'We must be on our guard': Defence Forces chief of staff calls for more funding

Navy staff shortages forced State to request support from EU agency to patrol waters

The State’s spending on defence is one of the lowest in Europe and we “must be on our guard”, the Defence Forces chief of staff, Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, has said.

Writing in the Mayo News, Vice-Admiral Mellett said: “We must value and invest in our defenders because in the words of the Byzantine emperor Maurice, ‘a nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.’”

The Defence Forces, he said, is “part of the bedrock that today underpins our sovereignty providing a framework for our civil society. We provide the resilience for the unexpected, like absorbing the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

His declaration comes just days after it emerged that the State this year for the first time had to rely on an EU agency to help patrol its fishing waters because of staffing and ship shortages in the Naval Service.

The Irish Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority requested the support of the European Fisheries Control Agency four times between January and March, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.

In a submission to the Commission on the Defence Forces, the department said the situation has continued to deteriorate, exacerbated by the increasing need to patrol Irish fishing waters 322km (200 miles) off the coastline. Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs has told the commission that Irish co-operation with the EU, Nato, through Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe will become increasingly important.

Defence attachés could be appointed, too, it said, especially in regions where Ireland is seeking to expand its global footprint and where co-operation could be built with peacekeeping bodies in Africa and elsewhere.

The appointment of defence attaches and the choices made by the Government about their location would represent “a significant foreign policy development”, the department told the commission.

Calling for “increased specialised capabilities within the Defence Forces”, the department said these should include rapidly deployable units, bomb disposal teams, and more experts in peacekeeping and emerging military technologies. The department would also support targeted Defence Forces secondments to foreign and security policy posts in the United Nations, the EU and Nato, it told the commission, which is examining the future of the Defence Forces.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent