Critical article prompts row between Defence Forces and department

Investigation launched into Defence Forces Review article describing ‘toxic’ relationship

Shortly after publication of the review, chief of staff Mark Mellett ordered his second in command, Brig Gen Adrian Ó Murchú, to investigate its “content”, emails show. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Shortly after publication of the review, chief of staff Mark Mellett ordered his second in command, Brig Gen Adrian Ó Murchú, to investigate its “content”, emails show. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A row has broken out between the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces over the publication of an article in a military journal that criticised the number of civil servants overseeing the military.

An investigation has since been launched into the publication of the Defence Forces Review, the journal published by the Defence Forces in December last year which contained the article.

In it, the author, Lieut Brian Clarke, said the department has significantly more control over the Defence Forces than civil servants in other smaller, neutral states.

The relationship between the two organisations is “toxic” in the eyes of some, the article said, adding that Ireland has a much larger civilian staff in charge of the military than in comparable countries.

In Ireland, the Department of Defence has one civil servant for every 23 members of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. However, the ratio in Sweden is one to 162 while in Finland it is one to 254, Lieut Clarke wrote.

The publication of the article prompted a furious reaction and a request for a correction from senior civil servants in the Department of Defence, according to records seen by The Irish Times. However, this was rejected.

The row, which is detailed in email and WhatsApp exchanges obtained by The Irish Times, is the latest example of discord between the military and civil leadership of the Defence Forces.

In recent years, retired members and military representative organisations have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of the department over retention policies and pay and conditions.

‘Serious issue’

The publication of the review caught the department by surprise. Its head of communications said via WhatsApp that she had a “serious issue” with the publication and complained civil servants had not been invited to the launch of the review or given prior notice.

On the same day, the department provided talking points to the Government information service on the article, stating it “has a range of issues with the content and conclusions in the published article, including various statistics quoted which are quite wide of the mark”.

Department officials conducted their own research into the civil/military staffing ratio in other countries. This included research on Wikipedia and through contact with the Finnish foreign ministry.

The department claimed Lieut Clarke had engaged in a “superficial review” of other militaries, quoted figures “substantially out of line” with actual numbers and drew conclusions which were “quite misleading”.

On the day the review was published, assistant secretary-general at the Department of Defence, Ciarán Murphy, emailed the review’s editor, Lieut Cdr Paul Hegarty, asking if anyone “actually checks” the figures quoted in the article and if a correction should be issued by the review.

The following week, Lieut Col Gavin Young responded on behalf of Lieut Cdr Hegarty stating the review had gone through a “strict, double-blind” peer-review process. He said the figures had been reviewed again and were correct.

He did not address the issue of a correction but said a future edition of the review may carry a counterargument.

Testy response

In a testy response, Mr Murphy replied that Lieut Clarke was not comparing like with like, something which would have been shown if “even a modicum of effort had been made to review the numbers and analysis”.

In a subsequent internal message, Lieut Col Young told Lieut Cdr Hegarty to “leave it now. I won’t be responding any further unless directed otherwise.”

Shortly after publication of the review, chief of staff Mark Mellett ordered his second in command, Brig Gen Adrian Ó Murchú, to investigate the “content” of the review, emails show. It is understood this investigation was initiated after the department raised the issue with Vice-Admiral Mellett.

A Department of Defence spokeswoman said neither the department secretary-general, Jacqui McCrum, or Minister for Defence Simon Coveney had ordered the investigation.

Part of the investigation appears to have focused on media coverage of the review. Brig Gen Ó Murchú spoke to the deputy general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers who informed him the association was “not behind the media story”.

As of last night the review was not available online. A Defence Forces spokesman said this was due to a technical error.