Ireland has one Department of Defence civil servant for every 23 soldiers

Figure is more than seven times the number of civil servants than Sweden and 10 times that of Finland
Ireland has one Department of Defence civil servant for every 23 soldiers

Recent figures on staffing levels show there are 8,434 soldiers, giving a current ratio of one civil servant for every 23 soldiers.

Ireland has one Department of Defence civil servant for every 23 soldiers – more than seven times the number of civil servants than Sweden and ten times that of Finland.

This, according to a new report, reflects the “all-encompassing” role of the Department of Defence in Ireland in running the Defence Forces, in stark contrast to the structure of other neutral or non-aligned countries in Europe.

A paper in the new edition of Defence Forces Review 2020, published today, said that if Ireland does not change the command structure of the Defence Forces it will enter an uncertain global security environment with a “largely criticised” system of governance that is “far outside” standard international practice.

The analysis, written by Lt Brian Clarke, said comparison with Sweden and Finland, both neutral and non-aligned, highlight a different military set-up to Ireland.

He said the Department of Defence in Finland has 130 members of staff, 20 of whom have a military background, and that the Finnish Defence Forces boasts 33,000 full time members. He said this gives an employment ratio of one civil servant for every 254 full-time soldiers.

Sweden has around 140 civil servants in its Department of Defence and 22,700 full-time military personnel – giving a ratio of one civil servant for every 162 soldiers.

In comparison, he said Ireland has 354 civil servants in the Department of Defence compared to the establishment figure of 9,500 professional soldiers, giving a ratio of one civil servant to 26 soldiers.

But he said more recent figures on staffing levels show there are only 8,434 soldiers, giving a current ratio of one civil servant for every 23 soldiers.

The review was edited by Lieutenant Commander Paul Hegarty and produced in academic collaboration with Dublin City University School of Law and Government.

Lt Clarke said the civilian command of the Defence Forces stems from uncertainty during the early days of independence and that the Department of Defence has developed “an even more involved role in military affairs” over recent decades.

“The governance structure in Ireland is restrictive of the military,” he said, saying that no officer in the Defence Forces had command over the entire organisation, even on behalf of the Minister for Defence or the government.

He said the department has an “all-encompassing role” over the entire organisation and that the secretary-general of the department, “an unelected official, can now at times hold de facto command” of the Defence Forces.

Lt Clarke said that aspects of this “civilian-heavy” approach has been the subject of some criticism from retired members of the General Staff, military representative associations, academia and politicians.

He said retired generals had alleged that the department acted contrary to the best advice from military and international experts and demonstrated the inflexibility and “obsessive rigidity” of the Civil Service.

Citing reports in the Irish Examiner, he said the working relationship between senior officers and civil servants has been described as “toxic”.

He said the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers (RACO) described the relationship between officers and the department as “divisive and dismissive”.

He said a Workplace Climate Survey of the Defence Forces by the University of Limerick found “micromanagement” and increased involvement of the department in operational decisions that was an “increasing concern” for all ranks.

Lt Clarke said there were some “notable differences and similarities” in other defence forces that identify themselves as neutral or non-aligned militarily.

He said that generally speaking the international norm appears to centre command on the entire military vested in a military officer or officers, who are directly under the command of government.

“This differs greatly from Ireland’s model of command being directly from the Minister for Defence to military formations, circumventing the Defence Forces’ general staff in the process,” he said.

He examined four countries:

  • Austria: Federal Ministry of Defence is a mixed entity with officers across all branches. Defence in general is under civilian command via the Minister and three sections under control of the General Staff who also holds command over the military itself;
  • Finland: Direct operational command of the whole Finnish Defence Forces is in the hands of the Chief of Staff with administrative affairs under the department;
  • Sweden: Supreme Commander of Swedish Armed Forces is military officer, whose deputy is a civil servant 
  • Malta: Military command is vested directly in an army officer Concluding, Lt Clarke said comparable countries maintained the highly important civilian command of the military, with the command delegated from a minister straight to a single military commander.

But he said that changes in Ireland would require multiple amendments to legislation.

“The alternative is to continue into an uncertain global security environment with a largely criticised paradigm of governance that is far outside of standard international practice,” he said.

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