Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


2:25 pm

Photo of Cathal BerryCathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I wish all present, and the entire parliamentary community, a Happy Christmas.

I wish to raise with the Taoiseach the situation in Ukraine because I know it will feature at the European Council meeting he will attend tomorrow. It is a very serious situation. There are more than 100,000 Russian troops on the border, backed up by armour, artillery and aircraft. As every day passes, it looks less like posturing and more like genuine preparation for an assault on Ukraine. I mention that because the HSE, to be fair, was ill prepared for the pandemic because that is the nature of pandemics. Also, our cyberdefence people were ill-prepared for the cyberattack because that is the nature of cyberattacks. One thing that is for sure is that the Defence Forces are hopelessly ill-prepared for any outbreak of hostilities on the Continent and any overspill that may arrive on our shores. Whenever I am in Europe, my counterparts there always tell me that all they are asking Ireland to do is to be able to police its own skies, patrol its own waters and not be a burden on its neighbours in the context of defence and security. That is an entirely reasonable request of a supposedly sovereign independent republic. On that basis, I was very happy to see the commitment in the programme for Government last year to establish a commission on the Defence Forces. That commission, to be fair, was established at the start of this year and is due to report approximately 17 days from now.

I am very much in favour of the principle and I support the concept. Last week, however, there were some concerning reports in the media, particularly relating to the independence or perceived lack of independence in the commission's process, whether the report will be ready on time and whether there will be enough resources on the table to implement its findings. I am particularly concerned about the independence or otherwise of the commission's findings. It would be a very retrograde step if the secretariat appointed to the commission did most of the writing and drafting of the report, with the commission only really there to rubber stamp any recommendations.

Will the Taoiseach provide any reassurance to the House that the Commission on the Defence Forces is autonomous, is independent, has editorial autonomy and is free from any bureaucratic interference? If the commission requires more time beyond 31 December to furnish its report, would the Taoiseach be supportive of such a request? If it needs an extension in order to submit the report, what would be the Taoiseach's views on such a request?


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