There is a growing risk of Ireland’s land, sea and air being used by belligerent powers to attack its nearest neighbours, according to a high-level report to be published on Wednesday.
The activities of Russia and China, along with Islamic and right-wing extremists, have been named as the most severe threats to Irish security by the Commission on the Defence Forces.
In its final report to Government, the commission lays out a series of perceived threats from state and non-state actors and recommends urgent reform of the military, particularly the Naval Service and Air Corps.
It also makes a series of recommendations to encourage more women and minorities to join and to improve working conditions for existing members.
Under its most ambitious proposals, the current €1.1 billion defence budget would increase by 200 per cent*, the Naval Service would be made up of 12 ships and the Air Corps would be equipped with long-range transport aircraft and a squadron of between 12 and 24 fighter jets to police Irish skies.
It recommends the total establishment strength of the Defence Forces should increase from 9,500 to 11,500, with most of the increases taking place in the Naval Service and Air Corps, it said. It also recommends renaming these branches the Navy and the Airforce.
The report also contains the most damning official assessment of Irish security in many years. The Army told the commission “it is not equipped, postured or realistically prepared to conduct a meaningful defence of the State against a full-spectrum force for any sustained period of time.”
The commission said it is clear the same applies to the Air Corps and Naval Service.
It makes clear the current level of defence spending is not sustainable if Ireland wishes to possess a credible military capability. Introducing a programme to modernise the military and bring it in line with similar-sized countries would require a spending increase of up to 200 per cent*, the report says.
Ireland faces increased threats from “great power competitions” and faces being “sandwiched” between the interests of the US and China in areas such as 5G technology, technology governance and technology procurement, the commission says.
The continued instability on Europe’s borders and the decreased appetite of the US to become involved in such matters is also a risk.
Jihadis, including Irish people who have travelled to the Middle East to fight for terrorist groups, pose a security threat, as do right-wing extremists.
In the physical realm, there is a growing risk of Ireland’s land, sea and air being used as vectors of attack for European neighbours. The report mentions other countries’ aircraft flying in Irish-controlled airspace with their transponders turned off in order to test the response time of the UK, a practice undertaken by Russian bombers in recent years.
*This article was amended on February 10th, 2022