Defence Forces: First steps in reform to be approved by Cabinet

Commission will examine forces’ future but many within military fear its scope is limited

Members of the Defence Forces pass the GPO during a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Photograph: Alan Betson

Members of the Defence Forces pass the GPO during a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Cabinet is expected to approve the terms of reference within weeks for a wide-ranging examination of the future of the Defence Forces.

The Commission on the Defence Forces, which was promised in the programme for government, aims to perform similar a function to the Commission on the Future of Policing, which kick-started a broad programme of reform for An Garda Síochána.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney is expected to outline the membership of the commission and the areas it will focus on, possibly as soon as Tuesday.

Asked if the matter would be raised at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, a department spokesman said only that it would be raised “very shortly”.

The commission will focus on a number of areas, understood to include workforce, equipment, capabilities and structures.

If enacted as expected, the commission will probably lead to the largest reform of the Defence Forces in several decades.

However, many within the military are frustrated the review will not include the Department of Defence, which has been criticised by some as bloated and out of touch with military matters.

Missed opportunity

Comdt Conor King, secretary general of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), called the commission a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine and strengthen defence” but said that a review that only looks at the Defence Forces will be a missed opportunity.

“It is clear that a commission examining the Defence Forces in isolation will be unnecessarily limited and will fail to contextualise Defence Force outputs if it does not also examine those matters of policy, human resources, governance and finance pertaining to the Department of Defence,” Comdt King wrote in the latest edition of Raco’s magazine, Signal.

He echoed sentiments from retired Brig Gen Paul Pakenham of the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers (Arco), who said a review of the department’s secretariat, “especially the civilian-military interface, must be included in the commission’s terms of reference”.

The issue was raised recently in an article in the journal Defence Forces Review by Lieut Brian Clarke, which said the Defence Forces’ general staff has little real authority over the organisation, with almost all power resting with the department.

The programme for government undertakes to establish the commission before the end of the year and report back within 12 months, although it is not clear if those deadlines will be met.

It will comprise between eight and 10 military and academic experts from Ireland and abroad, including senior military personnel from countries of similar size to Ireland.