Commission should restore 4th Western Brigade and Custume Barracks headquarters role

Westmeath County Council is being asked to make a submission for the restoration of the 4th Western Brigade to the new Commission on the Defence Forces.

Before Christmas, Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney announced Government approval for the establishment of an independent Commission on the Defence Forces.

The establishment of the commission was included in the Programme for Government.

It is to undertake a review of the existing arrangements for the effective defence of the country at land, air and sea and consider other issues including the brigade structure; pay and allowances and composition of the Defence Forces and recruitment, retention and career progression.

Fianna Fail Cllr Frankie Keena has submitted a motion to Monday’s meeting of the Athlone/Moate Municipal Districtd of Westmeath County Council on the issue.

He is called for the council to “make a strong submission to both the newly formed Commission on the Defence Forces and the Minister for Defence looking for the restoration of the 4th Western Brigade and the reestablishment of its headquarters to Custume Barracks in Athlone. Athlone Chamber plus other groups in Athlone to be invited to do likewise”.

Custume Barracks has historically been the headquarters of the 4th Western Brigade. The 4th Western Brigade was one of three brigades in the country’s Defence Forces until it was abolished in November 2012 by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition, under Defence Minister Alan Shatter.

Prior to the formation of the Government, Fianna Fail’s position was to have the brigade restored.

The terms of reference and membership of the commission was also approved before Christmas.

Speaking then, Minister Coveney stated: “The establishment of an independent Commission on the Defence Forces underpins the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the Defence Forces are fit for purpose, both in terms of meeting immediate requirements and also in terms of seeking to develop a longer term vision for beyond 2030. In establishing this Commission, which contains impressive national and international high-level expertise and experience, the Government are seeking to ensure that the outcome of this process will be a Defence Forces that is agile, flexible and adaptive in responding to dynamic changes in the security environment, including new and emerging threats and technologies.”

The commission is expected to submit its report within twelve months.

The terms of reference include issues surrounding the personnel levels of the Defence Forces, and the brigade structure, pay, retention and career progression and other issues.

Here are the full terms of reference:

Terms of Reference of the Commission on the Defence Forces

In addressing the detailed tasks as provided for in its Terms of Reference, the Commission will have regard to immediate requirements while also seeking to develop a longer term vision for beyond 2030. This is against a backdrop of the high-level Defence goal which is to provide for the military defence of the State, contribute to national and international peace and security and fulfil all other roles assigned by Government. This fits within the broader context of the protection of Ireland’s defence and security interests nationally and internationally. The Commission’s approach should aim to ensure that the Defence Forces will remain agile, flexible and adaptive in responding to dynamic changes in the security environment, including new and emerging threats (such as from climate change) and technologies.

It is understood that recommendations of the Commission may require legislative changes.

In arriving at its findings and recommendations for arrangements for the effective defence of the country, the Commission will have regard to the level of funding provided by Government for Defence.

The following Terms of Reference, and the Commission’s overall approach will be guided and informed by both the White Paper on Defence 2015 and the White Paper Update 2019, which set out Ireland’s extant Defence Policy, including the current Security Environment Assessment, as set out in the White Paper Update.

• The Commission will take account of Ireland’s particular defence requirements, including its strong international commitment in the overseas domain as well as the particular roles of the Defence Forces in the domestic security environment which itself continues to evolve.

• The Commission will consider and recommend the appropriate structure and size of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) and the Reserve Defence Force (RDF). This will encompass consideration of appropriate capabilities, structures and staffing for the Army, and its brigade structure, the Air Corps and the Naval Service along with the appropriate balance and disposition of personnel and structures across a joint force approach in the land, air, maritime, cyber, intelligence and space domains.

• With regard to the RDF, the Commission will consider a wide range of options and will make recommendations to better leverage the capabilities of the RDF in their supports to the PDF and to make service in the RDF a more attractive option.

• The Commission will examine the structures in the Defence Forces as well as the work of the White Paper Command and Control project to date. In that context, the Commission will consider the most appropriate governance and effective high-level command and control structures in the Defence Forces.

• The Commission will examine the evolution of all remuneration systems and structures currently in place in the Defence Forces noting what the Programme for Government states in relation to a future Permanent Pay Review Body. Upon completion of the Commission’s work, the Minister for Defence will consult with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the establishment of a permanent pay review body, reflecting the unique nature of military service in the context of the public service. All recommendations by the Commission or the successor body and their implementation must be consistent with national public sector wage policy.

• The Commission will set out a strategic perspective on HR policies, and associated strategies, including grievance processes and consideration of appropriate structural flexibility, to fulfil the requirements of military capabilities for a more agile and adaptive Defence Forces in a manner congruent with modern society, and in light of the prevailing dynamics of the labour market, while consistent with public sector pay and personnel policy.

• The Commission will consider and recommend appropriate turnover and retention approaches, having regard to work undertaken to date, and international best practice, to deliver the capabilities required of a modern military force. In addition, it will recommend approaches to recruitment, including identifying military career options that could create a more diverse, gender-balanced, flexible and responsive force, with a system of career progression to meet the recommended force structures and disposition.