Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests.
I am delighted to be here this morning to open the Slándáil National Security Conference.
Dr. Waldron, you have organised here in DCU a wide-ranging gathering of people, many of whom are heavily involved in security and defence-related activities within the State and overseas.
Developing a dialogue on security and defence only serves to strengthen our understanding of these issues, which are relevant and important to the lives of all citizens.
This sort of dialogue, involving key stakeholders, will lead to a better informed debate, improved decision-making and, I believe, to a more secure environment in the State.
Today’s conference presents me with an important opportunity to give an overview of how I, and my fellow ministers in Government, have approached National Security issues over the past number of years and to give you a sense of the progress we have made in developing our National Security architecture.
It is most important that I start by saying that Ireland remains a safe and stable country.
We live in one of the safest places in the world.
The Government has been briefed by the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána that the threat level in Ireland is moderate, which means that, while a terrorist attack is possible, it is unlikely at present.
It is very reassuring that our security and defence experts in An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces are in a position to make such a statement.
As we all know, this is a position that many other states and their citizens across the world are, unfortunately, unfamiliar with.
But our overall threat level here at home does not give way for complacency.
Protecting our citizens is of paramount importance to us and always will be.
We live in a complex world with ever evolving threats emerging whether they be cyber, hybrid, the trafficking of people, unregulated migration, radicalisation of our citizens, cross-border international crime or terrorism.
Threats do not remain static. Therefore, our response must also evolve.
That is precisely why we have developed a new security architecture in the State over the past number of years to ensure there is active oversight of national security arrangements.
The Government committee responsible for security takes a lead role in ensuring a coherent, cooperative and effective development of the wider security architecture.
It also allows for greater ministerial involvement in preparing for and managing major security threats.
Many positive developments have taken place to improve our security environment since the committee was formed.
Just last year, the committee oversaw the establishment of the National Security Analysis Centre (NSAC) and the appointment of its first Director, Dermot Woods.
I am pleased to see that Dermot will also be addressing this conference tomorrow.
Dermot has exceptional experience in the security sphere and I know the new Centre is in safe hands with him at the helm.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you will also have seen in December just gone the launch of the public consultation on the development of a National Security Strategy.
This new strategy will aim to set out a whole-of-Government approach for how the State can protect its national security and vital interests from current and emerging threats over the period 2020-2025.
The National Security Analysis Centre is leading on the development of this new strategy. Some of you in this room may have contributed to the public consultation process. I certainly hope you did so.
It is vitally important that informed opinions from people such as yourselves form part of the consideration of this important new development.
Also published last year was the Government’s new strategy to protect the State against cyber-attacks.
This strategy sets out the framework which will ensure the secure operation of computer networks in the State so that our citizens, businesses, hospitals, schools, energy networks and security systems can operate in a safe environment.
To quote my fellow Minister, Richard Bruton TD, from when he launched this strategy, it is about “building capacity, setting standards, ensuring vigilance and learning from best practice at home and abroad to protect our citizens.”
White Paper Update
I particularly want to draw attention this morning to the White Paper on Defence Update which I published in December.
The latest assessment concludes that while the level of threat facing the State has not altered in a way to justify increasing the overall stated level of threat, the position has developed and changed in the period since 2015.
A continuing concern is that the experience in other European countries has shown that the threat level can escalate rapidly.
Furthermore, events internationally impact increasingly on our political, social, economic and environmental well-being, in ever more complex ways and patterns.
The threats in the cyber domain and from espionage have been assessed as increasing since 2015.
Meanwhile, the presence and activities of groups within Ireland with real or aspirational terrorist intent will continue as a security pre-occupation of Government and relevant departments and agencies.
Of particular concern to Ireland is the fact that hybrid activities have now become a significant feature of the European security environment.
The fact that the threats faced are increasingly taking non-conventional forms is now a major security challenge.
It is my strong belief that the White Paper Update marks a significant milestone in the Government’s approach to defence policy and demonstrates the good progress on implementing the commitments that were made in the White Paper when it was published in 2015.
Importantly, the Update also highlights the major challenges posed by climate change, which could potentially aggravate existing water and food shortages and increase the likelihood of regional instability.
One of the key new initiatives contained in the White Paper is a commitment to introduce a new fixed cycle of defence reviews, to be carried out on a three yearly cycle. These reviews, which are common internationally, are intended to ensure that defence policy remains up to date. The first of these reviews was the White Paper Update. Again, this was pursued through a series of joint civil-military work.
The Government has committed to regularly updating the security assessment as part of this process and to considering its implications, which could be a policy response, a capability development or associated resourcing.
In the capability development sphere, positive projects which have emerged from the White Paper include the new Armoured Logistics and Utility Vehicles for the Army, the Naval Service Ship replacement and renewal programme and the new Fixed-Wing and Maritime Patrol Aircraft for the Air Corps.
There, of course, remain many challenges to ensure the Defence Forces remain capable of fulfilling its functions and many of these are in the HR space. These HR challenges are not unique to the Defence Forces or to Ireland.
We can see the same challenges in other sectors and in other militaries. I remain committed to giving these challenges the focussed attention they require.
The Government’s High Level Plan to implement the recommendations made in the Public Service Pay Commission Report on recruitment and retention issues will continue to be a key focus for me in this regard.
Colleagues, Ireland cares deeply about strengthening our bonds and relationships with our international colleagues, while building on our commitment to international peace and security.
In terms of European defence and security, the 2016 EU Global Strategy establishes a clear and ambitious vision for EU Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy.
It identifies five priorities for EU foreign policy and outlines a distinct level of ambition for the EU as we seek to play our collective role as a security provider and trusted partner at a global level.
A number of key developments have arisen from the implementation of the Global Strategy including:
• Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)
• the Coordinated Annual Review of Defence (CARD)
• And the anticipated establishment of the European Defence Fund and greater EU-NATO cooperation, among others.
The establishment of PESCO in December 2017 represents an important step forward in EU cooperation.
PESCO provides a framework for cooperative capability development designed to contribute to enhanced capabilities for CSDP crisis management operations so that the EU has greater capacity to act in support of international peace and security.
For Ireland, it was important that we joined PESCO.
We have been at the centre of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy since its inception, playing a key role in the EU’s overseas operations.
PESCO was therefore a natural progression for us in working with other member states to develop capabilities together that are needed for peacekeeping and crisis management operations.
The Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) is another initiative that is complementary to PESCO where member states exchange data on future plans in relation to defence policy, capability development, budgets and investment.
The creation of a European Defence Fund will see for the first time EU funding that is dedicated to Defence research and capability development.
Funding in the region of €8 billion is currently being proposed as part of the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework 2021-2027.
Colleagues, the Global Strategy places a strong emphasis on the role and importance of multilateralism in the current political landscape.
With a view to encouraging greater and effective multilateralism, the EU engages with a number of key partners in the area of security and defence, including the UN, NATO and the OSCE.
In relation to EU-NATO co-operation, the members of both organisations face similar new, emerging and complex security threats which require coordinated and complementary responses, not least in the face of cyber and hybrid threats.
Colleagues, to conclude, in the context of my role as Minister with responsibility for Defence, I would like to highlight the fact that Irish people, quite rightly, take great pride in our Defence Forces.
We are proud of the contribution they make to our domestic security, international peace and security, as well as the broad range of supports provided to other government departments and agencies on an ongoing basis.
Many of us have witnessed at first hand the important work that the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service undertake both at home and overseas.
In overall terms, Defence is very clearly of paramount importance to this State and, as a vital element of our overall security policy, it provides the bedrock of stability and prosperity across political, social, economic and environmental domains.
I want to thank Dr. Waldron for his kind invitation to open this conference and I wish you all well over the next two days.