Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence

Permanent Structured Cooperation: Motion

5:00 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The following motion has been placed on the Order Paper and was referred to this committee:

That Dáil Éireann approves Ireland’s participation in Permanent Structured Cooperation, pursuant to the provisions of section 3 of the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.

I welcome the opportunity to address the committee today on the important issue of permanent structured co-operation, commonly referred to as PESCO. In commending the motion, I will take the opportunity to remind the committee that the Government, on 21 November last, approved the formal notification by Ireland of our intention to participate, subject to Dáil Éireann’s approval of same. Following Government approval, the issue of Ireland’s intention to participate in PESCO has already been the subject of a Seanad Éireann Commencement matter, on Tuesday, 21 November, a Dáil Éireann Topical Issue debate, also on 21 November, and has been the subject of a number of recent parliamentary questions. This committee also raised the matter when I attended to discuss other defence-related issues.

As members of the committee will be aware, threats to international peace and security are complex, multi-dimensional, interrelated and transnational in nature. The ever-changing complex and intertwined nature of threats to our citizens, individual states and international peace and security cannot be denied. These challenges are too great for any individual state, acting alone, to deal with. The best approach for Ireland, in concert with our fellow EU member states, continues to be to ensure that the countries on the borders of the EU and beyond the European neighbourhood are stable, secure and prosperous.

Our membership of the European Union and the United Nations allows Ireland to deepen and sustain democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights through, among other things, participating in overseas peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions, which in turn will make Ireland more safe and secure. In that regard, PESCO is a crucial mechanism which provides a treaty-based framework designed to improve the means by which EU member states can participate jointly in projects to develop capabilities that will enhance contributions to crisis management and peacekeeping operations undertaken by the EU under the common security and defence policy, CSDP.

Participation in any PESCO project is entirely voluntary and it is a matter for each member state to decide for itself whether to participate on a case-by-case basis. While further work is required before Ireland can decide which PESCO projects we may wish to participate in, I can advise the committee that examples of the types of projects which we are currently considering include: upgrade of maritime surveillance systems; development of unmanned underwater vehicles for protection of harbours and maritime systems; a centre of excellence for EU military training missions; and cyberthreats and incident response information-sharing platform. Ireland has been centrally involved in the development of the CSDP from the outset and has been one of the leading contributors to CSDP operations. Ireland supports the role the EU can play in support of international peace and security with the UN at its core. All CSDP operations to date have either been mandated or supported by the UN and endorsed in UN Security Council resolutions. PESCO is a further initiative in strengthening the Union’s capacity in this regard. Speaking at the informal meeting of defence Ministers in Estonia last October, the UN under-secretary general for peacekeeping supported the initiative as potentially providing additional capabilities for UN mandated operations.

PESCO is also a means of enhancing interoperability and, working with EU partners, ensuring that our troops are equipped with the latest and best equipment and training. A key challenge to the European Union’s capacity to mount crisis management operations, has been a lack of essential capabilities and the political will from member states to commit the required capabilities for CSDP operations. PESCO has been designed to address this challenge, enhancing the political commitment of member states to both develop and deliver capabilities in support of CSDP.

Participation in PESCO, which is provided for in the Treaty on European Union in Articles 42(6) and 46 and Protocol 10, was introduced under the Lisbon treaty. Let me be absolutely clear, participation in PESCO has no implications for Ireland’s policy of military neutrality or for the triple lock. The participation criteria expressly stipulate that PESCO will be undertaken in full compliance with the Treaty on European Union and the associated protocols and will respect the member states' constitutional provisions. It is also important to note that participation in each project is on an opt-in basis and is, therefore, entirely voluntary. PESCO also has absolutely nothing to do with the creation of an EU army. Nothing in the treaties provides for the creation of an EU army and it expressly states in the Lisbon treaty protocol that an EU army cannot be created. PESCO is simply about member states making more binding commitments to one other to jointly develop military crisis management capabilities for use in support of CSDP operations.

As I noted earlier, the participation criteria expressly stipulate that PESCO will be implemented in full compliance with the Treaty on European Union and its protocols, respecting the constitutional provisions of the member states. Three other non-NATO EU member states, namely, Finland, Sweden and Austria, have already committed to join PESCO.

PESCO was comprehensively debated in the context of the Lisbon treaty, which was approved by the Irish people when they voted on it in October 2009. PESCO was specifically referenced in the Lisbon treaty protocol to address the concerns of the Irish people and in Ireland's national declaration. The legislation setting out Ireland's approval process for PESCO was published in advance of that vote and enacted in November 2009.

As a strong proponent of the important role the EU can play in support of international peace and security in support of the UN, Ireland wishes to remain engaged in all CSDP processes, as it has done to date. Fully participating in these developments ensures that we have a voice and that we can influence the evolution of these initiatives, including PESCO. It is important that Ireland moves forward together and at the same time as our EU partners, including in the security and defence domain, so as to protect our interests within the Union. PESCO is a key initiative in this regard. Participation in PESCO will also allow our Defence Forces to gain access to latest thinking and technology on capabilities of interest to them. This will help enhance their capabilities for peacekeeping operations. When the Defence Forces deploy overseas, we never do so alone. We always work in close co-operation with other countries. PESCO is a means of enhancing interoperability with project partners and ensuring that our troops are equipped with the latest and best equipment and training enabling them to be even more effective at peacekeeping, for which they are renowned. Now more than ever with Brexit and emerging and increasing security challenges in our neighbourhood and beyond, it is important that the Union can demonstrate unity and cohesiveness. To that end, in seeking the support of our EU colleagues on our priorities, it is important that we act in step with our EU colleagues in shared areas of concern, including on security and defence initiatives such as PESCO. I commend the motion to the committee.


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