Minister for Defence Simon Coveney says the Defence Forces can contribute to economic recovery and should not be seen as purely a cost to the State.
Mr Coveney, who was given responsibility for Defence as well as Agriculture in the recent reshuffle, said the Defence Forces should be used as a “test bed” for the development of innovation, technology and new design.
“Instead of seeing the Defence Forces – Army, Air Corps and Naval Service – as purely a cost for the State and a user of funds, I actually think we should turn that around,” he said. “Yes, it’s something we need to invest in but it’s also an infrastructure that can deliver back for the State in terms of job creation, in terms of providing an infrastructure for testing new technologies, new innovations.”
Drone technology and cyber security would be among the areas he would like to see developed. He will bring forward a White Paper on defence setting out Ireland’s
policy for the next decade.
“We are going to look at what some people might regard as controversial issues around the relationship between the Coast Guard and the Naval Service and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. Can we achieve a better partnership here . . . Should we be looking at mergers?”
Mr Coveney admitted he was “a little surprised” when Taoiseach Enda Kenny asked him to take on responsibility for Defence. He said he had been hoping to hold on to his Agriculture brief but had told Mr Kenny he was also looking for new challenges and responsibilities.
The ongoing situation in Gaza was described as “just heartbreaking” by Mr Coveney. He added: “I know Israel/Palestine at the moment is an extraordinary human tragedy, but if you look at the number of people that have been killed in Syria in the last week it is a much, much higher figure”.
Mr Coveney said he would like to visit Irish peace
keeping troops in the Golan Heights as soon as possible. “There’s a huge respect for Irish peacekeepers in that part of the world.”
Mr Coveney said the Defence Forces could become an example for the rest of the world in terms of being well trained and motivated. “I think the Defence Forces are up for this . . . improvement.”
The Minister said he would like to invest more in international conflict management and peacekeeping training in the Curragh Camp. “One of the advantages of neutrality is that you can provide a platform for international training in an area where you have built a lot of credibility,” he said.