Once that’s done you’ll be able to experience the Michael McDowell website perfectly.
EU Affairs - Irish Politics

If the worst happens, who would come to Ireland’s defence?

It is a strange irony that the majority of EU states, including NATO members, are collectively considering how to deal with the threat posed by the emergence of a militarist Russia under Vladimir Putin which seems bent on reestablishing a dominance over neighbouring states such as Ukraine, Georgia, the Caucasus states, and on forming a global axis with China and North Korea, while Ireland is experiencing a hugely serious decline in its physical capacity to defend its territory by land and sea.

The strength of the Defence Forces including the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps has been allowed to wither so that we now have a total strength of about 7500 full-time members – the lowest number since the foundation of the independent Irish state a century ago.

The numbers of reservists have collapsed. As of last August, strength of the Reserve Defence Forces had fallen to 1,319 in the Army Reserve, and 81 members in the Naval Reserve, and 280 members of the First Line Reserve – all compared with a nominal, theoretical establishment of 4,069, comprising 3,869 Army and 200 Navy.

In effect, the Irish state now has less than 10,000 trained military members which it could call up in the event of an emergency.

Membership of the Garda Reserve stands at approximately one quarter (371) of its original strength.

Over the last ten years, the size of the Civil Defence service has halved to less than 2,500.

And while we are paying lip service to the middle option plan outlined in the report of the Commission on the future of the Defence Forces, our navy is largely tied up for want of crews, and we are experiencing serious difficulties in supplying adequate levels of soldiers to serve overseas as personnel for UN peacekeeping and monitoring activities.

We spend less than a quarter of 1% 0f GDP (0.24%) on defence while NATO members and other European states aim to spend 2% of GDP – eight times our fraction – on their defence.

In 1986, the actual strength of the voluntary FCA was just under 15,000. In 1980, the Reserve Forces available to the Irish state was approximately 15,000.

After the Belfast Agreement in 1998, there was talk of a “peace dividend” – a euphemism for a reduction in the size of the Defence Forces. Right across Ireland, Army barracks were closed, sold off or repurposed. FCA training bases were closed. Volunteer reservists who previously had training session held weekly on a local basis in local towns were forced instead to travel up to fifty miles to train. Such distances have proven a great burden for volunteer reservists and would-be reservists. We no longer have any equivalent of a territorial volunteer reserve like the UK’s territorial army.

We no longer have a full-time Minister for Defence at the Cabinet table. We have smugly assumed that defence expenditure was rather wasteful in Ireland’s circumstances. Recruiting and retaining soldiers and sailors has become more and more challenging – especially in a period of high employment.

Admittedly, the pay for private soldiers has improved substantially. But this has not resulted in the Defence Forces filling their nominal establishment ranks as was hoped for.

We need to radically alter our attitude to national security. We are acutely vulnerable to any internal or external threat, and travelling figuratively on the vapours in a near empty petrol tank. Can be complacent about the apparent absence of immediate security threats on our domestic horizons. But the point about many emergencies is that they arrive without notice or warning. Can we be absolutely certain that there are no such dangers? Where are the trained and disciplined forces to confront them? Who will deal with the consequences of major environmental events such as flooding? We are collectively ignoring the need for training, resources and numbers to back up the State in unforeseen emergencies, if things continue as at present.

There are simply far too few trained and properly equipped volunteer reservists ready to assist our civil power in the event of crisis, disaster, or a breakdown in collective security. How many young men or women have any capacity to bear arms in the defence of our democracy? Could we adequately provide armed security for our energy infrastructure as we had to do in the 1970s using the FCA.

The headlong decline in our security services and of voluntarism in support of our defence forces and policing has been truly frightening. Throwing pre-election shapes now about prioritising “law and order” may attract momentary headlines. But very different long-term commitment to our collective security is now needed from the political establishment.

A quarter of one percent of GDP for military security is a pitiful reflection of a national malaise on security that threatens the morale, capacity and number of our security services. It represents an abdication from one of the most fundamental duties of state and government.

Let’s not forget the maxim: Salus populi, suprema lex.



Picture credit: 


Other posts in this category