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Ireland - Department of Defence / An Roinn Cosanta

The Department of Defence comprises civil and military elements with distinct but complementary roles. The primary role of the civil element of the Department is to support the Minister as Head of the Department, in particular by providing policy advice and support on Defence matters. The civil element of the Department of Defence is central to the oversight and management of the Defence Votes, the drive for efficiency and the process of change, formulating Defence policy, representing Ireland at EU and international engagements in Defence, defending against litigation and providing a range of services critical to the outputs of the Defence Forces.

The civil element also provides liaison between the Defence Forces and other Government Departments, public authorities, the EU and public representatives. The Secretary General is the Minister’s principal defence policy adviser. The Department also has responsibilities in relation to Civil Defence and Emergency Planning. The Office of Emergency Planning (OEP) is a civil/military office within the Department of Defence. OEP supports the Minister in his role as Chairman of the Government’s Task Force on Emergency Planning. It also presents an annual report to Government on Emergency Planning. The office is also responsible for the operation of the National Emergency Coordination Centre (NECC).

Defence Forces Headquarters (DFHQ) is the military element of the Department of Defence, which is headed by the Chief of Staff, who is the Minister’s principal military adviser. It is focused on planning, managing, formulating military advice, development, and major strategic issues affecting the Defence Forces, including ongoing modernisation and transformation. DFHQ comprises a range of military staffs, which have responsibilities ranging from Defence Forces Strategic Planning to Operations, Logistics and Human Resource Management.

The White Paper on Defence (2000) set out the roles of the Defence Forces as follows:

  • to defend the State against armed aggression; this being a contingency, preparations for its implementation will depend on an ongoing Government assessment of the security and defence environment;
  • to aid the civil power (meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána, who have primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State);
  • to participate in multinational peace support, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations in support of the United Nations and under UN mandate, including regional security missions authorised by the UN;
  • to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State’s obligations as a member of the EU; and,
  • to carry out such other duties as may be assigned to them from time to time, e.g. search and rescue, air ambulance service, Ministerial air transport service, assistance on the occasion of natural or other disasters, assistance in connection with the maintenance of essential services, assistance in combating oil pollution at sea.
The Defence Forces are organised on conventional military lines providing a sufficiently flexible structure to carry out all the roles assigned by Government. The Defence Forces consist of a Permanent Defence Force (PDF) and a Reserve Defence Force (RDF). The former is a standing force and provides the primary capabilities for military operations at home and military peace support operations abroad. The RDF provides a contingent conventional military capability to augment and assist the PDF in situations where such additional capabilities are required. In addition, civilian employees are engaged throughout the Defence Forces, to provide a range of general operative, trade and other services, in military installations.

The Constitution of Ireland vests the right to raise and maintain military or armed forces exclusively in the Oireachtas and expressly prohibits the raising and maintenance of any other military or armed force for any purpose whatsoever.

The Department of Defence was established by the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 and the Act assigns to the Department “the administration and business of the raising, training, organisation, maintenance, equipment, management, discipline, regulation and control according to law of the military defence forces”.

The Act provides that the Minister is ‘Head’ of the Department. The Minister is assisted in discharging his functions by the civil and military elements of the Department. The Secretary General is the “principal officer” of the Department and is also appointed by the Minister for Finance as the Accounting Officer for all defence expenditure in accordance with the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act, 1866. The authority, responsibility and accountability of the Secretary General are further elaborated in the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993 and the Public Service Management Act, 1997. The 1997 Act also requires the Secretary General to prepare a Strategy Statement for the Minister’s approval and an annual report on performance.

The Defence Acts 1954 to 2011 provide the legislative basis for the Defence Forces (Óglaigh na hÉireann). The legislation provides that Defence Forces Headquarters (DFHQ) is the military element of the Department of Defence. The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces heads DFHQ. As provided for in the Act, the Minister has assigned duties to the Chief of Staff for which he is directly responsible to the Minister. Also provided for in the Act and with the approval of the Minister, the Chief of Staff has, in turn, delegated responsibility for certain duties to the Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) and to the Deputy Chief of Staff (Support).

The Act also provides for delegation by the Minister of military command to General Officers Commanding the Brigades, the Defence Forces Training Centre, and the Air Corps. Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service has been delegated similar responsibilities in respect of the Naval Service. In practice, matters relating to command are normally channelled through the Chief of Staff. In effect, this means that day-to-day operational control of the Defence Forces rests with the Chief of Staff for which he is directly responsible to the Minister.

The Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities. Unlike many other national armed forces, the Defence Forces has no restrictions with regard to the assignment of men or women to the full range of operational and administrative duties. All promotions and career courses are open to both genders on merit. The Defence Forces prides itself on providing a gender neutral working environment. Policies on equality are being constantly communicated to all ranks. The military authorities are alert and vigilant to this issue and are committed to addressing this matter in an ongoing and proactive manner. The number of serving females was 565 in 2011 which represented 6% of the overall strength of the Permanent Defence Force. This comprised of 467 Army, 30 Air Corps and 68 Naval Service.

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