THE MINISTER FOR Defence has said that he believes the Irish Defence Forces needs to change its culture to make it a more enticing place to work.
Tánaiste Micheál Martin made his comments during a public question and answer session at US think tank the Atlantic Council.
The Defence and Foreign Affairs Minister was in Washington DC meeting US political figures and also attending briefings at the White House.
During the Atlantic Council event he was asked by Emmanuel Jacob of Euromil, the European Organisation of Military Associations and Trade Unions, if he supported a greater investment in personnel to reverse the retention crisis.
It was revealed during a recent Dáil debate that the Defence Forces strength had fallen to a historic low level with naval ships ‘tied up’ as they did not have enough crews to go to sea.
The 2023 Budget for Defence was increased to €1.174 billion in Defence Group.
This allocation represents an increase of €67 million on the corresponding 2022 budget allocation.
The Department of Defence billed the increase as a platform to deliver on the Commission on the Defence Forces recommendations.
One hundred percent
Martin said he “one hundred percent” supports the view that retention affects a military’s operational effectiveness and that he also believes militaries should be a safe place to work.
His comments come just days after receiving the Independent Review Group into abuse allegations by the Women of Honour.
That report was compiled after the broadcast of an RTÉ documentary in which a number of women made allegations about their time in the Defence Forces.
“Culture is also important. I think we need to look at the culture within our Defence Forces and within military in general.
Look where young people are today.. are the approaches of the past of a sufficiency to attract young people to a career in the military?
“So culture I think is going to be very important. And I actually would think that the culture… the sort of climate for employing people within a military situation is one that we need to have a very keen look at – and we will in Ireland – to make it an attractive place and a safe place to work…
“As well as improving terms and conditions which we’ve done in the last two years in terms of pay as increasing significantly from where it was – the cultural piece is also very important,” he said.
The Tánaiste admitted to the audience that Ireland had “historic underinvestment” in the Irish Defence Forces.
He said that the investment increase is in response to “new threats” and also said that Government identified a need to modernise the Defence Forces in the wake of the HSE Cyber Attack.
He said that the HSE Cyber Attack taught Ireland a lesson about modern threats.
“We have to stop thinking about war in the conventional sense all the time, we’ve got to look at the hybrid threats that are emerging such as cyber threats, and so on and how we deal with it. So basically, our capacity needs to improve,” he added.
Some distance away
In response to a question about the need for Ireland to have a naval sub surface response to deal with submarine threats he said that was “some distance away”.
Martin added that while Ireland was not military aligned, it was part of an EU-wide security and defence strategy.
“Ireland will never be in a position really to engage in submarine warfare but I think you can develop strategies to protect vital economic assets, and particularly in terms of the undersea cables, and not all in terms of conventional war-type approaches,” he added.
Ireland currently does not have any Naval asset capable of monitoring and detecting sub-surface naval threats.