Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Permanent Structured Cooperation: Motion
Deputy Chambers is one of the Deputies who questioned me on numerous occasions about this, through oral and written parliamentary questions, since the beginning of my appointment in May or June of 2016. I would like to thank her and her party for their support in this. She is right in what she states about defence policy. Defence policy is not about me. Defence policy concerns the Oireachtas, and it is the democratic right of each and every Member of this House to influence it.
I share the Deputy's concern with the term "battle groups". I inquired on numerous occasions about why they are called that. It gives the wrong message. I have had the privilege of seeing the Irish Defence Forces participating in the battle group in Sweden. I saw the training exercises they actively participate in. Of course we have to go through triple lock of the UN, the Government and the Oireachtas to get permission for the Irish Defence Forces to participate in the battle group. We participate in serious and dangerous missions. The first priority for me, and every person that has the privilege of holding the position that I hold, is the safety of our troops and our personnel, at home or abroad.
The number one priority for me and every person who has had the privilege of holding the position I hold is the safety of our troops and personnel, be they at home or abroad. It is so important that we have the training mechanisms required for them, be they projects within the European Defence Agency or PESCO or battlegroup exercises. It is so important for the members of the Defence Forces that they be able to participate in these exercises which help to train and equip them to participate in whatever serious and dangerous exercises in which they will be involved. People might ask what they do. They do some very serious work. It is only when one is on the ground that one sees and realises the work members of the Defence Forces do on a daily basis.
Deputy Lisa Chambers is right. We are in a very different environment from five, ten, 15 or 20 years ago. We need the help and assistance of other member states. I was recently in Vancouver to attend the UN peacekeepers conference. The under secretary for the United Nations repeated what he had stated in Estonia last October, that he supported the PESCO initiative as potentially providing additional capabilities for UN mandated missions. He said PESCO was also a means of enhancing interoperability and working with EU partners, ensuring UN troops were equipped with the latest and best equipment and, more importantly, and would be trained to carry out whatever missions in which we expected them to participte.