The first response to my letter to the Limerick City candidates comes from Deputy Willie O’Dea, Fianna Fail. Not really surprising, considering he was Minister of Defence for much of the last few years.
I should point out that the first reply I got was from Green candidate Shiela Cahill, but that was only a brief message to tell me she’d formulate some thoughts and get back to me.
Anyway, here’s O’Dea’s reply, my words in the original e-mail in bold and my commentary in italics:
What is your opinion of the present state of the Irish Defence Forces?
Like all other sections of the public service, the austerity measures have hit the Defence Forces. While these measures are having an impact, the massive investment in equipment, facilities and training has left the Defence Force organisation capable of dealing with them.
The modernisation of the total Defence organisation since 2000 is a model of how public sector reform can work and can deliver results – with more being done for less.
I suppose this is as good an answer as any, though I will consistently question the idea that more can be done with less. Frequently, that math just doesn’t work out.
Its reduced budget and size, its promotion freeze, and limited participation in missions abroad?
Before I left as Minister I had negotiated some easing of these measures, particular the promotions, where we were able to regularise some acting up positions. Similarly, we achieved some recruitment, both cadet and general service. I am also pleased to see that investment continues – which will safeguard the modernisation programme achieved under the 2000 White Paper.
The biggest reduction in troops numbers serving overseas was due to the Chadian government refusing to agree to the continuation of the UN’s MINURCAT mission in May 2010. This unexpected development coupled with the downsizing of much older missions in the Balkans meant a much bigger reduction in numbers serving overseas than I would have liked.
While I was Minister the average number serving overseas at anyone one time was just over 800 and I would like to see back up near 700 as soon as possible. The return to Lebanon in the coming months will move us along the way to achieving that number, but we need to start planning now for future missions.
Good answer, but this sort of small-scale recruitment/promotion is not the best way to insure that the Defence Forces operate at an optimim level.
I agree that there is only so much that the Government can do about deployments, though I wonder if the Lebanon commitment could not be expanded.
Do you believe, as many do, that the Irish Defence Forces are surplus to the requirements of the modern Irish state?
No. I also don’t accept that many believe this either. My experience as Minister for Defence was that there was huge support for and pride in our troops.Our overseas service shows our international commitment to peace and justice and is not a core activity for Óglaign na hÉireann, but the Defence Forces also provide a huge range of services here at home. The Air Corps and Naval Service provide important sea fisheries and marine patrolling services. The Air Corps provides important air ambulance services.
The Army not only provides vital national security on island, it also provides bomb disposal and a range of back up services to the civilian power in a range of emergency scenarios, as evidenced in the recent severe weather situations.
Excellent. It’s good to see that high ranking politicians are capable of defending the Defence Forces in the face of negative public opinion. The fact remains that the Irish Defence Forces undertake a wide variety of roles outside of peacekeeping duties and it is good to see that role being publicised and defended.
What is your opinion of Ireland’s current neutrality laws and the “triple-lock” system?
Our military neutrality is important to Ireland, it encapsulates our belief in the rule of international law and the importance of multilateralism. It reinforces the importance of the United Nations to us, as a small nation.The triple lock of UN mandate, Government and Dáil approval also reinforces the fact that we alone decide how much we spend on defence and how and where our troops are deployed.
I disagree strongly with the assumption that the “triple-lock” allows that “we alone decide…where our troops are deployed”. This is very obviously not the case. The fact that we need a UN mandate in order to use our Defence Forces in an overseas peacekeeping role means that the governments of Washington, London, Paris, Moscow and Beijing all have a say in “where our troops are deployed” and if they evem can be.
This is not some idle worry either: it happened before with a potential peacekeeping mission to FYR Macedonia, vetoed by China in 20o4. Other “neutral” nations like Sweden took part anyway, but we could not.
That being said, I can appreciate the sentiment behind Irish neutrality being expressed by the Deputy, though I would argue against it being the case.
Do you have any specific foreign diplomatic initiatives or schemes in mind for the coming Dail term?
The importance of the Middle East and the Far East in the modern world would point to strengthening our diplomatic, cultural and economic ties with countries in this region. The opening of new embassies in places like the UAE etc is important and I hope we continue that in the future.
I also believe we should be looking at possible future deployments by Irish Troops back to UN mandated missions in Sub Saharan Africa.
Certainly, I would imagine with all of the unrest in the Sub Saharan Africa region currently, the opportunity for further peacekeeping or peace enforcement missions will arise. Whether Ireland will be a part of those missions remains to be seen. Growing ties with the Middle East and the Far East is all well and good, though I would have appreciated a bit more detail. What is it exactly that we can offer these regions and what can they give us?
Hope this helps in your queries
Willie O’Dea T.D.
Deputy O’Dea gets kudos from me for taking the time to reply to my letter. Still ten other candidates being silent. More answers to come I hope!