Department 'interfering' in Defence Forces operations

The LÉ Eithne rescues refugees in the Mediterranean Sea as part of the Defence Forces mission there.

Penny-pinching Department of Defence (DoD) officials are “micro-managing” operations, even though most have no military experience, it has been claimed writes Sean O’Riordan.

Details of the perceived interference in daily defence forces operations have been laid bare in a report compiled by academics from the University of Limerick (UL).

This focused on interviews with 600 participants, ranging from senior officers, NCOs and privates in the Army, to Naval Service and Air Corps personnel.

Participants perceived the relationship as a power struggle, with the balance in the hands of the Department of Defence.

Many said that senior defence force leadership were unwilling or unable to ‘take on’ the department officials and that senior management was not representing the forces in this power play.

“There is an unwillingness to take on the department — no-one in general staff is standing up and banging the table,” one senior officer said.

“Senior management are hamstrung by the DoD,” added a private, while a junior officer said: “We are an inconvenience to the Department of Defence.”

Another senior officer called the DoD “the department for the suppression of defence costs.” He described the relationship between the two as his biggest bugbear, adding that officials see defence forces personnel as civil servants and do not recognise that they are doing a different job.

“What they [DoD] are interested in is money — they are not, to my mind, really interested in capability and enhancing capability,” said the senior officer. “They certainly don’t have any awareness, for an organisation that’s working hand in glove with us should, of how we operate or what we’re about. Some of these people are working there for 20 years and they still don’t get us.”

All ranks claimed they were hampered by DoD involvement and that control and autonomy were being eroded. An example was given by a senior Naval Service officer.

“We have got to the point, in the navy, that even if we want to put a ship alongside a port, we have to get permission from naval operations, who have to get permission from the Department of Defence, for reasons unknown to us. We are being micro-managed,” he said.

A spokesman for RACO, the representative association which represents defence force officers, made the following statement for the UL report: “Our government treat the defence forces like bone china in the grandmother’s dresser — lovely to look at, take it out now and then when you need it, but, at the end of the day, it’s not really that important.”

Those surveyed expressed a growing concern that the defence forces were saying yes to things they could no longer deliver on, given the limited resources.

“The defence forces have a culture of saying ‘yes’ to everything and everyone, even when we do not have the resources to do so.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner newspaper.

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