Garda team accompanying Coveney in Ukraine a 'betrayal' of Defence Forces, says TD

Garda Team Accompanying Coveney In Ukraine A 'Betrayal' Of Defence Forces, Says Td Garda Team Accompanying Coveney In Ukraine A 'Betrayal' Of Defence Forces, Says Td
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney being accompanied by a Garda protection team on his trip to Ukraine is against security protocols and a "kick in the gut" for the Defence Forces, according to a TD. Photo: Collins
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James Cox

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney being accompanied by a Garda protection team on his trip to Ukraine is against security protocols and a "kick in the gut" for the Defence Forces, according to a TD.

Mr Coveney travelled to Poland on a Defence Forces plane while he was accompanied to the Ukrainian border by Polish military personnel, before being escorted by Ukrainian special forces and a close protection team from the Garda Emergency Response Unit.

Cathal Berry, a former deputy commander of the Army Ranger Wing, told "It’s against so many security protocols, the guards are excellent at what they do, but their role is to protect the public, fight crime, bring people before the courts, secure convictions. The military looks after security, particularly abroad and particularly in a war fighting scenario.


"To me, it’s self-evident that the military should be the lead agency there. For that reason if you look at the operational setting, it’s a war fighting scenario, so the military are in the lead, or should be. Secondly, from a logistics point of view, the military flew the delegation to Poland, so why are we adding another layer of complexity by bringing in an additional agency? If the military start the operation and end the operation by flying the principal over and back, then surely they should be the people doing the middle part of the operation as well.

"If the Defence Forces are flying out they should be doing the ground transport as well as the air transport, it’s an additional layer of complexity that is completely unnecessary and an inappropriate use of state assets basically."

He called it a "poor decision" from a "policy formation and implementation perspective".


Mr Berry also called the decision a "betrayal" of the Defence Forces.

"The minister should be advocating for his Defence Forces, because he’s the Defence Minister. This should have been a good day for the Defence Forces, but it ended up being a kick in the gut."


The recent Commission on the Defence Forces report highlighted an issue with recruitment and retention, and Mr Berry said decisions like this will make the problem worse.

"Pay is important from a retention and recruitment perspective, but also purpose, and if you’re overlooked when a mission shows up that is ideal for Defence Forces it has a devastating effect on morale. People will think, 'why should I hang around if Government doesn’t see fit to use us for these missions when they come up?'"

He added: "We’re constantly told there are synergies between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Defence and that’s why they’re paired together at the Cabinet table under one minister. Here’s a classic example, there are perfect synergies there if they choose to use them, but they reached out to a third government department, Department of Justice, added another layer of complexity and chose a unit which is very good at what they do here in Ireland but not equipped or trained for expeditionary operations, which is what the Defence Forces do. It just makes no sense, they’ve matched an incorrect outfit for an overseas operational setting which makes no sense. It’s evident the military should take the lead in a war fighting scenario, and gardaí in a policing scenario, it doesn’t require any intricate policy it’s just common sense really.


"Military people do military environments with mortar rounds, artillery, cruise missiles, a lot of the ARW guys would have worked in the Middle East and be familiar with these scenarios."

Mr Berry also pointed to the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, which states gardaí have no policing role in armed conflicts governed under International Humanitarian Law.

Ireland's stance of sending only non-lethal aid to Ukraine has been a hotly debated topic, and Mr Berry has raised the issue in the Dáil on a number of occasions, arguing that Javelin anti-tank missiles in the Curragh should be sent to Ukraine.

"We should be absolutely sending protective, defensive weapons to Ukraine, there is no legal reason we can’t.

"It’s even more important considering the Russian offensive which is probably on the way in the next 48 hours.

"The incident with the Russian battle cruiser the Moskva shows they can defend themselves with the tools. We would much prefer a diplomatic solution and peace talks, but it’s clear the Kremlin does not want any peace talks, they do not want to engage on a diplomatic perspective. They see a military solution here, it’s important we convince them this is not viable, the best way to do that is to provide the Ukrainians with the hardware and then create the environment where peace talks can be successful when the Russians realise a military solution is no longer tenable."


A serviceman of Ukrainian military forces holds a light anti-tank rocket launcher at a checkpoint, where they hold a position near Kharkiv. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Mr Berry pointed out that other neutral countries have sent military aid to Ukraine, and argued that the stance on non-lethal aid is down to coalition politics.

He added that it will cost taxpayer money to dispose of anti-tank weapons that are due to expire soon.

"It’s a political decision, the makeup of the coalition, it’s clear there is no consensus on the issue in the three government parties. This is the reality, but it doesn’t change the principle that it is absolutely appropriate that we should be sending protective defensive weapons to Ukraine.

"It actually costs money to dispose of these things. One of the international norms is they’re dumped at sea, this is environmentally awful, and we don’t do it. You can dig a big crater and blow them up in a controlled explosion, or firing them off is the safest option, troops do that, the alternative and most likely scenario is they will be sent back to the manufacturer for a breakdown procedure which is a cost to the taxpayer.

"Anti-tank, anti-aircraft, anti-ship, that means it’s a protective weapon. It’s very close range. The AT4 is the rocket the maximum effective range is 400 metres, so it’s tanks that are coming after cities and troops, this is designed for the infantry and civilian defenders to protect themselves from the marauding Russian army."

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