Ireland's role in overseas peacekeeping missions could well be enhanced when Defence Forces numbers are back up to the minimum establishment strength of 9,500.
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has revealed he's in favour of the Naval Service mounting further overseas missions such as joining an anti-piracy task force off the Horn of Africa, or on migrant rescue operations like previous ones carried out in the Mediterranean Sea.
He revealed that in 2015 plans were being drawn up to send a navy ship to the waters off the Horn of Africa to thwart raids on international commercial shipping by Somali pirates.
Mr Coveney said deployment was being looked at when the migrant crisis started to unfold off the coast of Libya.
He said then taoiseach Enda Kenny asked him in his previous capacity as defence minister if Ireland could help out there. He contacted the navy's most senior officer at the time, Commodore Hugh Tully, who told him they could send a vessel almost immediately.
“Yes, we would like to have naval vessels serving abroad, but we don't have the capacity yet,” he said.
He is to ask Cabinet colleagues in the next fortnight to allow him to introduce a suite of emergency measures to bolster recruitment and retention in the Naval Service.
Mr Coveney said he was also willing to send the Air Corps overseas on UN-led or UN-endorsed missions.
He said our neutrality was important and “an asset to us.” Mr Coveney acknowledged that recruitment and retention was an issue right across the Defence Forces and it was something that had to be addressed.
He pointed out that a campaign to re-recruit former servicemen was beginning to kick-in and he expects to get around 100 personnel back into uniform soon.
Both representatives associations - RACO for officers and PDForra for enlisted personnel – have sought compensation for troops going on UN missions who have to self-isolate for an additional two weeks prior to departure in military barracks.
In response, Mr Coveney said: “I think there is some validity to it.”
He is the first minister to hold the portfolio to say he will meet the representative associations for formal talks on the future of the Defence Forces. He said these talks will likely be on a quarterly basis.
RACO said it's very happy to engage more fully with Mr Coveney's office to the benefit of its members and the wider Defence Forces.
PDForra also welcomed the initiative, saying it is a departure from the ad hoc arrangements that existed previously and should assist in focusing minds on the issues important to its members.
Meanwhile, when asked about PDForra's wish to become affiliated to the trade union umbrella organisation, ICTU, he said he's keeping an open mind on the request.
However, he admitted the Government may be forced to accept this because PDForra has now initiated a High Court action to allow it to affiliate.
It has already won an EU ruling on the matter and has promised its members will never take strike action. The association says it only wants affiliation so it can have a voice at national pay talks.
Military personnel swear an oath of allegiance to the State which includes a promise not to strike.
Mr Coveney said he had to recognise that the Defence Forces are, therefore, "a unique structure" and they need to get special treatment to take such things into account.