So, my last issue post is one that’s very much of a personal interest, and a little self-indulgent on my part I’ll admit, but whatever, that’s what a blogs for.
I’ve always had an interest in military history and the Irish military, twin subjects that were part of my MA from NUIM, and one of my first serious job opportunities post-college, working as a Library/admin assistant in the Curragh Camp’s Defence Forces Training Centre, as a civilian (I was tempted to apply for a cadetship more than once in my life, but bad eyesight, financial unattractiveness and just sheer lack of sustained impetus on my part nixed that idea).
While working there I got somewhat of a first-hand view of the things that make the Defence Forces great – the comradery, the pride in historical record, and the laid back but respectful attitude among many officers and enlisted – and some of the things that make it not so great – the top heavy ratio of officers to everyone else, pay, the lack of decent postings, and a sense of aimlessness from many personnel, those not preparing for or actively engaged in peacekeeping missions.
I think that the Defence Forces are important for this country, and other places, more important than many Irish people and politicians are willing to acknowledge. Just a few days from voting, let’s take a look at the party statements on the Defence Forces and see what their commitments are in relation to size and purpose.
Fine Gael actually have a lengthy enough section on Defence in their manifesto, and commit to increasing troop numbers for both the Permanent and Reserve Defence Forces, new leadership training institutes, increasing female roles in the military, and continued support for EU and UN based “collaborative security arrangements”. Good stuff overall, but the lack of specificity on numbers is eye-raising.
Labour’s comments on the Defence Forces are comparatively short, and talks mostly about union representation for military service personnel in the ICTU. OK, I guess that’s good, but the party offers nothing on increasing troop numbers or peacekeeping, beyond namedropping the recent Mediterranean efforts by the Navy. I suppose the army has never really been their thing.
Fianna Fail is the first party that actually proposes an exact number for the Defence Forces, with plans for 10’500 permanent personnel and 4’000 in the reserves. They also advocate a return to the three brigade structure, the re-opening of the Athlone Barracks, and the continuation of Ireland’s current neutrality set-up. This is simple, clear, welcome stuff.
Sinn Fein, as you would expect, tread carefully on this topic, with the words “Defence Forces” never actually being written in their manifesto. There’s a commitment to the continuing Navy service in the Mediterranean, and the continuation of Irish peacekeeping operations “that enhance our neutrality”. Uh huh. On the negative side of things, there’s a commitment to remove the Irish military from EU battlegroups, as part of an inane rejection of an “EU Army”, a drum this party has beaten since Lisbon.
AAA-PBP advocate withdrawal from the same battlegroups, and that’s it for specific thoughts on the Defence Forces. It just isn’t their focus, they prefer to wax lyrical about Israel, Syria and “imperialist wars”.
Renua have “Foreign Policy & Defence” right down at the very end of their manifesto. There’s a commitment to create new intelligence systems for peacekeeping work, more name-dropping of the Mediterranean missions (everyone wants a piece of an unadulterated good news refugee story) and thoughts on hooking up those leaving military service with other jobs. Nothing on expanding the Defence Forces though, and the whole section has the feel of an afterthought.
The Social Democrat manifesto has nothing. Seriously, check it yourself. No mention of “Defence Forces”, “military” “neutrality”, “Army”, “Navy”, “Naval” or even “Mediterranean”. They just leave it out. I’m a little surprised that they were lax in this – the manifesto is full of minor nods to other issues I would deem of a similar weight – but I suppose it is simply not something they feel is important to them at the present time. Very disappointing.
Lastly, the Greens seek “A national debate to discuss Ireland’s role in today’s international community given our tradition of neutrality and an independent foreign policy”. Alarm bells ringing after reading that. And then a proposal to “Develop a system whereby all citizens would be encouraged to follow a path of service that contributes to their communities and contributes to the promotion of peace and defence in the world without necessarily making a commitment to full time contracts but through the reserve or civil defence services instead”. Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring. It’s not too hard to read between the lines here, and the hidden message is a sneaky “Do we really need the Defence Forces?” The answer is yes, but I suppose I can forgive the Greens. This really isn’t their area any more than it has traditionally been Labours.
So, a definite mixed bag then. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are the best of them, with the Soc Dems’ lack of thoughts surprising and concerning.