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It’ll take a seismic kinetic event for Ireland to take national security/defence seriously.

Would ruptured undersea cables and gas pipelines from Scotland get Ireland’s attention, maybe!!

Only one of Ireland’s naval fleet is operational due to no crews. Ireland’s waters are also EU waters.

The EU and Maritime Security

Ireland is the ‘lame duck’ in securing the European Union’s (EU) maritime domain, but particularly both its own Territorial Waters (TTW) and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). We are shameless, lacking any sense of responsibility to fellow EU Member States in protecting the western sea and air approaches to the European Continent. I intend to concentrate solely on the maritime domain in this article.

Against this Irish sovereign neglect reality, I want to socialise the idea of whether any circumstances might arise where the EU would mobilise and deploy an EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) into Ireland’s TTW and EEZ in order to protect the wider interests of the EU, and the International Community.

A starting point for this conversation requires cognisance of current EU maritime strategies and how it views itself in the world. Currently, overarching EU strategy is nested in the EU’s Maritime Strategy and Action Plan (EUMSS). EUMSS aims to; protect EU interests at sea; protect the maritime environment; uphold international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; react promptly/effectively to growing threats; and ensure relevant training and education to counter threats.

In essence, the EUMSS informs EU Actions in stepping up activities at sea such as naval exercises at EU level, developing further coastguard operations in European sea basins, or designating new maritime areas of interests for the implementation of the Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) concept. This concept is a tool to enhance coordination of Member States’ naval and air assets present in specific maritime areas and reinforcing operations in securing inspections of EU ports.

Additionally, the EUMSS facilitates coordination with partners, including EU-NATO cooperation. Its remit is stepping up cooperation with all relevant international partners to uphold the rules-based order at sea. It leads on maritime domain awareness, its actions include reinforcing coastal and offshore patrol vessel surveillance and strengthening the Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE). In essence, ensuring national and EU Authorities can exchange information in a secure way.

EUMSS manages risks and threats, including monitoring and protecting passenger ships and unexploded ordnance and mines at sea. Finally, it boosts EU maritime capabilities, including defence technologies in the maritime domain, such as the European Patrol Corvette, a new class of warship.

An EU Naval Force (NAVFOR) in Irish Waters?

EU NAVFOR missions operate under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) direction and mandate. What might be an agreed mission mandate for such a maritime mission in Irish waters? Questions that would arise include what is EUs threat/risk; who has final decision-making authority should such a military action be required; where would Operational/ Force HQs be situated; would Ireland provide national enforcement officers; would Ireland provide officers to the Operational/Force HQs; what happens to Irish naval vessels deployed in Maritime Defence Security Operations (MDSOs).

Could Ireland, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, survive the political embarrassment of the EU having, in extremis, to mount a NAVFOR Mission in Irish TTWs? With certainty, that scenario would inexorably lead to Ireland having to accept predictable second and third order effects such as EU demands of Ireland stepping up its maritime and air capabilities. What impact would such a demand have nationally? Should the Naval Service merge with the Irish Coastguard, or more sensibly, the Irish Coastguard merge into the Irish Navy, as inferred by the Commission on the Defence Forces in 2022.

Ireland’s National Maritime Security Act (2014) needs urgent updating. It’s inadequate for today’s maritime security reality. Ireland’s recent National Strategic Threat Analysis highlights a multitude of maritime risks that present viable threats to national security. However, political, institutional and citizen Ireland’s grasp of, interest in, or commitment to, a credible and actionable concept of national security remains a distant horizon. Ireland, to date, neither understands the requirements inherent in, or accepts the responsibilities of, sovereignty from a national security perspective. It’s a “who would attack us” mindset. It’s mired in a D Day Normandy landings mindset on Wexford beaches, not current threats.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an EU NAVFOR operation in Ireland’s EEZ and TTW

Some advantages: An EU naval force presence in Ireland’s EEZ /TTW comprising militarily capable vessels with the ability to develop and maintain a Recognized Maritime Picture (RMP) would be confidence building for the EU, Ireland’s non-EU international partners, and Ireland itself. Sharing this maritime domain awareness intelligence with Ireland would significantly enhance and enable Ireland’s own military operations.

Irish Navy personnel would be required to be located at the Irish Permanent Representative delegation in Brussels to inform Ireland’s national positions. Sadly, none are located there currently. Ireland hosting EU military exercises in its EEZ would significantly enhance its capacity/capability building initiatives.

Some disadvantages: Would EU NAVFOR operate within the 12 nautical mile limit, TTW? Currently, such vessels cannot operate inside any EU Member State’s TTW. Who would have operational control (TACON), the EU or Ireland? Would the force share intelligence have gathered, and feed into a national RMP. In seeking and allowing such a NAVFOR in Ireland’s EEZ and TTW, the state would be absolving itself of its sovereign rights and associated obligations. What would the cost be to mount such an operation?

What access would EU NAVFOR have to Irish ports? Would EU aircraft be cleared for operations in Irish airspace, these missions always have air assets? Would EU aircraft be based at Shannon and/or Ireland West airports? What would be the implications for EU military operations launched from Irish soil?

Can the Defence Forces ever return to operational and strength viability?

The haemorrhage of personnel continues. A net loss of 50 personnel per month, 600 per year. The ONLY benchmark of Minister Micheál Martin T.D., and his Secretary General, Department of Defence (DOD), Jacqui Mc Crum, success is stemming the loss of trained personnel and continuous net increases in strength. Both have failed and continue to fail in this. The DF is heading for a personnel cliff edge.

When I’m asked, can the DF recover to its current mandated strength of 9,500, I say honestly, it’s 60/40 against this ever happening. And the odds are lengthening against it. Current strength of 7,500 is a historical low. Not alone will a strength of 9,500 not be achieved anytime soon, the Commission’s recommendation of reaching Level of Ambition 2 (LOA 2) strength of 11,580 by 2028 is total fantasy.

Over the decades, the DF never failed to attract quality recruits to all ranks. Today, the unwritten bond between the State and DF is ruptured. DOD exercises coercive control over the DF, facilitated by minister’s light touch political supervision of DOD. This toxicity is described by the Representative Associations as “abuse of a dominant position”. Civil oversight of the military, which democracies require, and civilian control which DOD are allowed to exercise, are not the same. That subtle, but essential and absolute difference, seems to be lost on our political class.