A Farewell To Arms

Things are so bad, Charlie Flanagan wants to put the Irish Army on the streets.

Brian Lenihan, new in the department of justice and unwilling to lose out on a law’n’order issue, tells him he’ll think about it and have a word with the Garda commissioner.

Willie O’Dea, fresh from a fraught weekend encounter in a Limerick pub, pipes up to say he stands ready to help.

Bemused Gardaí were reportedly ‘baffled‘ by the shape throwing in Dáil Éireann.

Soldiers of all ranks, from chief of staff Dermot Earley to the enlisted men’s spokesman Gerry Rooney, pointed out that the garda commissioner was unlikely to ask for their help, and besides, they were busy enough with everything from UN duty and escorting cash shipments to joining NATO on the sly.

In other words, and as diplomatically as they could given their reluctance to get involved in politics, the military told their civilian masters to get a clue.

But, believe it or not, despite the lunacy of the notion, I almost think this is almost a good idea.

Forget whether Ireland, with one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, even after the recent surge in the headline murder rate, needs to panic about the breakdown of civilization as we know it.

Under all that, there’s an important issue that no one has really noticed: What is our Army for?

It costs about one billion euro a year to run the Irish Army. What does it spend this money on?

Well, there are the UN peacekeeping programmes, good for the international profile but hardly a pressing domestic issue. Then there’s border security, which to the relief of everyone is not as much of an issue as it was a decade ago, and the subsidised security escorts for the banks.

So where’s that one billion going, besides wages? Well in 2007, the Army planned to buy another 15 armoured personnel carriers to add to its fleet of 65 at a cost of 36 million, and four new utility AW 139 helicopters at a cost of almost 50 million, as well as upgrading the Air Corps’ two Casa maritime patrol aircraft would at a cost of nearly 17 million. A few years ago, we even spent twelve million euro on anti-tank missles.

Why in the name of the gods do we need anti-tank missiles? Who are we expecting to attack us with tanks? Anti-aircraft I could maybe understand, in case some Al-Qaeda nutjob decides to steal a Ryanair plane, but anti-tank missiles?

I ask because it seems to me it much of that one billion euro could be spent much more wisely by getting rid of most of the Army. The Gardaí are quite capable of doing border security, and can even handle UN duties if we feel the need for a bit of international involvement (Gardaí currently serve with the UN in Bosnia and Cyprus, for instance). Air-sea rescue we need: it can be set up on a secure footing on its own as a Coast Guard. And we should hold on to and beef up the fisheries patrols. But let the banks pay Securicor to escort their cash. Think about it for a while, and you soon realise we have no pressing domestic need for infantry and artillery battalions.

So let’s abolish them.

This would solve the problem that got Charlie Flanagan all hot and bothered, the apparent lack of Guards. The training college in Templemore is running flat out just to keep up with the numbers of Guards retiring every year, while the training facilities in the Curragh are used to produce an army we barely use and hardly need.

So I ask you, why does Ireland need an Army? Let’s get rid of it, hold on to an air and sea corps, organise a coast guard and civil defence, and turn the Curragh over to the departments of defence and transport, who can use it to house ‘Gardaí Tráchtanna’, a dedicated traffic corps.

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