Published on January 2nd, 2017 | by Jim Lee


The 1916 Centenary Commemorative programme gave the Irish public an insight and appreciation of the Defence Forces

While the Irish Defence Organisation continues to deliver a very broad range of services, both at home and overseas, including providing for the defence of the State, provision of domestic security supports, contributing to the maintenance of international peace and security, and the delivery of a wide range of ‘non-security’ supports to Government Departments and Agencies, such work however often goes unseen by the general public.

However, the decision by the government that the Defence Forces (Óglaigh na hÉireann), would have a prominent role in the 1916 Centenary Commemorative programme, gave them the opportunity to raise their profile and resonate with the general public. The Defence forces were honoured by the task and that pride was evidenced in the many TV appearances that they participated in during the year, and the warmth of the reaction they received.

A key project undertaken by all branches of the Defence forces was the programme to deliver a National Flag to all primary schools in the Republic, which was conducted between 14th September 2015 and 12th March 2016. This project involved 10,000 Defence Forces personnel visiting close to 3,200 schools and presenting each with a handmade National Flag and a copy of the Proclamation. No schools in the country deserved the honour more than those in our remote offshore islands and it fell to the Air Corps to undertake this mission. On 19th January they visited Scoil Aphóirt and Scoil Árainn Mhór on Arranmore, – both of which had fewer than 20 pupils, as well Scoil Náisiúnta, on Tory island, which has just nine pupils. The Air Corps team was led by Lt Colonel Ronan Verling, Officer Commanding No 1 Operations Wing and the Proclamation was read out to each the class, before the Tricolour was presented to the school. The Air Corps also visited over 200 schools in the Dublin region, as part of this programme, using a number of teams, including the ‘two Sergeants Walsh’ – a husband and wife team.

The Air Corps performing at the 2016 celebrations for 1916

The Centenary Easter Sunday Parade at the GPO included over 2,800 members of the Defence Forces and a display of military vehicles and aircraft watched by over 750,000 people lining the streets of Dublin. Apart from the 13 aircraft taking part, the Air Corps was represented by 120 marching troops, led by Lt Colonel Verling, while the national colours leading the parade was carried by Lieutenant Gearóid Ó Briain, a Great Grandson of Cathal Brugha, (second-in-command of the garrison at the South Dublin Union, led by Éamonn Ceannt), accompanied by Sergeant Kane and Sergeant Dwyer.

Overall the Defence Forces were honoured to participate centrally in more than 60 national and regional Ceremonial Events in 2016, examples of which are listed below:

  • Defence Forces School of Music Bands and musicians contributed to over 500 individual events in 2016.
  • Also as part of the 2016 State Centenary Programme, the Defence Forces raised the National Flag on O’Connell Street every day in 2016. The first weekend of this ceremony was provided by the Air Corps. The two members involved were Lieutenant Neil Dunne, assisted by Flt Sergeant Oliver McKeown.
  • In September, a ceremony was held in Custume Barracks, Athlone to award a Unit Citation to A Coy, 35 Inf Bn to recognise the courage and professional performance displayed by the members of the Unit while serving with the United Nations at Jadotville in Congo in 1961.
  • 13 parades were held to award the 1916 Centenary Commemorative Medal to all members of the Defence Forces. The first medals were presented by Uachtarán na hḖireann, Michael D. Higgins and members of the government at a State ceremony in Dublin Castle on 4th December, where the Air Corps were represented. This was followed by 12 regional events in selected military installations nationwide presided over by Minister of State, with Special Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe. One of these events was at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, on 12th December, where he presented medals to Air Corps personnel.
  • Air Corps aircraft performed over 102 ceremonial flights during the year.

International Operations

The Defence Forces have the longest unbroken record of overseas service of any country in the world, since first deploying to a United Nations mission, in 1958. While these missions are well known to the Irish public, it was perhaps the first overseas mission by the Naval Service that brought home the importance of that service to the general public. During 2016, the Defence Forces deployed three Naval Service ships and over 150 Naval Service and Army personnel to the Mediterranean in response to the humanitarian crisis, supporting the Italian Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre, with Search and Rescue assistance. Overall 7,029 migrants were rescued and since operations began in 2015 over 15,500 have been rescued.

Currently over 600 Defence Forces personnel are serving in 15 countries, with the largest deployment in South Lebanon with UNIFIL, where 380 personnel are deployed, A further 140 personnel are deployed to the Golan Heights, as a Disengagement Observer Force. In 2016 over 1,400 Defence Forces personnel served in overseas Peace Support and Security operations in 15 countries and one sea. Many Air Corps personnel served in these deployments.

However, a less familiar overseas deployment took place in March 2016, when a team from No. 3 Operations Wing, led by Lt Col David Corcoran, undertook the Irish Air Corps’ first international deployment. This was to Malta, where they provided aviation training to the Maltese military aviation unit, between the 3rd and 11th March. The Irish Mobile Training Team, in addition to Lt Col Corcoran, consisted of Captain Declan Daly and Captain Finbar McArdle, Flight Quartermaster Sgt Tracey Walsh and Sergeants David Hennessy and Damian Kelly. They delivered training for the Air Wing’s Helicopter Instructor aircrews on the various operational aspects of the Agusta Westland AW139, such as winching, fast roping, hoist operations, search and rescue and operating with under slung loads. The Maltese military aviation unit operated two AW139s delivered in June (AS1428) and December 2014 (AS1429), which were joined on 22nd September 2016 by a third (AS1630). Back home Air Corps pilots and winch men flew 170 Defence Force support missions.

Domestic Operations

The Defence Forces Domestic Operations are perhaps more familiar to the general public as personnel are deployed in Aid to Civil Power and on Aid to the Civil Authority operations on a daily basis, supporting An Garda Síochána, Heath Service Executive (HSE), Central Government and the Local Authorities.

During 2016, over 220 aid to the civil power operations in support of An Garda Siochána involving Explosive Ordnance Disposal (Bomb Squad) call outs, Prisoner Escorts, Explosive Escorts, major cash Escorts and Engineer Specialist Search Operations, were carried out. The Defence Forces by Government Directive also continue to provide a permanent armed guard at Portlaoise Prison.

In June, Defence Forces personnel were deployed in a major security operation in support of the five day visit of U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden. In addition to attending various engagements in Dublin, the Vice President flew to Knock airport and made stops in several towns in County Mayo of significance to the Vice President. The Vice President arrived on board Boeing C-32A, 98-0001 but rather surprisingly used C-17A, 09-9205 for the visit to Knock.

Over 3,000 Defence Forces personnel were deployed throughout a severe weather storm period during December 2015 and January 2016 to assist with flood relief. In addition, in total over 500 military vehicles including 10 helicopters were provided over the period to support these works.

The Naval Service and Air Corps patrol 220 million maritime acres of sea, (over twelve times the land mass of Ireland), representing 15% of Europe’s fisheries and during the year the Naval Service completed over 1,200 boardings, while the Air Corps conducted 301 Maritime Surveillance Patrol flights. This compares to 284 missions and over 1,240 hours completed in 2015.

Members of Defence Forces also provided expertise during the year supporting the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment National Cyber Security Centre.

Air Ambulance, Search & Rescue and Garda Air Support

The Air Corps are best known to the public for its significant contribution to Air Ambulance, Search & Rescue (SAR) and Garda Air Support. During the year, the Air Corps conducted ten SAR operations in support of the Irish Coast Guard (IRCG). This compares to eight in 2015 when 37.4 hours were flown. In addition, the Naval Service Dive Team was deployed ten times in 2016 on seven separate Search and Recovery operations, following requests from the IRCG and An Garda Síochána.

Air Corps aircraft are equipped to carry out the inter-hospital air ambulance function between approved landing sites and have the capability of operating 24/7. During the year they provided 78 inter hospital Air Ambulance missions, supporting the HSE responding to time critical medical emergencies. This compares to 70 missions in 2015, when 182.7 hours were flown. The last mission for 2016 was flown on 28th December, when the Air Corps received a request to transport a medical team from Waterford to Dublin. CASA ‘Charlie 252; departed Baldonnel for Waterford Airport at 02:40 and once the patient was on board, it departed Waterford, landing back in Baldonnel at 06:00.

Separately, the Air Corps supports the HSE’s Emergency Aeromedical Support (EAS) service which operates on a daily basis out of Custume Barracks, Athlone. This service, using the callsign ‘medevac 112’ commenced in June 2012, and was established, initially on a pilot basis, providing a medical service for seriously ill patients in rural communities, by agreement between the Department of Defence and the Department of Health. Approximately 400 EAS missions were flown in 2016, bringing the total since the service commenced, to over 1,650. The final mission of 2016 was flown on 31st December 2016 and involved a patient injured following an equestrian incident in Co. Wicklow.

Arising from the Government decision in July 2015 to put the EAS service on a permanent footing, the Defence Vote now receives an additional €2.2 million annually in respect of the costs incurred by the Air Corps, in providing the EAS service. This is based on flying around 480 hours per year. In 2015, the Air Corps AW139s providing the service operated 397 missions flying 788 hours, which included missions that were stood down.

Air Corps continues to support the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU) performing 1,339 missions in 2016. In 2015 1,010 missions, with 1,128 flight hours, were flown by the two EC 135 T2 helicopters and the Defender 4000 fixed wing aircraft operated by GASU.

Finally, and according to provisional figures produced by the Department of the Defence, the Learjet 45 flew a total of 154 hours on Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) flights, well down on the 289.6 hours flown in 2015.

Overall, the Air Corps flew over 9,800 flying hours in 2016, while its Air Traffic Control service managed over 19,000 aircraft movements.

Training, Education, Innovation and Collaboration

While training and education programmes are a well-established part of the Defence Forces regime, innovation and collaboration are more recent arrivals. It is said that the Defence Forces train for what they can predict and educate for what they can’t predict, therefore the Defence Forces place a significant focus on training and education, to ensure that the organisation is prepared to respond to all tasks assigned by government. Below are some examples of the breadth of training and education undertaken by the Defence Forces personnel in 2016:-

  • 590 Recruits and 98 cadets were inducted to the Defence Forces and began their military training in 2016.
  • Approximately 1,000 Defence Forces personnel underwent overseas pre-deployment mission readiness training ranging from counter IED to medical first responder training, radio and communications skills to armour vehicle driving.
  • 600 Defence Forces personnel underwent 33 career courses developing their leadership, planning and decision making skills.
  • 1350 skills courses were conducted by the Defence Forces in 2016 with 17000 student days developing and maintaining Defence Force capabilities.
  • 69 Defence Forces personnel completed degree courses and 20 completed Masters courses through Continuous Professional Development programmes.
  • A total of 117 internal Defence Forces training courses received external accreditation in 2016.

Today, the Defence Forces strives to find innovative solutions to complex modern security challenges, leading through excellence and collaboration. Below are some examples of how the Defence Forces delivered on that:

The Ordnance Corps was involved as a consortium member in a successful European Commission’s Horizon2020 project, with partners from National University of Ireland, Galway and Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal, where the project secured over €4.7 million in research funding. The project is based on the aftermath of a Chemical Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNe) event, using of cost-effective modern remotely-controlled robotic air and ground vehicles (RAVs/RGVs), that are designed for use in rain, wind, and challenging ground surfaces and obstacles.

Another Horizon 2020 programme is ‘The ‘Game for Peace’, currently being developed by an EU-wide consortium, led by a team of researchers from sociology, computer science and psychology at Trinity College Dublin. The aim of the Virtual Reality immersive experience is to train international military personnel in peacekeeping skills such as communications, cultural sensitivities and gender awareness. The game will allow users to experience simulations of challenging scenarios from conflict and peacebuilding missions and entering the game as avatars, players will role-play as a member of another organisation, a different gender or nationality, and so will experience a variety of conflict zone scenarios from a range of different perspectives. The Irish Defence Forces will assist during the testing phase of this project.

Air Corps receive Aviation Innovation Award

On 7th December at the Clayton Hotel Burlington Road, Dublin, hundreds of aviation professionals recognised and celebrated the outstanding achievements within the industry, with 19 prestigious trophies presented to the very worthy winners of the Aviation Industry Awards 2016. One of these awards, the Aviation Innovation Award, was presented by PJ Byrne, Associate Professor in Management, DCU, to Brigadier General Fry, General Officer Commanding, Air Corps, and Sean Brady, Bird Control Ireland, for developing and upgrading ‘LocateMe112. This is a software solution for smartphones designed by helicopter pilot Lt Colin Gallagher, which enables the GPS chip on an emergency caller’s smartphone to be activated remotely – via a link sent via SMS – by rescue services, which can then pin-point the exact location of the injured person.

Air Corps receive Aviation Innovation Award

The key feature of LocateMe112 is that it doesn’t require the installation of an app, only needing the caller to have a smartphone with location services turned on (see video here).

The application is co-ordinated by the National Aeromedical Co-ordination Centre and is available to agencies across Ireland, including the HSE and the Irish Coast Guard.!

Defence Forces receive European of the Year 2016 Award

Given the high profile of the Defence Forces during 2016, it should really not come as a surprise that they were honoured with the European Movement Ireland European of the Year 2016 award, in recognition of international peacekeeping and humanitarian work.

The European of the Year Award, which is sponsored by Zurich, was initiated by European Movement (EM) Ireland in 1988, to recognise and honour outstanding contributions to promoting and enhancing Ireland’s place in Europe.

The award was presented by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, at a gala lunch in Dublin, on 12th December 2016. Presenting the Award, An Taoiseach (who is also Minister for Defence) said: “The Defence Forces have a proud history of international service for Ireland and on behalf of the European Union and the United Nations. I am very pleased, as Honorary President of European Movement Ireland, to present Óglaigh na hÉireann with the 2016 European of the Year award. They are a very worthy recipient, especially this year, when, as well as their ongoing humanitarian and peace-keeping endeavours abroad, they have played a very prominent and important role in our 1916 Centenary commemorations.”

“The presentation of this year’s award to the Irish Defence Forces lends to them just recognition for the service which they have done not only for this State but for humanitarian causes around the world,” added Patrick Manley, CEO Zurich Insurance plc.

Defence Forces EMI European Award ceremony

Noting that the Irish Defence Forces had “stepped up to the mark in the international arena,” the Chairman of European Movement Ireland, Maurice Pratt noted; “Since 1958, the Defence Forces have had a continuous presence on peace support operations. Currently there are personnel deployed on 15 missions in 14 countries worldwide. As part of Operation PONTUS, since May 2015, over 15,000 lives have been saved as a direct result of the work of the Irish Naval Service in the Mediterranean”. They had “made the entire nation of Ireland proud, making them a very commendable deserving winner of the 2016 European Movement Ireland European of the Year award” he concluded.

Accepting the 2016 EoTY vase and booklet, Vice-Admiral Mark Millett, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, said “It is an honour for the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann, to receive this award from European Movement – Ireland. This is a special tribute that endorses the considerable efforts and sacrifices our personnel make in order to fulfil the roles we have been assigned, not only in the international arena, but also domestically and particularly during this year of centenary commemoration. It is testament to the outstanding service of our soldiers; sailors and aircrew who seek to inspire pride and lead excellence in the performance of their duties, at home and abroad, on land, sea and air.”

….and finally

Defence Forces Cheif of Staff on Christmas Day

Speaking of the Chief of Staff Vice-Admiral Millett, he is the first Naval Officer to hold the post of Chief of Staff, and since his appointment in September 2015, he has provided outstanding leadership and raised the profile of the Defence Forces considerably. Not surprisingly, he has looked to do new things and in new ways, as in addition to his distinguished military career, he is a founding member and champion of The Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster (IMERC). IMERC is an institutional cluster encompassing University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology. IMERC aims inter alia to enhance Defence Forces capability, while facilitating innovation, transformation and job creation. On Christmas day, the Chief of Staff honoured another Defence Force tradition, when he served Christmas lunch to personnel on duty in Collins Barracks, some of the many on duty that day, at home and abroad.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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