Ireland must respond to world’s ‘unstable security environment’, Coveney says

Committee considers legislation to allow military police take and use DNA samples

The world is living through a "far more unpredictable and unstable security environment" and Ireland needs to respond to that, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney has said.

However, Mr Coveney also cautioned against a "knee-jerk reaction" to the war in Ukraine in terms of the State's defence and security provision.

The Minister was speaking at the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on Tuesday, which was considering legislation to provide for members of the Military Police to take and use DNA samples to investigate crimes within the Defence Forces.

The Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019 also will establish a DNA (Military Police) Database System, to be administered by Forensic Science Ireland, to hold DNA profiles generated from samples.

Responding to questions from Sinn Féin TD John Brady, Mr Coveney said he wanted to bring a paper to the Government in response to the Commission on the Defence Forces in June.

The commission published its final report earlier this year and found that the current Defence Forces’ capacity would leave the country without a credible military capability to protect Ireland.

Mr Coveney said the context in which the commission’s report was being considered had changed in relation to the war in Ukraine.

"Every country in the European Union is now looking again at defence provision and security issues," he said.

“I don’t think we should have a knee-jerk reaction in that regard but I certainly think we are living in a far more unpredictable and unstable security environment, not just on this continent but globally and I think we need to respond to that.”

Mr Coveney said the vast majority of the commission’s recommendations would cost money and party leaders and Government Ministers had to be consulted to ensure that “what I bring to Government is something that’s supported”.

“There will be a lot of work on that over the next six to eight weeks before we actually bring a report to Government,” he said.

He said the report would then be debated in the Dáil and Seanad, and will be brought before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.

Mr Coveney said there had been “decades of underinvestment in defence infrastructure” in Ireland by consecutive governments that dated back to the 1970s.

“We need to correct that. We can’t do it overnight. Even if we could do it – financially – overnight, the Defence Forces wouldn’t be able to respond to a dramatic increase in financial resourcing in one or two years,” he added.

In relation to the Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019, he said he looked forward to “hopefully getting this legislation into law before the summer recess”.

Mr Coveney said he believed no political party had an issue with the legislation, adding: “It is about ensuring that there are appropriate mechanisms to investigate crimes within the military system.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times