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Ministers Speech
at the
Symposium on the White Paper on Defence

Farmleigh House

15 May 2015

Ministerial colleagues, Secretary General, Chief of Staff, National and International guests, I welcome you all to this Symposium on the White Paper on Defence.

I believe that Defence is among the most important policies pursued by Government. It has a direct and indirect bearing on the well-being of the State and its citizens. It also has a unique international connectivity which gives emphasis to this importance.

However, as you are aware, Defence is an issue which generally receives very little debate or discussion in Ireland. Indeed, historically, there was a reluctance to formulate an explicit or very specific Defence policy for this State and the publication of a White Paper on Defence in 2000 was in itself a significant landmark.

The Green Paper on Defence which was published in July 2013 represented a further welcomed development. It was explicitly intended to generate broad debate on defence policy and its publication initiated a public consultation process as part of the development of a new White Paper on Defence. Assistant Secretary General Des Dowling will shortly be providing an overview of the White Paper process to date, so I will not cover that ground. In broad terms that there has been a significant degree of consultation, consideration of the inputs received and analysis of capability requirements.

In response to the Green Paper, submissions were received from wide and varied sources and many of you here today contributed to that process. However, the views of individuals and organisations, although valuable, do not constitute debate and I felt that there was a requirement to bring interested stakeholders and experts together.

I intend to bring a final draft of the White Paper on Defence to Government by the end of July and this symposium provides a final opportunity to hear alternative views, to learn from the experience of others and to debate the merits of differing courses of action. This approach of utilising open policy debates as a means to inform policy formulation is a key strategy within the Civil Service Renewal Plan and this symposium advances that agenda through facilitating open and transparent discussion.

I am very pleased to welcome our distinguished panellists who bring a broad range of expertise and experience to today’s event. I am also acutely aware that there is extensive experience and expertise in the audience and I would encourage you all to fully participate in the discussions. David McCullagh has kindly accepted an invitation to facilitate proceedings and I have no doubt that he will bring his considerable experience to bear in this regard.

The sessions are grouped around “policy emphases”. These represent key differences in “direction of travel” advocated by various interested parties in the course of the consultation process. However, they are not exhaustive or mutually exclusive. Rather, they are intended to provide a framework within which those of you who advocated particular courses of action can articulate your views and for those who do not share those views to challenge assumptions and tease out implications. I am not seeking consensus (although that would be welcome!), but that we all leave here today better informed of the challenges and choices.

White Paper – Cross Cutting policy considerations

The Defence White Paper must provide policy direction for all aspects of Defence business. This encompasses providing for the defence of the State, Defence inputs to domestic security, Defence inputs to international peace and security and a wide range of other roles including the provision of air ambulance services etc. The work of the Office of Emergency Planning has significantly advanced preparedness for civil contingencies and the Defence Forces and Civil Defence are a key part of the State’s planned responses to a wide variety of contingencies. There are significant cross-cutting policy dimensions to this work and multiple Departments and Agencies with whom Defence does business.

In this context, many submissions advocated increased defence contributions to areas where other Government Departments retain the policy lead. A key part of the consultation process entailed consulting with those Departments and eliciting their views on future required supports and funding implications. I am glad to see that many of those Departments and Agencies are represented here today.

The Security Environment

The nature of the contribution of the Defence Organisation to domestic, regional and global security is such that success is measured by stability, the containment of conflict and the mitigation of security risks. Paradoxically, success can breed complacency and lead to an incorrect assumption that we do not face security risks. The nature and complexity of the security challenges in today’s world require responses that are frequently beyond the capacity of even the largest States. Colonel Joe Mulligan will shortly be providing a brief overview of the most recent security assessment for the White Paper. This provides a critical context for our discussions.

Domestically, the Defence Forces remain a key constituent of the State’s security architecture and continue to deliver a broad range of security services including EOD responses and on request armed support to An Garda Síochána. The Naval Service is the State’s principal sea-going agency and continues to undertake a range of security and support tasks including, in conjunction with the Air Corps, fishery protection. The Air Corps also continues to provide a broad range of supports including support to the Garda Air Support unit.

Ireland has long been a strong advocate of the United Nations and the collective approach to security. The publication of “The Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign policy for a Changing World” has confirmed our continued commitment to the UN and our policy of military neutrality. Flowing from Ireland’s commitment to the UN, the deployment of the Defence Forces on overseas peace support operations continues to provide an active and very tangible demonstration of Ireland’s commitment to supporting the maintenance of international peace and security.

Participation in overseas peacekeeping missions remains a key element of Ireland’s foreign policy. It has been an important dimension in meeting Ireland’s international obligations as a member of the UN and the EU. It has also been a key factor in advancing Ireland’s influence and credibility in the international arena and in advancing Ireland’s foreign policy interests.

Our participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace has facilitated the development of the interoperability that is necessary to jointly deploy with other nations in undertaking UN mandated peace support and crisis management operations. Our Defence Forces have operated successfully alongside troops from other countries in UN-led, NATO-led and EU-led operations.

More recently, the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, and the Government’s commitment to deploying a Naval Service ship to assist, highlights the differing operational demands that can arise. The type of capabilities that may be required and the types of operations to which we can best contribute and afford in the coming years must be considered carefully.

New Departures

There is a long track record of Government maximising the utilising of defence assets for the benefit of State through their usage in support roles. Having regard to maintaining a wider perspective on possible defence initiatives I established an external advisory Group to provide me with additional supports in preparing the White Paper. This Group feeds into the work of the Department’s joint Civil Military White Paper Steering team. There are a number of new initiatives being advanced by this Group which we will discuss in the final session. We will also consider if there is scope for defence to contribute further to economic development and recovery through further engagement with Irish enterprise, research and education sectors.

Resource Constraints

Considerations such as future security challenges, management of risks and likely operational demands provide the context for deciding on future capabilities; however, finance must also be considered. Defence is an area of public expenditure where the benefits accruing from expenditure are not always immediately evident to the general public. It is critically important that we clearly articulate the rationale underpinning expenditure and funding requirements.

The on-going reform agenda in the Defence Organisation has played a significant role in maintaining defence capabilities and outputs within a reduced resource envelope. I would like to acknowledge the significant work that has been undertaken by the Secretary General and Chief of Staff in leading and managing such significant changes.

I know that there are a lot of things that you believe should be done and that in some cases these entail significant increases in defence expenditure. However, we must remain realistic. We are emerging from an unprecedented economic downturn which has adversely impacted citizens across the State and there are a range of competing demands for public funding. Whilst I am fully prepared to listen to the cases being presented today, ultimately the White Paper must be brought to Government for approval.


This event today provides the opportunity to consider future requirements and exchange ideas as to the best way forward. I am very much looking forward to listening to your opinions and I would like to thank you all, in advance, for your participation.


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