A new umbrella association has been formed to strengthen the country's capacity to defend itself from cyberattacks, climate change, and to enhance defence-related manufacturing.
The Irish Defence & Security Association (IDSA) members — who are Irish or Irish-based SMEs (small and medium enterprises), research organisations, and multinational corporations — share concerns about Ireland’s vulnerability, but also optimism that this vulnerability can be mitigated against and even capitalised on.
IDSA chairman Pat O’Connor said that just as Irish industry skipped much of the “smokestack” industries of the 20th century, going from a largely agrarian-based economy to the digital economy of today, we now have the opportunity to take the same leap in terms of defence and security capabilities.
IDSA research estimates there are approximately 548 foreign and domestic firms actively involved in the defence sector, supporting approximately 1,739 jobs in Ireland.
Mr O'Connor said that the value of defence exports from Ireland was €2.4bn in 2019, more than our beef exports of €2.3bn that same year.
It is estimated the Department of Defence will spend in the region of €1.5bn-€2bn with global suppliers over the next nine years.
Currently, of the top 50 suppliers to the department, only seven are indigenous Irish firms.
Mr O'Connor said it is essential Ireland develops the policies required to ensure a higher portion of this expenditure flows into the Irish economy, creating highly-skilled jobs, funding our research community, and driving exports for Ireland, rather than only supporting the economies of other nations.
He said there are several examples of defence-related equipment being used for other purposes. For example, a robot that can be used for bomb disposal can also be used to survey damaged buildings after a natural disaster and find survivors.
“An artificial intelligence algorithm and drone that monitors our maritime domain for drug smugglers or conducts wildlife surveys, is the same that can be used by our peacekeepers for reconnaissance on overseas operations,” said Mr O'Connor.
“As a nation, Ireland must look at the clouds on the horizon and decide what we need to do now to protect our society, our people and our economy."