Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a “wake-up call” for the EU, and underlined the need for a “significant investment” in the Defence Forces.
Mr Coveney, who is also Minister of Defence, said he will be bringing an “action plan” to rebuild the country’s depleted armed forces to the Government in June.
He said the funding package is not yet agreed, as there is “pretty comprehensive consultation” ongoing, including with the key Government departments of Finance and Public Expenditure.
Mr Coveney was speaking at events marking the centenary of the air corps, culminating in a fly pass over Dublin and Casement Aerodrome, the air corps HQ at Baldonnel, west Dublin.
His action plan to Government is based on last month's report of the Commission on the Defence Forces.
This gave three options for Government: Level 1 being the current situation (an option which it all but dismissed); Level 2 representing a 50% increase in budget; and Level 3, which would triple the budget, but provide a “credible defence”, comparable to similar countries.
It said Level 2 should be considered “in the short term”, pending a “more detailed policy debate” on Level 3.
“I’ll be bringing an action plan on the back of the recommendations in the commission to Government in June and it will be a strong statement of intent from me, and I hope from government, if we can get approval, in terms of the need to quite significantly increase our investment in the Defence Forces," he said.
Mr Coveney said a new EU Security and Defence Strategy, ‘Strategic Compass’, which was agreed by foreign and defence ministers on Monday, is “consistent” with neutrality and non-alignment in a military alliance.
The strategy will see the establishment of a rapid-reaction force of up to 5,000 troops.
“This idea that I said Ireland would be part of a rapid response unit, that somehow that makes headlines, I find that strange,” he said. “We’ve been training together in what are called battlegroups for many years.”
He said he does not regret Ireland’s decision not to fund lethal military aid to Ukraine — unlike other non-aligned countries including Sweden and Finland and pacifist nations like Germany — and defended Ireland’s supply of non-lethal aid, such as fuel, ready-made meals, and protective vests.
He said he is “in awe” of the resilience of the Ukrainian people and that having met Ukrainian women and children during a visit to Poland last week, he realised that the men they left behind are not going to lie down and surrender.
He indicated that Ireland is moving towards a decision in relation to the high numbers of staff at the Russian embassy in Dublin, pointing to decisions other EU countries have taken and are due to take in the coming days.