Maintaining the current Defence Forces' capacity, or "business as usual", will leave the country without a credible military capability to protect Ireland, its people and resources for any sustained period, according to a new report.
The Commission on the Defence Forces report into the capabilities, structures and staffing of the Defence Forces has been published today.
In it, the commission said that the scale of change recommended would be "challenging and far-reaching".
It said the Defence Forces would need time and space to transform and modernise, but that "change is essential and implementation cannot be long-fingered" and that it needs to be "pursued relentlessly" and needs strong external and parliamentary oversight.
The commission reviewed 480 submissions and met 1,000 members of the Defence Forces as part of the report, which sets out three "levels of ambition".
The first is the Defence Forces current capability level.
However, the commission said that maintaining the status quo on this level would leave the Defence Forces unable to conduct a meaningful defence of the State against acts of aggression from conventional military forces.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
The second level would bring "enhanced capability", which would allow for the acquisition of radar and coastal radar systems.
It would also strengthen military intelligence and cyber defence, along with an upgrade of the naval fleet.
Under this level, the naval fleet would operate to optimum capacity of nine vessels, but with double crewing.
It would also see an increased and enlarged fleet of fixed and rotary aircraft.
The third and most radical level of ambition, would give Ireland the military capabilities of similarly sized countries in the EU and would require an increased budget of 2.5 to three times the size.
It would see the Defence Forces naval vessels increase from nine to at least 12, and the acquisition of a squadron of combat aircraft.
The commission recommended a move to level of ambition two, in the short term, pending the more detailed policy debate and decision required for higher levels.
Level two would address "priority gaps" in current capabilities to defend our sovereign interests, serve on high intensity missions abroad and contribute to national resilience and security.
The commission described Ireland as an "outlier" when it comes to defence spending.
It said that following on from a Government decision on how to proceed from its recommendations, that an oversight group with an independent chair should be appointed.
'A turning point for reform'
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney is expected to make a recommendation to Government on the preferred option in five to six months' time.
Mr Coveney welcomed the report, saying it "poses serious questions that we as a society must carefully consider."
Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Coveney said the report is one of the most significant in relation to defence and defence issues that has been released in Ireland for 50 years.
He said it will be hugely challenging for Government to respond, because there are real capacity limitations for the Defence Forces in the context of the work that they are expected to carry out, both now and in the future.
''This report really does not pull any punches,'' he said, adding that he hopes it will result in a very public and honest debate around defence in Ireland.
The report has been broadly welcomed by stakeholders, with RACO, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers saying it "is a turning point for overdue radical reform" and that "action not words" will confirm the commitment to transforming the Defence Forces.
Its General Secretary, Commandant Conor King, said the commission's "realistic approach" to funding and capability provision is new and should be embraced.
"We agree with the commission’s assertion that the continuation of "business as usual" in terms of capability provision will leave this country without a credible military capability to protect Ireland, its people and its resources for any sustained period," Comdt King said.
He added this should be a springboard for the provision of adequate funding and resourcing.
RACO said the implementation of the recommendations cannot be long-fingered and must be "pursued relentlessly".
It said an independent chair to oversee the implementation, as recommended in the report, is "welcome and badly needed" and further called for the immediate implementation of what it called outstanding commitments from the public service pay commission high level plan.
PDFORRA, the association which represents 6,500 enlisted members of the Defence Forces, said it agreed with the views of the commission that "transformational change" is needed and will "require the Defence Forces to put its people at the centre of the organisation".
It said it would "proactively engage" for the betterment of the forces and its members.
Is there an appetite for increased funding?
The report on the future of the Defence Forces presents a political challenge.
Is there an appetite to increase spending in an area that, to pardon the pun, often exists below the radar in Leinster House?
Such a pledge would not be confined to a one-off investment, but instead would form part of annual budgets.
That means defence actively vying with health and housing for more money each October. All precedents since the foundation of the State suggest it is the latter two areas that will win out in such a scenario.