There are no formal WGA policies or strategies that explicitly state how Ireland is to come together to respond to an external security crisis. Instead, as noted above, there is a standing inter-departmental committee that deals with such crises on a case-by-case basis. This committee draws on participants from all sectors of government and ministerial departments as well as associated agencies, as needed. Consultations with civilian actors or NGOs that might have a stake in the region or crisis itself are also facilitated. Military commanders are key stakeholders and ones who have a role in this committee, whether they are reporting in person or via secure teleconference from the region experiencing the crisis. Various members of the myriad sections within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Taoiseach (i.e. the prime minister’s office), and the Department of Defence are gathered together in order to establish the exact context of the crisis and the best way to respond to it. Of course, these decisions are not made in a vacuum. Instead, consultation with EU member states and institutions is an important aspect of the committee’s work, as it ensures that there is no duplication of efforts among these various bodies.
There are other reasons for this coordination and cooperation that are practical in nature. While Ireland is often willing to deploy its armed forces as part of international security operations, the fact that it does not have a full-spectrum military capacity means that it must rely on collective infrastructures provided by multilateral actors (e.g. the EU, the UN and NATO). In addition to coordinating with the EU, it may be necessary at times to contact and arrange cooperation with other external actors, such as those just cited or the African Union (AU). This may be for several reasons, such as: to facilitate passage across other nations’ sovereign territory en route to the crisis region; to ensure that the mission does not conflict with any existing mission in the region; to facilitate a transfer of intelligence and information in a more efficient manner; or to establish basic protocols for troop interaction, the provision of support, and deconflicting the airspace over the crisis theatre.
The WGA mechanism that Ireland employs during responses to external crises is not a formalised structure with directly supporting human resources (HR) and administration assets to call upon. However, this does not limit its effectiveness in achieving efficient mission deployment and successful outcomes in responses to external crises. In fact, the argument can be made that this model of WGA is ideal for geographically small nations with smaller populations and centralised governments. Sources within the ministries that were interviewed for this analysis discussed the utility of having all main stakeholders in the same room in person for ensuring clarification of roles and responsibilities as well as for dealing with any disputes or conflicts that might arise due to having so many different actors involved in an operation. This conflict resolution and clarity generation does not merely come from formal ‘roundtable’ discussions, but also from informal conversations – or so-called ‘water-cooler’ moments – which allow for issues to be discussed and resolved on an inter-personal basis. Government documents analysed for this report refer to the importance of WGAs for future interaction within both the national and international security realms.
As has been noted throughout, Ireland uses an inter-departmental committee to coordinate within the administration and to respond to external crises and conflicts, but the documentation and strategies make no reference to this committee other than acknowledging the “current arrangements”. It is possible, however, to identify a renewed commitment to a more robust defensive military posture in the most recent White Paper on Defence (Department of Defence 2015). Indeed, there are explicit commitments made regarding continued participation in the CSDP and a recognition of the importance of having national militaries possess “expeditionary potential” so they can better intervene and assist in conflicts and crises outside the borders of the EU (ibid.: 27). Rather than making any direct references to a WGA, these documents assume that the response mechanism (i.e. the Interdepartmental Committee for Peacekeeping) is the only vector through which developments or issues in the military sphere will be pursued. It is evidence nonetheless that the bureaucratic and military leadership is aware of the concept of a whole-of-government approach to military affairs.