Taoiseach has 'absolute confidence' in Defence Minister despite claims he is 'out of his depth'
TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said he has full confidence in Defence Minister Paul Kehoe after he was severely criticised by the former head of the Army Ranger Wing.
The Taoiseach also shot down the possibility of making the Department of Defence a full Cabinet ministry despite calls from former soldiers and Opposition politicians.
Speaking ahead of an EU Summit in Brussels, Mr Varadkar said: “I have absolute support and confidence in minister Kehoe.
“He is a minister at the Cabinet table and has the same weight as any other minister at the Cabinet table,” he added.
The Taoiseach said he would have to scrap another department if he was to make the Department of Defence a full Cabinet ministry.
“I've yet to hear a proposal from anyone whether they think that should be the Department of Children or the Department of Rural Affairs or which one they think it should be,” he said.
Retired Commandant Cathal Berry, who headed up the elite Ranger Wing, described Mr Kehoe as an “empty suit” who is “completely out of his depth” and “simply not up to the job”.
“As a junior minister he has been the permanent presence in the Department of Defence since 2011 and has therefore presided over the demise of the Defence Forces,” Mr Commandant Berry said.
“To reduce a highly effective and proud organisation to an utterly demoralised outfit over an eight-year period is some achievement,” he added.
In Brussels, the Taoiseach acknowledged the former Army Ranger’s criticism but insisted the Government was investing in the Defence Forces.
“I heard former Commandant Barry's interview this morning and it certainly was a stinging criticism and I think sometimes Government needs to listen to criticism and sometimes take it on board,” he said.
An extra €50m is going in this year and none of it is being handed back. It is going into new vessels, new aircraft, new equipment, better barracks and better pay and pension for our defence forces staff.
A Department of Defence spokesperson said the Public Service Pay Commission’s report on soldiers pay and conditions will be considered by the Cabinet in the coming weeks.
“Like other areas of the public sector, members of the Defence Forces are benefiting from pay increases in accordance with national public service pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay,” he added.