Whilst the Defence Forces are not a primary response agency for non-security related emergencies, as defined in the Framework for Major Emergency Management, they provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or emergency situation in its Aid to Civil Authority (ATCA) role. In this regard, the full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment, commensurate with operational requirements, is made available for deployments, within current means and capabilities, as the need arises.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Joint Task Force was established to coordinate the Defence Forces contribution to the whole-of-Government COVID-19 response. It has the authority to draw together, in a joint manner, the contribution of all of the elements of the Defence Forces – Army, Air Corps, Naval Service, Reserve, etc. This was provided for in a Defence Forces Regulation signed by and under the authority of the Minister for Defence.
The Defence Forces Joint Task Force is based in McKee Barracks and its priority from the beginning has been to provide support to the HSE, while retaining, at all times, a contingent capacity to provide Aid to the Civil Power support.
The wide range of supports that the Defence Forces have provided to the HSE, as coordinated by the Joint Task Force during the COVID-19 crisis include:
- operation of the COVID-19 testing centre at the Aviva stadium;
- support for contact tracing efforts;
- transportation by the Air Corps of COVID-19 tests to Germany;
- collection of PPE from more than 260 cargo flights and the ongoing storage and distribution of this PPE to various HSE sites;
- support for HSE testing efforts including through deployment of Naval Service vessels to Dublin, Cork and Galway;
- PPE training to workers at Cork and Waterford harbours by Naval service personnel;
- provision of tentage and marshalling support at various HSE testing sites around the country;
- transportation of patients for testing;
- a range of non clinical and administrative supports in a number of residential care home facilities;
- assistance with the fit out of temporary facilities for the HSE (for example, the HSE facilities at City West and the University of Limerick);
- production and assembly of PPE using 3D printing facilities; and
- the use of lands at Ballymullen Barracks as a COVID-19 testing facility and contact tracing hub.
In addition to supporting the HSE, the Defence Forces have also provided a broad range of supports to other Departments and Agencies. Provision of this support was also coordinated by the Joint Task Force. Examples include:
- Support has been provided to the National Ambulance Service through Defence Forces ambulance and crew supports along with tele-triage supports.
- Support to the Office of Government Procurement through assistance with storage and distribution of PPE.
- Support to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government through the use of lands at Sarsfields Barracks for the location of one of the National Temporary Body Storage Facilities. The Defence Forces were also on standby to provide support if required at the Dublin based National Temporary Body Storage Facility at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
With regard to the involvement of the Defence Forces in the Covid19 vaccination programme, the Defence Forces are represented on the High Level Task Force for Covid-19 Vaccination, providing logistical and operational planning advice for the national vaccination programme.
To date vaccinator support has been provided by the Defence Forces across a number of vaccination centres and Long Term Residential Care settings.
Through the Joint Task Force, the Defence Forces has also supported the rollout of the vaccination programme through:
- Marshalling, administration, logistical and security supports at a number of vaccination sites
- Secure storage supports
- Transportation of vaccinators in adverse weather conditions
- Transportation of vaccines by air at the request of the National Ambulance Service.