By Susan Daly

One good thing came out of floods – the army found a real job to do…

IT’S been a busy week for our boys and girls in the Defence Forces. In the last seven days they’ve been putting out fires all over the shop.

First they were deployed to help rescue those citizens trapped by the horrendous floods. Yesterday, just as they were drying out their galoshes, they were called on during the public workers’ strike to man some of the duties normally occupied by Dail ushers.

Guarding Leinster House was the big one — or at least the most visible. Forget the Queen’s Guards at Buckingham Palace. Everyone wanted a picture of the novelty that was Irish soldiers protecting our houses of Government.

The Army has not had this kind of exposure since the FCA — sorry, Reserve Defence Forces — thundered up a beach in Wexford for the D-Day landings scene in Saving Private Ryan.

It’s interesting that the Army had all these soldiers ready to parachute in at the sign of an emergency.

Apart from those on international peacekeeping missions, we have no idea what they are up to the rest of the time.

The Army’s job, as advertised on the FAS website, is apparently to “help defend the State from aggressors, aid the Garda Siochana, help protect the Irish fisheries and assist in international peacekeeping missions”.

As mentioned, we know about the brave men and women doing great work as part of the UN overseas force. So let’s look at the other three. The first is a big ‘what if’ scenario. It won’t harm the Army to take on other roles until such time as a bunch of warlike Martians choose to land on the Bog of Allen. The third task — protecting the fisheries — well, who knew? But the second — aiding the gardai — evidently only happens in an emergency.

It shouldn’t take a natural disaster or an all-out strike to mobilise the Army. It’s not their fault: it’s in their job description to do what they’re told.

We’re not talking about robbing Peter to pay Paul here.

Surely, now that border security is no longer a concern, there are a few extra of the rank and file knocking about their barracks trying to look busy.

The Government has already seen fit to tool up the Army with €300,000 of riot kit in the event of civil unrest. So while they wait for people to start going balubas on the streets, the Army could also begin to remould themselves as more of a go-to force than a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency group.

The soldiers manning the gates of Leinster House yesterday looked impressively sturdy. Why not leave them there and free up more gardai to look after the State’s other, less privileged, citizens?

When a recruitment ban was announced for the gardai and Army earlier this year, few people got upset about the effect it would have on the Defence Forces. We did worry, however, that a plug on the rollout of new gardai would really affect our day-to-day safety. The Army should consider that if they were out and about more on the home frontline, they would be seen as a more relevant force.


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