Thursday, September 29, 2022

Opinion: A crazed dictator on the loose shows the need for Ireland to step up its defensive capabilities

No sooner had we questioned Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s intentions last week than he finally revealed what the West had already predicted by invading his neighbouring country, the independent and democratic state of Ukraine.

It was and is a disgusting act of violence and, perhaps, shows what many world political leaders are suggesting – that the dictator has gone berserk.

Ireland has not been slow to condemn Russia’s violence, but our politicians are still slow to condemn Russia’s ambassador to Ireland Yuri Filatov for his now-evident false assurances. On February 16, he said: “We do not have any plans to invade anybody, least of all Ukraine. We do not have any political, economic, military or any other reason to do that. The whole idea is insane. If you knew something about the Russian and the Ukrainian people you would never ask such a question.” Of course, it could be that the Kremlin forgot to inform its ambassador to Ireland of its war plans, who knows?

Whatever the machinations of truth-telling, the fact is that Ukrainians have died every day since last Thursday at the hands of a blood-thirsty state leader. You don’t have to be crazy to start a war, but it helps.

Meanwhile, Ireland, safely away from the killing fields of Kyiv, is jumping up and down trying to be heard above the European Union’s leaders. All we need is An Taoiseach Micheál Martin coming out with “ah sure look lads, ye can’t be doing that, this is terrible so it is”. Give him time, though.

At the weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney was at the centre of a suggestion that Ireland should ban Russian aircraft from our airspace, even if the EU itself had not gotten around to doing that yet. Certainly this would be a good thing to do, but the question has to be asked: how could Ireland enforce this?

The inability of our Air Corps to protect Irish airspace is down to dreadful funding for decades.

As it is, our international airspace is being infringed on a regular basis. The rumour is that it’s by Russian military aircraft, but we really can’t be sure because our Air Corps is so poorly equipped that it can’t investigate. It’s also in no position whatsoever to do anything about it.

Whenever a bit of muscle is needed, that is provided by armed fighter jets from Royal Air Force (RAF) bases in Saint Athan or Mona in Wales.

The inability of our Air Corps to protect Irish airspace is down to dreadful funding for decades. Last month, the findings of a Commission on the Defence Forces recommended a doubling of our defence budget, allowing for the purchase of jet aircraft and additional naval vessels.

The tendency in this country is for reports calling for higher expenditure on ‘what if’ departments, such as Defence, to be pushed gently to one side; other departments, such as Social Welfare and Health, have much louder voices and, it could be argued, more immediate needs.

Perhaps a crazed dictator on the loose in Eastern Europe will encourage our politicians to see the nation’s defence as something that cannot be pushed aside any longer. As a member of the European Union, and even if the suggested EU army does not materialise, we have a responsibility to play our part in the defence of Europe. Accepting that responsibility does not undermine our neutrality, it merely shows that Ireland has grown up a bit.

We cannot help to protect western Europe with an Air Corps equipped with 26 aircraft, at least 10 of which are helicopters and eight are turbo-prop trainers. Quite frankly, with that lot, ET wouldn’t have a problem infringing Irish airspace, let alone Putin.

Ireland’s condemnation of the Russian dictator is laudable. The Government’s decision to allow entry to Ukraine refugees without visas is commendable. But in terms of defence – be it our own or our role in EU defence – the ship has sailed. And it was probably a Russian one anyway.

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