Former minister Willie O’Dea warns we need to increase spending on our defense forces

Former Fianna Fáil Defense Minister Willie O’Dea has demanded an urgent increase in Ireland’s spending to protect the country, its waters and its offshore airspace.

r O’Dea, head of the Department of Defense from 2004 to 2010 and highly rated by members of the Defense Force, said Ireland’s defenses had become “a total Cinderella among government priorities without its own Minister for more than a decade”.

The minister responsible, Simon Coveney, responded to a report on defense issues by saying a new debate must be opened on priorities.

Mr Coveney has also strongly defended his handling of the row over Russian naval maneuvers, which were due to begin today off his bailiwick of Cork.

And he again defended his handling of the case of Irish businessman Richard O’Halloran, detained in China for nearly three years.

Mr O’Dea’s critical comments came as Russia was due to start naval exercises off Cork – and a new internal study has found the Irish Defense Force openly admit they cannot provide any kind of surveillance significant air and sea.

“Defence issues have had no voice at the cabinet table since March 2011,” O’Dea said.

“This speaks for itself and is very concerning in an age of new style attacks such as cyber warfare and other atypical attacks.”

The Limerick TD said the minister responsible for defence, Mr Coveney, is primarily responsible for the Foreign Office. Given this heavy responsibility, he could not be expected to devote much time to defense matters.

“There has been too much neglect for too long, and too many qualified personnel have been allowed to leave amid the disillusionment of being undervalued, underpaid and generally overlooked,” he said.

“We need continuity, which means decent pay and decent conditions for the people we badly need for our safety,” Mr O’Dea added.

He said he disagreed with suggestions that a soon-to-be-published Defense Force Commission report would include a reduction in Irish peacekeeping missions.

“This is an Irish achievement that has boosted the nation’s reputation around the world,” Mr O’Dea said.

But Limerick TD said other indications from the commission, echoed in a Sunday Independent report yesterday, needed serious and urgent consideration.

“For example, we can never be expected to match Russian defense capabilities. But we have to become able to monitor what they are doing in our airspace and the waters off our coasts,” he said. Mr. O’Dea.

He said it was necessary to expand the Defense Forces.

Mr Coveney said he hoped the Commission’s report would be presented to the government within the next two weeks, allowing for a full debate on the future of the Defense Forces and their current ability to defend Ireland.

Separately, Mr Coveney defended his approach by securing a deal to release Irish businessman Mr O’Halloran from China after nearly three years in detention, described by some as a “corporate kidnapping”.

He said his only goal was to bring Mr O’Halloran home to his family.

He insisted Mr O’Halloran’s release was a ‘diplomatic victory’.

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