Ireland should not “delude ourselves” that the Navy can police our territorial waters without help, a defence expert has claimed.
Last month, the Navy was forced to cancel 12 patrols due to bad weather and staff shortages and the Government announced that a further two ships would be placed in storage.
Sinn Féin claimed the Defence Forces were reaching a “tipping point from which [they] cannot recover” and defence and security expert Declan Power said that the hollowing out of the military has been going on for some time.
“The Navy has been struggling for a while to fill vessels,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
“The Defence Forces have been struggling for a while to carry out its mandate because its numbers have been shrinking for a variety of reasons - not least pay and conditions are part of it - [and] lack of imagination in recruitment and consistency.
“We need to be fully aware that even at the best of times our Defence Forces have always struggled to fulfil its mandate because policing our air and policing our seas is not fully doable on a unilateral basis.”
The amount Ireland spends on the military has slowly shrunk over the decades and the World Bank estimates that in 2021 it was 0.3% of GDP.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Government announced it would increase spending by nearly half to €1.5 billion by 2028.
The Department of Defence said this would mean a “substantial transformation and investment in recruitment and equipment” but Mr Power said Ireland still needs to work with other countries to defend itself.
“We can’t delude ourselves that we can police the large chunk of sea at our disposal by ourselves,” he said.
“We need to be a little bit more imaginative about how we pool our resources.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government has “no plans” to join NATO but that there should be “very close links” to the bloc and other European militaries.
It is this kind of engagement and co-operation, Mr Power believes, Ireland should pursue.
“We need to look at it, as we do everything else in Ireland, from a European perspective,” he said.
“We talk about political neutrality versus military neutrality; we’re in the European Union [and] the European Union has nailed its colours to the mast in this conflict.
“In fact, so have we but we’re in danger of leaving ourselves exposed - not to a physical attack because of where we are geopolitically - but to various other things that can undermine the security of our people, our territory and our commerce.
“Cyberattacks, espionage, disinformation campaigns - and the best way to counter those things is in concert with partners.
“I’m not suggesting that we run out and join NATO in the morning but that we be more imaginative and open to partnership and cooperation techniques.”
Main image: The LE Emer of the Irish Navy off the coast of Skerries, County Dublin. Picture by: Alamy.com