The Government is committed to implementing the action plan that arose from the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces in order to address the problems of recruitment and retention, Minister of State Jack Chambers has said.
Mr Chambers, deputising for Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin, was one of the guests at the eighth annual Defence Forces Veterans’ Day, which saw hundreds of former personnel in attendance at McKee Barracks in Dublin.
He told the audience that an increased allocation of 10 per cent in last year’s budget demonstrated that the Government was serious about overhauling the Defence Forces.
The Government’s action plan in response to last year’s Commission report envisages an increase in the defence budget to €1.5 billion by 2028. The Commission addressed the historic underfunding of the Defence Forces and envisaged the creation of both an Irish air force and navy.
The issue became acute last week when there was only two Naval vessels capable of patrolling Irish waters. One, the LÉ William Butler Yeats, was involved in the interception of the MV Matthew which had a cargo of cocaine worth more than €150 million on board.
The Army Ranger Wing then fast-roped on to the deck of the ship from a helicopter as it attempted to manoeuvre away, but did so in a helicopter borrowed from the National Ambulance Service as no army helicopter was available.
Mr Chambers said the Government planned to improve maritime security with the delivery of two inshore naval vessels and also two Airbus C-295 maritime patrol aircraft, one of which has been delivered.
He said the issue of recruitment and retention will be addressed as part of the Commission. The 10 per cent increase in the defence budget last year was a “positive start”, he said, “but we have a lot more to do to increase expenditure and increase capability between now and 2028″.
Pay scales in the Defence Forces will be addressed in the forthcoming public pay talks, he added.
Mr Chambers said the decision to withdraw an Irish infantry group from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which helped to maintain the 50-year ceasefire between Israel and Syria that followed the Yom Kippur War in 1973, was not easy, but it will allow the Defence Forces to fulfil its commitments to the EU battlegroup 2024/2025.
Among those who turned out for Sunday’s ceremony was the Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Seán Clancy and the secretary-general of the Department of Defence, Jacqui McCrum.
The focal point of the celebrations was a ceremonial parade involving representative bodies from the brigades and services of the permanent Defence Forces alongside their retired colleagues and comrades; also in attendance were representative bodies from the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel and the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers.