Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence

White Paper on Defence Update: Discussion

12:30 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am not familiar with A Better World. I am not aware of any engagement. I may revert to the Deputy on that.

The White Paper update steering group has met at least monthly since the updating commenced last July. Meetings are chaired by a relevant assistant secretary and are attended by the assistant chief of staff and the heads of the Department's planning and organisation branch and the Defence Forces strategic planning branch. There is also a White Paper working group, which will consider any implications for overall defence policy requirements, associated tasks, capability development and resourcing. This group comprises the heads of the planning and organisation branch and Defence Forces strategic planning branch and the White Paper project team.

The fundamentals of the White Paper are not going to change but I am looking for members' views on it today. What changes would they like to see? What would they like to be added or subtracted? I am looking for the committee's views rather giving mine. Everyone should know my views on the White Paper because it was approved by the Government in 2015. We are now on the review stage. I sent briefing notes to all committee members. I wish to hear members' thoughts on the White Paper.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred to the Fine Gael MEP group publishing its own paper on the future of Ireland's policy of neutrality. It is totally separate from Government policy. I always encourage political parties and individuals, be they Independents or otherwise, to engage in an open and honest debate on issues that affect everybody daily. These are issues that affect us. We would be doing no justice to society if we did not have open and honest discussions on them. The discussion paper reflects the MEP group's own thoughts and it was not endorsed by my political party. A group of MEPs came together and published the paper. It is not reflective of Government policy by any manner or means. I welcome everybody's comments, however.

We are increasing military expenditure year on year. The multi-role vessel about which the Deputy spoke is referred to in the White Paper. This is at the planning stage. It will be some time before we make a decision on it.

The Deputy talked about the Libyan coast guard. Through Operation Sophia, we are training it. I am not sure about the extent of training on gender issues, etc., but I can revert to the Deputy on that.

Regarding Brexit, defence organisations are currently engaged in prudent planning in response to Brexit. This includes active participation in the whole-of-Government framework developing a response to Brexit. Primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, An Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise. Prevention of trafficking is in the first instance a matter for the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda. There is a Government Brexit team. An assistant secretary from my Department is on that team. We meet quite regularly. Responsibility for the security of the State rests solely with the Department of Justice and Equality. If it acquires aid to the civil power, it calls for the assistance of members of the Defence Forces or the Department of Defence.