Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett; Assistant Secretary at the Department of Defence, Mr Ciarán Murphy; Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations), Major General Kieran Brennan; General Officer Commanding 2 Brigade, Brigadier General Howard Berney; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to attend this event this evening and to meet you all here in Cathal Brugha Barracks.
While I recognise many familiar and friendly faces, for some of you this may be your first visit to Ireland and I would like to extend a Céad Míle Fáilte, a very warm welcome.
During your visit, I hope that you gain a greater knowledge of Ireland’s security and defence policy, the challenges we face as a nation and the efforts we are making to respond to these challenges through concerted Government action.
Friends, as you will all appreciate, the global security landscape has developed rapidly in recent years and not for the better.
Today we face a myriad of challenges posed by State and non-State actors and we must be prepared to respond to these threats.
We have the rapid emergence of new threats and, what used to be remote far away threats, now, through technology and real time communications, have the capacity to impact on our citizens at home. They are no longer far away and none of us are immune. In today’s more connected world, Transnational Organisations, States, Groups and individuals can operate and deliver impacts at Global, Regional, national and local levels.
Cyber, Hybrid, people trafficking, unregulated migration, radicalisation, cross-border international crime and terrorism all pose real threats, which require new and diverse capabilities and a cross-Government trans-national response.
No State is immune to these threats. The reach of these threats to the security of our sovereign States goes beyond traditional frontiers and the frontline is no longer territorial.
No country can ignore or consider itself immune to the ever changing, complex and intertwined nature of such threats to individual States and to international peace and security.
Horrific attacks in places such as Christchurch, London, Manchester, Brussels, Paris, Madrid and Berlin demonstrate the need for vigilance.
We must not lose sight of the fact that our own citizens are living, working or visiting these places every single day.
We have an ongoing responsibility to help, protect and support them, wherever they may be in the world.
For Ireland, it is also important that we show solidarity with our EU neighbours who have suffered such atrocities.
Our response to today’s defence and security challenges in the EU is a collective and shared responsibility.
That said, each State has the right to determine its own defence policy, which in Ireland’s case is one of military neutrality.
Nevertheless, colleagues, this policy of military neutrality is not a policy of isolation.
In the face of international terrorist attacks, including cyber and hybrid, we are all connected and no one is neutral.
Let me say here today, that in the face of these challenges, Ireland will respond, support and show solidarity with our partners in dealing with these threats.
To cite John F Kennedy, during his historic Irish to our parliament, Dáil Éireann, in 1963:
“…No nation, large or small, can be indifferent to the fate of others, near or far.”
##EU Security and Defence Developments
From an Irish perspective, and mine personally, I am pleased to acknowledge a significant recent development in the context of EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of which you may already be aware - the coming into force of the EU Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on April 1st earlier this month.
I am glad that we in Ireland were in a position to proceed with the ratification process this year. Ratification of the EU SOFA was completed at the same time as our ratification of the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) SOFA.
It was important to me in role as Minister Defence to proceed with the ratification process because being party to both agreements affords our Defence Forces the same immunities, rights and privileges as their military colleagues, as a matter of right rather than special circumstance, while serving overseas on peacekeeping and crisis management operations.
Being party to the EU SOFA also simplifies our participation in the EU Battlegroup framework.
Ireland strongly supports the Battlegroup concept, and our participation to date demonstrates our commitment to the development of EU capabilities in the area of crisis management. Ireland has previously participated in several Battlegroups, and we will be participating in the German-led Battlegroup during the second half of 2020 with Defence Forces personnel due to deploy to FHQ in Stadtallendorf in Q3 this year.
Friends, Ireland has a responsibility to show flexibility and deliver the support and modernisation needed to respond to this complex and changing environment both at home and overseas.
One of my priorities as Defence Minister is to ensure that our Defence Forces continue to have access to modern equipment and technologies.
The Government’s commitment to the Defence Forces was demonstrated in the recent Budget, which included a five per cent increase in Defence Force spending, an increase in defence spending in real terms and well ahead of current inflation, to over one billion euro per annum.
A huge focus for me as Minister is ensuring our personnel are provided with the best possible force protection.
We are currently in the process of an extensive mid-life upgrade of our fleet of MOWAGs, while also delivering additional force protection through the acquisition of Armoured Utility Vehicles and Armoured Logistical Vehicles.
The Air Corps will soon welcome the arrival of two advanced ISTAR equipped aircraft – Pilatus PC12s - with a further aircraft due to be delivered in 2020.
And in just a few weeks’ time, the ninth vessel of our Naval Service Fleet, LÉ George Bernard Shaw, will be commissioned into service.
The most effective way for any Minister to understand the importance of high quality force protection and equipment is to visit our personnel overseas.
Just last month, I paid a visit to Lebanon where I met our personnel deployed to UNIFIL.
One of elements of the visit that struck me was the stories and feedback I received from the local mayors, muktars and other elders and members of the local community.
The level of support for our Defence Forces and their peacekeeping work, in the communities which they serve to protect, is remarkable.
That’s why Ireland is proud to build on its relationship with the UN and is one of the reasons why we are seeking a seat on the UN Security Council in 2020.
Last week, along with the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of my Department, I held many engagements with defence colleagues in New York to press our bid to win that seat and I am grateful for the support we have received to date.
Friends, UN peacekeeping continues to be one of the most flexible and effective tools available to the international community in responding to crises around the world. It plays an essential role in stabilising regions affected by conflict and saving lives.
Ireland’s peacekeeping story began in the Lebanon in 1958 when 50 members of the Permanent Defence Force were deployed as military observers with the UN Observer Group in Lebanon.
Since then, not a day has passed when the Irish Defence Forces have not been deployed, under the UN blue hat, in conflict zones across the globe. Irish Defence Forces personnel have served in peace support missions all over the world in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and South America.
It is a record of which we are very proud.
Ireland’s UN role is a very practical expression of the values which we believe in and of our commitment to the United Nations. Peacekeeping is in our DNA. Let me assure you that we will continue to honour this tradition of continuous support to the UN, on multinational peace support and crisis management operations, into the future. We are determined to maintain that unbroken record.
In conclusion, I hope you all enjoy the rest of this evening as well as tomorrow’s programme and I would like to thank the GOC of 2 Brigade for hosting this evening’s event.