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 will use some more quotes for the Minister of State. If he wishes to go down that path, I can quote from replies given by him and the Taoiseach. They had the opportunity to say that Ireland would indicate that we would join PESCO. The article in July referred to facing a big decision. Usually, when the term "big decision" is used, the matter comes before the Dáil and there is discussion on it, even if the specific details are not available. We were all aware that this might come down the track at some stage. The Minister of State indicated in 2008 and 2009 that the intention of the establishment parties was to subsume ourselves into common defence and security.

In response to a question from Deputy Howlin on 7 November, the Taoiseach said:

Ireland will not join a European army, nor will we contribute to a common European defence budget. However, we want to be part of a common security and defence policy because we believe it is in our interests as a nation and in the interests of Europe.

That is in line with what the Minister of State has said. That was on a Tuesday. However, the Taoiseach did not go on to say that the Government would take the decision to join the following Monday, when the Dáil was not sitting. The excerpt quoted by the Minister of State was from the Thursday. It said that the Government hopes to engage Ireland in a new EU military framework. That was the first major indication Ireland was going to sign up. Most EU countries were not expecting Ireland to sign up at this stage. They expected that we would consider it in future. It was a shock to most of them that the decision was made the day afterwards, although the article appeared on 9 November. Four days later, two different articles appeared on the same day. One suggested that we "may" join and that other said that we "would" join.

I have asked numerous questions on this. On each occasion, the Minister of State has used the same terminology, saying that we were not joining an EU army because that does not exist or some such formula of words. That was the opportunity for the Minister of State to say the Government was doing this, that and the other, but that did not happen.

We need to get back to some specific questions, but that is a problem. We cannot get to the specific questions because we do not have time. Earlier, the Minister of State mentioned that Malta cannot join because it does not have the minimal standards. What are these minimal standards? How close were we to these minimal standards? What are the basic requirements? Further to what I have read out as well as what others have said, to what exactly are we committing? The Minister of State should not go down the road of saying that we are opting in and opting out and that we can do so. The briefing documents states specifically that we are committing to this. The Minister of State has tried to put across that there is no cost to the Exchequer. He is happy to quote from the Irish Times. A headline from that paper stated "Greater military co-operation under Pesco presents range of costs". Of course there are costs. There are costs for us to carry out due diligence. That is aside from my opposition to this because I believe it undermines our neutrality. We also have a duty to the public to know exactly to what additional expenditure the Government is committing.

The Minister of State answered Deputy Boyd Barrett by referring to the Deputy's claims that soldiers are not paid well enough. I have no problem with a commitment, if we are a neutral country and if we can afford it, to spending to ensure that soldiers are properly defended and have proper lodgings. We should ensure they are not on the family income supplement. We need to ensure that the trucks, cars, weapons, ships and aeroplanes they have are fit for purpose. I have never had a problem with that. I have a problem where that will be dictated by others.

Will the Minister of State explain the co-ordinated annual review on defence in respect of PESCO? CARD is important in terms of sovereignty. This is similar to what happened during the banking crisis. We are exposing our budgetary system to external scrutiny. This is referenced in the article I have before me. The Minister of State may wish to check out who these characters are. They are from the Dublin European Institute. I presume those involved are not friends of mine. Anyway, they said the Irish defence budget and planning will be subject to world-class review and scrutiny with tough questions asked requiring serious answers on how well our defence resources are being targeted at real-world security threats.

Earlier, the Minister of State answered by saying that we will have the opportunity to scrutinise defence budgets. Anyone who has sat in this committee for the Estimates knows there is usually an hour or so to wade through the full extent of it. We never undertake proper scrutiny of that spending. We never discuss whether it can be spent more efficiently or whether money should have been diverted towards looking after and paying for personal protection equipment in the Air Corps and so on. That does not come up, yet we are to have a different body that will have more time and greater ability and space to do exactly what we are meant to do. Moreover, we do not have a say in it.

A range of other questions arise. Will we be thrown out of PESCO if we do not achieve the targets set? Is there a way for us to get out of this if we simply stop spending and contributing? Is there a penalty clause? Would that represent an additional cost if we do not achieve the targets? Can we in any way opt out of PESCO at a future date? I am not referring to the operations or the missions. Can we opt out of the commitment we have given to increasing our financial contribution?

I hope I am not misquoting the Minister of State, but he said a decision to change the Lisbon treaty is for the people. In fact, it is not. At the end of the day it may be, but in fact it is for the Government. The only way of changing a European treaty is for the Government to argue and put the case to all the other EU states that there needs to be a new treaty. In turn, that new treaty has to be adopted by the other countries and the Irish people, when it is put to us. That was our concern. It is no longer for the Irish people alone to change the Lisbon treaty or any of the European treaties because it is a collective decision. That was the concern. A range of other issues arise but I will let others in.


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