Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Permanent Structured Cooperation: Motion
Apologies have been received from Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I remind members and those in the Public Gallery that mobile phones should be switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference, even on silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee rooms.
The purpose of today's meeting is to consider the motion referred to the select committee by Dáil Éireann in relation to Ireland's participation in permanent structured co-operation pursuant to the provisions of section 3 of the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. Under the terms of the Dáil motion of 6 December 2017, the committee must consider the matter and, having done so, send a message back to the Dáil not later than 7 December 2017. I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, and officials from the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We will hear the opening presentation of the Minister and then take questions from members.
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.
I may have to leave at some point as I must speak elsewhere. The first point I would make is that we have never really had a national debate on our defence policy. There is this rush today. I do not think saying that there was a Commencement debate in the Seanad and a Topical Issues debate in the Dáil is enough. The Minister of State is now before the committee and we have four hours tomorrow to attend to this matter. I do not think this represents an adequate debate on a move that will change our defence policy and change so much about that policy. It is like the old saying "marry in haste, repent at leisure". I think we can apply that to so many situations and this is one of them. While many of us would like to see an increase in the defence budget because we know about the problems in our Defence Forces, we would like to see it going to our Defence Forces personnel, particularly to retain those experienced people and the equipment they need.
PESCO means that we will part of a system where there will be a military solution. What we do consistently say about the Good Friday Agreement, for example? This committee and the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement have been meeting delegations from conflict areas consistently. What we say to them concerns the importance of sitting down, listening, talking, negotiating and compromising but we are now proposing that we commit to this military solution, which could be detrimental.
Last week, we discussed those two measures from the European Defence Agency programmes. We agreed that they were relatively benign and the cost was not prohibitive but we all made the point that we are increasingly encroaching on our neutrality and increasingly moving towards militarisation. This undermines our humanitarian work, our peacekeeping operations and the respect we are held in because of our human rights work and our role in respect of the sustainable development goals. The Minister of State says this will make us more safe and secure. We are safe and secure. We are an island that is traditionally neutral. We did not have an empire and have not created these problems that have brought threats to other European countries. The Taoiseach says countries need to co-operate but why must this be done in a military way? Why are we not just co-operating as we always have done in a non-threatening way?
I note that Denmark has an opt-out on military CSDP matters. Where is our role in that? The Minister of State says there will be no EU army but yet there will be a centre of excellence for EU military training missions. There seems to be a contradiction here. I do not think we are in any danger. I do not see the point of what is being proposed here. I think it will undermine our traditional neutrality and will create more problems than the Minister of State says it will solve.
I have answered parliamentary questions, both written and oral, about PESCO. I replied to written Parliamentary Questions on 16 December 2016, 17 May 2017, 12 July 2017, 27 July 2017 and 17 November 2017. I replied to oral parliamentary questions on 11 July 2017, a Topical Issue debate on 21 November 2017 and a Commencement debate in the Seanad on 21 November 2017. PESCO has also discussed in the Dáil by the current Taoiseach and the former Taoiseach. It was addressed in statements on the European Council on 8 March 2017, 21 March 2017, 18 October 2017 and 25 October 2017 and in oral parliamentary questions on 8 November 2017 and 14 November 2017. The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee, has discussed PESCO on a number of occasions, as has the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs on 5 July 2017 and 9 November 2017. The matter was also addressed in statements on the European Council on 25 October 2017, as well as in parliamentary questions to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. If the Deputy looks at the Lisbon treaty, she will see that PESCO is very well documented in it.
I have no issue with a national debate. Such a debate is a matter for the Oireachtas and the people. The Chairman has invited me here to give quarterly updates to the committee and I have committed to that. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I have never refused to come to this committee to debate any defence issue. Never have I failed to come to the Dáil to answer parliamentary questions or reply to a Topical Issue matter.
The Deputy spoke about our neutrality. The final wording of the document on PESCO states:
Participating Member States will meet their binding commitments, confirming that the establishment and implementation of Permanent Structured Cooperation will be undertaken in full compliance with the provisions of the [Treaty on European Union] and the protocols attached thereto and respecting constitutional provisions of the member States
This is something we had stitched into the final PESCO documentation four days before it was cleared on 13 November last. I brought this to the Government on 21 November. I then sent notification to the Oireachtas that the Government wished to bring this measure through the Dáil before 11 December. Our neutrality is not undermined in any way in this document. Legal advice we have received states that we are fully compliant with our policy on neutrality. I am very proud of the work Irish Defence Forces do at home and abroad. The Deputy mentioned its humanitarian work. The Defence Forces carry out a considerable amount of humanitarian work that goes unnoticed.
The Deputy spoke about a military solution. If she visits Mali, she will see the great work that Irish Defence Forces members are doing there to bring stability to that country. This is the work of which I am proud. The Deputy mentioned Denmark. She forgot that Denmark is a member of NATO and has its own opt-out policy. The threats we face as a country are totally different to those we faced ten, 15 or 20 years ago. I really believe we must man up to that and be prepared for it.
I thank the Minister of State for coming before us. He said that this committee always talks about the role of our Defence Forces abroad - one could say nearly all over the world but particularly in the Middle East and in the African continent. I am very proud of the Defence Forces and the work they do. We visited Georgia recently and visited an EU monitoring mission along the Georgian-Russian border. Retired members of the Irish Defence Forces headed up this project.
I have no problem with supporting permanent structured co-operation, PESCO. We are part of the EU and I believe we should play our role. We are living in a different and changing world. We see horrendous terrorist attacks taking place around Europe and the world. We discuss them in this committee and offer our condolences to the various countries involved. If PESCO is a new way of trying to prevent terrorism around Europe it is important that Ireland plays a part in this.
Is every country in the EU going to be part of this or is any country opting out? If there is, the Minister might let us know why that country has opted out. If he does not know he can have the reason sent to me by letter. It is just for my own information because I am not aware of the situation.
PESCO allows us to opt out of any particular project that comes up and that will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Will every case in which the Army participates require a vote in the Dáil or will the projects in which we participate be decided by the Cabinet, the Minister or the military?
Denmark has an opt-out in respect of the common security and defence policy, CSDP. The UK will not be participating with PESCO at this time due to Brexit but may participate with PESCO projects in the future, as there are provisions for third-country participation. Portugal did not sign the notification document on 23 November but is joining following consideration via its own process. Malta has decided not to join because it does not meet the minimum standards.
Section 3(1) of the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 provides that " Notification by the State under paragraph 1 or 3 of Article 46 of the Treaty on European Union of the State’s intention to participate in permanent structured cooperation referred to in paragraph 6 of Article 42 of that treaty shall be subject to the prior approval of the Government and the prior approval of Dáil Éireann." At present, that is the process that is currently under way. While there is no specific requirement to seek these approvals for any PESCO project, we can decide to participate in the interests of proving our capability on CSDP missions and in order that the Defence Forces can better themselves by participating in whatever projects are available.
I reiterate that the Defence Forces do wonderful work all over the world. There is a lot of confusion about this issue. It was discussed already today in the Dáil, and it is important that we get some clarification on some of the issues.
What are the benefits of joining PESCO and how will it benefit the Defence Forces in their overseas missions?
In practical terms, what does joining PESCO mean, and what type of projects will Ireland be participating in? That is a question that has been asked of me.
Could the Minister provide reassurances on the legal position? He mentioned that he had sought legal advice on Ireland's participation within PESCO.
We have sought legal advice from the Attorney General's office. The legal advice is that this does not go beyond our traditional policy of neutrality in any way. I read an extract from the final text of the PESCO document for Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, which said that the agreement reflects a country's neutrality and its own traditional policies.
On the question of why we are joining PESCO, Ireland strongly supports the role of the Union in peacekeeping, crisis management operations and initiatives which enhance deployability. Deployment capability in operations is essential. The establishment of PESCO represents a further development in EU co-operation in support of international peace and security under the CSDP. Under PESCO the member states will come together in different groups to develop and make available additional capabilities for peacekeeping and crisis management operations. It is very important that we work alongside other member states. When we go abroad we must ensure that we have the experience of working with other member states. PESCO will also enable the Defence Forces to develop further their capabilities in support of peacekeeping through participation in joint projects with like-minded partners. Joint projects should also drive down the costs of developing and procuring capabilities. Through participation in all aspects of the CSDP, Ireland has been able to influence its overall direction.
The Deputy asked what projects Ireland will be participating in. There are 16 projects available at the moment. We have highlighted six, which are a centre of excellence for EU training missions, deployable military disaster relief capability packages, underwater systems with harbours and maritime aerial surveillance protection, upgrade of maritime surveillance, cyberthreats and an instant response information sharing platform. I do not have to go into each of those to demonstrate how important they are. We face much greater threats now than compared with those faced ten, 15 or 20 years ago. All of the projects I have mentioned are under consideration at the moment.
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.
The Deputy is right when he says he raised questions about PESCO in the past. This has been spoken about in the Dáil since 2016. I recall written parliamentary questions that were tabled to me on 16 December 2016. Within a month of my appointment as Minister of State in May 2016, I was asked oral parliamentary questions about Ireland's plans in respect of PESCO. I could not tell the Deputy that we were joining PESCO until we had seen the final document, which was not cleared until 7 or 8 November 2017. I attended the Council meeting of 13 November at which the final document was agreed. That document was brought to the Government on 21 November.
The Lisbon treaty is absolutely explicit in its commitments regarding what we can and cannot do. Deputy Ó Snodaigh spoke about a European army. A provision in the Lisbon treaty explicitly details that this would be a matter for the people. If the Deputy wants to change the Lisbon treaty, a referendum will be needed here. It would not be a matter for me but for the general public, to bring about such a change. As the Deputy has said, there is logic in co-operation. It makes sense. He referred to the European Defence Agency. It is important that we co-operate with other EU states.
The Deputy spoke about the spending commitments of states under PESCO. We alone will continue to decide on Ireland's defence investment and on the deployment of our Defence Forces. The PESCO notification provides that member states will remain sovereign and that commitments will be implemented fully in accordance with treaty protocols and the constitutional provisions of member states. The treaty mentions spending in that context.
I am absolutely hammered every week about further spending in our Defence Forces. I am very proud of the spending commitment we were able to make to the Irish Defence Forces during the lean years of the recession from 2011 to 2015 or 2016. We managed to give equipment and capabilities to the members of the Defence Forces. I refer, for example, to spending on ships, refurbishment of armoured personnel carriers and investment within the Air Corps. The spending commitments we have made within our Defence Forces make sense.
The Deputy spoke about the deployment of troops on a mission.
When we deploy to a mission, whether it is UN mandated, Government approved and Dáil approved, each and every Member of this House has his or her say under our triple lock policy.
There are two issues I have big problems with. There is the content, but before that is the process through which we make this decision. It is one thing to answer parliamentary questions, but it is only in the last few days that Members have been told that a vote was to take place on joining and participating in PESCO. Is the Minister of State seriously trying to suggest to me that the public is aware, for example, of the detail of the 20 different commitments? Let us forget about euphemisms like PESCO. We are getting involved in an advanced military co-operation across Europe. Is the Minister of State going to tell me, with a straight face, that the public knows about what the Dáil is deciding on this Thursday? The public does not know. The public does not know the details of this and does not know the implications. One of the reasons we protested so strongly is because civil society groups, NGOs with an interest in this area and possibly representatives of the Defence Forces should be in here giving testimony to the committee as to what all of this means. It is not good enough for the Minister of State to say one thing and us to say another; we need civil society actors and other stakeholders giving testimony to the committee. This is not going to happen. We are not taking a formal decision and there is not an adequate public debate. It is not satisfactory for the Government to tell Members, just at the beginning of this week, that there is to be a vote on this issue. The matter was not even discussed at the business management meeting that is supposed to order the business of the Dáil last week. How can the Minister of State seriously say that this is acceptable? Why was this matter not signalled at the business management committee?
I have other questions about the substance of the-----
I do not think it is acceptable or democratic to make the decision on this issue tomorrow. I believe the Minister of State deliberately buried the matter under the unfolding Brexit drama, albeit a very important drama. The PESCO topic has been tactically and deliberately buried under the Brexit drama.
I now turn to the substance of the motion. The Lisbon treaty reference is a red herring. Most of the time during the debate on the Lisbon treaty, over a whole range of things, the Government's line at the time was to say Europe has been good to us so do not vote against Europe. Those of us who opposed the treaty constantly pointed to the military and defence elements of the treaty and those in favour of signing up to it denied the potential implications. In so far as there was a significant vote against that treaty it was due to concerns around this matter. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe knows very well that people in Ireland have a big allegiance to the idea of military neutrality and are deeply concerned about any move away from it. This motion is not a satisfactory justification for moving ahead with this.
With regard to the substance of the motion, the Minister of State needs to explain commitment No. 1 in the PESCO commitment which reads: "Regularly increasing defence budgets in real terms, in order to reach agreed objectives." What does that mean? It means that agreed objectives are 2% of GDP. According to the last question the Minister of State replied to on this, I believe we are currently spending .5% of GDP. To meet those targets we would have to quadruple current defence expenditure. Please do not tell me this is to pay soldiers better wages. We do not have to sign up to a binding commitment to do that. We should pay better wages to soldiers who are on family income supplement, but that is not what this is about. This motion is about binding commitments to progressively increase defence spending exponentially. Is it not the case that the people who stand to benefit, and indeed who have actively lobbied for this, are those in the arms industry? The NGO website vredesactie.be,submitted freedom of information requests to the European Commission. It discovered that between 2013 and 2016 there were 36 separate meetings between the heads of the arms industry and the Commission, all in the context of PESCO. We have had all this lobbying by the arms industry - whose lobbying budget jumped from €2.6 million to €5.8 million in the same years - while we are to sign up to a treaty with binding commitments to increase arms expenditure and to increase the proportion of that expenditure for weapons and not on soldiers or their wages. These are binding commitments and we are tied in to them. That is what it says in the motion. The motion makes several references to member states entering into commitments and there are constant mentions of binding commitments. This has huge potential implications.
The Minister of State suggests that Ireland's participation in PESCO does not have implications for our neutrality, when it is clear that the architects of this proposal believe it to be part of developing the apparatus of, and a stepping stone towards, an EU army. In 2015 Jean-Claude Juncker straightforwardly said that the EU needed an army. I do not have all of the quotes in front of me but they say the same thing. The Franco-Prussian axis, sorry the Franco-German axis wants an army.
They want an army. The Minister of State can tell us it does not have implications but if the people who are driving this believe it is moving towards an army then that is what it is moving towards. Even the term "battle groups" implies battles yet we speak about peace making and all the rest of it. President Macron speaks of getting feet on the ground in Libya, where military action by the French and others has been a total disaster.
The Minister of State spoke of some PESCO commitments such as maritime surveillance, as though they were benign commitments, and that there would be the triple lock and so on. Currently, maritime surveillance means a wall such as Donald Trump has not even managed to construct. Donald Trump promised he was going to construct a horrendous, racist wall to keep Mexicans out of the United States when in fact it is the European Union that has built a wall. This wall has resulted in 35,000 to 40,000 migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea because the EU does not want to let them in. The EU then wants to boost surveillance budgets to prevent the migrants getting in. This is what the EU is doing. It has built the wall that Trump wants to build, and the EU is repelling these desperate people who are fleeing. They are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Many of them are fleeing precisely the situations such as those created in Libya by the French. Why the hell would Ireland participate in this?
If the Deputy looks at the protocols within the Lisbon treaty he will see that it deals with the European army and with defence spending as being matters for each member state. The Deputy spoke of Juncker and his European army. I do not agree with him; there will not be a European army. There are no provisions within PESCO for a European army.
Yes absolutely. I totally disagree with him. There will be no European army and this is in the protocols of Lisbon Treaty. At the European Council meeting in June it was agreed to launch PESCO by the end of the year.
That was an unfinished document. I was not going to bring an unfinished document before the House. This has been in the public domain since my appointment in May or June 2016, when I first answered oral questions on PESCO. Not one Member of the House came to me to say they had concerns about PESCO and ask me about it or said they wanted this or that included or excluded. I was not going to bring an unfinished document to the Dáil this year. I was going to wait until I had the final document which we cleared at our Council meeting on 12 November. I brought it to Government on Tuesday, 21 November and then notified the Oireachtas that I wanted to bring it before the House before 11 December.
Ireland had part of the final document, and its wording included: "Participating Member States will meet their binding commitments, confirming that the establishment and implementation of Permanent Structured Cooperation will be undertaken in full compliance with the provisions of the [Treaty of the European Union] TEU and the protocols attached thereto and respecting constitutional provisions of the member States". That states very clearly how we got into it.
The Deputy spoke about the 2% expenditure. That is the collective EU target. Each member state, as within the protocols, decides what it wants to spend. The White Paper on Defence commits us to an increase in spending, year on year. I am criticised for not investing enough money in the Defence Forces, yet today Deputies are saying we spend too much money on them Do they want our personnel to go abroad with outdated equipment?
It comes back to the point the Deputy made. We have to update our equipment whenever necessary.
The maritime surveillance is a very similar project. We participate in the European Defence Agency, EDA. I spoke last week about EDA projects and the committee and the Dáil cleared them. I am sure the Deputy is aware that we are participating in Operation Sophia. The maritime surveillance, and the project mentioned there, will assist in Operation Sophia and the work we do there.
He said it was joining pending approval by the parliament.
The Minister of State keeps referring to the provisions of the Lisbon treaty. That allows us, as I understand, to join whenever we want. I have been looking to find where it says we must join by a certain date or we will be locked out but I found nothing. One of the real concerns today is that this is being rushed. The public has no knowledge of what is going on. This is not an insignificant issue in respect of our strategy as a country or our relationship with the European Union, and we are rushing it through with one committee meeting now and a Dáil vote tomorrow. I would like to invite the head of the armed forces here to hear his views on what benefits this would bring. I would like to invite the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, PANA, to explain its concerns. If, as the Minister of State says, this has been in train since June I do not agree that he had to wait until he had the final document. We should have discussed this in detail in committee so that the advantages and disadvantages could be set out. It is disgraceful that is not happening.
This is very serious because our armed forces have brought so much to the European Union. They have been a shining light of participation in international affairs and that has been good for the country. The strength of their contribution is added to by the fact that we have been taking a neutral position. However, we are exceeding our neutrality with this decision. The Minister of State is shaking his head, and maybe we are not doing so fully but it is a step towards integration and, as Deputy Boyd Barrett says, the wording of the documents could not be clearer in that they refer to raising expenditure, binding commitments, co-ordinating with NATO, affecting the political framework in looking to streamline political decision making and the delivery of a ull-spectrum force package. It is a strong step towards enhanced security co-operation and joint mission, as well as investment in armaments and research and development. All the documents say that but when we put the questions here the Minister of State says it is all concerned with peacekeeping and the United Nations. It is not, it is a case of complementing NATO and building a European armaments industry to compete with the Americans.
I am not too sure that will bring security to the world, in fact I am convinced it will not. What would bring security to the world are some of the skills our Army has built up over the years in different approaches to peacekeeping, not relying on drone and satellite technology, which we funded last week, to zap people from distance, or having a wealthy developed bloc imposing military control through investment in technology and armaments. That is what I see when I read all this.
It is strategically a mistake. At our entry into the European Union we were under pressure to abandon our neutrality and join NATO. However, at the last minute we did not have to do that and we were still able to join. We have benefited from that and so has Europe.
I was involved briefly in the Chad mission, which was an example of how our armed forces do a fantastic job in overseas missions. There were difficulties in respect of interoperability, we had to get helicopters from the Ukraine but they did a brilliant job. When I went to the headquarters of the mission, where 32 countries were involved, they all said it was great the Irish were leading the mission because we did not bring what the French bring. I mean no disrespect to the French but they bring a colonialist militarist tradition and the effect of how it is seen and typically operates is unavoidable. We do not come from that tradition and Europe benefits from us, as it does from the involvement of Denmark. I do not see the Danish military services collapsing or not being properly funded. We could have taken the same route as Denmark and really provided for our military while maintaining independence because that gives more security to everyone, by having voices outside this strongly enhanced co-operation, which calls for ramping up spending and capability and integrating into NATO. This is the wrong strategic call and we are making it in the week before Christmas with minimal debate and no public discussion. That is a terrible mistake.
I highlighted this point before Deputy Ryan came in. This document was finalised in the first week in November. On 13 November we had a Council meeting. I brought it to Government on Tuesday, 21 November and now we are bringing it to the Dáil. The Deputy asked why we have to decide to join up by Friday. The PESCO notification was published in mid-November, as I have highlighted, and remains open to member states to join until PESCO is formally launched scheduled to take place as part of the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council, which the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, will attend on Monday, 11 December. Notifying our intention to join PESCO before this launch means that Ireland can strongly influence the PESCO agenda and join on its own initiative.
At the moment we know that we are signing up to the minimum commitments, and if we do not sign up, we will not be able to participate in projects that will enhance the abilities of the Defence Forces to contribute to international peacekeeping missions.
I did not interrupt either of the questioners. If we defer our decision on joining, we are outside of PESCO and cannot influence its development. We have secured language in the final document, which I have highlighted, that we were able to influence within the closing days of the document being finalised. The notification restates the EU's commitment to multilateralism within the UN at its core.
There is no issue arising from this document of Ireland questioning its neutrality. I have received legal advice on it. It is provided for within the Lisbon treaty. I will read the provision again: "Participating Member States will meet their binding commitments, confirming that the establishment and implementation of Permanent Structured Cooperation will be undertaken in full compliance with the provisions of the TEU [Treaty of the European Union] and the protocols attached thereto and respecting constitutional provisions of the member States". That is a provision that we got stitched into the document before it was finalised. It is one of the reasons that I feel comfortable with participating in PESCO. A Deputy spoke about complementing NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. That is absolutely, totally untrue.
A member said that our peacekeepers have been a shining light on Ireland. I fully agree. I am delighted that Deputy Ryan had the opportunity to go to Chad, to see at first hand the contribution that a small country like Ireland can make to the world's most troubled spots. He spoke about interoperability. Part and parcel of joining up to PESCO is interoperability, which means working with like-minded states and being able to relate to them, instead of just landing on the ground, participating in a mission, and not having the experience of working with like-minded states. It is so important that we participate in this and work with like-minded states, and that there are projects that will improve our capability as peacekeepers. As was said, Ireland is one of the largest contributors within the EU member states under CSDP, Common Security and Defence Policy, missions.
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.
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.
We all know about the work done by our peacekeeping troops, of which everybody is very complimentary. Our peacekeeping troops are different from those of other countries. There is a great respect for them and nobody would deny them the equipment, capabilities and training they needed to do the work involved which they have been doing extremely well. However, there is still disquiet about the rush to join PESCO. Regardless of what the Minister of State says, it is a rush. There is a lack of public awareness. The public should have been given an opportunity to examine the matter. If the committee is discussing a topic, we try to bring in the different groups to hear a wide range of views. We will not get a chance to hear other views on this matter. We are only hearing the views of the Minister of State and the Department.
The Minister of State has mentioned four or five examples of the type of projects we are considering. Did he say they were part of a list of 16? It might be useful look at what the other possibilities are. Our identity in terms of our neutrality, human rights and humanitarian aid will be undermined by this arrangement. The Minister of State and his colleagues and officials are all convinced that this will not happen. Time will tell. We are risking an awful lot by rushing into joining PESCO without a national debate.
The Minister of State has managed not to answer the question put by me, Deputy Eamon Ryan and others. Perhaps we might receive a straight "Yes" or "No" answer. Is there any reason we could not join PESCO later? I know that the Minister of State wants us to join it and has said we will have more influence. That is his political perspective. On the formal process of joining PESCO, is it not the case that we could join next year?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett will not suggest when the Minister of State will be called to respond. I will. If the Deputy has another question, he should continue. We will then go back to the Minister of State.
I would appreciate a straight answer to the question asked.
Second, there are 20 binding commitments. There seems to be slippage between the terms "project" and "binding commitment". On what binding commitments mean, the Minister of State says we can opt out of whatever "projects" we want. I am not asking about projects but about the binding commitments to which we will sign up when we join PESCO. Is it not the case that we will be bound to increasing defence budgets in real terms? We will be bound to carrying out a regular review of these commitments. I am reading from the 20 points in the actual PESCO agreement which was agreed to at the Council. I am not paraphrasing. "Successive medium-term increases in defence investment expenditure [...] Developing interoperability [...] aligned with NATO standards". That is what we are signing up to in the agreement. We have no idea - the public has even less idea - what all of that means.
The Minister of State keeps referring to the Lisbon treaty which does not require us in any way to provide for enhanced co-operation. What was signed up to in Lisbon was that there would be what was called enhanced co-operation. There are other parts of the foreign and security policy, or defence policy - I cannot remember the exact titles - which spell out what the policies are. When the people signed up to the Lisbon treaty, they did not sign up for permanent structured co-operation, a more advanced form of military co-operation. We are not required to sign up to it. The treaty simply provides for it, yet we are now making a leap. Most people will have thought that others in Europe may do so and that we would not. Now we are. When the people voted on the Lisbon treaty, most believed we would never do this.
It was written by Mr. Patrick Smyth. I can give the Deputy a copy. To say this was not in the ether or that we were holding onto it and not letting anyone know about it is not correct. Deputy Lisa Chambers was right when she stated she was aware of it and had been questioned on it. It is not something we have been cooking up in small private smoke-filled rooms. Before I leave I will give the Deputy a copy of the article published on 9 November. It spells out clearly the way in which we had to come to a Government decision and a Dáil decision to ratify our participation in PESCO.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett spoke about defence spending. It is provided in the protocols to the Lisbon treaty that as a Parliament we will decide how much we will spend on defence. It passes through the Dáil every year in the budget. Deputies can object, express support or do whatever they want when it comes to defence spending. The Deputy spoke about NATO standards. Of course-----
The commitment we are making is to increase spending. We increase our spending year on year. That is provided for.
The Deputy spoke about NATO standards. Of course, we always work to them. If we are sending troops abroad, of course, they will have to be fully trained and equipped. There have to be standards when sending troops going abroad to participate in peacekeeping missions.
There is one important point within this document above all others. I spoke about the 20 points that Deputy Boyd Barrett has raised, but he keeps leaving out the point I have highlighted to him during the past hour and a half. Participating member states will meet their binding commitments, confirming that the establishment and implementation of permanent structured co-operation will be undertaken in full compliance with the provisions of the Treaty on European Union and the protocols attached thereto and will respect the constitutional provisions of member states. Deputy Boyd Barrett can raise his hands all he likes and nod his head-----
I am getting more frustrated. It is great that the Minister of State can quote from Irish Timesarticles. I can quote a headline from an article in July, "Ireland faces a big decisions on EU military co-operation".
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.
The first time I became aware of this was after the meeting between the Taoiseach and the French President, Mr. Macron. It was mentioned in the reporting after the meeting that this issue had been raised but that the French President recognised domestic Irish political difficulties in the Dáil. When it was finally raised by the Minister of State, we started asking questions about whether it was really happening. The Minister of State constantly says it will operate within the Treaty on European Union.
Of course it will. Anything the EU does will be within the Treaty on European Union.
Further to what Deputy Lisa Chambers said, I have no problem with increasing our spending in the military area. Our soldiers are treated very poorly under our current system, with many claiming family income supplement. There are many issues relating to our need to improve our armed forces. We need to ensure they arrive at peacekeeping missions with the right equipment and best resources.
I am concerned that this is going much further than that and is more significant. The key document setting out the aims and ambitions is consistent and unambiguous in stating that it is "an ambitious, binding and inclusive EU legal framework for investments in security defence", that it will be "regularly increasing defence budgets in real terms in order to reach agreed objectives" and that it "should enable tangible progress on the level of investment expenditure on defence equipment". It refers to an increase in defence investment expenditure to 20% on, I presume, armaments and 2% on research and development. When it repeatedly refers to ambitious, binding commitments and to being progressive and ramping up, it is not hedging it's position. It is absolutely clear that countries are in and they will ramp up together through increased expenditure. That is what it states.
We do not need to hear about the Treaty on European Union again. I understand the point the Minister of State made. What is the legal form of that document, which was issued when the first 23 countries joined and which sets out the modus operandiof this institution? What do those binding commitments that we are making mean legally? I understand they are within the treaty provisions, but the word "binding" is used.
The annexe refers to the Council, in overviewing some of its expenditure, making decisions by unanimity. I ask the Minister of State to explain that. He has said that the Dáil will not overview project investment decisions. However, when it comes to policy decisions to oversee all those 20 binding commitments, what is the level of transparency for the Dáil? Do we have a veto? On joining, is it majority voting or is it unanimity, which would give us a final say on holding back on some of the things we might not like?
We do not need to come back looking for permission to participate in any of the projects in which we want to participate. As I have said previously, we are not legally compelled to adhere to any of the commitments within the document. The targets are collective and not specific to any individual member state. We can opt in or opt out on whatever basis we wish to participate in any of the projects. We are not compelled legally or any other way to participate in any of the projects that I have spoken about. It is a matter for each of the member states to opt in and opt out as they see fit.
In response to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, I indicated to my European colleagues at the Council meeting that it was my intention to join PESCO. Portugal has a process it has to go through. I respect that democratic process. I brought this to Cabinet, which approved the memo. I am here at the committee this evening and the motion will be debated in the Dáil tomorrow. I hope the Dáil will approve our participation in PESCO, but that decision will be made in the Chamber. I will bring the motion to the Dáil tomorrow and my recommendation will be that people would vote to participate in PESCO.
The Deputy spoke about spending. For whatever projects we participate in, the funding will come from our own departmental and Defence Forces budgets. As with the EDA projects in which we participate, which I brought to this committee and to the Dáil last week, that comes within our own budget. The Members of the Dáil approve our departmental budget annually as part of the budget process that we only completed recently.
While PESCO is entirely voluntary, I, as Minister of State, see the merits of in joining and participating in some of the projects that will be beneficial to members of our Defence Forces when they go on CSDP and UN missions. Deputy Lisa Chambers was right in pointing out the huge benefits for members of our Defence Forces in participating in PESCO.
The academic in question made the point that Ireland has to decide to engage or opt out. Both options are open, but each involves costs. In the article, he allowed for the potential for gain. The principle of PESCO is to strengthen Europe's military capabilities in specific collaborative defence projects. That is what raises alarms. Irrespective of what the Minister of State says, it is alarming that it can undermine our traditional neutrality because it is a military union. I apologise that I must go back to the Chamber to speak.
No, the Minister of State is just not answering the questions. We have asked four times if we could join PESCO afterwards and he has refused to acknowledge that we could. Failing to answer that simple question is close to misleading the Dáil and the public.
I ask the Minister of State another simple question. When did the Government approve this PESCO document and decide that we would join? I think he said it was approximately 20 November.
If we wait until after PESCO is established, it will be a matter for those member states already participating to assess Ireland's request to participate in and vote on it. Ireland would have no vote and would not be party to any of the discussions on its request to join.
Absolutely. However, the Minister of State is not admitting that we could just apply in January, February or March. He knows that it is a formality and that we would be accepted. There is absolutely no question of that. We would just apply and be accepted.
Nothing is prohibiting us from applying and being accepted next year. It was agreed on 21 November that we would join PESCO.
There were two, possibly three, meetings of the Business Committee at which we discussed arrangements for the Dáil schedule. At no point in any of those meetings did the Government signal that there would be a vote on this matter. That was only indicated on Tuesday of this week. Will the Minister of State explain why this was the case? It is very suspicious. To underline this point, others at that meeting had asked about PESCO but there had been no comment from the Government to suggest this was coming. There was no comment last Thursday when the business for this week was being discussed. All of a sudden on Tuesday we were told that there would be a vote on Thursday. Does the Minister of State not think we could be forgiven for being deeply suspicious that the Government knew something since 21 November but had not bothered to tell the committee dealing with Dáil arrangements?
I cannot answer for that. I presume the Government Chief Whip and the Government's representatives on the committee should be au fait with what legislation will be enacted before the end of term. It is not really the Minister of State's responsibility to answer for that before this committee.
I am surprised that the Deputy would be in any way suspicious of me bringing anything to the Dáil. I know him long enough and he knows me long enough that he should not be suspicious that I would try to pull the wool over his eyes.
On Tuesday, 21 November, we got Government approval. It was put on the Dáil Order Paper on the 22 or 23 November. I served as Government Chief Whip for five years and I know the pressures the Whip is under. I do not order the business of the Dáil, that is a matter for the Business Committee. I was in no way trying to-----
No. It is up to Opposition Members. We will bringing a motion to the House recommending that we join PESCO and the Deputy will be opposing that motion. Therefore he and his colleagues will be calling the vote as they oppose the motion.
On the Business Committee, I will not debate whether it is right or wrong. I am on the committee and was at the meeting. It is up to each Department to inform the Government Chief Whip when it would like motions to be taken. This was not on the list of indicative business which the Government Chief Whip had. Why this happened is a matter between the Minister of State and the Government Chief Whip.
I will try to go slowly this time. I asked what the minimum standards required are. At the outset the Minister of State said that Malta did not achieve the minimum standards. Does that mean that it asked or that is was excluded or what happened? That is one question which was not answered. Can we opt out of PESCO? The Minister of State has said that it is totally voluntary. It may be totally voluntary to join, but once we have joined can we opt out? Are penalties imposed if we do so? The Minister of State has said that there could be expense involved but that we are not fully committed to it. If there is expense involved, is a financial resolution required to allow this motion to pass? Any measure which has funding implications is supposed to have a financial resolution associated with it.
Will the Minister of State again confirm what is expected of Ireland in terms of the basic commitments for joining PESCO? I am not referring to the operations or the missions. I read out details of some such missions and others have been alluded to. What exactly are the commitments? Are they as stated in the briefing document which we received in terms of increasing our military capacity and military spend, co-operating with the EU European Defence Agency and so on? Will it be a requirement to make our troops available for deployment as part of PESCO missions that-----
It was not excluded. It is a matter for Malta. We can opt out of PESCO at any time. There is no problem there whatsoever. As I have explained to the Deputy and other Deputies on numerous occasions, any expense involved falls under the Department of Defence's Vote. We will not seek to go outside the Vote in order to participate in any of the projects.
I am trying, as I have tried in this brief, to approach everything in a practical way, despite my suspicion of these moves. That is why, for instance, we did not vote against the European Defence Agency motions last week. I can see the practical benefits of co-operation. Will it be a requirement to make troops available for deployment as part of PESCO missions, some of which we have listed? Those missions could include peacemaking, post-conflict stabilisation, disarmament operations or support for third countries in combatting terrorism. Those are some of the mission specifications which were outlined in the Lisbon treaty.
Finally I will bring up one issue which was mentioned, although there are probably more there. Does the Minister of State expect that this move by the European Union states will increase the militarisation of Europe by increasing the spend on military equipment? I do not necessarily mean only Ireland's spend, but that of EU states in general. I understand the logic of having similar equipment. The intention or expectation is that there will be an increase in military spend. For instance, there is defence fund of €5 billion to buy newer, more modern weapons. I do not know whether that means more lethal or just more effective.
When was the decision made to join? Was it on 12 or 13 November? Up until then it had not been confirmed. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, was the first to come out and say that we would join, subject to Dáil approval.
There was a joint meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Council with representatives from the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade on 13 November. There are normally a number of such meetings throughout the year. At that meeting the Minister, Deputy Coveney, indicated that it was our intention to join PESCO, as did I in my contribution that day, but that we had to go through a process back home. I indicated to my European colleagues that it was my wish to join PESCO. A number of them inquired as to why we had not signed up on that occasion when a number of other neutral countries had.
We brought it to the Government on Tuesday, 21 November. It was on the Dáil Order Paper on either 22 November or 23 November, it is before the committee this evening and we will be bringing it before the Dáil tomorrow for approval. The motion we will be bringing to the Dáil tomorrow is that we recommend that the Government signs up to PESCO.
I thank the Minister and all the members who attended for their contributions. I also wish to express my appreciation at the good attendance of members, at relatively short notice, for this discussion.