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 Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for agreeing to facilitate members today - to an extent. I heard the Minister of State list all the occasions he has answered questions in the last year. I asked some of those questions. I asked about Jean-Claude Juncker and he did not mention PESCO in his reply at all. In most of the questions I asked which were not specifically to do with PESCO but involved increased militarisation and co-operation, there was no mention until very recently of a change in Ireland's attitude. There was no inkling, until the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, said it, that there was an intention of taking such a massive step and signing up to this permanent structured defence mechanism.

The first Lisbon treaty was rejected by the Irish people for the very reasons that we are discussing now. The Minister might recall, from the debates around the second Lisbon treaty in 2009, the fear and distrust the Irish people had at that time.

The Government of the time cobbled together the triple lock to try to get over the line. We were suspicious of it at the time. We raised our suspicions that when the time was right, a Government would take slow steps towards the eventual realisation of something akin to an EU army. I cannot remember the name of the EU leader who was asked whether an EU army would be the end product and responded that if it quacks like a duck, it is a duck.

Due to a lack of time, I have not been able to source some of the quotes I had intended to use. I will come back to them. I might be wrong when I say that until quite recently, Jean-Claude Juncker was suggesting there would be an EU army by 2025. What is being put in place here is all the architecture to allow for such an army to be set up. If there is to be an EU military headquarters, that suggests there is to be an army. Over recent decades, efforts have been made to try to call it something else, such as a rapid reaction force or a battle group. I remember the furore among those who said that calling it a battle group would not help it to be accepted in Ireland, even though that is exactly what it was.

We can have a debate on these issues, but the problem is that we do not have the luxury of time. We have not had the full debate. Most of those of us who have asked questions were involved in the Lisbon treaty debates. We were continuously suspicious. Last week, I raised concern about Ireland being gradually submerged into European Defence Agency, EDA, projects. My party has not voted against these proposals in every single case. There is logic to co-operation, but there is no logic to being subsumed or tied up in knots. I will deal with some of the questions I have to hand. I might come back to the others.

The briefing document on PESCO lists the commitments. Under the heading of "costs of participation", it basically says this will not cost us anything. One of the PESCO commitments involves regularly increasing defence budgets in real terms. That is a commitment to spend more. We know that average defence spending in the EU is 1.4%. I think the figure for Ireland is 0.48%, so an increase will be needed if we are to reach the EU average. A target of 2% has been set by Donald Trump and the other leaders of NATO states, many of which will dictate the progress that is made when PESCO is up and running properly. The Government will have to increase expenditure from €600 million to €2.5 billion. We are signing up to this substantial amount. It will be monitored by a group set up under the process to which we are signing up, because it is not the case that we can make a commitment and leave it at that. The commitment also will be benchmarked in other ways, for example, with regard to increased expenditure on defence investment. As a result of another move made under the EDA, European funding will go into the European defence industry to promote research and development of military weapons or machines that can be used for military purposes.

The joint use of existing capabilities involves the pooling and sharing of resources. When a pool is created, people can draw on it. In light of the chaotic state of our Defence Forces, with their low numbers and antiquated equipment, I do not think many people will be looking for some of our resources. A database of available and deployable capabilities will be developed. We do that for the UN, as it rightly states in the briefing document. When a certain number of members of the Irish Defence Forces are committed to the UN, they are not available for other duties. If we commit to PESCO operations or EU battle groups, our troops will not be available for UN operations, given that no more than 800 of them at a time can be overseas. I could be wrong with the number. It might be lower than that.

The Minister of State might be correct when he says we can opt in and out of individual operations, but we are talking about the commitments being made in the first instance. We are not talking about whether to involve ourselves in some of the offensive operations that are included in the list of 15 projects that have already been agreed, according to what I have been told. I understand that another five projects will be reintroduced on Monday. Some of those projects are quite offensive and have implications for our neutrality. I accept that states may or may not opt into them, but I believe that our association with them could endanger Irish troops on UN duty. We will become part of the pack rather than being set aside differently, as we have been to date as a result of our honourable tradition of working with the UN on peacekeeping duties.


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