Fianna Fáil looks defenceless in Government while increasing defence investment

From Defence Forces Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfmagazine/52213507361/

Earlier this week, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, accompanied by ministers Simon Coveney and Eamon Ryan headed to McKee barracks, beside the Phoenix Park, to launch the overdue and long anticipated government’s action plan response to the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, entitled: “Building for the future – change from within.”

It is a good document. It commits the government to moving the State’s level of defence capability to Level of Ambition 2 (LOA) over a period of six years between now and 2028. In terms of cash and people, this means growing the annual Defence budget to €1.5 billion by 2028 (in 2022 prices) plus expanding the defence establishment by 2,000 personnel (civil and military).

Continue reading “Fianna Fáil looks defenceless in Government while increasing defence investment”

The Irish public 100% understands that defence costs

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday March 28th and sees me return to one of my most frequent themes… the devastation inflicted on Ireland’s national defence by the decade of political indifference shown by the two Fine Gael-led governments since 2011.  

97th Cadet Class Commissioning April 2022 via Defence Forces Flickr

“Coveney: Russian war highlights need to boost Defence Forces’ spend”.

This was the headline to a story in the Irish Examiner explaining how our part-time Minister for Defence is perhaps… possibly… on the cusp of the verge of being ready… in a few months… to signal that he just about ready to announce plans to consider the partial implementation of some of the recommendations in the final report of the Commission on Defence… if he secures the agreement of certain key people in Cabinet.

Regrettably, the words actually uttered by Minister Coveney on the day were not that much more definitive than my facetious parody, telling reporters that:

“I’ll be bringing an action plan on the back of the recommendations in the commission to Government in June and it will be a strong statement of intent from me, and I hope from government, if we can get approval, in terms of the need to quite significantly increase our investment in the Defence Forces”

Continue reading “The Irish public 100% understands that defence costs”

How Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine undid two decades work in a few days… for no gain.

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday February 28th 

German chancellor Olaf Scholz announcing radical changes to German defence policy Pic via: bundeskanzler.de/

I start this week’s column, picking up from where I left off last week, by looking at the future prospects of the Russian Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov.

Last Monday I suggested that he be sent home. I was not the first to say it. The call has echoed across most of Leinster House. At the end of last week we heard individual Labour and Fine Gael demand his expulsion. Inside Fianna Fáil, Jim O’Callaghan TD led a coordinated call by the party’s backbench TDs, MEPs, and Senators for the Ambassador to be expelled. Continue reading “How Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine undid two decades work in a few days… for no gain.”

Irish Defence Policy – the sleeping dog that’s no longer content to stay sleeping

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday, January 31st with the much snappier title: Indefensible. In it, I explain how a decade of political neglect of both defence policy and the Defence Forces is coming back to haunt the government. Sadly, the comments of An Taoiseach and of Ministers Coveney and Ryan point to them having beither the ideas or the political will to undo the damage of thar decade of neglect. 

Active Measures – Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov. Pic via SASKO LAZAROV/ROLLINGNEWS.IE

After a decade of defence issues being pushed so far down the political agenda that you’d need a bathysphere and a decompression chamber to even spot them, they came roaring back up that agenda this week. With a vengeance.

Each day brought a new story. It started with the concern over the build up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border and the not unconnected tumult over Russia’s plans to mount naval exercises in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.

It then continued with the policy-making-on-the-hoof announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Communications Minister Eamon Ryan that they plan to come up a plan to close Cathal Brugha barracks and use it for housing.

Continue reading “Irish Defence Policy – the sleeping dog that’s no longer content to stay sleeping”

Women of extraordinary honour and courage

This Broadsheet column first appeared online on Monday Sept 27th. It looks at the harrowing stories of rape, bullying, harassment and discrimination, and the failure of military command to pursue the perpetrators, as told by former female members of the Irish Defence Forces to Katie Hannon in her RTÉ Radio One documentary: Women of Honour

Whenever I have written about defence issues I have done so from the point of view that we do not properly appreciate the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann/The Irish Defence Forces.

Whether I was bemoaning our failure to treat defence as a political priority, highlighting the problems with retaining personnel, or lamenting the gross underuse of our Defence Forces on national cyber defence, I have often portrayed military management as being a hapless victim.

While my benign depiction of a military management doggedly doing its best in the face of an indifferent political and administrative system, is fair in the instances listed above, it is not always the case.

No fair minded person could listen to Kate Hannon’s compelling, but distressing, RTÉ Radio One documentary, Women of Honour, and come away with a positive view of military management.

Listening to the documentary was difficult, but it is essential listening for anyone with any interest in Irish defence matters. Continue reading “Women of extraordinary honour and courage”

Doing national #cybersecurity on the cheap costs more… time to put @defenceforces in charge

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday May 17th. I look at the massive ransomware attack on the HSE and the Dept of Health and remind us that experts have been warning for years that government is not taking cyber defence seriously enough.

We risk being the EU’s weakest link on cyber security despite our dependence on the digital economy. 

 

Though I have related this Jeffrey Bernard anecdote here before, it still bears repeating. When Jeffrey Bernard was too “tired and emotional” to submit his weekly column to The Spectator, the editor would place an apologetic line explaining that there was no column that week as: “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell”.

There was also another one. It was longer, but less apologetic and appeared when the editor was feeling less charitable. It read: “Mr Bernard’s column does not appear this week as it remarkably resembles the one he wrote last week”.

Broadsheet’s editor could be forgiven for posting a similar renunciation here, as the discourse on the HSE cyber-attack I propose to put to you is effectively a re-statement of arguments and commentaries I’ve made many times over the past few years. 

I have been warning about our failure to take national cyber-security seriously since late 2019. I highlighted it as a sub-plot in this column from Sept 2019 and then expanded on the problem in a column entitled: Pleading No Defence On Cyber Security.

Continue reading “Doing national #cybersecurity on the cheap costs more… time to put @defenceforces in charge”

No defence of defence relationships

This article first appeared on Broadsheet dot i e on February 22nd and considers the political dimension to the reported breakdown in relationships between senior management in the Department of Defence and the Irish Defence Forces. I establish that the problem has nothing to do with personalities, but rather the structural relations between the two leaderships and the perception that the Department of Defence is not championing the cause of the Defence Forces within government, most particularly with the Department of Finance. But that is impossible to do without a committed minister at cabinet with political clout. A minister who puts Defence first, not second.

A few months after I started working as the special adviser in the Department of Defence, Gerry Hickey, the late and much missed programme manager to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, phoned me to check on some departmental facts and figures for the annual Programme for Government review.

“…and roughly how many civil servants work in the Department of Defence”, he enquired.

“From what I can tell… about half of them”, I acerbically responded.

There was an exasperated silence at the other end of the line.  Not for the first time my knack for being smart-assed at the wrong moment was backfiring.  

“What was that?” he asked.

Luckily, I had the number to hand as there had been a parliamentary question on that topic a week or two before. From memory there were about 380 individual civil servants, but as some were on job sharing schemes this was roughly equal to 360 whole-time equivalents.  

My wise-guy answer was unnecessarily facetious. Almost all the department officials I encountered during in my time in defence were hard-working and professional. This is across the department, not just those on the policy side, who I encountered most frequently, but also the junior and mid-ranking officials who made the defence establishment work efficiently, such as those in the pay and pensions branches.

Continue reading “No defence of defence relationships”

We Have 2 Fronts In The War on #Covid-19… Both are Equally Vital

This column looks at how a speedy roll-out of the various Covid-19 vaccines across Ireland is just as critical to combating the virus as suppressing it, both fronts in the war on Covid-19, both are equally important.

I also examine how a decade of under-investment in our emergency services, particularly the Defence Forces and Gardaí has left the state with very little spare capacity to tackle emergency situations, such as this pandemic. This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on January 4th 2021   

Though the daily Covid-19 numbers are spiralling ever higher and the prospect of even tighter restrictions looming large, we must hold on tightly to the belief that we are almost through the worst of this pandemic.

For most of the last year we have fought this pandemic on just one front, that of containment. It is a fight that we have waged with reasonable success, due to the efforts of the government and – most especially – the thousands of essential workers from medical staff to delivery workers to retail personnel.

Now, a critical second front against the vaccine has been opened with the approval and distribution of vaccines. We now have two fronts and the speed of progress on both fronts will decide whether we are weeks or months away from progressing steadily back to some form of normality.

Continue reading “We Have 2 Fronts In The War on #Covid-19… Both are Equally Vital”

Govt pleads ‘no defence’ on #Irish #cybersecurity

This week’s Broadsheet.ie column revisits the issue of #CyberSecurity. In it I look at three specific aspects:

  1. The gaps in Ireland’s cyber security strategy and
  2. The critical role the Irish Defence Forces should play in delivering that strategy 
  3. The opportunity this presents for Ireland to be a centre of excellence within the EU on cybersecurity 
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Several times over the past few years I have written about the need for a mature and grown-up public debate on Irish security and defence policy.

It is why the recent initiative by the folks at Slándáil, headed by former Irish Army office, Dr Gerry Waldron is so welcome. Launched at the end of September, Slándáil has set itself the not unambitious task of generating and encourage such informed debate with a two-day policy forum/summit at DCU next February.

While the forum itself will look at a range of global and national factors from the implications of climate change to the future of the Defence Forces and of policing, much of the discussion will focus on contemporary cyber challenges, as Waldron explained in a recent interview with the Irish Times.

The pity is that this awareness of the cyber threat has not yet filtered through those with political responsibility for the defence agenda in government.

Continue reading “Govt pleads ‘no defence’ on #Irish #cybersecurity”

Varadkar’s Big Bad Data

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on September 24th and looks at the current government’s ongoing issues with grasping the critical importance of data and data privacy to our continuing economic growth and development. While the governments response to the Data Protection Commissioner’s findings that it broke its own laws in expanding the scope of Personal Service Cards shows a cavalier attitude to data protection, the total inadequacy of the states response to real cyber-security threats is frightening. The State must immediately given the Defence Forces a lead role in building cyber security capacity and give it the resources right now, including the ability to recruit and train the next generation of cyber security experts.

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Twenty years ago (last Sunday) the first ever episode of The West Wing premiered on US TV.

Though anyone who has ever served in government can confirm that The Thick of It or Yes, Minister are more realistic portrayals of life along the corridors of power, The West Wing still represents the ideal, the way we would like to think it is.

This is due, in part, to the excellent characterisations, but it is mainly down to the quality of writing. The dialogue not only fizzed, it was informed by actual policy debates.

There were prescient. Much of it is still cogent despite all that has happened in the intervening two decades.

Continue reading “Varadkar’s Big Bad Data”