Howlin says Irish reliance on other nations is ‘not being neutral’

Report warns of growing risk of Ireland’s land, sea and air being used by hostile powers

Ireland has no means of knowing "who or what is transiting our skies, territorial waters or economic zone", unless "another nation tells us about it", Labour TD Brendan Howlin has said.

Mr Howlin said if the State is dependent on another nation - “however friendly they might be” - to inform us who is transiting our skies and seas, that is “not being neutral”.

The Wexford TD was speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday as statements were made on the Report of the Commission of the Defence Forces, which found there is a growing risk of Ireland's land, sea and air being used by belligerent powers to attack its nearest neighbours.

The activities of Russia and China, along with Islamic and right-wing extremists, were named as the most severe threats to Irish security by the Commission on the Defence Forces.

In its final report to the Government, the commission made a series of recommendations to encourage more women and minorities to join and to improve working conditions for existing members.

Mr Howlin said the first priority was women and men who serve in the Defence Forces who deserve better pay, working conditions, accommodation and equipment.

“Unless and until we ensure that our soldiers, air crews and sailors are valued and truly appreciated in real and practical terms, not by way of speeches in this House but by money in their pay packets and the accommodation that is worthy of them, everything else we talk about in terms of our Defence Forces will fail,” he added.

Addressing Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney, Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said there were "other allegations of sexual abuse" and claims against people still serving in the Defence Forces "who abused men, boys and women, who haven't been part of the claims to date".

Veracity

"They are separate claims, I don't know the veracity of those claims. I am not an investigating officer, but I do believe given the extent of those charges or allegations that An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and even the UN should be encouraged to have greater urgency to address and investigate, most of them are beyond the remit of the review that you have set up," he told the Minister.

The Dublin South Central TD said those who had served in the Defence Forces felt let down because the State had not looked after their health "now that they have been cashiered out, have served their time or are too ill to serve.

“They need to be looked after. People will not join the Defence Forces if they believe that the Defence Forces will ignore them or forget about them in their times of need,” he said.

His party colleague John Brady said the principle of neutrality needed to be protected by enshrining it in the Constitution, "which will come about following a referendum".

Mr Coveney said four to five months was required to facilitate “appropriate consideration and consultation on the report” and prepare a proposed response and high-level action plan the Government could consider. He said the recommendations would also require agreement in a number of cross-party matters.

“I would like to reassure the Deputies that this does not mean that all of the commission’s recommendations are on hold,” Mr Coveney added.

“I have heard some commentary in relation to that, significant work is already underway and ongoing in a number of areas, which the Commission has referred to in their report.”