Urgent investment needed in Defence Forces

Army, Naval Service and Aer Corps are highly regarded but generally taken for granted

 

Falling numbers, a shortage of skilled personnel and early retirements have affected the capabilities of the Army, the Naval Service and Aer Corps, according to an unpublished report prepared for the Defence Forces. As the Government prepares an investment plan, particular attention should be paid to the State’s security requirements.

After the economic collapse, the Defence Forces’ budget was particularly hard hit. Between 2010 and 2015, spending was cut by almost one-third and Ireland’s spending ranked as the lowest in Europe. Reorganisation of the Army, restructuring, the closure of barracks and a recruitment embargo led to the lowest Defence Force numbers in 40 years. Although official policy provides for an overall personnel complement of 9,500, numbers have fallen below 9,000. In today’s increasingly dangerous world, that is not a sustainable situation.

The Defence Forces have traditionally been treated as poor relations in terms of funding; they are recognised as providing vital supports for the State but they do not offer the political dividends promised by investment in other areas. As a consequence, they are highly regarded but generally taken for granted. Personnel are now very thinly spread, with the bulk of numbers reflecting the Army’s UN peacekeeping tasks.

The White Paper on long-term development within the Defence Forces has recognised a shortfall in capital spending and identified a new and wider security agenda and the development of defence capacities. Greater international cooperation on cyber defence, terrorist attacks and new technologies is envisaged, along with measures relating to the maritime and aviation contexts. Talking about change and innovation is one thing. Funding it is quite another. And while the last budget provided for an increase in capital spending, the overall allocation remained virtually unchanged. The Aer Corps is haemorrhaging skilled personnel and training and rescue services have been reduced. The Naval Service and Army are also affected. Investment is required.

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