Defence Forces review notes culture and management problems

Barracks and bases countrywide visited by team and report to be ‘deeply marked’ by this

Culture and management have been among the main problems highlighted to the Commission on the Defence Forces which is due to complete its work in coming months.

The commission is examining the capabilities and structures needed to ensure that the Defence Forces remain "agile, flexible and adaptive in the face of the changing defence and security environment".

It is understood that new forms of threats, such as cyberattacks and drone technology, will feature heavily in the final report which is due before the end of the year.

The group will also focus on recruitment and retention, which have severely affected numbers in recent years.

Speaking on Tuesday, commission chairman Aidan O’Driscoll said his team has now visited nearly every military barracks and base in the country. As a consequence he added that their report will be “deeply marked by what we heard on those visits”.

He said the commission has been highly impressed with the quality of people in the Defence Forces. But it has also been “struck by the number and range of issues that have been raised with us in relation to the management of people and the culture within the Defence Forces”.

The commission’s final report “will have a good deal to say about this”, said Mr O’Driscoll.

He said the commission will not be able to cover every issue raised in the some 500 submissions it has received to date. However, the final report will be important and “challenging”.

It will be the commission’s job to make recommendations while it will be the Government’s job to implement them, said Mr O’Driscoll.

Security threats

Mr O’Driscoll, who previously served as secretary general in the Department of Justice, said the security environment is changing rapidly and new hybrid threats now require a “whole of society response”.

The Defence Forces “cannot be an island. It must be able to learn from others and teach others,” he said.

“Flexibility needs to be built into its structure, with clear lines of command, the avoidance of service silos and strong external relations with key agencies.”

Being an island in the north Atlantic has obvious benefits from a security perspective but also comes with challenges, he said.

Mr O'Driscoll said Ireland also has responsibilities as a good neighbour and committed member of the European Union and United Nations.

“We need to address these honestly, with a clear and unambiguous link between our defence policy, our level of ambition and our military capabilities across all domains,” he said.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times