Conflict reigniting in the North due to Brexit or a border poll is “highly possible”, the representative body for officers of the Defence Forces says.
The body also says that the lack of air defence capabilities means that Irish airspace is the “weak underbelly” of Europe — an issue exposed in the last week by Russian bomber planes entering Irish-controlled airspace, sparking the scrambling of British RAF fighter jets to intercept them.
In a submission to the country’s national security strategy, RACO (Representative Association of Commissioned Officers) made a series of calls:
*A new Minister for Defence and Security;
*A new civilian intelligence agency to take over the functions of the Defence Forces and Gardaí;
*An underwater maritime capability to protect transatlantic cables passing through or near Irish waters;
*A new Cyber Defence Unit within the Defence Forces
RACO said that with Brexit, Ireland could be seen by organised crime as a “back door” into both the EU and Britain for smuggling people, drugs and weapons.
It said the Navy has only nine ships and struggles to keep them all at sea.
“The struggle to protect our waters and coastlines from drugs and weapons smuggling is a particularly large threat to our national security,” RACO said.
It said that during the Troubles the majority of weapons and explosives used by both the Republicans and Loyalists were smuggled through the coastline.
“The reigniting of conflict in Northern Ireland due to Brexit or a border poll that may occur between 2020 and 2025 is highly possible,” RACO said.
“Ireland remains incapable of fully defending its coastlines. In the event of conflict, the weapons and explosives necessary to propagate conflict and terrorism could once again enter Ireland unbeknownst to the authorities.”
It said dissident republicans and militant loyalism are both becoming “increasingly active” and that the latter grouping has made it “quite clear” that Ireland and “targets south of the border” could be legitimate targets for them.
The association said one of the main threats to Ireland includes cyber attacks and “information operations”.
It said Ireland is seen as a “data hub” of Europe and that it is “essential” that the State has sufficient capability to detect and defeat cyber attacks.
RACO said the Defence Forces are struggling to retain its cyber defence capability because of the much-publicised pay and conditions and said this requires “urgent attention”.
It said the use of information operations to disrupt democratic elections could become more likely if Ireland is seen to have a “disjointed, weak and underfunded” approach to national security.
The body said the weakened and demoralised Defence Forces is the “elephant in the room” which can not be ignored.
“The current recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Forces is a major threat to national security,” it said.
RACO said there is “very limited” espionage or counter-espionage capabilities with the Defence Forces or the Gardaí.
It said to combat unauthorised incursions into Irish airspace a primary radar capability is needed and that the State should consider developing its own jet aircraft.