Findings of the Commission on the Defence Forces which were criticised by Russia this week had been cleared by Government ahead of publication.
The commission’s report, which was published on Wednesday, cited instability on Europe’s borders as being a major threat to Irish security and quoted EU reports which were strongly critical of Russia.
This drew a sharp response from Russian ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov the next day who said the EU reports were "totally unfounded".
“Any unbiased observer would be hard put to find any evidence of such a ‘threat’. Attempts to portray Russia as a boogie [sic] are misplaced and regrettable,” said the ambassador in a statement released by the Russian embassy.
It is understood members of the commission and Government officials were surprised by the ambassador’s comments as they had taken care only to cite official comments from EU reports, rather than introducing their own criticism
The section of the report dealing with potential external threats to Irish security, including from Russia, China and far-right and Islamic extremists, was vetted by Department of Foreign Affairs officials to avoid drawing Ireland into a dispute with other nations. The section was cleared by officials with no amendments.
The commission has recommended an overhaul and upgrading of almost all sections of the military to enable it to meet the tasks laid out for it by Government. This will cost, at a minimum, €500 million a year in the short term, and, if the most ambitious proposals are accepted, up to €3 billion a year.
It has also recommended wide-ranging cultural changes to increase the representation of women and minorities and to improve military working life. Many of these can be implemented at little to no extra cost
Over the coming months, the Department of Defence, in consultation with the Defence Forces, will refine the options laid out in the report to a series of proposals for which it will seek funding. That requires decisions about what the department and the Defence Forces want to do first.
“In order to get money from [the Department of Public Expenditure],” says one official, “we have to decide what we want the money for.”
It is understood the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, will spend some time consulting with officials and more extensively with all ranks in the Defence Forces to get their views on the priorities, and the realistic timescales for their implementation. In parallel with this, Mr Coveney will seek the backing of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, and the agreement of the Green Party, where concerns about neutrality abound.
It is likely to be July before this process crystallises into a proposal to be put by Mr Coveney to the Department of Public Expenditure as part of the normal budgetary process. One obvious difficulty is that the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces will then have to compete with other departments, who also have their own asks, their own priorities, their own reform plans.
The report has recommended the establishment of an implementation oversight group, with an independent office and chair.