Wednesday, January 18, 2023

James Cox

A TD has said the delay in sending Irish soldiers to protect embassy staff in Kyiv was avoidable as recommendations were made in the Commission on the Defence Forces report.

Cathal Berry, a former deputy commander of the Army Ranger Wing, told “It’s been clear for a number of years, the Defence Forces have been screaming for this ambiguity to be cleared up… you don’t need every function explicitly stated in primary legislation for the Defence Forces if they go overseas.

“All we need is four extra words added to it which is ‘for close protection duties’, it’s as simple as that. Now we have emergency legislation which will have to be rushed through Leinster House… hopefully next week.

‘Reputational damage’

“Rushing legislation through is never a sound basis for good policymaking, it’s not the way to do business. It’s very unprofessional, it is reputational damage for Ireland.”

On Tuesday, The Irish Times reported that legislation is being drafted to clarify the law and allow an Army Ranger Wing team to provide protection to Irish Embassy staff in Kyiv.

The report added that Ambassador Thérèse Healy is one of the only EU ambassadors in the country currently without a close protection team.

Mr Berry said the fact there has been no close protection team for the last five months as “unthinkable”.

“It just shows how poor the security culture in Ireland is. The first though of any of the other EU embassies in Kyiv at the moment would be the safety and protection of their people. With us, it’s an afterthought at best. That’s an issue which permeates the entire defence apparatus in Ireland. We’re complacent, indifferent, and there’s institutional inertia.”

In a previous interview, the independent TD said Ireland should have a permanent defence minister after the position was downgraded in 2012, and he reiterated this argument.

“There’s general malaise in relation to how defence policy is dealt with in Ireland and you only have to look at the political governance of our armed forces, it’s appalling. We don’t have a dedicated standalone defence minister, we had up until 2012, and the real crisis set in from 2012 when the standalone defence minister was downgraded.

“If you have a part-time minister, you’re going to have part-time results and what has happened over the last 24 hours is a classic example of balls being dropped. If there was full-time political governance in Newbridge these issues would be caught early and addressed.”

You need to listen to your military people and if you’re not prepared to do that, these issues will inevitably occur.

Mr Berry said the fact the legislation has not already been amended “with four words, ‘for close protection duties’, has put “unarmed civilian diplomats in harm’s way”.

“It’s a simple thing to change a piece of legislation by four or five words and you have to ask the question, why wasn’t it done?”

“Unarmed civilian diplomats are in harms way with no security backing. A body guard, or close protection team would be providing medical backup in case anything happens from an injury perspective, they provide secure encrypted communications back to Ireland. They’ve armed vehicles… bombardment protocols, a safe room in the event of an attack, convoy security.., all the basics that every other country would provide as a default but for us, it seems to be a massive struggle to take people’s protection seriously.

“People have been flagging this, the Commission on the Defence Forces flagged it, the Department’s high level action plan flagged it in July, and it still isn’t done.

“In 2021 a lot of defence legislation went through the Dáil and this could easily have been included. You need to listen to your military people and if you’re not prepared to do that, these issues will inevitably occur.”

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