Monday 22 October 2018

New Defence Forces chief of staff always destined for top

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Rear Admiral Mark Mellett, new Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Rear Admiral Mark Mellett, new Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

A Naval officer is making military history by becoming the first Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces to be selected from outside the Army.

Rear Admiral Mark Mellett is taking over at a time of change.

For only the second time since the foundation of the military organisation, the Government is introducing a White Paper, which will set out the future for the Defence Forces for the next decade.

The policy-making document is expected to be approved within the next fortnight when it was brought before the Cabinet by Defence Minister Simon Coveney.

But, in contrast to its predecessor, it is likely to present far fewer problems for the new Chief of Staff.

The run-up to the first White Paper sparked a major struggle for supremacy between the military and the Department of Defence amid fears there was a hidden agenda to slash the strength of the Defence Forces to 8,500.

A compromise was finally reached and peace was restored. This time, Mr Coveney has been careful to lay down the groundwork and his final set of proposals will not include any revolutionary plans that could cause internal difficulties for Mark Mellett when he takes overall command in September on the retirement of the highly impressive Lieut General Conor O'Boyle.

From early on in his career, naval officer Mellett was singled out by his superiors as a star of the future. He was more forthcoming with his views than his peers and never shirked a challenge.

His operational experience included terms in charge of the Naval ships Orla, Ciara and the flagship, Eithne, and award-winning service in overseas duties, before moving into desk jobs at naval headquarters.

He then became Flag Officer of the Naval Service in 2010.

Until recently, the three top posts in the Defence Forces were traditionally held by officers, who had come up through the ranks of the Army.

But the mould was broken with the appointments of Mark Mellett and Ralph James, from the Air Corps, to the positions of deputy chiefs of staff. This meant that it was a long odds-on bet the successor to General O'Boyle would, for the first time, come from outside the Army.

The shock decision earlier this year by Ralph James to retire early for a job in aviation, removed the final obstacle for a man, who was always destined for the top.

Irish Independent

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