You cannot put a cost on respect and loyalty, so when it has come to the country’s Defence Forces, the Government has not valued them.
This younger generation of politician does not appreciate them. The President is aware of and understands the Defence Forces’ role and contribution, and has received unjustified criticism for his support of them.
It is a sad day then that Defence Forces retirees and the families of serving members found themselves on the streets across the nation throughout this past year having to defend the defenders of our nation’s democracy.
But we are all of us what we do, and matters have to be faced up to, things had to be done and had to be said. It is important to state that we are living in a changing Europe, a troubled world, and uncertain times. No one knows where Brexit will lead.
At such moments of instability, unpredictability, and threats, a well-resourced Defence Forces is needed, necessary, and non-negotiable.
Instead, the Irish State is woefully unprepared, dramatically undefended, and shamefully exposed. Instead, the Defence Forces is in crisis; morale is at an all-time low, numbers are at an all-time low, retention is at an all-time low. Instead, the ‘defence’ situation is critical.
Defence, in Ireland, is overlooked and undervalued, its Defence Forces underpaid, overworked, overstretched, and undermanned.
At home, the Defence Forces has defended democracy, ‘soldiered against subversion’, and secured the State against threat.
Abroad, the Defence Forces has protected the peace, stabilised dangerous situations, and saved thousands of lives. In so doing, the Defence Forces has hard-earned an envied and proud reputation for Ireland as a nation of good peacekeepers.
The Defence Forces will not be able to sustain this effort much longer. Meanwhile, Ireland is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council, there is a huge disconnect here!
So let me be clear, I am not saying the Defence Forces is distressed, I am not saying the Defence Forces is diminished, I am not saying the Defence Forces is damaged — I am saying the Defence Forces is broken. The neglect has gone beyond the tipping point where its effectiveness is broken. Its very architecture, structure, and organisation are broken.
The Defence Forces underwent eight reorganisations in 23 years; this rationalisation and rightsizing resulted in improved capabilities, it became self-sufficient and capable of deploying almost anywhere around the world. Arguably, its deployment with the European Force into Chad was the pinnacle of our peacekeeping participation to date.
The Defence Forces was pointed out as the poster boy of public service reform, the very exemplary epitome of how to achieve “more for less” in other State organisations.
Then came the 2012 reorganisation, which was a complete disaster, conducted as it was on the basis of cost and politics, with not one thought about operational effectiveness.
The Defence Forces chief of staff is responsible for its military effectiveness, an impossible task when constantly undermined by Department of Defence officials who hold decision powers over him. This needs to change, capabilities need to be restored, manpower needs to be restored, pay needs to be restored.
The Defence Forces architecture, structure, and organisation need to be restored, respect and loyalty need to be restored. The Defence Forces soldiers, sailors, airmen, and their families need to be shown respect. Political will is the ultimate arbitrator, it will manifest itself in political leadership.
Leadership dictates that when something is not broken, do not fix it; however, when it is broken, do fix it. Political will and political leadership are needed now.
The 2012 Defence Forces Review undertaken before the white and green papers on defence effectively downgraded the Defence Forces to its current desperate state.
This state is one of a policy of defence ‘pretence’ rather than one which sees a fit-for-purpose Defence Forces ready to respond. ‘Pretence’ will not answer the challenges of a changing Europe, the threats of a troubled world, or difficulties and dangers in uncertain times.
The Defence Forces has to operate in the real world, while the Government operates in the half-world of pretence, perception, and PR spin.
I and my Defence Forces comrades took an oath of allegiance to protect this country and the people in it. I and my Defence Force colleagues, and their families, made many sacrifices to live up to the obligations contained in that oath of allegiance.
I and my colleagues buried 90 of our comrades who lost their lives in the line of this service. They and their families deserve a better legacy than for us to leave this highly unsatisfactory, indeed unsafe, situation, one also of grave disrespect and lack of loyalty, go unanswered.
They gave their future for a better future. Let us now ensure our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and their families have that future.
Since the foundation of the State, the Defence Forces has contracted and expanded, responding to different crises. This situation, however, is unprecedented, the disrespect is unimagined, the lack of loyalty is unacceptable, the exposure to uncertainty is unsafe.
Lieutenant Colonel (retired)
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 31 December 2019.