The perils of the mid-term #reshuffle

In this blog I discuss the principal factors a party leader should consider when contemplating a mid-term reshuffle. Though I draw many of these from British political research, I also consider recent Irish expamples and refrain – largely – from engaging in too much speculation about who may be in or out next Saturday… or next week when the junior ministries are announced. 

Will it be “as you were” with some folks just moving steps rather than entering/exiting?

Aware of Paddy Ashdown’s background as both a Royal Marine and a Special Boat Service officer, Charles Kennedy observed wryly to the House of Commons in Oct 1998 that Ashdown was: “the only party leader who’s a trained killer. Although, to be fair, Mrs Thatcher was self-taught.”

Not that the Iron Lady saw it that way. Speaking about her post-election reshuffle options in a BBC interview on the day after her 1983 election win, she resisted Sir Robin Day’s invitation to call herself a good (political) butcher. Instead, she disagreed with Herbert Asquith’s claim that a good Prime Minister must be a good butcher, before adding that they did need to know how to carve the joint. A distinction without a difference?

Continue reading “The perils of the mid-term #reshuffle”

Fine Gael’s triple lock three card trick

In this blogpost I suggest that the latest Fine Gael suggestion that Ireland abandon the UN mandate element of the triple-lock mechanism is just about distracting public focus from its ongoing failure to undo the decade of neglect it has inflicted on Irish defence.     

Minister Coveney waits to respond to Seanad Éireann’s debate on military neutrality

Last Wednesday evening (around 5.30pm) Seanad Éireann debated a Private Members motion on “Ireland’s Military Neutrality.” It is well worth a read (or a viewing) as it is a calm and reasoned discussion of Irish Defence policy and the large gaps that appear therein.

Huge credit is due to the two proposers of the motion: Senators Michael McDowell and Tom Clonan. They crafted a motion that was both measured but frank. The motion, which was passed, ultimately called on the government to:

– properly fund Ireland’s Army, Air Corps, Naval Service and Cyber Capability: Continue reading “Fine Gael’s triple lock three card trick”

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”