‘Fund Defence to prevent terror attacks’ says Simon Coveney

A group representing Ireland’s military officers has warned Government it must immediately give the Defence Forces the necessary funding to prevent fundamentalist terrorist attacks on this country.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney at the launch of the Government's white paper on Defence in Dublin Castle. The document outlines aseries of reforms planned for the Defence Forces over the next decade.
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney at the launch of the Government's white paper on Defence in Dublin Castle. The document outlines a series of reforms planned for the Defence Forces over the next decade.

The Representative Association of Commissioned Offices (RACO) said resource deficiencies highlighted in the White Paper on Defence need to be addressed immediately as potential threats to the nation’s security have been clearly identified.

Speaking as Defence Minister Simon Coveney published the Government document outlining a series of reforms planned for the vital sector over the next decade, the frontline group insisted improvements need to take place now.

While welcoming the ministerial focus on the issue, the group said the proposals will never see the light of day unless the required funding was made available.

“The security threat does not arrive on your doorstep when it suits you. It is the responsibility of the State to provide a real and robust response to mitigate such threats continually.

“You must always be prepared, equipped, trained and tested to deliver these complex range of military capabilities,” warned RACO secretary general Comdt Earnan Naughton.

Despite backing a promised policy to properly support armed forces members who are seriously injured on duty, Comdt Naughton said his association had concerns about references to Defence Forces’ skills shortages and an increase in civilian officer numbers.

He said military personnel are uniquely qualified to perform all specialist roles within the Defence Forces in every capacity, without outside help.

“The motivation for such an initiative is questionable,” Condt Naughton said.

As part of the white paper, which is only the second ever document of its kind for the country following a similar report in 2000, the number of women in the Defence Forces — currently just 6% of all members — will be doubled, while a commitment has been made not to reduce overall numbers or close more barracks.

The specialist Army Ranger unit will also be extended in addition to a specialist unit to combat gender-based violence in conflict zones.

While a new training body will be established at the Curragh to act as a recruitment and employment support scheme for young people from disadvantaged areas, concerns have been raised over the fact a large number of current would-be recruits are failing existing fitness tests which include performing just 20 press-ups in a minute.

At the launch of the document at Dublin Castle yesterday, Mr Coveney said the “conventional threats” previously associated with the Defence Forces such as conventional warfare, invasion of countries and other matters have now been overtaken by a new “security environment”.

“What we have now are issues like mass migration, extremism and fundamentalism, international terrorism, climate change, international crime, cyber security, the use of technology to effectively attack a country in different ways.

“So what this white paper is about is a detailed, across-government assessment of the threats likely to affect Ireland over the next 10 to 20 years and then what we need to do to respond to that comprehensively,” he said.

Asked about funding issues, the Fine Gael minister pointedly noted the plans can only be implemented if money was made available.

Meanwhile, he called on “the EU as a whole” to address the escalating migrant crisis on our doorstep in the Mediterranean — despite insisting Ireland was already taking enough people into this country.

He raised concerns over Hungary “building walls with razor wire to keep migrants out” while some countries are saying they won’t take a single refugee at a time when “others are taking a generous and open approach”.

Air Corps

The Air Corps currently has two long-range Casa CN 235 maritime patrol aircraft, which entered service in 1994 and operate seven days a week. They provide surveillance cover for an area of approximately 132,000 square miles, or 16% of the total EU sea fisheries.

The minister said they are due for replacement in 2019.

The Air Corps also operates seven propeller-powered Pilatus PC-9M aircraft.

They provide a very limited air to air and air to ground combat capacity and these are due for replacement in 2025. There is no mention in the White Paper of the Air Corps getting any jet aircraft into the future.

Lack of proper air defence cover was highlighted recently when Russian “Bear” long-range bombers, which can carry a nuclear payload, flew twice into Irish-controlled airspace and on one occasions forced commercial flights to be diverted and others to be grounded.

They were chased out of British-controlled airspace by RAF Typhoons.

The Pilatus PC-9M aircraft could neither attain the ceiling or speed to intercept the Russian bombers, even though they are propeller-powered aircraft from the Soviet era.

Proper radar capabilities are also lacking in the Air Corps. Mr Coveney said should additional funding be forthcoming tackling the deficiency would be a priority.

Navy

It’s highly likely the three new navy ships to be ordered will be bigger than those currently in use. One at least will be equipped to handle helicopters, with the others large enough to also act as troop-carriers, possibly catering for a company (120 soldiers.) This would be in line with Minister Coveney’s intention to get the Naval Service more involved in overseas missions, especially following the success of the current humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean Sea, where to date both LÉ Eithne and LÉ Niamh have saved more than 5,000 migrants.

LÉ Eithne has a helicopter landing pad, used by the Air Corps for operations in the 1980s and 1990s before being discontinued.

She is the largest ship, tonnage-wise in the navy, although 10m shorter than the newly arrived vessels LÉ Samuel Beckett and LÉ James Joyce.

LÉ William Butler Yeats, due to arrive next spring, will replace the ageing LÉ Aisling.

The three ships, which will be purchased in the coming years, are likely to replace LÉ Eithne, LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla all built in 1984.

Larger ships will give the navy the capability to travel longer distances and remain at sea during particularly rough weather.

At present some of its smaller ship have to take shelter in bays if weather in the Atlantic becomes stormy.

Army

The reduction from three brigades to two in 2012 will be maintained.

A rapid deployment force of company-strength (120 troops) will also be maintained for emergency situations overseas.

The elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW), which was formed in 1969, will be increased from 100 to 150.

A study is under way to examine what will happen to the current fleet of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). It will identify whether a life- extension programme, replacement programme or another alternative, is the most cost effective option.

A small number of new armoured logistic vehicles for overseas missions are to be purchased.

Minister Coveney said in the event of additional funding becoming available, beyond that required to maintain existing capabilities, additional APCs and Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles would be purchased in the future.

He said there is need to carry out major building refurbishment at McKee Barracks and the Curragh Camp. But the cost of carrying out the work cannot be met from existing funding.

Recruitment is ongoing for 350 army personnel at present. This will bring the strength of the Defence Forces up to the agreed minimum of 9,500.

Gender issues

Minister Coveney said he was committed to increasing the percentage of women serving in the Permanent Defence Forces (PDF).

The number of women serving as of 31 December last amounted to 563, which was just 6.1% of the overall strength of the PDF on that date.

The number of women serving in the Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve on the same date was 363. This is 16.8% of the Reserves.

Mr Coveney said the Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities.

He said the Defence Forces have no restrictions as regards the assignment of men or women to the full range of operational and administrative duties and all promotions and career courses are open to both genders on merit.

Over the course of the next 10 years further initiatives will be developed to encourage more women to apply and to increase female participation at all ranks. This will include a survey to identify any impediments to the advancement of women, including the impact of the requirements of career courses and overseas service.service on female retention and advancement.


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