Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has told senior military officers they should not spread unnecessary fears and concerns among the public.

He was responding tonight to the assertion by The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) that the defence forces does not have the capability to deal with an ongoing international terrorist threat here similar to the one in Paris.

Minister Coveney said: "The latest threat assessment to Ireland does not increase… it is low."

“We shouldn’t be suggesting that there is threat out there that we don’t have the capacity to respond to,” he added.

The Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Michael Mellett also said he was satisfied the defence forces could undertake any role either at home or abroad, assigned to them by Government.

RACO has serious concerns about the capability of the army, navy and air corps to deal with the threat from international terrorism

RACO - which represents army, air corps and naval officers - said an international terrorist threat has already been identified by Government (in the white paper) but the Defence Forces do not at present have the resources or personnel to deal with it on a continual basis.

The association said the Defence Forces have also lost a large number of highly trained pilots, naval commanders and bomb-disposal specialists in the last two years.

At its annual conference in Kildare this afternoon, RACO said what happened in Paris is an example of the threats that are within close range of Ireland's people and borders.

RACO General Secretary Commandant Earnán Naughton said that while the Defence Forces could address a one-off incident, they do not at present have the ability to deal with an ongoing threat such as the number of incidents over a period of time that have occurred in France.

Commandant Earnán Naughton

He said at officer level there are 32 vacancies in the Naval Service, 34 pilots needed in the air corps and more than half the required number in the bomb-disposal unit. 

He said 136 officers have left in the past two years, many moving to better-paid jobs in the private sector.

“If you are losing the top-end capabilities from specialists such as in the commissioned officer ranks, the people that lead and manage these type of capabilities, then you are at a loss,” Commandant Naughton said.

Stabilised strength

The association also said the Defence Forces must now be resourced in terms of both personnel and equipment to deal with the threat of international terrorism on a continual basis.

In his address to the conference today, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he is committed to maintaining the stabilised strength of the permanent defence force of at least 9,500 personnel.

The Minister commended the crew of LÉ Niamh, LÉ Eithne and LÉ Samuel Beckett for their outstanding endeavours in saving the lives of so many, and all other members of the Defence Forces serving in conflict zones throughout the world. 

Looking to the future, the Minister said: "In bringing forward the white paper, a key issue for me as Minister of Defence was that I secured a level of resources which would enable the Department of Defence to meet the commitments in the white paper.

“I am glad to be able to say therefore, that there has been a significant boost on capital funding for the Defence Sector contained in the recently announced Capital Plan."

The Minister went on to thank RACO for their active engagement in the process, which provided valuable inputs and informed the decisions contained in the white paper.

Terrorist acts

He also referred to the dynamic international security environment and the threats emanating from it. 

"Those threats to the international order, to our European values, to our way of life were brought home to us in terrorists acts on the Streets of Paris last week" the Minister said. 

"It is at these times we look to the agility, readiness and responsiveness of our Defence Forces to meet the challenging and changing demands of the new security environment.

“Yesterday the Council of Defence Ministers met. I made it clear that Ireland will do what we can to be of assistance at this time."

"As a result of improved finances we are able to implement a programme of ongoing recruitment of personnel, acquire essential equipment including major platforms and invest in infrastructure within the Defence Forces," he said.

In referring specifically to the Lansdowne Road proposals he stated that he was pleased to note that following a recent Ballot, RACO members have accepted the terms of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

In conclusion the Minister stated the he believes that the "recent publication of the white paper on Defence has given us a framework that will enable us to successfully address the many challenges the organisation will encounter in the future".