow it carry payloads for medical and rescue services such as the Coast Guard.

“Beyond Ireland, we are actively engaged in the UK, in Denmark and Greenland so there are a lot of interest in this particular aircraft but there is also a lot of interest in A-techSYN as a company.

“It is a great opportunity to showcase what we can do here in Ireland and what we can do in terms of manufacturing and development and we had a very good week at Farnborough (airshow) where we advertised our wears on the Enterprise Ireland stand which generated a lot of interest. 

“It is a very exciting space to be in,” he said. 

Despite the positive noises from those in the industry, not everyone was happy about such a seminar taking place. 

A group of approximately 20 protesters held banners in a peaceful demonstration outside the doors of the Aviva. 

Joe Murray of Afri, an Irish peace campaign group, said they wanted to protest the holding of the conference. 

“We’re here protesting this event that’s going on which is perversely named building the ecosystem,” he told The Journal.

“This event is a stage along the way to developing a weapons industry in Ireland,” he said. 

IMG_2603 Niall O'Connor / The Journal Joe Murray with other protestors outside the Aviva. Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Murray said that the Irish Government should not be engaging with the sector.

“Ireland has been a country in the past that has promoted peace, that has been neutral that has taken part in peacekeeping operations and that has not been involved in the weapons industry.

“Here we have a government making a deliberate decision to get involved in this industry. We believe that that’s obscene, it’s perverse, and it is against the will of the majority of the Irish people,” he said. 

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