White Paper on Defence - Why we need a credible defence

THE Government is to provide new and upgraded equipment for the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, including new aircraft and ships.

The White Paper on Defence published yesterday outlines the Government’s policy for the next 10 years.

The plan also commits to doubling the number of women in the Defence Forces and establishing new units to travel to conflict zones.

A new Institute for Peace and Support and Leadership Training is also to be set up and a new employment support scheme is to be established for young people from disadvantaged areas.

Even in a resurgent economy we still have major problems with regard to health, education, poverty and homelessness. In that context, the announcement of increased spending on defence may seem like an indulgence we can ill afford.

That would be a mistake.

Every nation — big or small — needs to be able to defend itself and the reality is that only the military has the capacity and structures to make that happen in any meaningful way.

Up to now, Ireland’s defence has been focused largely on the Troubles in the North and our role in international peace keeping. But we now face much more complex defence challenges such as international terrorism, Islamic radicalisation, mass migration and cyber security.

We also need to look beyond our own shores as we are not isolated from what is going on along the borders of our EU neighbours.

All along Europe’s eastern and southern borders, countries and regions are beset by political instability, repression and conflict; in Ukraine, Crimea, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Syria and more, right across Europe’s neighbourhood there are growing security challenges.

Just because a smaller nation can’t deploy massive military power does not mean it can’t operate a credible defence system.

Singapore, with a population just a little more than ours, is a prime example. Singapore has the biggest air force in Southeast Asia with a reputation for also being the best trained, led and equipped.

Our current lack of credibility was painfully evident earlier this year when Russian air force jets entered Irish air space on two occasions.

On February 18 two bombers emerged off our west coast, prompting the RAF to scramble fighter jets in pursuit.

After a similar incident the month before, the Irish Government said the use of Irish-controlled airspace by two Russian bombers was unacceptable.

The Russians clearly were not listening as in the February incident commercial planes carrying hundreds of passengers had to be diverted or delayed as a result of the incursion.

The problem was we couldn’t even make a token protest as we did not have the military planes to even harrass the Russian bombers.

That is unacceptable.

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