Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, former Minister of State, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, has stressed the implementation importance of recommendations forwarded to the Government from the findings of the Commission on the Defence Forces.
‘The Cabinet received a memo for Government from Minister for Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney, on recommendations arising from the findings of the Commission on the Defence Forces. The contents of this memo, and the decisions arising from its recommendations, will have the most far-reaching implications on the future viability, operational capabilities at home and overseas, and the critical recruitment and retention challenges of the Defence Forces.
‘It is critical that it delivers for the serving personnel of the Defence Forces and that it ultimately addresses the issue of improved pay and conditions.
‘A key finding of the Commission is the lack of regional balance in the Defence Forces positioning of its forces, particularly its Army operational headquarters and units. The Commission emphatically recommends that “the Army would undergo a higher level of structural transformation than the two other services (Air Corps and Naval Service ), as the current structure does not provide for a designated head of the Army, and there is currently no Army Headquarters”. There is a Defence Forces Headquarters, the Air Corps and Naval Service have their own headquarters, but since independence in 1922 there is no standalone Army Headquarters.
‘The overall leader of the Defence Forces will in future be called the Chief of Defence (CHOD ) to conform to international best practice. The Commission states that “In relation to unity of command, the Commission concludes that a Chief of Army is necessary to act as the professional head of the Army, reporting directly to the CHOD, and should be supported by a Deputy Chief of Army”.
‘Of critical importance to Athlone and Custume Barracks is “the Commission believes that the Army Headquarters should be centrally located, with sub-commands providing an adequate national disposition”. Athlone is the geographical centre of the island of Ireland, at a major confluence of national road and rail networks, situated on a major crossing point of the River Shannon, and of major strategic importance, only 53 miles distant from the nearest crossing point to the border with Northern Ireland.
‘Custume Barracks, Athlone, is the ONLY rational location to position the new Army Headquarters for reasons of its strategically central location. Locating it in Athlone would with certainty facilitate the Army Commander and his Staff in exercising operational oversight of and ease of reach to subordinate headquarters and units.
‘The political will must be there in order for this objective to be achieved. I hope that the current representatives of Longford/Westmeath, both local and national, realise that this is an opportunity that does not present itself too often – it must be grasped firmly and the Government must be told in no uncertain terms that Custume Barracks is the deal location for the new Army Headquarters.
‘The Commission further recommends that “a fundamental redesign of the existing Army structures is required and the Commission recommends that the CHOD initiate an immediate force design process assisted by external experts with access to international military expertise”. This process will most likely begin in the shortest possible timeframe after the Cabinet approves the Memo for Government.
In addition to “external experts with access to international military expertise” it is as important, if not of greater importance, to include in that force design group a retired senior Irish Defence Forces General with extensive national and international command and operational expertise and experience. Granular knowledge of the specific challenges of the Defence Forces in recruiting and retaining its personnel, the training of its general service personnel and specialists, and most especially the attaining of operational capability of the Defence Forces across its three services and the Defence Forces Reserves is a key driver of this force design process.
‘I believe strongly that the best person to be part of such a group is Brigadier General Ger Aherne (retired ) who has commanded at brigade level at home and at force commander level with both the UN and the EU in Africa. General Aherne has been a leading and public advocate for the Defence Forces since his retirement and is an undoubted external expert with experience at the highest level of international military best practice.
‘Finally, to further quote a vital paragraph of the Commission’s Report where it states that “an appropriate regional disposition is an effective mechanism for the recruitment and retention of highly skilled and motivated personnel into the Army and Army Reserve. People are the critical component of all future defence capability development and the Army therefore must be positioned to maximise its talent recruiting pool, which indicates a need to offer employment where people wish to live and wish in the future”.
‘Military personnel being commuters in perpetuity in pursuit of their careers must end. Too many great Defence Force personnel, of all ranks, have left the Defence Forces because of this fact. Where one has a home, a family, and a connection to a community is an important element of valued Defence Forces service.
‘In the 2016-2020 Government, I was proud to deliver a significant number of projects for Custume Barracks, including the refurbishment and upgrading of the dining hall and cookhouse and, of course, a new hangar for the Emergency Aeromedical Support Service (EAS ) to ensure its permanency. Now is the time to deliver the Army HQ for Athlone and with it, an improved and vital increase in the standard of pay and conditions for our defence force personnel – they deserve it.’