Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Permanent Structured Cooperation: Motion
I apologise for being late for the start of the meeting. I do not share many of the concerns raised at the meeting, but I respect the right of members to raise those concerns. I want to begin by reiterating my support and that of my party for Ireland joining PESCO. I absolutely reject suggestions that other member states are driving Ireland's defence policy. We develop and drive our own defence policy, and we decide what we participate in and how. That has not changed and is not going to change. I certainly would not support such a change.
Deputy Boyd Barrett made reference to the term "battle groups". The term is regrettable, however, as politicians and educated people, and people who are au fait with defence matters, we need to look at what that actually means. They are training exercises, and the ones that we participate in have been mandated by the UN. They go through this House and get its approval. There is no difficulty there.
On many occasions during the year and a half I have held my brief, I have seen many Deputies across the House laud our Defence Forces and personnel for the fantastic work they do in international peacekeeping and peace keeping missions. I have made the point several times that it is not a holiday we send our troops on. They are very serious and dangerous missions. It is not acceptable to me that one hand we praise our Defence Forces for their fantastic work, and on the other hand we do not want them to be trained as well as they can be. We cannot operate on an insular basis. Due to the small size of our country and our economy, we cannot do all of the defence research and development required to make sure that we have the most up-to-date training, information and capabilities. That is why it is beneficial to us to co-operate and work with other like-minded member states.
As I have said, we do this because there are economies of scale. Other countries have expertise in areas where we are not as advanced. Likewise, we have a lot to offer. We have fantastically trained people who can offer skills in certain areas to help other member states, so it is a two-way street.
In matters relating to PESCO, Ireland will have the choice to opt in. It is on a project-by-project basis. We are not signing up to a whole host of projects. Rather, we are signing up to the idea that we will co-operate with other member states to the benefit of our own State. We are also recognising that we operate in an international community. We do not operate in a bubble. It is not just Ireland and nobody else. We are part of the European Union and part of the world. There are commitments, obligations and responsibilities that come with being a member of the European Union. That includes working towards managing crises and dealing with the ever-evolving threat of terrorism, in the form of the very sophisticated groups from whom we are trying to protect our own citizens.
Clearly Ireland does not have the capacity to do all of the research and develop all of the technologies that our Defence Forces need to use when they operate overseas. We know this. We know that we are not immune to cyber-threats and cyber-attacks. We have evidence of that in this State. It is only a matter of time before we will have difficulties in our own jurisdiction, and we will look to other member states to help us.
I take on board the concerns being raised, but I absolutely reject the idea that this is somehow the beginning of a European army. Again, we have the Lisbon treaty, constitutional protections and the triple-lock. Where is the hole? Where is the gap that means we are joining a European army? I have seen no evidence to date that this in some way leads to that. As for the idea that this is rushed, I personally have been aware of it for a number of months. I feel that I have been given the opportunity to discuss this issue and read into it. It is my brief. It is my job to know what is happening in this, and it is the responsibility of every Deputy in the House to brief themselves. The information is readily available.
The reason that we should not delay is that there was a clear window for signing up, and if Ireland does not sign up during that window, that has an effect. It looks as though we are not being professional, that we are not working to the same timeline as other member states, or that we somehow have reservations about the project, which I do not think we should. It is not a case where Ireland can wait and see. This is not rushed because as far as I can see, the benefits to our Defence Forces and our country are very clear. It will greatly benefit all of our serving members and the State.