Defence spending is to increase by 5.6 per cent over the coming year, a modest start to the Government’s plan to increase spending by 50 per cent by 2028.
The defence budget will be €1.17 billion in 2023, an extra €67 million on the last budget.
According to the Department of Defence, this will provide a financial platform to “initiate the required transformation” of the defence sector. The increase will insist in bringing Irish defence capabilities “closer to European norms, while also ensuring the ongoing Defence Forces’ capacity to deliver on all roles assigned by Government, both at home and overseas”.
Much of the extra funding will go towards an 35 per cent increase in the Defence Forces capital budget, bringing it to a record €176 million. This will fund some of the recommendations of the Commission on Defence Forces which reported in February that Ireland’s military is largely incapable of defending the country from outside attack.
Much of this will go towards defence initiatives that have already been announced. These include the purchase of two inshore patrol vessels from New Zealand and two maritime patrol aircraft to replace the Air Corps’ ageing Casa aircraft.
One new project, which was recommended by the commission, is the purchase of a primary radar system to detect airborne threats. It is understood about €15 million has been earmarked in the capital budget to begin exploratory research into the procurement of this system. The total cost of the radar system is expected to be well over €100 million over the course of the project.
Ireland is the only EU country not covered by a primary radar system, meaning aircraft are invisible if they do not have their navigation beacons turned on. Russian bombers have taken advantage of this in recent years by skirting western Irish airspace to test the reaction time of RAF jets.
There will also be extra funding for the creation of several new posts within the Defence Forces which were recommended by the commission, including a new head of transformation and a head of strategic human resources.
The Army is to get additional funding for the purchase of new types of armoured vehicles and the Air Corps will receiving funding for several small Piper training aircraft. There will also be funding for 13 building projects, including barrack refurbishments and the construction of gyms in military bases around the country.
An allocation of €542 million will go towards pay and allowances. This will include funding for the recruitment of 400 additional Defence Forces recruits. However, given the difficulty the military has faced in recruiting troops in recent years it is not clear whether this target can be met.
It is understood the increases in capital expenditure involved difficult conversations between the Department of Defence and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Officials said the increases were in line with those sought by the Defence Forces’ senior leadership and the intention is to increase defence spending by greater amounts over the coming years.
The funding increase received a lukewarm reception from the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) which represents Defence Forces officers.
“Coming from such a low base any budgetary increase, no matter how small, is welcome,” said General Secretary Commandant Conor King. “However, the Defence Forces will never be an employer of choice unless it introduces urgent retention initiatives such as agreed implementation of the working time directive with necessary health and safety protections, and suitable pension provisions to cater for forced early retirement.”
Independent TD Cathal Berry, a former Army Ranger Wing commander, said the budget was lacking in ambition. “Ireland was defenceless yesterday and is defenceless today.” He said there is no hope of recruiting an additional 400 troops while existing numbers were still in “free fall”.