Government must dramatically increase defence spending and appoint dedicated minister, says Flanagan

Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Defence believes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was ‘Europe’s 9/11′

The Government must radically increase military spending and appoint a stand-alone minister for defence to Cabinet, chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, Charlie Flanagan, has said.

Mr Flanagan, the Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly and a former minister for foreign affairs, said increasing defence spending should take precedence over tax cuts. “When it comes to the next election I say if it’s a choice between tax cuts and defence, we need to bolster our defence.”

The 2022 invasion of Ukraine was “Europe’s 9/11″ and the EU is facing a “whole new ball game” in terms of security, Mr Flanagan said in an interview.

He said other countries such as Germany, Finland, Sweden and Denmark have stepped up by increasing defence spending or joining Nato or both. Ireland must also take responsibility. “Ireland can no longer regard ourselves as being immune to what’s happening in Europe. We have European obligations, and they are all the more relevant now in the context of Russia’s threat and America’s uncertainty.”


He said he was “very worried” about the results of the US presidential election in November given Republican candidate Donald Trump’s signalling that he may pull the country out of Nato.

However, Mr Flanagan said he was not currently in favour of Ireland joining Nato. “We are not ready for Nato and Nato is not ready for Ireland. But that doesn’t mean we have a free pass on defence issues.”

Mr Flanagan, who is stepping down from frontline politics at the next general election, said he was a supporter of Tánaiste Micheál Martin who holds the dual brief of Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence. But there had not been a dedicated Minister for Defence for over a decade and this needed to change. “I think having foreign affairs and defence under the one banner doesn’t give defence the appropriate level of attention in government. I think they should be split.”

In 2022, the Government agreed to accept some of the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces report and increase defence spending by 50 per cent by 2028. Mr Flanagan said he believed this increase was too low and the timelines were not ambitious enough. He said he “strongly” believed Government should aim for the commission’s most ambitious recommendations, which would see military spending increase three-fold to 1.4 per cent of GDP. This would facilitate a much larger naval fleet and the purchase of interceptor fighter jets to protect Irish airspace.

“Our first duty as a State is to protect our people and our territory. There are serious questions over whether we can do that. We need to be able to defend our airspace and our vast maritime space,” Mr Flanagan said.

Irish troops appointed to serve with the EU Battlegroup, which is due to begin operations next year, should receive a dedicated allowance to ensure enough numbers sign up, he said. Currently, only about 40 per cent of places on the deployment have been filled.

He said he also wanted to see legislation to abolish the triple lock – it requires a UN Security Council mandate before Irish troops can be sent overseas – passed before the general election, which is a maximum of 11 months away. “It’s wholly unsatisfactory that bigger and more powerful countries have a veto over our engagement on the international stage,” said Mr Flanagan.

The TD also wants to see Ireland stepping up the provision of non-lethal military aid to Ukraine, including providing Irish-made drones and demining robots.

He said Ireland had long enjoyed a “false sense of security” in matters of defence, but people were starting to pay more attention, particularly regarding risks to subsea cables. “I think the mood is changing. I think public opinion polls actually show that.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times