Commission on Defence Forces’ report met with sharp criticism from military leaders

‘A case of moving the deckchairs around on the Titanic,’ says one senior officer

One military source described the report as a ‘fudge’, with another calling it a ‘missed opportunity’. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The Defence Forces' general staff and senior civil servants have sharply criticised a draft report from the Commission on the Defence Forces as vague and unambitious.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney last year established the commission to examine a range of issues within the military, including a retention crisis which has left the Defence Forces some 1,000 members short of its establishment strength of 9,500. It is due to present its final report to Government this month ahead of its publication early next year.

The commission sent draft versions to senior officials in the Department of Defence and Defence Forces last month. Civilian and military officials believe the draft does not adequately address the commission's terms of reference. They described the report as vague and contradictory in places, including in relation to Army command structures, the future of the Defence Forces' headquarters and future interactions between civilian and military officials.

The Defence Forces’ criticisms were the most severe, including complaints about a lack of focus on developing future capabilities and a lack of ambition on how to address the retention crisis.


One military source described the report as a “fudge”, with another calling it a “missed opportunity”.

“It’s a case of moving the deckchairs around on the Titanic,” said one senior officer.

It is understood there have been tensions between some members of the commission recently about the direction and scope of its work. Some members now favour delaying the final report in order to address the criticisms raised.


Military officials had hoped that the commission would lay a foundation for the regeneration of Defence Forces numbers and a significant upgrade in its capabilities. It has also been tasked with examining culture and management issues within the military.

Mr Coveney last month promised the report would expose the “vulnerabilities” in Irish defence.

Comdt Conor King, general secretary of the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers, said a failure by the commission to fulfil its mandate would "do untold damage to morale in the organisation, and will exacerbate the dysfunctional cycle of turnover".

The Department of Defence said on Tuesday it has had “ongoing interaction” with the commission, “and will continue to support and assist it”.

The Defence Forces said it had engaged “positively” with the commission.

The commission said its work was ongoing with a view to fulfilling its terms of reference.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times