Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 12 July 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Foreign Affairs Council and UN Security Council: Engagement with Minister for Foreign Affairs
We are pleased to be joined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, to discuss matters that arose at recent meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council and the UN Security Council. As always, the Minister is very welcome. I also welcome the officials and thank them for the comprehensive briefing material that has been furnished to the committee. We are also joined by H.E. Mr. Ruggero Corrias, ambassador of Italy to Ireland, who is observing from the Visitors Gallery, and H.E. Ms Anna Sochaska, ambassador of Poland to Ireland. They are both very welcome.
The format of the meeting is that, in the usual manner, we will hear an opening statement from the Minister and this will be followed by a question-and-answer session with members of the committee.
I remind witnesses and members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make that person in any way identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of any person or entity. Therefore, if statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks and such direction must be complied with. For witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus - I do not think we have any witnesses attending remotely today - there are limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as witnesses who are physically present in the room do.
Members are reminded that they are only allowed to participate in this meeting if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. I do not see any members joining us online but it is open to members to take part in the meeting online and their questions, observations and submissions will, of course, be taken. I have received a note from Deputy Clarke that she may be late arriving to the meeting because she is in the Dáil Chamber.
I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
I appreciate that. I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to appear before the committee to discuss Ireland’s engagement at the UN Security Council and the Foreign Affairs Council since my last update in November. I also wish to update the committee on the development of the Government’s response to the war in Ukraine since my most recent update, which I gave in March.
Ireland is now more than 18 months into its term on the UN Security Council. It is fair to say that we have been consistent, principled, constructive and impactful where we can be. We have been consistently active across the council agenda, particularly on Ukraine, Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process, Syria, Ethiopia and Iran. Our work is ongoing, and what is at stake is sometimes of enormous importance.
As we meet here, we are into our seventh day of what have been 24-7 negotiations on the Syria humanitarian resolution. This was about getting agreement to extend humanitarian access into north-west Syria, making sure that life-saving aid can reach more than 4 million people in need. I have seen at first hand the outstanding work done by the UN and its humanitarian partners, most recently in June when I visited Bab al-Hawa, a crossing point on the Turkey-Syria border, jointly with the Norwegian foreign minister. Along with the vast majority of council members, and based on what we know is needed from the UN and NGOs working on the ground, we wanted a 12-month extension to this resolution. Russia vetoed the resolution that Ireland and Norway presented to the council last Thursday, which would have allowed the extension. We negotiated with unstinting determination over the weekend and up to today. I am pleased to announce that we have secured a resolution to extend the mandate for the operation for six months, with a further extension of an additional six months, subject to another resolution by the council in January. This is a crucial result that will ensure that millions of people in north-west Syria will continue to receive the aid they require. In simple terms, this is about 1,000 trucks a month going into north-west Syria from Turkey. It is supporting about 4 million people, most of whom are living in massive tented cities on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey.
In April, we organised an informal Security Council meeting, known as an Arria formula meeting, on conflict and hunger. We organised another meeting in May on the protection of journalists and media professionals following the deaths of journalists in the occupied Palestinian territory, Ukraine and Afghanistan. We convened another such meeting in June to mark the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, ICC.
The Security Council has discussed Ukraine 23 times to date this year. In April, I was pleased to accept the invitation of my Ukrainian counterpart to visit again and see first-hand the impact of Russia’s aggression and war. I promised him that I would use Ireland’s seat on the Security Council to bear witness to what I had seen, and did so a few days after my visit to Kyiv. It is both unacceptable and deeply frustrating that, due to Russia’s vetos, the Security Council has been unable to take meaningful action to end this war. Ireland played a central role in support of a UN General Assembly resolution led by Liechtenstein which was adopted in April. This means that the General Assembly will now automatically hold a debate whenever a veto is used at the Security Council, which will effectively oblige the country which has used the veto at the Security Council to account for its decision to the full UN membership. This is an important new element for increased accountability and transparency in the work of the UN.
I know that Ukraine is still to the fore of members’ minds, and rightly so. It is also to the fore in the minds of those in government. EU foreign affairs ministers have discussed the invasion and our collective response at every meeting since the war began and will be doing so again next Monday. I have heard directly from the Ukrainian foreign minister on how the EU could best support his country. He has been very clear - more military support, more sanctions, proper accountability and full support for Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU. We have also met with the foreign ministers of the US, the UK, Canada, Norway and Iceland, the Secretary General of NATO, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the ICC prosecutor in order to ensure that our response is co-ordinated with our closest partners.
To date, the EU has adopted the most significant package of sanctions in its history. We have seen unprecedented co-ordination with like-minded states. Sanctions have been imposed on 1,158 individuals and 98 entities. Sectoral sanctions are targeting imports and exports of selected goods, alongside other measures focused on the financial, energy, technology, defence and transport sectors. Russian media outlets involved in spreading disinformation have been blacklisted. Restrictions have also been introduced on economic relations between the EU and the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. I expect the committee to bring forward proposals for a further seventh package of measures later this month.
This will likely focus on addressing anomalies and loopholes and tackling efforts to circumvent sanctions and contain some new measures. I have repeatedly said that Ireland supports the toughest possible sanctions. We are ready to support a complete ban on the import of Russian gas, should we get agreement on that.
The European Peace Facility, which was adopted just last year, is being used to support the capabilities and resilience of the Ukrainian armed forces in defending their territorial integrity and the sovereignty of their country and in protecting Ukrainian citizens against the ongoing Russian military aggression. Four tranches of military assistance have been provided to date, totalling €2 billion. In line with the programme for Government, Ireland's full share of funding - approximately €44 million to date - is being directed exclusively towards non-lethal support. Consideration is currently being given at EU level to a possible fifth tranche of military support. I suspect that it will happen sooner rather than later. This consideration follows the agreement by leaders at last month's European Council to provide further military assistance to Ukraine.
Looking beyond the end of the war, I was encouraged by the European Council's decision to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine. Ireland advocated strongly for that outcome and will stand alongside Ukraine every step of the way to membership regardless of how long that takes.
We are working closely to support the security and resilience of other European states that have become even more vulnerable in recent months. The European Council recently granted candidacy for EU membership to Moldova. The Foreign Affairs Council had a useful engagement with the Moldovan foreign minister and Deputy Prime Minister in March. Moldova is a country with limited resources and its commitment to supporting Ukrainians has been extraordinary. I plan to travel there next week to see how Ireland can further deepen our support. I will also be travelling to Romania on that visit.
We have intensified our dialogue with the western Balkans. In May, the Foreign Affairs Council met all six western Balkan foreign ministers. We are hopeful of seeing progress soon on the accession negotiations for North Macedonia and Albania. In truth, they are long overdue. The UN Security Council mandate for the crucial work of EUFOR Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina is due for renewal in November, with Ireland as a likely penholder. For obvious reasons, securing this renewal is a key UN Security Council priority for Ireland.
The war has resulted in fundamental changes to Europe's security architecture and environment. Even before then, Europe had been facing evolving security challenges, notably cyber and hybrid threats. The strategic compass, adopted by foreign ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in March, outlines the way forward for the EU in the field of security and defence over the next decade and will ensure that the EU remains relevant, strong and coherent in its policies and action.
Ireland needs to improve our own resilience, including through a significant increase in our security and defence spending, which I am glad to say the Government agreed to this morning. For this reason, I brought an ambitious set of proposals to the Cabinet today in response to the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces. These proposals also reflect the increasingly complex and evolving threat landscape that we face.
As a highly globalised state, it is clear that Ireland can no longer rely on geographic isolation for our defence and we are at risk from cyber and hybrid attacks, even where we are not the direct target. With this in mind, and subject to Government approval, Ireland is expected to join the Hybrid Centre of Excellence in Helsinki later this year to ensure that we are learning from other states that are facing similar challenges. Participation in the centre, together with other EU and transatlantic partners, will provide us with additional expertise and practical capabilities to counter hybrid threats, including through information sharing and training.
Regarding the Middle East, while we address a war that should never have happened, we also know that we cannot afford to reduce our engagement in other key issues. The Middle East peace process continues to be a priority for Ireland. At the Foreign Affairs Council meetings in April and May, we addressed the delayed payment of 2021 EU funding to the Palestinian Authority. I argued strongly for the urgent release of the funding without the introduction of conditionality, which had been proposed by the European Commission. This position was supported by a large number of my EU counterparts. I was pleased that agreement was finally reached in June to release the badly needed funding without conditionality or further delay. Ireland continues to engage actively in monthly meetings of the UN Security Council on the Palestinian question, most recently on 27 June. We also organised an informal meeting of the Security Council on the protection of journalists in May following the unlawful killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the entirely unacceptable policing of her funeral.
As committee members may recall from earlier meetings, Ireland serves as facilitator of Resolution 2231 on the Security Council, which endorses the Iran nuclear deal, called the joint comprehensive plan of action, JCPOA. In this role, we presented our third report to the Security Council in June. Ireland has engaged extensively with all key parties to urge a restoration of the JCPOA. I visited Tehran for the second time in February and urged the Iranian President and foreign minister to return to compliance. We hope to see progress coming out of the recent talks in Qatar, facilitated by the EU.
Turning to Africa, I remain deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict in Tigray in northern Ethiopia. I welcome recent indications that both sides are willing to engage in talks aimed at finding a peaceful solution. This opportunity must be seized. It was at my request that the Foreign Affairs Council last month discussed how the EU could best influence the situation. While we concluded that recent positive progress was not sufficient for full normalisation of relations, we considered how we could incentivise further progress.
The situation in Mali also continues to be of serious concern. Engagement of the Malian armed forces with Russian mercenaries has been discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council four times so far this year. In April, we decided to suspend the operational training that the EU training mission in Mali provided to Mali's armed forces due to the failure of the transition authorities to provide assurances about their co-operation with Russian mercenaries, or the Wagner group as some committee members will know them. Options for EU action in respect of the situation in Mali and the Sahel continue to be discussed.
On 17 June and in a process chaired by Ireland in Geneva, agreement was reached on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. For too long, we have watched the destruction and suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in urban areas. The misery inflicted in Ukraine is a case in point, but we have also seen this in Syria, Libya, Ethiopia and many other conflict zones around the world. This declaration represents a significant milestone. It recognises the humanitarian consequences of the use of these weapons and, most importantly, it includes a number of ambitious actions that states will take to address those impacts. The implementation of this declaration will change how militaries operate in populated areas, including when the use of explosive weapons is expected to cause civilian harm. The declaration will be formally adopted at an international conference that we will host in Dublin in the autumn.
Staying with arms control, the Tenth Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference will be held in New York in August. As the committee will be aware, nuclear disarmament is a foreign policy priority for Ireland stretching back many decades. At the review conference, Ireland will advocate for the implementation of concrete, transparent, mutually reinforcing, verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament measures. This would be comprehensive if achieved. We will urge the fulfilment of obligations and commitments within the framework of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
I might conclude by noting our Presidency of the Council of Europe, a multilateral body in which members of this committee are particularly engaged. On 20 May, we assumed the Presidency of the Council's Committee of Ministers. We have taken some significant steps already. Just last week, we brokered Ukraine's accession to the Council of Europe Development Bank, enabling the bank to play a significant role in rebuilding Ukraine's social infrastructure. We are also advancing reforms that I hope will ensure the organisation's relevance in the years to come. Our former President, Ms Mary Robinson, has been appointed chair of a new high-level group to reflect on the future of the Council of Europe while Senator Fiona O'Loughlin is chairing the council's Parliamentary Assembly committee on the same question.
Alongside our successor in the Presidency, Iceland, we are pushing to convene what would be just the fourth summit of heads of state and government in the Council's 73 years of existence. We have several other important initiatives planned for the autumn, including a conference that will see 46 justice ministers convene in Dublin in September to counter sexual and gender-based violence across the Continent. I could pick many other issues around the world to talk about as well. I thank the committee members for the opportunity to outline some of the highlights of our work in recent months. I am happy to take questions on whatever people would like to ask about.
I thank the Chair and the Minister. First and foremost, I commend the team working in the context of the UN Security Council under the stewardship of Ambassador Byrne. In May, the Chair, Senator Wilson and I had the honour of going over to meet some members of that team and of sitting in on some of the debates in the Security Council. One of the major issues debated was food security. I commend the work, expertise and professionalism of the team there. They are in the capable hands of Ambassador Byrne.
I will touch on several areas. Like the Minister, I could ask 50 or 60 questions on issues across the board, but I will try to be as brief as I can. Certainly, I will not be asking that many questions. Starting with the situation in Ukraine, the brutal and illegal invasion of that country is still being carried on and perpetrated by Russia. Unfortunately, we can see the tragic fallout from that daily. We see the war crimes committed by Russia. I welcome the commencement of investigations in this regard. I ask the Minister to give us a brief update on our work in this regard and on what pressure has been brought to bear to ensure that Russia is held to account for the illegal actions, war crimes and crimes against humanity it has perpetrated. Will the Minister give us an update concerning the investigations in that context?
Turning to the sanctions, I fully support the strongest possible sanctions against Russia. We must, though, ask and continue to ask the question as to how effective the sanctions are. What process or review is under way in respect of the sanctions to ensure they are having the right impact? They should be hurting the Russian regime and Putin's regime. The Minister might just outline what review there has been, or is planned to take place, regarding the effectiveness of the sanctions. We must support the sanctions, but efforts must be made to ensure public support is sustained. It has been said here and across Europe that the sanctions are having a bigger impact on ordinary citizens than where their impact is most needed, which is on Putin's regime.
The other issue I wish to touch on is Moldova. The Minister mentioned that he is due to travel to that country and to Romania. I welcome this. Recently, I was in Moldova and Romania and I saw the exceptional work and support both countries have provided in opening their countries, alongside many others, such as Poland, to Ukrainians fleeing the war. Moldova, however, the poorest country in Europe, has experienced many challenges in this regard. The Minister will be well aware of the pressures that country's systems have come under, especially its health service, due to the number of Ukrainians who have been welcomed into Moldova.
Regarding the announcement that 500 vulnerable Ukrainians in Moldova were going to be taken in by this State, and we have had this conversation here several times, the most recent information I got via a parliamentary question was that only 19 of those vulnerable refugees have landed in Ireland. This announcement was made way back in March or April 2022, so it is concerning in the context of the pressures impacting Moldova that only 19 of these 500 refugees have landed here. I ask the Minister to update the committee on this matter.
The other major issue stemming from the war in Ukraine, and also as a result of global warming, is food security. We are aware of the figure issued concerning 22 million tonnes of grain having, essentially, been locked into Ukraine because of the inability to ship that food to places like Africa and parts of the Middle East where there is a significant danger of deepening humanitarian crises. What action is being taken in this regard? It was interesting to sit in on the debate on this issue in the UN Security Council. Everyone knows this is a major challenge. The fear, and now the reality, is that famine is sweeping across many countries around the globe, but particularly those in the Horn of Africa. Major challenges are faced in this regard, even in respect of the UN World Food Programme, WFP, and the cuts implemented in that regard prior to the invasion of Ukraine. Many countries were already scaling back their commitments to the WFP. There are now major fears that the focus of many countries will shift from supporting the WFP to supporting the war effort in Ukraine and that this development will deepen the crisis in many of the countries on the brink of humanitarian crisis.
Turning to the situation in Syria, it was shocking to hear that Russia used its Security Council veto to block humanitarian aid going into northern Syria. I welcome that a solution has been found and that a resolution has now been adopted to extend the current aid programme by six months. While Russia vetoed the programme's extension for 12 months, it put forward a proposal to extend it by six months instead. Ultimately, a similar resolution was adopted. What was the difference between the proposal put forward by Russia to extend this programme by six months and the resolution that was adopted for an extension of six months?
Also on the subject of Syria, I raise the issue of there being major worry regarding Turkey's threats to carry out further invasions of north-eastern Syria. This is deeply concerning for the many Kurds living in the area because of the atrocities Turkey perpetrated against those people in the past. There has been much speculation that some kind of deal has been struck between Turkey and the US in the context of applications by Sweden and Finland to join NATO. Essentially, the suggestion is that a green light has been given to Turkey to go ahead with its military operations in north-eastern Syria. Does the Minister have a view and a position regarding this issue? Has this matter been discussed at the level of the Security Council? I ask this not only because such an action would be greatlydetrimental to the Kurdish population in the area, but because I think it will also lead to a further deepening of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
On the European strategic compass, which the Minister mentioned, there are obvious concerns for Ireland's military neutrality in this regard. Does the Minister see implications in the context of this initiative for our military neutrality? Turning to the Commission on the Defence Forces, I note that a proposal was brought to the Cabinet and signed off on it. We will need to have a fuller debate in this committee on that report. I do not intend to delve into it now because we could be here for some time. Such a discussion would take up not just this meeting but, I am sure, several meetings.
However, the Minister might give just a brief overview of that. I have concerns about elements of it. We have to implement level of ambition 2. I am not sure what was contained in the report in respect of the issue of retention or whether the proposals that have been agreed will be sufficient to address the serious retention issues in respect of allowances etc.
The last thing I will touch on is the Middle East and Palestine. I express my serious concern about the lack of progress at Security Council level on holding Israel to account for its barbaric, illegal actions. We see that with the continuing illegal colonial settlement expansion programme. I note that President Biden is due to travel this week to Israel and, it is to be hoped, to the occupied territories as well. There is now overwhelming evidence from all the reputable human rights organisations that Israel perpetrates a policy of apartheid. We see it with the Amnesty report, with the report from Professor Michael Lynk and with many other human rights organisations all coming now to the same conclusion, that is, that Israel operates a policy of apartheid. I note the Irish Government's position. It has stated time and time again that the use of the word "apartheid" is not useful. That does not sit well with the Palestinian people, who are living through the policy of apartheid. What is the Minister's position on the matter, the Government's position on it and, more importantly, the position of the Security Council on it? Has there been any debate or discussion on this multitude of reports, including that of the UN special rapporteur, Professor Lynk? What is the likelihood of the Security Council having a debate and coming to a conclusion or an agreed position on the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, the occupied territories and the policy of apartheid? Does the Minister believe that a position can be achieved at Security Council level?
Deputy Brady has asked a lot of the questions I wanted to ask. I congratulate the Minister and both Departments on the work they are doing. The presentation was short but the Minister packed a lot into it, not only on the amount of work but also on its quality and the impact Ireland is having in its role on the Security Council. I congratulate the Minister and his officials and our ambassadors on that work. It is amazing that a small country like ours is having such an impact in many areas. We continue to do so, and I wish those involved well into the future.
I wish to ask the Minister a few questions. He mentioned North Macedonia and Albania and the accession negotiations. He might tell us how he sees that progressing and how soon we might see progress on that and what kind of progress it might be. That is quite important. I agree with the Minister on that.
I wish to focus a little on the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces that the Minister outlined. Some very interesting points were raised, and I know we will probably come back to the matter again, but how soon does the Minister see some of those actions occurring? In the next six to 12 months, for instance, what does he see occurring in respect of the Commission on the Defence Forces and the decisions taken today by the Government? What exactly does he see happening in that regard? I agree with my colleague, Deputy Brady, that it is imperative we work on the retention and recruitment issues because we need good people in the Defence Forces. That is hugely important.
There are a few interesting things in the presentation like the capability branch - the Minister might spell out what that is about - and the office of reserve affairs, which is also new, from what I can see. The Minister talked about moving up to level of ambition 2 quite soon. He might explain what that is about. The spending, which, of course, is crucial, is to go to €8 billion by 2028. That is an enormous amount of money, but without it I do not think we will see progress. Again, the Minister might outline his ambition in that regard for the next 12 months. He is talking about 2,000 more personnel, bringing the number up to over 11,500, I think. The Minister might give us an idea of his plans for the Reserve and the numbers in that regard. We will come back to that at a later stage.
My colleague, Deputy Brady, mentioned food security. I wish to bring up the issue of energy security. I am particularly interested in it. With the closure of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline into Germany yesterday, the Minister might say what impact that might have on Europe, including Ireland, and what contingencies there are in the event of gas becoming in short supply. What contingencies do we in Ireland have in that regard? If, for instance, the market pipeline comes under pressure for whatever reason, do we have contingencies in place to replace that supply? I have been asking that the Kinsale Head pipeline not be decommissioned. It is about to be decommissioned and it should not be. I am not talking about extra gas; I am talking about replacing any gas coming from Scotland that we might lose. I am fully in support of the green agenda in respect of green hydrogen, solar, wind and so forth. It is hugely important we drive that on as quickly as possible. This has to do with our security as a nation. If we do not have power and if we do not have energy, we are in serious trouble. I would like to hear the Minister address that.
I am conscious of that fact that we have one Minister before us for questioning but two distinct Departments. So far there have been questions from Members on defence issues. Particularly in light of this morning's Government decision on a foreign affairs issue, I ask the Minister to keep the issues separate in his responses. I am conscious of the fact that a wide range of issues have already been put to the Minister. I call Deputy Gannon, to be followed by Deputy Clarke.
I am also conscious of the large number of questions that have already been asked. Would the Minister like to respond to them first? Then I can come back with my questions. I do not want my questions to be lost in the flurry of questions that have already been asked.
We have had a number of different questions over a wide range of areas, and it would be appropriate, as Deputy Gannon suggested, to allow the Minister to come back in now. Then I will come back to Deputy Gannon and Deputy Clarke, who has been offering for some time.
I thank Deputy Gannon. His proposal seems helpful. Otherwise, I could pick and choose my answers, which would not do at all, obviously.
I thank Deputies Brady and Stanton for their recognition of the quality of our UN team in New York. Trust me: they are phenomenal. As to what they have done over the past four days, I was there on Friday and we thought we would get an agreement on the wording of the resolution across the line that day. That did not happen, and they have been working literally night and day through the weekend and into today. At 9.30 this morning, New York time, we managed to get agreement on a wording. I think it was the best possible wording. It is not ideal. We would have liked to have got certainty on a 12-month extension. What we got, effectively, was certainty on a six-month extension and then a possible further six months, but there will need to be an updated resolution in six months' time to deliver the second half of that. The voting patterns were quite clear. The P3 - in other words, the UK, France and the US - abstained, and Russia and China and the other ten supported the proposal, seeing the sense in what we were trying to do. It just reflects the division and tension between the P5 members on these issues. Our job was to get the job done and to keep the humanitarian assistance flowing. That is the job of the penholder. We forced a vote because we felt it necessary to do so. Russia vetoed that at the end of last week. We have managed to get as good an outcome as was possible, which I think will be an enormous relief to the people working on the ground filling up trucks with food, medicines, clothes and all sorts of other things.
In terms of Ukraine, we are big supporters of the ICC. In fact, I will be in The Hague on Thursday at an accountability summit, conference or meeting. As the committee knows, when I was Kyiv I announced a financial support package of €3 million for the ICC, not just for Ukraine but for its activities more generally to make sure the prosecutor has the resources he needs to gather evidence and put case files together, which is really important.
In terms of what is being done to ensure Russia is being held accountable for its actions, the strong international condemnation of Russian aggression has triggered the operation of many different mechanisms to address accountability issues arising in Ukraine. These include technical support to assist Ukrainian authorities in collecting, storing and preserving evidence in line with international standards, the investigation of the ICC that I referred to and the work of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, in terms of the Moscow mechanism. Eurojust is co-ordinating investigations and prosecution efforts between Ukraine and member states, including the joint investigation team set up by Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, together with the ICC and recent additional members Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia. The US, EU and UK recently established an atrocity crimes advisory group to support the co-ordination of their respective accountability efforts on the ground. There is also a wide range of initiatives by NGOs. There is a lot going on in this space. We are supporting a lot of it, but our primary financial support has been for the ICC. I met the prosecutor in Ukraine and the chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, before travelling to Kyiv to make sure we are giving the right support where it is needed.
It is fair to ask what we are doing to verify that sanctions are working. In truth, it is not is not an exact science. If we are trying to build pressure over a short period of time, we do not have the capacity to be able to review over months the impact of sanctions. We have had six rounds of sanctions agreed. The Commission is working on a seventh. The seventh round will, in my view, not involve the banning of gas. Rather, it will focus on a whole range of other things. It will also focus on ensuring the existing sanctions are working and loopholes are closed.
From our perspective, this is about the politics and reality of ensuring that the continuation of this war has a growing cost so that there is a disincentive to its continuation. If the EU did not apply sanctions and did not increase the weight of those sanctions with each round, that would send a very clear signal to Russia that it has a green light to continue what it is doing, and it does not. This is illegal, brutal and aggressive. It involves multiple war crimes on a weekly basis and has to have a consequence and cost.
Ireland has traditionally been very cautious around sanctions generally, in terms of ensuring there are safeguards around protecting the supplies of humanitarian assistance, people's human rights and so on. In this instance, we feel the strength of EU sanctions and their increasing cost to the Kremlin has to be a very strong statement. The reality is that some of the sanctions also introduce hardship within the European Union. These are not cost-free for us, but the continuation of the war also has an extraordinary cost. We are seeing the human consequences with over 40,000 Ukrainians coming to live with us for their own safety over the past number of months. The most impactful weapon the EU has is its economic muscle and creating a cost for Russia in continuing the war, as well as the support we give to Ukraine.
Maintaining public support is a fair question. Maintaining public support for all that we are doing for Ukraine is something we need to be careful of in terms of supporting Ukrainians here in the context of pressure on housing and so on, and the humanitarian, military and, of course, political support we are providing. There is a consequence on Ireland as well as Ukraine to the war continuing, although we should not compare the two. Obviously, there is a cost of living and inflation impact as a result of Russia's decisions.
Moldova is a country that needs our help and that is why I am going there. We made a commitment to support Moldova and to take 500 Ukrainian displaced people from it into Ireland in order to try to ease the burden. That has proven to be a little bit more complicated than one might think. Trust me, there is no lack of will here. Ireland is not applying any quotas or visas. Anybody who travels from Ukraine to Moldova into Romania and then onto Ireland is free to come here and we will look after them as best we can. We will also try to work with the Moldovan authorities to ensure we can share some of the burden they are facing at the moment.
There are practical issues around language and willingness to travel. We must not forget that most Ukrainians want to stay close to Ukraine. That is why there are about 4 million Ukrainians in Poland right now. Poland has been extraordinary in regard to this effort. It is a solidarity and generosity that, to be perfectly honest, I have never before seen in Europe. I was not around during the world wars, for obvious reasons, but Poland's status in the European Union in the context of the leadership and solidarity it has shown to Ukraine has been very significant, and should be recognised as such. I have had a number of meetings with the Moldovan Foreign Minister. I understand I will meet the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister and we will do all we can to try to give practical assistance to Moldova.
In terms of food security, when I was in New York last week I had a good discussion on UN efforts, along with Turkey, Russia and Ukraine, to try to find a way of getting grain out in larger quantities. There are about 20 million tonnes of grain in storage in silos and they are about to start harvesting in Ukraine. All of its storage facilities are full. We have to try to get grain out of Ukraine. The EU has opened up humanitarian supply lines through EU countries via rail, and that has gotten about 5 million tonnes of grain out, but a lot more can only be moved in the volumes that are needed via ships out of ports in southern Ukraine in the Black Sea.
Therefore, there is a possibility that we could see agreement in the not too distant future on a mechanism that can guarantee Ukraine's security in terms of Russian aggression coming from the Black Sea, in particular towards the city of Odesa, and also get ships safely out past waters that are mined into an agreed area where inspections can take place and ships can move into other ports that are in need and are waiting for these supplies. There has been a huge amount of work done over the past number of weeks to try to make progress on that issue. I do not honestly know whether it will come off, but there are increasing expectations and hopes that it may be possible to do something. We will have to wait and see. It needs to happen quickly, otherwise we will find new pressures post harvest in Ukraine.
I am getting technical notes on what I am saying, so I do not want to repeat myself. On the pressure on the World Food Programme, I met the head of the programme in Italy a few months ago. It would normally source about 60% of its wheat from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia combined.
Obviously, that is now completely disrupted. They are sourcing from elsewhere but that is taking food supply that would otherwise find its way into the system. It is a zero sum game. If you take 22 million tonnes of grain out of the system along with vegetable oils, maize and other important foods, they are very difficult to replace at short notice. As we have seen, that drives the prices of these food products up dramatically and in some cases makes it almost impossible to source them at all at any price. It is having a really big impact on some countries. I am thinking of Lebanon and Egypt and a number of countries across the horn of Africa. Because of increased costs the World Food Programme is under pressure with the funds available to it. David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme, has spoken of having to take food from the hungry to give to the starving in places like Yemen. These are the consequences of war.
Yes, that is true and this adds to that. We have multi-annual funding programmes with the World Food Programme. Interestingly, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine put in place a three-year rolling multi-annual funding programme with the World Food Programme which I think is a really good example of how most countries should do it. Food security, nutrition and the sustainability of food production is one of Ireland's calling cards in terms of international policy and humanitarian assistance and will continue to be. A new agreement was signed last December between Ireland and the World Food Programme which will provide at least €75 million over the next three years. We are doing our bit here and it is important that we state that at a time when there are a lot of other pressures on the Irish Exchequer and so we should, as a country of our resources.
On Turkish intent in north-west Syria, I am concerned that President Erdogan plans to launch further military action in Syria in order to create what Turkey describes as a safe zone. I expressed my concern about President Erdogan's remarks when I met with the Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuolu in June. I called on all parties to exercise restraint in order to avoid any further exacerbation of this already fragile situation and to co-operate in the effort to find a political solution under UN auspices, which alone can bring lasting peace to Syria. We do not want to see the Turkish military crossing the border and effectively cleaning out a buffer strip of what it regards as terrorist groups. It will say that it is about Turkish security but it is not justifiable to cross another country's border to do what it proposes. I had quite a long discussion on that issue and our position is well known.
I want to emphasise something on the strategic compass. We have discussions around threats to neutrality and so on all the time - I get that and I am happy to have these conversations because it is really important that we give people reassurance - but we were very involved in the finalising of the text of the strategic compass and so was Austria. These are countries that are not in NATO; Finland and Sweden were not then applying for NATO membership either. The whole point of the strategic compass is that it gives a direction on the EU common defence and security policy over the next ten years that allows countries that have a very different perspective on military alliances to still be able to work together on a voluntary basis. That is why Ireland is comfortable about getting involved in more Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO projects, for example, because we can opt in or out when we want to just like when there are projects and training programmes in the future. However, we should make no mistake, our security in the future will be dependent on collective co-operation, training, partnership and interoperability with lots of other EU countries, learning best practice, making sure we have the best equipment and making sure that we can respond to cyber threats and hybrid threats. Other countries in the EU are our partners and friends. We do not have a formal defence pact with them but we are certainly open to increasing the level of partnership and knowledge-sharing between countries. That is the whole benefit of being in a union. We should not to isolate ourselves because of perceptions around neutrality. That is why it is important for us to be involved in the cyber security centre and the hybrid warfare centre of excellence. That is why it is important that we get involved in what are called battle groups, which we did before. That is effectively groups of countries agreeing to train together to ensure that they are interoperable should they ever choose to go abroad together on peace keeping or peace intervention, a humanitarian mission or whatever. The strategic compass is flexible in how it is written to accommodate Ireland, Austria, Malta, Cyprus and at the time Sweden and Finland. I want to give people reassurance on that.
I will address the commission because people will have questions on it. I look forward to having a much longer and more in depth discussion on it and will be very happy to do that. We have not even launched it yet. We agreed it at Cabinet this morning. We will launch it tomorrow morning at 9.30 a.m. with the party leaders. On a personal level, in a political career, I have been privileged to be in Government for quite a period of time. You really only get about half a dozen opportunities to do something of real significance as a Minister. This, for me, is one of them. It is about as fundamental a decision for the Defence Forces as I think people will ever see an Irish Government make. We are committing to a significant and steady increase in funding for the next six years. We are effectively saying that the benchmark now is what the commission has asked for, namely that we have to get to €1.5 billion of a defence budget. However, we have agreement from the Government that it will be done on the basis of January 2022 pricing, that is, that inflation will be factored in year after year. If, for example, military equipment inflation over the next six years was an average of 4%, which is a conservative estimate given the international spending we will see on security and defence, that would effectively mean that by 2028 we would need to be spending €1.9 billion on defence every year. That means the decision that we made today and making no increase in defence spending between now and 2028 is about €2.7 billion extra expenditure over the next six years. From an Irish perspective, given that we only spend about €1.1 billion a year now, to increase the spend by €800 million by 2028 into the base annually is a very significant statement by the Government in its commitment to expanding, growing and developing the Defence Forces in the way that it needs to happen. As to what that means numerically, the official position is that we are moving from 9,500 to 11,500 in the Permanent Defence Forces. However, given that we have fewer than 8,500 personnel in the Defence Forces now, we need to find a way of adding 3,000 people into the Permanent Defence Forces over the next six years and another 3,000 into the Reserve which needs that to get to the establishment that has been benchmarked.
This means that over six years, there will be a net increase of 6,000 people within our Defence Forces, including both the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve. Anybody who tells me we are not being ambitious enough in this Government with our decisions needs to have a look at the detail. I do not believe it is possible to deliver something more ambitious than this in terms of numbers, expenditure and the equipment that is being itemised and recommended by the commission to get to level of ambition 2. Anybody who says we should be going to level of ambition 3 needs to read the commission's report. It says that even if we wanted to do that, it probably would take until about 2040 to get there because it is such a dramatic increase in numbers and equipment across all fields. Even if we wanted to do it, we would have to get to level of ambition 2 first in terms of putting a basis and platform in place upon which we can then build. That is what we have committed to doing by 2028.
We have done other things, including making decisions around how we use and increase allowances for people, for which different parties and members of the committee have been calling. That is a positive news story as well. Along with the funding, the structural change this Government decision demands and requests is of a similar scale of ambition. We are talking about completely restructuring the Army, and it is the Army itself that will do it. There will be a completely new leadership structure within the Defence Forces, with a new chief of defence and a new structure for Defence Forces headquarters. Immediately, we are going to set about the recruitment of a head of transformation for the Defence Forces and a head of human resources, both of whom will be civilians. We will also appoint a gender adviser and a head of digital services. There will be new people, new expertise and new thinking. We will also focus on driving a change of culture within the Defence Forces. We all recognise why that is needed.
This is a very big deal and it will take years to deliver. The Government has set a clear course and a level of ambition that will allow the Chief of Staff and his team and the Secretary General of the Department of Defence and her team to set about putting the building blocks in place over the next six to ten years to ensure we have strong, growing and sustainable Defence Forces into the future. Most importantly, it will send a signal to young people, both men and women, that the Defence Forces offer an exciting career option that is rewarding financially as well as in many other ways. I am sorry if this is coming across as a sales pitch. It is a decision for which I have spent a long time preparing and I think it is a really good one from a Defence Forces perspective.
Deputy Brady knows, because we have spoken about it often and will speak about it often in the future, that the Middle East situation is something in which I want to invest a lot of political time between now and the end of the year. If he asking me whether I think the Security Council will recognise what is happening in the occupied territories in the way he described, I would say there is no chance of that happening. The Security Council continues to be deeply divided on this issue. We have a debate there every month and it is a sort of Groundhog Day situation. The same arguments are made and there is often quite a bit of acrimony, difference of opinion and so on. I have committed to working with others, both like-minded states in the Arab world and within the EU, to try to bring forward some new thinking on the Middle East peace process. That is what we will be trying to do in the autumn.
I have spoken about this issue with a number of colleagues in other governments. I hope we will visit the region again in the early autumn to try to progress some of that thinking. I met Professor Michael Lynk when he visited Ireland and I read his report. The one thing I know for sure is that the status quois a recipe for more violence, tragedy and discrimination. We will see another cycle of violence if we do not find a way of changing the political direction in regard to the Middle East peace process and the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.
Deputy Stanton asked about the situation with North Macedonia and Albania, which is increasingly frustrating for the EU. There really is an appetite now to move ahead and accelerate the accession process. Some of the countries in the western Balkans have been waiting nearly 20 years to make any progress. If there are progressive forces in a country fighting and winning elections on the basis of making the necessary changes to reach the thresholds for moving forward the accession agenda and then there is not a positive response from the EU, not only does that delay accession but it potentially undermines the possibility of accession, it undermines the progressive political forces that are trying to achieve it and it creates a vacuum others will fill. I do not want to get too prescriptive in this regard but that is what will happen. As the committee knows, there are issues in regard to North Macedonia and Albania that are preventing progress on accession. France, in particular, has been very active in trying to put a proposal in place that could move the issue forward. We will support any efforts that can find a way forward that treats North Macedonia with respect as a potential EU member state, and likewise for Albania. Those efforts continue.
On energy security, last week, for the first time, the EU imported more energy product, including oil and gas, from the US than it did from Russia. That says a lot. We are now seeing a number of countries, Germany probably being the leading one, looking at quite dramatic contingency plans should Russia decide to switch off the gas or should the EU decide to stop the gas flowing in the autumn. There is little doubt that the war in Ukraine has changed our world view in a way that is not going to be reversed. In response to Russia's aggressive behaviour, countries have shown great unity. Further unity is now required to place energy security, efficiency, savings, diversification and acceleration towards renewables at the heart of a climate and energy policy. Heads of state and government have already agreed to accelerate Europe's decarbonisation and phase out our dependence on Russian oil, gas and coal imports as soon as possible. The EU's green deal and the associated Fit for 55 package represent key tools in this effort. The global energy price crisis has highlighted the danger of an over-reliance on fossil fuel imports and has led many countries to attempt to move away from their dependence on Russian imports.
Some people might say this is all well and good but the question then is what happens next year. The truth is that we are not going to have the offshore wind projects built for next year that we certainly will have by 2030. We are not going to have the solar capacity in place or the liquefied natural gas, LNG, plants operating. This means we must put contingency arrangements in place. Some people seem to be complacent on the basis of the false premise that we do not source much gas at all from Russia. Our gas comes from our own sources off the west coast and also through two gas pipelines from Scotland, with that gas coming from the North Sea, predominantly from Norway, into the UK and on to Ireland. If Russian gas were to be cut off from the EU, the pressure on Norway to provide gas into other EU countries would undoubtedly be very strong. We cannot simply say that Ireland does not import any Russian gas and that means we are fine. That is a complete oversimplification of the reality of where gas prices may be in the autumn and, indeed, the knock-on price consequences for electricity and other carbon-based fuels, which will be significant.
There is a great deal of work going on within the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to look at contingency plans for the autumn. We have already committed to spending €500 million on buying new turbine facilities that can, if necessary be used at short notice. We will continue to look at contingency plans in that regard.
I take the point regarding the gas pipeline infrastructure off Kinsale. There have been proposals in the past to use that natural storage facility as a gas storage facility. There are also other proposals in respect of floating LNG terminals and so on. We need to be open to all of those ideas. Ultimately, however, it is not my area of responsibility, so I do not want to over-commit on anything. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is looking at energy security issues as well as the shift away from carbon-based fuels and the need for sustainability and emissions reductions.
I thank the Minister. That is it for the moment. There are two Deputies offering. I am conscious of the clock and the motion of confidence in the Government taking place in the Dáil. I call Deputy Gannon. he will be followed by Deputy Clarke.
I intend to be brief in view of what the Chair has just outlined. I thank the Minister for coming in. I echo the sentiments regarding our UN mission. It has been fantastic. I commend everybody involved. Will the Minister explain the Government's position on the decision in respect of Georgia's candidacy for accession to the EU? I am concerned that the decision not to grant candidacy status to Georgia as opposed to Moldova and the expedited process for Ukraine leaves Georgia somewhat isolated. The ramifications of that may be to push it closer to a particular path. Nobody wants to see that, in particular the Georgian people who were out on 20 June protesting and campaigning for their country to become a member state of the EU. What is our position? Georgia needs a friend. The Government is in a position to be that friend.
My second question relates to energy security. We are rightly no longer purchasing coal from Russia. We purchased very little coal from Russia previously. However, we are now purchasing coal from Cerrejón mine in Columbia as are our European partners. Has there been - and there should be - a human rights assessment in respect of those orders? We need to take a role there. I visited that mine. It has a military basis. There are people there who talk about being displaced, communities that talk about family members who disappeared and human rights defenders and indigenous peoples defenders who talk about living in fear as a consequence of the violence associated with the mine. I accept that times are incredibly difficult in terms of our energy security and supply. What role do we see for ourselves in ensuring that our further engagement in purchasing coal from that mine does not result in people experiencing further violence?
What is our position in regard to the situation in Western Sahara? There was a scenario recently whereby a human rights observer was denied access to Morocco. We should condemn that. As our role on the UN Security Council comes to an end, we need to ensure that there is a human rights observation position added. Hopefully, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, can increase its presence. If it cannot do that, it can certainly increase its level of observation.
I thank Deputy Gannon. I concur with him regarding his first question on Georgia. This committee has had a number of engagements with Georgia. We are conscious of the support within Georgia for the European Union and its values. There was disappointment, as the Minister will be aware, regarding the progress on the matter of its candidate status for accession. It appeared to us that Georgia did not make the cut. We hope that both the Georgian Administration and the European Commission will work closely together with a view to ensuring that progress can be made.
I thank the Minister and his team. I add my voice to the support, recognition and credit being afforded to the UN staff for their hard work and diligence. Sometimes we can forget the people behind the headlines. It is important to recognise the job they do.
I will touch on an issue the Minister mentioned in regard to energy guidelines and complacency. It is absolutely complacent that there has been a failure to publish the wind energy guidelines for so long. These would have contributed quite positively. That said, I am conscious that we may be wandering into the territory of the climate action committee.
On the Minister’s comments in respect of the Defence Forces - I reference this matter simply because he referred to it earlier - he challenged people to look at the detail. Has the full detail been published?
We will wait to see what it contains. I would be interested in what the Minister sees as his immediate priority in regard to retention of members of the Defence Forces. We have a serious job of work to do when it comes to recruitment. However, there will also be an equally important job of work to do on retention in order to ensure that there is not a hollowing in respect of the specialists who carry out bespoke work on behalf of the Defence Forces. Given the amount of movement there has been around the Defence Forces - between the Commission of the Defence Forces and the Minister's ask of Cabinet this morning - will the Minister confirm where the ruling from the Workplace Relations Commission in relation to Yvonne O'Rourke sits? There were specific timelines and detail in respect of that ruling. Where does that fit into all of this?
The Minister stated: " We are also advancing reforms that I hope will ensure the organisation's relevance in the years to come." Will the Minister provide more detail on those reforms and indicate why they are essential at this point?
It is under the Council of Europe Presidency heading in the original opening statement. It is the third paragraph under that heading. The sentence begins, "We are also advancing reforms that I hope will ensure ...".
In recent weeks, the committee has been hearing specifically from Dóchas about the global food crisis. The World Food Programme has been touched on in that regard, it is not what I wish to focus on. I want to focus on UN Security Council Resolution 2417 regarding the intersectionality between armed conflict and conflict-induced food insecurity. Will the Minister give a brief overview of Ireland's position on this in regard to the impact that climate change is having on conflict? What became very clear from speaking with Dóchas was that there were no doubt challenges before the war in Ukraine, and they now face fundamental difficulties. As the Minister said, it is about taking food from the hungry to feed the starving. I can see this changing even more dramatically in a number of years because of the impact climate change will have and the impact of conflict.
It is how the State and the UN react to that. In the context of UN Security Council Resolution 2417 and identifying those early warning tools to ascertain the emerging risks, is that even possible at this point in light of the amount of movement in these areas? By movement, I mean in terms of political influence, the level of conflict increasing and the migration of people who are either internally or externally displaced.
I would like the Minister's opinion on one final matter. Again, referring to that meeting with Dóchas, it was stated, "When we depart the Security Council, we do not depart leadership at the UN". What does the Minister see as Ireland's emerging role at the UN following the our time on the Security Council?
There are a number of questions from the Deputies. I will very briefly refer, as Deputy Clarke has, to Ireland's current Presidency of the Council of Europe and request that perhaps consideration might be given towards advancing the application of Kosovo under our Presidency? It is an outstanding matter and obviously there are procedures involved. It would be most beneficial for Kosova if progress were to be reported on this matter during the course of our Presidency. I am very conscious of the time and the fact that there are a number of outstanding issues for the Minister from Deputies Gannon and Clarke.
I see Senator that Craughwell has returned.
I will give the Senator a brief opportunity to ask some questions.
We have already discussed the headline of the Government's decision today on the report of the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces. We indicated that we would have a special meeting on that. I anticipate that this is an area in which the Senator is going to major. I ask him to be brief. We have about ten minutes, because the Minister is due to speak elsewhere. I need to give him an opportunity to reply to the detailed questions from Deputies Gannon and Clarke.
I am not going to speak about defence other than to thank the Minister for delivering €500 million in funding for the period up to 2028. I am waiting for the fine detail but I congratulate the Minister on that. He has put a lot into it. I know I give him a hard time now and then but that is the nature of politics. Credit where credit is due.
I have a few questions about the Minister's role in foreign affairs. Now that we are talking about primary radar, has the constitutionality of overflights by the RAF ever been considered by the Cabinet? Do we know where we stand on that?
We have provided non-lethal support to Ukraine by means of flak jackets, vehicles and the like. What is the big deal about not supplying weapons? Ukraine is a neutral country and we have claimed some degree of neutrality for decades. At the end of the day, the Minister for Foreign Affairs will have a massive role to play in explaining to the Irish people what neutrality is, what military alignment is and what being part of some sort of military organisation would involve. A flotilla should be sent in to force the opening of the ports and allow grain to come out of Ukraine to stop world famine. Where would the Minister stand on that?
The issue of Georgia has already been mentioned, so I will not bring it up again.
With respect to alignment, military or otherwise, the issue of cybersecurity is now the greatest threat to modern economies. Whether we like it or not, we are going to have to align ourselves with nation states across the EU, and probably NATO members, in order to agree the sharing of information to protect vital resources in the cyberspace. There is a lot more I would like to talk about in the area of defence but that is for another day. I will wait until the Minister makes his final announcement tomorrow.
I look forward to being back here, as well as in the Dáil and the Seanad, to discuss the defence decisions taken today. There will be very interesting debate on the detail of it.
I can understand the disappointment in Georgia. I spoke to the Georgian ambassador here as recently as yesterday. I hosted a lunch for all the ambassadors yesterday after the national day of commemoration. Within the European Union, this is not seen as closing the door on Georgia. It is actually seen as opening the door as it clarifies what is required in terms of reforms in order to be eligible for candidate status. However, because it was announced at the same time as the decisions on Ukraine and Moldova, it was seen as making a distinction between the two groups of countries. I can understand that frustration. I have reassured the Georgians, and I will do so again, that Ireland is in favour of enlargement and that includes Georgia. It is a relatively small country but in a strategic part of Europe and it needs our help, support and solidarity. When I us the word "our", I am talking about the European Union as a whole. Ireland is one of the strongest backers of enlargement generally, as a principle. We want this EU stability, which is effectively a peace project that will then provide the platform for everything else, to seep east to countries that want to join. Georgia is clearly one of those countries. The accession process is difficult and sometimes prolonged. I hope that, following the decision of the last European Council meeting, there is at least clarity for Georgia on what it needs to do to take the next step.
I have quite a technical answer on coal purchases. My Department was informed of May of this year that the ESB has recently ordered coal from the Cerrejón mine for the first time in a number of years in order to maintain a secure coal supply. This is in the context of EU sanctions on Russian coal. Until this point I understand that the ESB had not used any coal from that mine since 2018. Matters relating to the import and export of coal do not fall under the remit of my Department. The ESB is a commercial State company and Ministers do not have a statutory function in the day-to-day operation of the business. However, we remain in close contact with the lead Department, which is the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, and the ESB on the issue. I am aware of the issues that have been raised by NGOs and others around the operation of the mine. My Department has been following developments on this topic closely. Our embassy in Colombia has maintained regular contact with relevant stakeholders and has visited the mine in order to gain a greater understanding of the circumstances. Our assessment is that this is a complex issue in a complex part of Colombia. Needless to say, Ireland takes a very active role in supporting the promotion and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in Colombia. Addressing social, land-related and environmental issues is an essential component of Colombia's peace process and is part of the reason we remain so committed to supporting Colombia in the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 peace plan. We will continue to monitor the human rights situation in the region in which the mine is located and across Colombia. We will also remain actively engaged on these issues, including by remaining in contact with the relevant Department and the ESB. We have not stopped it but we are watching pretty closely with regard to the concerns that have been expressed. There are choices being made now because of energy security issues that may not have been made otherwise. This could potentially shine a spotlight on the mine, which could ironically be a good thing as it would put pressure on it to ensure the kinds of issues that have been outlined are not continuing.
I am glad Deputy Gannon asked me about Western Sahara. Our policy on Western Sahara has not changed, despite the fact that some other countries have changed their approach on it. Our position is consistent with UN resolutions and a UN-led process, without a preconceived outcome for that process. That is where Ireland still stands on Western Sahara and that position is not likely to change.
I am not going to get into wind energy guidelines. Deputy Clarke can probably forgive me that. It is a matter for another Minister, although I am familiar with the issue.
The Deputy is right that the biggest challenge for the commission will be managing people, getting enough people into the Defence Forces, getting enough women into the Defence Forces, changing the culture and changing - I think quite radically - how recruitment is done and how people are managed in the Defence Forces. That is why we are going to have a civilian head of transformation and a civilian head of HR working very closely with the chief of staff and his team. In virtually any other sector, a turnover rate of between 7% and 10% would not be considered high at all.
Yes. It becomes a particular problem in the Defence Forces if disproportionate numbers of people in specialist areas are lost through headhunting. That has a cascade effect on other essential functions. That is why we are looking specifically at specialist areas. We are looking at the role of the Reserve and we are looking at civilianisation to fill some of those specialist roles, where appropriate.
That matter is under discussion with a civil military implementation group detailed to look at it. I have no doubt that the most difficult thing will not be buying new ships, helicopters, planes or a new fleet of armoured vehicles; it will be about managing people and getting the numbers we need over the next six to ten years to deliver the enlargement of our Defence Forces that we are looking for.
I do not have the Workplace Relations Commission ruling in front of me, but any ruling will be taken seriously and needs to be responded to comprehensively.
I would have to have the recommendation in front of me, which I do not. I will not comment on something that I do not have in front of me.
Mary Robinson is heading up a body that we agreed to set up to look at the future of the Council of Europe and what it can do in the changed political environment on the Continent. There are 46 countries in the Council of Europe. Russia was expelled a number of months ago. We need to look at the role the Council of Europe plays in promoting human rights and democracy, adherence to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, and the reforms that are necessary to deliver in those areas.
We very nearly agreed a resolution on climate and conflict. We worked incredibly hard on it. We got 113 countries to co-sponsor it, which is almost unheard of in the UN, yet Russia decided to veto it anyway, because it has maintained that climate has nothing to do with security or the UN Security Council. That is unfortunate because the view across the UN more generally is that climate is very much an accelerator and a driver of conflict. The parts of the world most impacted by conflict are, for the most part, also the parts of the world most impacted by climate change. I do not think that is a coincidence.
We are thinking about the role of Ireland in the UN beyond the UN Security Council because we want to try to make sure that we maintain as much influence as we can. The UN has always been central to Irish foreign policy. Multilateralism allows us to survive and thrive. If there is no rules-based order, then we return to a might is right approach to running the world, where the large superpowers dominate their spheres of influence, which would be a disaster for countries like Ireland. We will remain active within the UN system, but we will not be sitting on the UN Security Council where many of this key debates take place. That does not mean we will not still be driving the same agendas relating to nutrition, education for girls, women, peace and security, and munitions being used in highly populated areas. We have an active role relating to the UN Human Rights Council and we hope to be on the council from 2027 to 2029. We will also drive the disarmament agenda. These agendas are backed up by our development programmes and will be the kind of issues that we raise at the UN General Assembly and across many committees in the UN.
The Chair asked about Kosovo's accession to the Council of Europe. We need to be a stickler for process in this and we will be. I am taking legal advice at the moment. I have spoken to the foreign ministers from Kosovo and Serbia, which are the two key countries involved. They have different perspectives. Our job is to follow procedure and process in a way that is legally sound. I think we can do that. I think this issue will come more to the fore from October onwards.
I thank Senator Craughwell for his comments on the decisions of Government today. I look forward to launching the full detail tomorrow. I know the Senator will read that with much interest. As part of the Government decision, we have prioritised moving ahead with a primary radar system on the west coast, which is important. We do not have overflight arrangements with the RAF, to be clear.
That is not how it works. It has to apply to Ireland if it has an emergency reason to enter our airspace. Notification procedures relating occasions on when that happens are in place.
The question about non-lethal support for Ukraine is fair. The programme for Government is clear. We had significant involvement in finalising the wording of the European peace facility so that every country could contribute to it, even countries that were not comfortable with supplying lethal weapons. The European peace facility was not designed for a full-scale war like we see in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It was designed for peacekeeping missions, interventions, post-conflict management situations and so on, where funding for armaments may be necessary to ensure that police forces and so on have the equipment that they need to be able to maintain stability and so on. Ireland and a number of other European countries have always had a principled issue with funding arms. When we put the programme for Government together, the three Government parties agreed that we would fully support the European Peace Facility but that we would confine our contribution to the non-lethal support part of that facility. We make the same contribution as France, Germany, Spain, Sweden or Poland in percentage terms, on the basis of our allocation key, which is 2%. For every €500 million committed, €11 million is from Ireland.
We have confined our money to being used for the non-lethal weapon element of support. That is important too. It includes body armour, helmets, fuel, medical supplies, food parcels and all the things that sustain a military in a wartime or conflict situation, but it does not include weapons or ammunition. That is where Irish money is going. In truth, we do not have many weapons to share. If we were funding lethal weapons, we would effectively be paying for others to provide weapons. We decided, in a way consistent with the agreement in the programme for Government, to fund the European Peace Facility but not the weapons.
I will highlight one final matter. It relates to ports. The way to do this is not to try to militarily force our way into Odesa. The way to do it is through negotiation. The UN has invested much time in it, as have Turkey, Moscow and Kyiv, to try to find a solution that can get ships out of Port in Odesa safely without allowing Russian ships in to conduct a military attack. I hope that plan will succeed. I think I have answered all the questions. I thank the Chair. I am under a bit of time pressure.
I thank the Minister for meeting us and dealing with members' questions in the way he has. He indicated that he will be back at a date that is convenient to him and members of the committee. We thank him for that. We thank his officials, Ms Niamh Moore, Mr. Jonathan Conlon and Ms Siobhan Byrne.