Neutrality really is no reason to take short cuts on defence spending
Published 27/08/2015 | 02:30
The White Paper on Defence is being published at a time when our Defence Forces are rightly basking in the sunshine of some very positive publicity.
The recent migrant crisis focused attention on their capabilities. Whether under the direction of the United Nations, supporting Irish NGOs or, as in the recent Mediterranean operation, combining with and supporting our EU counterparts, the Irish Defence Forces can be relied upon to get the job done with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of efficiency.
It is regrettable that many people's only knowledge of the work of our Defence Forces is measured in purely ceremonial terms, owing to the fact that Ireland is a country which has traditionally observed military neutrality.
The White Paper on Defence published by Government is a welcome public announcement regarding the Defence Forces' role both here at home and abroad. It is also an important declaration as to its important place in Irish life.
The experience, the skills and the sheer know-how that the members of our Defence Forces garner in fulfilling their responsibilities here at home have equipped one of the smallest (numerically speaking) and least financially resourced armed forces in Europe to excel on the international stage.
Since its first-ever United Nations engagement in the late 1950s, our Defence Forces have been one of the most internationally renowned and, indeed, successful elements of the State's foreign policy.
For over 50 years, Irish soldiers, drawn from the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, have brought security, stability, peace and hope to some of the most disadvantaged and, at times, hostile environments across the globe. The recent operation in the Mediterranean is only the latest manifestation of the State's foreign policy, with sailors supported by army medical personal delivering an operational solution to an international crisis, with the Air Corps standing by to provide resupply support if required.
The ability to deliver these international solutions cannot happen at the click of a finger.
It requires years of training, experience and know-how and modern equipment.
Many of the elements and functions delivered so seamlessly, professionally and compassionately in the Mediterranean are the same as those practiced by the Naval Service, supported by the Air Corps in the inclement and hostile waters of the North Atlantic.
Furthermore, the skills our soldiers develop dealing with a suspect explosive device here at home are the same as they might use in the Middle East.
Our Defence Forces are also taught at an early stage that military solutions don't always depend just on power and prowess, but also on good planning and strategic thinking and maximising the effectiveness of supporting equipment.
For example, building a camp that can safely accommodate over 100 troops from scratch in a hostile environment in a few short weeks requires more than construction skills.
Equally, intervening to secure or, on occasions, impose peaceful solution requires more that basic infantry skills - diplomacy, flexibility, experience and proper use of modern military hardware are vital to success.
The white paper suggests that corporate know-how and knowledge, gained either at home or from over half a century of international peacekeeping and enforcement, cannot be confined to the history books.
This knowledge needs to be shared and passed on to the next generation.
It is encouraging that the white paper recognises the extraordinary work of our Military College in the Curragh, which enjoys a strong international reputation.
The white paper recognises the valuable work the Military College can do imparting expertise to other forces and to commercial organisations where leadership skills are much sought after.
The Defence Forces require and deserve the continued investment, resources and support committed to in this white paper.
While welcoming the white paper, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating.
It will be a few years before we know how much of itsrecommendations are implemented and which ones gather dust on a shelf in the Department of Defence.
Eoghan Ó Neachtáin is a director at Heneghan Public Relations and is a former Army officer and Government press secretary.