Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 October 2006

2:00 pm

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 12, 41, 46, 57, 59, 177 and 178 together.

I have on many occasions in the House set out the background to EU battle groups, the development of which is strongly endorsed by the United Nations, and Ireland's position on them. Following the Government decision agreeing to Ireland entering into discussions with like-minded nations on a possible contribution to a battle group, a delegation from the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces met with their Swedish counterparts in Stockholm. The detailed parameters of a possible contribution by Ireland to the Nordic battle group are being worked through and are close to finalisation.

The potential Defence Forces contribution will involve an EOD-IEDD contingent with its own security detail, together with staff posts at the operational and force headquarters. The total number of personnel involved is expected to be somewhere between 80 and 100. However, it must be remembered that this level of commitment will only arise should the battle group be called upon to undertake an operation. In addition, battle groups are only deployed for between 30 and 120 days. Any contribution to a battle group will be met within the context of the overall ceiling of 850 personnel serving overseas at any one time set in the White Paper on Defence and will have no adverse impact on our existing peace support operations.

A number of issues are currently being finalised and I expect to shortly bring the matter to Government for a final decision. As I have previously stated, any deployment of the Irish contingent as part of the battle group will be a matter for sovereign decision, which in our case means the requirements of the triple lock must be satisfied.

Turning to the question of the voluntary nature of participation by members of the Defence Forces in battle groups, a battle group is simply another vehicle under which the Defence Forces may participate in overseas peace support operations and, as such, the standing arrangements for participation in such missions will continue to apply. In general, the despatch of any personnel on overseas missions, including peace support operations, is undertaken, as far as possible, on a voluntary basis. That said, however, it would be unacceptable if a mission to which the Government and Dáil Éireann were committed could not be undertaken simply because we could not get a sufficient number of volunteers. As such, all members of the Permanent Defence Force are liable for overseas service, subject to the provisions of the Defence Acts. I refer in particular to the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993, which excludes people who were enlisted prior to that enactment.

There are no plans for the involvement of the Naval Service or the Air Corps on overseas operations. However, individual members of the Naval Service or the Air Corps may be deployed on overseas peace support operations, as they have been in the past.

The Government's White Paper on Defence, published in February 2000, set out a medium-term strategy for defence covering the period up to 2010. A major objective of the strategy is to ensure that Ireland has a world-class military organisation capable of carrying out the roles assigned to it by the Government, both at home and abroad. This objective requires an ongoing modernisation process, including an investment programme, to ensure that the Defence Forces are properly equipped for these roles. With the extensive investment in new equipment and training over the past number of years and with the current policy of continual recruitment to the Defence Forces, there is no requirement to increase expenditure on equipment or manpower to meet battle group commitments. As I have already stated, any proposed battle group commitment can be met from within the existing ceiling of 850 personnel serving overseas at any one time.

Ireland's proposed contribution to the Nordic battle group is based on capabilities and equipment already available to the Defence Forces. A palette of potential offers, ranging from niche capabilities up to, and including, an APC mounted infantry company together with support elements, was identified as part of the study on battle groups undertaken by the interdepartmental working group I established to examine the issue. As such, the capabilities and the requisite equipment in respect of each potential offer already resides within the Defence Forces and any commitment from the palette will not give rise to additional manpower or expenditure requirements.

Regarding training for battle groups, most training will take place in the contributing member states, that is, Irish troops will mainly be trained in Ireland. That said, some level of joint training with other battle group elements will be an imperative. The extent of any such joint training and whether training will extend to exercising is a matter for decision by battle group participants. No such training has taken place to date.

The Attorney General has advised that there is a constitutional impediment to training of foreign troops in Ireland. As such, there are no plans for training of foreign troops in Ireland. However, as we are not a framework nation that should not be a problem. Sweden has confirmed, as framework nation for the Nordic battle group, that there will be no requirement for joint training or exercises by the Nordic battle group in Ireland.

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