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Irish Defence Forces History

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20/09/17 History Reference this

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Joshua Ryan

Public Administration: Public Organisation Profile 2017

The public organisation that I have chosen to investigate is the Irish Defence Forces. I chose this organisation as I have a strong interest in the Irish Defence Forces and a desire to pursue a career as an officer upon completion of my degree. The Irish Defence Forces have a proud tradition of professionalism and good conduct. They have proven themselves on the world stage with their peacekeeping missions that have gained them a phenomenal reputation within the UN. At home they have defended the state and provided security in times of need. They have provided aid at the highest levels at both home in conjunction with the Gardaí and abroad with other militaries and Aid organisations.


The Irish Defence Forces can trace its origins back to the formation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913.The Irish Volunteers were founded by The O’Rahilly and Eoin MacNeill, they were founded due to growing militarism in Ulster and to oppose the Ulster Volunteer Force. The Irish Volunteers grew substantially and by 1914 they numbered approximately 180,000 personnel. The Irish Volunteers however split after the outbreak of the First World War. John Redmond the leader of the Irish Home Rule party urged members of the Irish Volunteers to join the British army and show their support for the Empire to prove their loyalty to home rule. Approximately 11,000 personnel strongly opposed this and split from the Irish Volunteers but retained the name, the remaining personnel renamed themselves the National Volunteers.[1] The Irish Volunteers were then effectively taken over by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, using the volunteers they planned the 1916 Easter Rising. The 1916 Easter rising was a rebellion mainly confined to Dublin, fought by a small group of the hardened volunteers due to confusion in orders, it was characterised by fierce street fighting and incredible discipline by the volunteers. Fifteen of the leaders or the rebellion were executed by the British which led to public outcry and a sympathy for the rebels which previously they did not have. This sympathy would lead to a strong public support for the volunteers as they transitioned into the Irish Republican Army.[2]

In 1919 as the Dail was established the Irish Volunteers pledged their allegiance to the Dail, which made them the national army of the Dail. This transitioned them to become the Irish Republican Army. They then grew in strength and in 1919 after an attack by an IRA section at soloheadbeg they began the war of independence. They began to use guerrilla warfare tactics and gained success through small sections called ‘flying columns’. Members of the Irish Republican Army had to swear the same oath of allegiance to the Dail as TDs which further concreted them as the national army.[3]

Once the war of independence was complete and both sides wanted peace, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. This caused a divide in both the Dail and the Irish Republican Army. The IRA split between the Anti-Treaty IRA and the Pro-Treaty IRA. The Pro-Treaty IRA became the National Army, unofficially known as the Free State Army or the Regulars. The Civil War began on the 22nd of June 1922 with the shelling of the four courts which the Anti-Treaty IRA had taken and ended on the 24th of May 1923 with the order for the Anti-Treaty to drop arms. The National Army strengthened itself during the civil war and began to take shape of a professional Army and lay the foundational structure for the Defence Forces we have today. The National Army was given Artillery, Aircraft, Armoured Cars, Machine Guns, Rifles, Small Arms and Ammunition supplies by the British Army. At the end of the war the National Army numbered at 55,000 personnel and 3,500 officers. Many of the troops that entered the new National Army were veterans of the First World War that served in Irish Battalions in the British Army. After the Civil War the National Army was well structured, manned and equipped, they were no longer a guerrilla insurgency but a strong National Army.[4]

There was a need to reduce the size of the Army after the civil war. This led to the ‘Army Mutiny’ where there was a severe reaction to the demobilisation of officers. This was dealt with effectively and democratically. This led to the Executive Council formally establishing Oglaigh na hEireann on the 1st of October 1924. The Army sent representatives to the United States of America in 1926 to study their structures, tactics and training. This visit led to the formation of the Military College, Corp and Service schools. In 1934 the Volunteer Force were established as the Permanent Defence Forces were being reduced. [5]

In June 1922 the Air Service HQ was formed at Baldonnell. They began with 14 pilots flying 13 aircraft. In 1926 the cadet scheme was introduced which still is the process in becoming a pilot in the Air Corp today. Moving into the late 1930s and early 40s the Air Corp received new Aircraft and equipment. In 1956 the Air Corp upgraded their airfields to accommodate the purchases of jet fighters later that year. In the early 1960s the Air Corp purchased their first helicopters for search and rescue then for troop transport and air reconnaissance. The Air Corp continued to update its Aircraft as time progressed and as new needs and duties for the Air Corp were required. In the late 1990s a new branch of the Gardai was established the Garda Air Support Unit, the Air Corp was tasked with helping establish this and to train its personnel. [6]

From 1922 the Army was tasked with protection of the state from the land, the Air Corp with the protection of the Airspace but Irish waters were under protection by the British until 1938 when the Treaty ports were returned after the economic war. In May 1939 the Irish Government ordered two torpedo motor boats. The outbreak of the Second World War greatly increased the speed of which the Naval Service was being established. The order of torpedo motor boats increased from two to six and in September 1939 the Marine and Coastwatching service was established. This service at its height during the Second World War comprised of ten vessels. After the war the Coastwatching service was disbanded. Afterwards the Irish Government decided that what remained of the Marine Service would be integrated into the Defence Forces. This is the establishment of the Naval Service that we know today.[7]

Head of the Defence Forces

The overall head of the Irish Defence Forces is the Supreme Commander President Michael D.Higgins but this is more of a ceremonial role rather than direct management. The Irish Defence Forces falls under the Department of Defence, the current Minister for Defence is Paul Kehoe TD. The Chief Of Staff for the Irish Defence Forces with overall control of the Defence Forces is Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM. Vice Admiral Mellett DSM has held this position since September 2015. [8]

Vice Admiral Mellett DSM is a native of Castlebar, Co. Mayo. He enlisted in the Naval Service in November 1976. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) in 1994 as Captain of LE Orla for his role in detention of drug smuggling craft. He has had a long and successful career in the Irish Defence forces, having served overseas in both the Lebanon and Afghanistan [9]

The Chief Of Staff is accompanied by General Staff, these include Deputy Chief Of Staff Operations Major General Kieran Brennen, Deputy Chief Of Staff Support Major General Kevin Cotter and Assistant Chief Of Staff Support Brigadier General Peter O’Halloran. [10]

The General Officer Commanding of 1st Brigade is Brigadier General Philip Brennan, 2nd Brigade is commanded by Brigadier General Michael Beary. The Defence Forces Training centre is commanded by Brigadier General Joe Mulligan. The Officer in command of the Air Corp is Brigadier General Paul Fry. The Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service is Commodore Hugh Tully.[11] These heads of the Defence forces are those that are called upon to answer for actions of the Defence Forces. They are responsible for accountability with the General staff cooperating with the Minister for Defence in times where accountability is questioned.


The Irish Defence Forces encompasses the Army, Air Corp, Naval Service, both Army and Naval Service Reserves . There is currently a recruitment drive in the Defence Forces. There is approximately 9,137 personnel as of May 2016 in the Permanent Defence Forces and 2,323 personnel as of November 2015 in the Reserves. This is distributed among the branches with 7,310 personnel in the Army, 733 in the Air Corp and 1,094 in the Naval Service.[12]

The Army is structured into the Defence Forces HQ, 1st Brigade, 2nd brigade and the Defence Forces Training Centre. The 1st Brigade is responsible for the south of the country, Carlow, Laois, Offaly, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Galway. The HQ of 1st Brigade is located at Collins Barracks Cork, there are four other 1st Brigade barracks, Sarsfields Barracks in Limerick, Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny, Kilworth Training Camp in Kilworth and Dun Ui Mhaoilosa in Galway.[13]

2nd Brigade is responsible for the north of the country, Wicklow, Dublin, Louth, Kildare, Longford, Meath, Westmeath, Roscommon, Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim and Mayo. The HQ is Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines, Dublin, there are six other 2nd Brigade barracks, Mckee Barracks in Dublin 7, St Bricins Hospital in Dublin, Gormanstown Camp in Co. Meath, Aiken Barracks in Dundalk, Custume Barracks in Athlone and Finner Camp in Ballyshannon.[14]

The Defence Forces training Centre is located in The Curragh Camp in Co. Kildare. The HQ and all training, education and logistical units are located there. The 1st Mechanised Infantry Company, 1st Armoured Cavalry Squadron and the Army Ranger Wing are also located in the Curragh Camp. The Army consists of nine corps, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Communications and Services, Engineers, Ordnance, Medical, Transport and Military Police.[15]

The Air Corp Comprises of the Air Corp Headquarters, No.1 Operations Wing, No.3 Operations Wing, No.4 Support Wing, No.5 support Wing, Communications and Information Services Squadron and Air Corps College. The Air Corps Headquarters is located in Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel.

The Naval Service comprises of the Naval Service Headquarters, Naval Operations Command, Naval Support Command which are all located on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour and the Naval College. The Naval College is situated in two locations the Naval College Training Naval Base and the National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy. The Navy consists also of seven ships, one Helicopter Patrol Vessel, three Offshore Patrol Vessels, two Large Patrol Vessels and two Coastal Patrol Vessels.[16]

Main Functions

The Irish Defence Forces main role is protection of the state. The Irish Army’s role is to defend the state, provide aid and support to the Garda Siochana when needed, to contribute and participate in peacekeeping and international aid and support. In times of emergency to assist crisis situations.[17]

The Role of the Irish Air Corp is to provide Inshore and Offshore Maritime patrol, Army support and reconnaissance, Garda Air Support, Air Ambulance, Military Transport and Search and Rescue.[18]

The role of the Naval Service is to defend the state, to protect the nation’s maritime interests. The Naval Service provides a lot of deterrent aggression and protecting Ireland’s sovereign rights. The Navy does a lot of policing word with people, arms and drug smuggling. The Naval Service has provided support for refugees fleeing Syria in the Mediterranean recently and has been praised globally for its efforts there. The Navy has been flexible in its UN missions and have outperformed much larger better equipped naval powers.[19]


The Irish Defence Forces has always had a small budget compared to other nations but it has utilised the resources it’s been given most efficiently. The 2016 Defence Forces Budget was 904 million euro which was an increase from 2015, the proposed budget for 2017 will see an increase again in the defence budget. The budget increase is to maintain commitments of the Defence Forces both internationally and at home.[20]

The budget for the Irish Defence Forces is planned to increase over the next six years, there is a planned 437 million to be given for equipment and capital investments for the Defence Forces. Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe announced that the 2017 budget would be 922 million euro which is a 16million euro increase from 2016. The proposed plans for the increased investment in the Irish Defence Forces are to upgrade or replace the Army’s Armoured Personnel Carriers, to increase the capability and strength of the Army Ranger Wing, to replace three of the Naval Service Vessels and replacement of the Air Corps Cessna fleet and Casa Maritime patrol aircraft.[21]

The breakdown of the 2017 budget of 922 million is 692million for defence and 230 million for Military pensions.497 million of the 692 million is spent on wages for the 9,500 military personnel, 550 civilian employees and 350 civil servants. With the order of the replacement Naval Vessels, this will take up a good portion of the increased budget and the additional capital investment allocation. The increased spending on the Defence Forces is welcomed by the public and military personnel. There is an additional 2 million allocated to the Reserve Defence Forces to recruit new members but to also improve equipment and increase the capabilities of the RDF. This further investment into the RDF comes as they are given a stronger link to the Permanent Defence Forces and joint cooperation is increased, with plans to send member of the RDF on peacekeeping missions alongside PDF members this increase in spending is welcomed and needed.[22]

Personal Impressions of their Public Profile

My own personal impressions of the Irish Defence Forces is that recently there has been a big push to promote the Irish Defence Forces within the public. There has been a stigma over the years towards the Defence Forces, that since we are neutral that there is no need for them. I completely disagree with this and the image that previously the public have viewed the Defence Forces lightly and not seen them as a professional outfit. The Irish Defence Forces of 2017 are one of the best trained in the world, they not are equipped with new standard issue Steyr Aug A4s replacing the A1s we have been using.[23] The Defence Forces Peacekeeping missions for the UN have been praised worldwide, they are favoured by the UN for their professionalism and good conduct. The Naval Service has been conducting operations in the Mediterranean, where they have been rescuing refugees and migrants from the conflicts in the Middle East. They have received international recognition for this and have truly made the nation proud.[24]

My personal opinion is that the Defence Forces deserve the increase in Budget, there has been issues with pay in recent years, I firmly believe that every member of the Defence Forces deserve an increase in pay. The Job asked of our brave men and women is full of peril and the current wages don’t match what is asked of them. The Irish Defence Forces of 2017 is a military of which I am proud of what they have accomplished as a small island with a small population we have made our mark on the world stage that would make a much larger military envious.


Coogan, T.P. and Morrison, G. (1998) The Irish Civil war: A photographic record. Boulder, CO: Rinehart, Roberts Publishers.

(Coogan and Morrison, 1998)

Cuív, É.Ó. and Ó, M. (2013) The Irish Volunteers 1913-1915: Recollections and documents. Edited by F. X. Martin, Ruan O’Donnell, and Micheal O h Aodha. Ireland: Merrion Press.

(Cuív and Ó, 2013)

Department of Defence – home page (2017) Available at: http://www.defence.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

(Department of Defence – home page, 2017)

English (no date) Available at: http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 2 March 2017).

(English, no date)

Forces, I.D. (2015) Irish Defence forces Lebanon 16 06 2014 TAOISEACH Enda Kenny meets some of the Irish Personnel who escorted him during his visit. Commandant Colin Miller ( back to camera), trooper Shane Callaghan (foreground) and trooper Michael Barry (background). Available at: http://www.defence.ie/WebSite.nsf/WP2015E (Accessed: 3 March 2017).

(Forces, 2015)

Independent (2012) Irish Army rifle to get multi-million euro upgrade. Available at: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irish-army-rifle-to-get-multimillion-euro-upgrade-26835770.html (Accessed: 3 March 2017).

(Independent, 2012)

Lee, J. (2017) Irish Defence budget increases but is it enough? Available at: https://flyinginireland.com/2016/10/irish-defence-budget-increases-but-is-it-enough/ (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

(Lee, 2017)

Ltd, I.E. (2016) Naval service rescues over 10, 000 in Mediterranean. Available at: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/naval-service-rescues-over-10000-in-mediterranean-411454.html (Accessed: 3 March 2017).

(Ltd, 2016)

McCarthy, M. (ed.) (2013) Ireland’s 1916 rising: Explorations of history-making, Commemoration & heritage in modern times. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing.

(McCarthy, 2013)

McIvor, A. (1994) History of the Irish naval service – Aidan McIvor – hardcover. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

(McIvor, 1994)

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[1](Cuív and Ó, 2013)

[2] (McCarthy, 2013)

[3] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[4] (Coogan and Morrison, 1998)

[5] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[6] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[7] (McIvor, 1994)

[8] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[9] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[10] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[11] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[12] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[13] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[14] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[15] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[16] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[17] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[18] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[19] http://www.military.ie (Accessed: 1 March 2017).

[20] (Department of Defence, 2017)

[21] (Lee, 2017)

[22] (Forces, 2015)

[23] (Independent, 2012)

[24] (Ltd, 2016)

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