Ireland's new international role with the UN 'at risk due to its inadequate defence capabilities'

Ireland's new international role with the UN 'at risk due to its inadequate defence capabilities'

Dr Patrick Keatinge said issues such as inadequate recruitment and retention of personnel are challenging the capacity of the Irish Defence Forces to "follow through" the country's newly enhanced international role as an elected member of the UN Security Council. Picture: Neil Michael

Ireland’s new international status with its two-year stint on the UN Security Council is being put at risk because of the “capacity” of the Defence Forces, the “material conditions” of its members, and the need for organisational reform, a leading expert has warned.

In a new report, entitled Securing Europe After Trump: Navigating Troubled Waters, Patrick Keatinge also said that Ireland is potentially vulnerable to threats to our seas and airspace because of its lack of defensive capabilities.

Dr Keatinge, co-chair of the Institute of International and European Affairs Security and Defence Group and fellow emeritus of political science at Trinity College Dublin, said the world was still reeling from four years of Donald Trump as US president.

Prospects for co-operation

“Trumpian diplomacy consisted of erratic unilateralism, involving a direct repudiation of multilateral institutions and contempt for alliances and allies,” he said.

However, he said the prospects were much improved with the election of Joe Biden as president: “There is one overriding piece of good news for our national security and defence agenda. The prospect of a distinctly more cooperative approach by the new American administration will enhance the pursuit of our values and interests in this field.” 

He noted Ireland’s success in getting voted on to the UN Security Council.

“But there is a question about the capacity of the Defence Forces to follow through in the military context,” he warned.

This is not about the forces’ reputation or professionalism, but rather about material conditions and the reform of organisational structures in order to sustain that reputation.

He said problems in the recruitment and especially the retention of personnel, equipment, levels of pay and family support have recurred frequently over recent years.

“Numbers of personnel have declined; ships are unable to deploy for want of sailors” he said. 

Dr Keatinge also flagged serious shortcomings in the ability of the Defence Forces to secure its skies and seas.

“Ireland does not possess adequate military capabilities to respond to some other threats which could arise in its seas and airspace,” he said.

If incoming hijacked civilian aircraft, or even foreign military aircraft which have failed to acknowledge their presence, are to be dealt with, the Irish State depends on British intelligence and military support; likewise concerning submarine intrusion and the vulnerability of major undersea cables.

He added: “This interdependence can be seen as an extension of the bilateral intelligence and police cooperation which responds to residual land-based terrorist threats, the dark side of the Government’s approach to relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland, now formalised as the Shared Island policy.

“Brexit is a reality now rather than a prolonged nightmare; in the context of a formal reset of British-Irish relations is it time to review the way in which this policy is conducted and...presented?”

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