The Labour Party welcomes the opportunity to comment on the terms of reference for the forthcoming Commission on Defence.
There can be no doubt that the Defence Forces are trying to operate within constrained circumstances at present. Reports of Naval ships not being able to put to sea, reports of the numbers of serving personal at some 88% of the Government’s own recommended minimum staffing numbers, raise serious questions as to how our Defence Forces will operate into the future. The Labour Party believes that the proposed Commission on the Defence Forces can offer a life-line for the future of our Defence Forces and is a lifeline that must be used effectively by Government.
Of course this will be a meaningless exercise if there is not a commitment from Government to put in place the resources needed to ensure that the Irish Defence Forces are a modern and effective force, and make a career within the Defence Forces attractive to those already serving and indeed to those who may be considering the Defence Forces as a career.
At the outset of its work, the Commission must take into account and reference recent reviews and ongoing reviews of the Defence Forces, including the White Paper on Defence 2015, White Paper update 2019 and the National Risk Assessment 2019. This is to ensure that the Commission does not undertake unnecessary work or replicate that which has already been done, and to ensure that the Commission is aware of the degree of coherence between its findings and existing policy, including the production of findings that challenge existing policy.
We believe that pay and conditions must be a central part of the work of this Commission and welcome the fact that the Minister has included this issue in the six terms of reference set out.
The Commission must lay out a comprehensive roadmap on the future of the Defence Forces and what the State expects from the Irish Defence Forces, in the context of Irish neutrality and the security threats to the State. Questions must include what are the current and future challenges of the defence of this country, including the issue of cyber-security, and how will the challenge of digitisation impact on the role of the Defence Forces.
Our Defence Forces have a proud and respected tradition as peacekeepers around the world, and this too will face personnel, economic and logistical challenges into the future. The Commission’s remit should be wide in scope so that it can examine the role of the Department of Defence in formulating defence planning for the Army, Naval Service, Air Corps and Reservists. In particular, the Commission should examine the operational relationship between the Department, the Defence Forces and academia and how this relationship feeds into defence planning and how it can be improved.
We believe that this commission must be transparent, open and inclusive at all times. There must be an independent chair who has experience in national and international affairs. The selected chair must have available to them when needed, professional and expert persons in the fields of international security and defence, and cyber-security.
We also recommend to Government to appoint a person with industrial relations experience within the State to become a member of the Commission. We believe that there must be members on the Commission with past military experience, with such personnel having an overall understanding of future military challenges, as well as Ireland’s past and likely future peacekeeping requirements.
Most importantly, there must be timelines agreed from the inception of the Commission, and these timelines must be achievable and adhered to for any proposed recommendations of the board.
Detailed recommendations on areas for consideration
- Arrangements for the effective defence of the country at land, air and sea.
- The Commission must clearly identify current and any likely future security threats throughout the island of Ireland and internationally, in the context of Irish neutrality and current defence policy.
- The Commission should examine the current scale and scope of the Defence Forces and take into account the current budgetary allocation for the land, sea and air elements and make recommendations as to whether or not the Defence Forces can operate at credible operational levels across all three domains.
- The Commission must examine the resources available to fund defence, particularly with respect to the role of technology including, cyber-security, advances in medical technology, genetic engineering, biotechnology, materials science, big data and robotics, our international obligations to the UN and the EU, within the context of Irish neutrality and current defence policy.
- The Commission should explore different funding mechanisms such as the EU Defence Fund and research and development grants.
- The Commission should examine the role of the military intelligence function of the Defence Forces, in the context of intelligence and cooperation agreements that currently exist with Great Britain and other countries, and how this can be managed given Brexit and our relationship with the EU.
- The Commission must examine the specific role of the Air Corps, and in particular investigate why we spend €367 million on SAR operations with a private operator instead of expanding our Air Corps to include such operations, and the cost savings that may be achievable in this context.
- The Commission must examine the cost of defensive and strategic assets, including air intercept and defence systems, that would be required to adequately protect and defend the land, air and sea territories of the State and to allow Government make informed decisions if required, within the context of budgetary constraints and Irish neutrality.
- The Commission must also examine the growing threat of cyber security and if our Defence Forces, or another State body, have the necessary mandate and/or capabilities to defend the physical or technological security of our national infrastructure if required. It must also examine the challenge of digitisation – how it is driving the transformation of modern defence forces and what Ireland needs to do to allow our Defence Forces to continue to operate in a modern military context.
- The Commission should assess the security threat around ports of entry, and the security capabilities required to provide adequate protection, and if the Defence Forces have a role in this area. A key issue here is the new threat that drones present to the security of airspace around airports.
- The Commission should examine the lessons from PDF overseas operations, in terms of operational challenges, capability gaps, and effectiveness of national command arrangements and multilateral command arrangements. Here it would help if the Commission has access to relevant PDF post-operation reports and lessons learned reports.
- Structures for Governance, joint command, and control structures
- The Commission should examine how the accountabilities and structural arrangements between the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces support and inform the role and responsibility of the Minister for Defence.
- The Commission should review the structural arrangements and accountabilities on how the co-ordination of policy and operational inputs into defence and security policy and operations can be improved.
- The Commission should consider options for structural arrangements and accountabilities that facilitate co-operation, rather than competition, between the different branches of the Defence Forces.
- The Commission should consider whether there is appropriate leadership and management capacity to deliver the defence and security requirements of the State,
best practice and changes in the structural arrangements of other countries.
- The Commission should examine the role of the Chief Of Staff in regards to budgetary decision making. The Commission should examine how the role of the CoS could be expanded to influence how strategic planning integrates Defence Forces acquisition systems in the provision of technologies and innovative solutions. The commission should focus on how the role of the CoS could maximize the flexibility of the acquisition system to meet shared priorities and operational objectives. This review must take into account the need for Oireachtas Budgetary oversight.
- The Commission should explore if the utilisation of a wide range of professional development methods to enhance senior leader effectiveness should be implemented to support leader development across a military career.
- The Commission should review the 1924 Minister and Secretaries Act and the 1954 Defence Act and make recommendations as to their suitability for the 21st Century Defence Forces.
- The Commission must examine the budget of the Defence Forces compared to other similar sized countries both in Europe and the rest of the world, in the context of Irish neutrality, budgetary constraints and national defence policy.
- The Brigade Structure
- The Commission must examine a post Brexit Ireland and the security and defence needs that may arise from such, and if there will be a need to provide additional resources nearer the current border with Northern Ireland.
- The Commission will need to develop understanding of next generation military capability and concept development and how this will affect future operation
- The Commission should consider and take into account the following principals in reviewing brigade structure 1)Mission 2)Adaptiveness 3)Cohesion 4)Full spectrum capabilities 5)Joint operations capabilities
- Pay and allowances and composition of the Defence Forces
- The Commission must examine the rates of pay and career progression for members of the Defence Forces, and conduct a statistical analysis on the level of retention of Defence Forces personnel, consider the importance of salary and other economic benefits on recruitment and retention, and identify the most common reasons why serving personnel choose to leave the Defence Forces.
- The Commission must review the Working Time Directive and its impact on the Defence Forces.
- The Commission must consider the need to allow Representative associations affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions
- The Commission must investigate current allowances paid to the Defence Forces, comparing them to those available to other public servants. This should include, for example, bringing the Navy Patrol duty allowance in line with other allowances available to public servants
- Recruitment, retention and career progression
- The Commission must examine the role of the partners of military personnel in the retention process and examine how the introduction of a “supporting spouses to improve their job seeking skills programme” could benefit military families.
- The Commission should investigate increasing the age when members can join e.g older than 26?
- The Commission should consider the effectiveness of recruitment campaigns, and consider the use of message strategy segments in advertising for recruitment. Routine message strategies could be used to appeal to those who crave structure and order in their everyday lifestyles while sensory message strategies can show the adventurous, unpredictable, and exciting aspects of the military as a focal point for advertisements.
- The Commission should consider how training opportunities/career broadening assignments leading to a job change, i.e. promotion can be developed to help retain personnel. It should conduct research on how aware are personnel of the existence and accessibility of internal opportunities and how active are military HR sources in engaging with personnel regarding opportunities.
- The Commission should examine if offering career breaks might discourage members considering leaving.
- The Commission should examine if there may be a better path of transition for reservists into the PDF.
- The Commission must examine the barriers that commuting and a lack of family life is having on retention and recruitment.
- The Commission should explore the awarding of educational benefits to serving personnel’s family members, and whether this could this help with retention.
- The contribution of the Reserve Defence Forces, including its legislation and defence force regulations governing it and whatever specialists from the RDF should be able to serve overseas
- The Commission must examine the purpose, effectiveness and strength of the Reserve Defence Forces, including the current and potential legislative requirements of growing the Reserve Defence Forces.
- The Commission should conduct research on the amount of talent and skills that currently exists in the RDF, which must be identified, used and promoted to increase retention.
- The Commission must look at the skill set of former members who may wish to reenlist into the RDF, their age and ability.
- The Commission must consider the employment status and protection of Reservists in relation to employer supports, including any relevant legalisation that may be required in this regard.
- The Commission must examine Training and Development, including possible combined PDF and RDF training.
- The Commission should examine the possibility of allowing reservists to apply directly to do a reserve cadetship.
- The Commission must examine the feasibility for RDF personnel serving on overseas operations.
I wish to thank you for your invitation to comment on these terms of reference, and I want to wish the Commission every success with its work.
Senator Mark Wall
Labour Party Spokesperson on Defence, Tourism and Sport