The security of the State and its citizens is a primary responsibility of government. The government considers broad security threats that face the State. The lead role in responding to these threats can rest with a range of departments and agencies. Providing for the military defence of the State’s territory is a fundamental security requirement and responsibility for this is vested specifically in the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces.
The Department of Defence has both civil and military elements. Both provide supports to the Minister for Defence. The Secretary General is the principal policy adviser to the Minister while the Chief of Staff is the Minister’s principal military adviser.
The Constitution of Ireland vests the right to raise and maintain military or armed forces exclusively in the Oireachtas and expressly prohibits the raising and maintenance of any other military or armed force for any purpose whatsoever. It vests supreme command of the Defence Forces in the President and also provides that the exercise of such command shall be regulated by law. The governing legislation is contained in the Defence Acts, 1954-2015, which provide that military command of, and all executive and administrative powers in relation to, the Defence Forces, shall be exercisable by the government and through and by the Minister for Defence. This includes the power to delegate command and authority.
The White Paper on Defence provides the strategic and comprehensive defence policy framework for the period up to 2025.
In acknowledgement that security is the bedrock on which a society’s achievements are built, the White Paper sets out a comprehensive and forward-looking assessment of the security environment. Drawing from this, it provides a policy framework for defence that is flexible and responsive having regard to the dynamic nature of the security environment and the key role that Defence plays in the State’s security architecture.
The Strategy Statement of the Defence Organisation (which comprises the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces) establishes the following shared high-level goal:
This High Level Goal comprises three broad strategic dimensions:
Under each Strategic Dimension, a number of priority Goals, Objectives and Actions are identified.
No state acting alone can address the entirety of existing and emerging security challenges. They require a co-ordinated, collaborative and integrated collective response drawing on a wide range of policy instruments at national level and through multilateral collective security arrangements. Ireland, through its proactive engagement with the UN, the EU, the OSCE and NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP), and bilaterally with other states, continues to contribute to a range of cooperative and collaborative security arrangements in support of international peace and security.
Ireland maintains a policy of military neutrality which is characterised by non-membership of military alliances and non-participation in common or mutual defence arrangements.
Deployment of Defence Forces’ personnel on peace support missions is undertaken in accordance with relevant legislation, which contains the requirement for Government, Dáil and UN approval, known as the “triple-lock”.
The Defence Forces have a long and proud history of service overseas and have had a continuous presence on peace support operations since 1958. Currently the Defence Forces operate in a number of locations and participate in multinational peace support, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations in support of the UN and under UN authorisation.
The Defence Forces consist of a Permanent Defence Force (PDF) and a Reserve Defence Force (RDF).
The PDF consists of the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service with an overall establishment of 9,500 personnel. In addition, in the region of 430 civilian employees are engaged throughout the Defence Forces.
The Army provides the land component of the State’s Defence capabilities. On a day-to-day basis, the Army provides a broad range of supports to the State, including activities in support of An Garda Síochána, such as providing prisoner escorts, and explosive ordnance disposal, and also tasks in support of the civil authorities such as the provision of assistance in severe weather events and is an integral part of the State’s response to many contingencies.
The Air Corps is based at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, and consists of an operational headquarters, two operational wings, two support wings, the Air Corps Training College, and a Communication and Information Services Squadron. On a day-to-day basis, the Air Corps undertakes Army Support and Fishery Protection Patrols.
The Air Corps also supports An Garda Síochána, by providing pilots and technical support for the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU), and the HSE through provision of a helicopter, pilots and technical support for the Emergency Aeromedical Support (EAS) service and the HSE’s emergency inter-hospital air ambulance service.
The Naval Service is based at Haulbowline, Co. Cork, where it has an operational headquarters, an operations command, a logistical support command and a Naval Service College.
The Naval Service is the State’s principal sea going agency and provides a broad range of supports in the maritime domain. On any given patrol day, the Naval Service can carry out a number of taskings on behalf of other State agencies such as the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA), An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners.
Reserve Defence Force
The Reserve Defence Force consists of the First Line Reserve, the Army Reserve and the Naval Service Reserve. The Army Reserve has an establishment of 3,869 personnel and the Naval Service Reserve has an establishment of 200 personnel. The primary role of the Reserve Defence Force (RDF) is to augment the PDF in crisis situations.
Civil Defence is a volunteer-based organisation that provides essential supports in time of need to An Garda Síochána, the HSE and the local authorities (these are sometimes called the Principal Response Agencies).
The government is committed to the continued development of Civil Defence around its central strategic objective of supporting the Principal Response Agencies in a variety of emergency and non-emergency situations.
These include dealing with severe weather events and searching for missing persons. Each year, Civil Defence also provides support at over 1,000 community, sporting and charitable events across the country. The Department of Defence is responsible for Civil Defence policy and the strategic management and development of the organisation.
There are 29 Civil Defence Units (one in each local authority) nationwide. Operational control and day to day management of Civil Defence Units rests with the relevant local authority.
The Office of Emergency Planning supports the Minister for Defence in his role as Chairman of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning.
The Office of Emergency Planning works with departments and other key public authorities in order to ensure the best possible use of resources, and compatibility across different emergency planning requirements.
The Office of Emergency Planning is a joint Civil/Military Office and, through the Government Task Force, oversees and coordinates emergency planning at a national level.
In the event that an emergency does occur, the National Emergency Coordination Centre is activated under the chair of the relevant lead government department responsible, which then manages the response in line with national guidelines and the associated planning arrangements within that lead department. That department coordinates the national response through the National Emergency Coordination Group.
In addition, the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning launches a “Be Winter Ready” information campaign annually, details of which are available on the Winter Ready website.
This is a whole of government campaign across all government departments and agencies, and is complemented by the rollout of local information campaigns by the local authorities around the country.