Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 January 2004

European Presidency: Statements.


5:00 pm

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)

To be fair, since Ireland took over the Presidency, there has been an ongoing debate on European issues. Thankfully certain elements of the electronic and visual media have engaged with the European issues, which was not always the case. Those of us who are members of the Joint Oireachtas Committees on Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, like Deputy Quinn and I, have met a number of interesting groups in recent weeks. Yesterday our colleagues from the Danish Parliament were here and today we had a useful exchange of views with our colleagues from the United Kingdom Parliament. The representative for trade and development for the United Nations was here this afternoon and tomorrow morning the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, will meet the Joint Committee on European Affairs prior to the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting which will take place next week. In addition, the Joint Committee on European Affairs Sub-Committee on EU Scrutiny will meet on Thursday.

That has been par for the course for some months and our Parliament has begun to engage proactively with the European debate. I am not being condescending when I say that some worthwhile contributions have been made. Deputy John Bruton referred to the danger that we might be engaged in a cook's tour. Although that danger exists, there are two key priorities.

First, we must ensure the enlargement goes well and that the ten new states are bedded in as quickly as possible and feel at home in the new expanded Union. I have said before that the dynamic of the European Union will change dramatically with the accession of the ten new states, which is all to the good. In one of the exchanges with our United Kingdom colleagues today the reason for joining was raised, and clearly the reasons for joining are different for different countries. One reason Spain joined, for example, was to avoid a return to fascism. Deputy Gay Mitchell said we joined to enhance our sovereignty which has not been diminished but enhanced. Other countries will join for different reasons but the sum of the contributions they will make will be infinitely greater than their individual parts, and I do not use that expression as a cliché.

Second, we must look carefully at the possibility of concluding the work of the Intergovernmental Conference, something I know the Taoiseach is doing. No treaty would be better than a bad treaty and it is facile to think that matters were more or less concluded at the European Council meeting before Christmas. The Council was tantalisingly close to a solution but it was also distant from it. Many issues have the capacity to unravel and become open to renegotiation. For that reason the Taoiseach's negotiating abilities will be necessary to ensure we try to conclude a good agreement to have the best possible draft constitutional treaty we can possibly achieve.

Deputy John Bruton made some interesting remarks, one of which referred to the size of the Commission. However, as matters stand, I disagree with the Deputy. It is important that the accession countries have a sense of ownership and of belonging to the European Union. Having a commissioner, even if only until 2009, would ensure this is the case. While it may be that a smaller, more efficient Commission might be desirable in the longer term, a commissioner per country is desirable in the short term. I do not think it is beyond the capacity of the President of the Commission to run an efficient and effective Commission, even with 25 members.

Deputy Bruton also raised the protocol on subsidiarity for national parliaments. This is an interesting suggestion. I am not sure how the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, will respond to this point. It would reassure many national parliaments across Europe that they have a meaningful role in the governance of the Union. This merits further consideration.

I now turn to the external relations policy of the Union. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach are extremely concerned about the stability, or instability, of the western Balkans. I am concerned that the new neighbours policy of the Union could be seriously jeopardised and destabilised if there is not stability in the western Balkans. Significant efforts must be made in an attempt to restore stability to the region in so far as it is possible and to bring forward good governance there.

As Deputy John Bruton said, Irish Presidencies have always done something significant during their terms. The Stability and Growth Pact was negotiated during the Presidency headed by Deputy Bruton. During the Presidency headed by the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, the mechanism to engage with the United States was put in place. It is important that this Presidency has brought the focus on to the relationships between the EU and the UN. Ireland is well placed to promote EU-UN co-operation and to support effective multilateralism and UN reform.

The EU is a major bloc at the UN and will be a bigger bloc from 1 May. I am glad that the Government intends to use its Presidency to assist the work of ensuring the EU enjoys a role and profile at the UN that is appropriate to its size and reflects its budgetary contribution. It is important that this strength is harnessed to support the UN's capacity for effective collective action. A key priority for Ireland is to ensure that the EU assists the process of UN reform so that the UN is effective in dealing with issues of international peace and security and is seen as enjoying legitimacy among its members. It is fair to say that the UN is currently a damaged entity.

It is heartening to see the Government's focus on advancing EU-UN co-operation in crisis management. The European Union and the United Nations are natural partners in carrying out peacekeeping operations. Irish military neutrality is a policy to which the Government is deeply attached. However, Ireland has never been ideologically neutral or morally indifferent to the major international and security challenges of the day. Ireland's neutrality is not rigid, frozen in time or isolated from the evolving international security realities. Ireland's neutrality originated as an important expression of sovereignty and became practically possible with the return to Irish control by Britain of the treaty ports in 1938. Irish neutrality has not been imposed from outside, nor is it guaranteed by international treaty. It is a policy espoused by successive Irish Governments and its core defining characteristic is non-membership of military alliances. Our neutrality has gone hand in hand with a strong commitment to international co-operation for stability and security.

There is no conflict between Ireland's military neutrality and full and active support by Ireland for collective security, based on international law. The progressive approach taken by Eamon de Valera in the League of Nations in the 1930s is clear evidence in this regard. When faced with the challenge to international security of Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia, Ireland supported sanctions against Mussolini. Owing to the absence of the United States and the weakness of its enforcement mechanisms, the League of Nations was unable to deal effectively with aggressor states led by dictators. As the League of Nations failed to meet its responsibilities, the world descended into war.

The history of Europe from 1935 to 1945 showed clearly that military neutrality on its own is not enough to maintain conditions of peace and security internationally. It is also necessary to work actively for international peace and security, taking account of prevailing circumstances. In advocating UN membership to Dáil Éireann in 1946, Eamon de Valera emphasised his hope that the UN would be better able to act against an aggressor than the League of Nations when he said: "Either the time for action is going to pass in futile discussion or there must be a method by which effective forcible action will be taken." He also emphasised that "if there is ever to be a rule of law, nations must make up their minds that they will take part in such enforcement, because, if there is not enforcement, then, of course, the duties and the rights that are guaranteed will be all thrown aside".

It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that the safety of our personnel on peacekeeping missions is at the top of the agenda. While one cannot give absolute guarantees regarding safety, we have analysed the risks involved and as well as ensuring that intensive training is undertaken, robust and modern protection assets, including armoured military vehicles and armoured personnel carriers, will be deployed. Our troops deserve the best equipment and facilities we can give them.

Although 20 countries will be participating in the UN mission in Liberia, Ireland is the only western country making a significant contribution. This illustrates the high regard the UN has for us. It knows our track record and we should be honoured that the unique qualities of the Irish peacekeeper continues to be recognised. Irish peacekeepers are among the most acceptable from the community of troop contributing nations for several reasons. Our troops have high standards of experience. As Ireland is a neutral country which was never a colonial power, our troops are recognised as being impartial. The Congo operation in 1960 marked the first opportunity for the Defence Forces to serve alongside armies from other nations. This experience showed that Irish troops were as well trained and suited to peacekeeping as any other nationality. Subsequent peacekeeping experiences in places such as Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Cyprus have reinforced this conviction.

I am sure the current Presidency will have the same flair, efficiency and energy that have been a hallmark of our previous Presidencies. I wish the Taoiseach and his Ministers well.


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