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.
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.
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.
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.
I also look briefly at the current political situation and suggest a straight-forward alternative to setting up a national unity government (though this is still my preferred option). In essence it involves formalising what is already happening by giving the other party and Dáil group leaders a formal role in the oversight of Irish govt’s #CoronaVirus response.
Veteran vaudevillian comedian George Burns used to ask: “why is it the guys who really know how to run the country are cutting hair and driving cabs”?
Whether you call them hurlers on the ditch, Monday quarter-backs or that prick at the end of the bar-counter, there have always been (and will always be) those bolshie, mouthy gits who, in the words of the great Brendan Behan, go about like eunuchs in a harem seeing others doing but knowing they can’t do it themselves.
Most are irritating but essentially harmless nuisances, even the ones who manage to discover how to use social media.
But there are others. Those who go that bit further. Those whose malicious intent is less easy to spot in an online era of nonchalant cynicism and aloof detachment.
This week’s Broadsheet.ie column revisits the issue of #CyberSecurity. In it I look at three specific aspects:
The gaps in Ireland’s cyber security strategy and
The critical role the Irish Defence Forces should play in delivering that strategy
The opportunity this presents for Ireland to be a centre of excellence within the EU on cybersecurity
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.