At a time when Ireland's coffers are bare, it's perhaps understandable that defence is one of the first budgetary items to get cut - after all, who is going to attack us? And even if we were attacked, sure couldn't we always rely on the Brits anyway!
Apart from the moral and political questions that Ireland's policy of "bare-bones defence on the cheap" raises, with the growing threat posed by drug wars in our cities, our irresponsible approach to defence spending may soon have an immediate impact on the security of the state.
As reported in the London Times, the Irish Naval Service is having its budgets for new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) frozen, which is only the latest in a long line of financial sacrifices required of our navy. And while some critics might question the necessity of the Air Corps or even the Army for the everyday protection of the state, something tells me that as an island nation where many rural communities on the west coast rely on fishing, a navy might be kind of important. This necessity is further underscored by the large quantities of drugs now being landed on our shores, for dispersion both in the domestic and wider European markets.
Even now, before the Service suffers from ship retirements and budgetary constraints, the navy's eight ships have to patrol a massive maritime zone, the equivalent of trying to patrol the island of Ireland with only two police cars. Their task will only get more difficult in the years to come. Might we even see a return to the dark days of the early 1970's when Ireland, for a brief period, had a Navy without any ships?
All I can say is, whatever about new OPVs, thank God the government had the foresight to buy that Learjet and those new Agusta 109s during the times of plenty. Heaven forbid our politicians travel around Ireland by car...
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