Dáil debates

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

Other Questions.

Ministerial Meetings.

1:00 pm

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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Question 57: To ask the Minister for Defence if he will report on his attendance at the EU's General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting in November 2005; his views on the agreement reached between all 25 EU Defence Ministers at the GAERC on the completion of the EU's military requirements catalogue; the 18 battle groups involving 26 nations which have been formed and were discussed at the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38199/05]

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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Question 84: To ask the Minister for Defence if the completion of the EU's military requirements catalogue will result in increased armaments expenditure by Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38206/05]

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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Question 113: To ask the Minister for Defence if the completion of the EU's military requirements catalogue will result in increased armaments expenditure by Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38200/05]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 57, 84 and 113 together.

The Minister for Defence attended the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, meeting in Defence Ministers formation on 21 November 2005. Ministers discussed progress in developing military capabilities, current issues relating to civil-military co-operation, and the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Under military capabilities, the discussions focused on the requirements catalogue 05, the single progress report and the headline goal questionnaire. Comprehensive planning and security sector reform were discussed under civil-military co-operation.

The requirements catalogue 05 is the first step in the delivery of headline goal 2010. It identifies the forces and capabilities needed against which member states will be invited to make offers through the headline goal questionnaire. It is a planning document and, therefore, it imposes no obligations on member states in terms of capability development or the provision of specific capabilities.

At the battle group co-ordination conference in November 2005, member states gave commitments for up to 18 rapid response elements-battle groups. Each rapid response element-battle group will be on stand-by for a six month period and with the exception of one slot on 2009, all slots out to 2010 are now filled. Currently, there is one rapid response element-battle group on stand-by and from January 2007 there will be two on stand-by.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I have a number of specific questions in regard to this important matter. The reports from the November meeting state that 18 battle groups involving 26 nations were announced and discussed at the meeting. Can the Minister of State indicate whether Ireland is considered to be one of the 26 nations involved in battle groups? If that is not the case and Ireland does decide to join an EU battle group, will we be joining one of the 18 that have been formed or will we form an additional battle group?

Can the Minister of State inform the House what capabilities have been identified that we will make available? What exactly will be our military capabilities contribution and what additional costs will arise from this?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I dealt earlier with the issue of battle groups. I stated we are committed in principle to becoming involved, subject to finding the right way of doing so. The Minister is currently reviewing the report produced last week by the interdepartmental group. Some work remains to be done on that area. We will obviously revert back to the Deputies who have referred to this issue.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Is the Minister stating categorically that we are not yet part of a battle group?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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Currently, Malta is not involved either and Denmark has opted out. All the other EU states are involved. We are committed in principle to joining, but we must get it right. That is a matter for discussion between my colleague, the Minister for Defence, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The issue will be discussed at Cabinet. There are many ways in which one can become involved. The headline goal involves everything from humanitarian assistance and Petersberg Tasks chapter 7 to peacemaking. Involvement is based on voluntarism. Each operation is examined separately. The system is based on the triple lock principle. My colleague, the Minister, has made that very clear. We will make up our mind at the time about the kind of involvement we choose. It is a very open agenda. This is the kind of discussion that has taken place. We are at the very early stages. Any involvement will require the triple lock — the UN mandate, a Government decision and the issue would have to come before the Dáil. There is still much work to be done on this. We are committed in principle, subject to finding the right way to get involved.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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If we are committed in principle, will we join one of the existing 18 battle groups or will we be forming a new one?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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As I stated, Malta is not currently involved and Denmark has opted out. It would be wrong of me to make any particular commitments as to how we would become involved. I ask the Deputy to bear with us on that. We are now near to making a decision and as soon as a decision is made we will go to Cabinet. There will have to be some co-ordination between my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs. We will revert back to the Deputy very shortly.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The General Affairs and External Relations Council, which is also part of this process, approved the final requirements catalogue for the battle groups. Is the Minister of State aware this was validated using computer assisted operational analysis provided by NATO? Does he agree that interoperability with NATO principles underpins the entire capabilities improvement programme and that such interoperability compromises the State's neutrality? It was strange that in the Department's report on the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting it did not mention this whereas the British report on the same issue stated the information was provided by NATO. Is there something to hide?

What peace functions does the Minister envisage will be provided by the equipment and weapons included in the capability improvement charts? These refer to attack helicopter battalions, field artillery battalions, cruise missiles and precision guided munitions. Can the requirements catalogue be forwarded to the defence spokespersons, as previously requested? I thought the Minister had agreed to do this.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to the requirements catalogue, it would not be appropriate for me to go into this in detail, as it is a restricted document. However, the catalogue includes a wide range of equipment to support all types of operations, from humanitarian relief, up to and including peacemaking, which of its nature may involve combat with opposing forces. Deputies will recall the situation in the Balkans where the opposing forces were effectively standing armies. In any similar scenario, the full range of combat resources and combat support elements would need to be available to a rapid response element-battle group which might be deployed in any such situation.

We can discuss the minutiae of all that is involved in these issues but the reality is that there are needs out there and, much and all as we would like it, this world is not peaceful. There are many troubled regions. I make no apology for reverting back to the situation in Liberia where the UN mission is a robust chapter 7 mandate. In some of these situations we will have to work side by side with people who have bigger and more robust equipment and are more powerful than us. In my experience, our involvement in Liberia ensured humanitarian workers and NGOs were able to go into the countryside, inoculate people and save lives. It is a very exciting prospect for the nation.

I assure the House we will get it right in regard to the triple lock. At some of these meetings, I accept we will have to work side by side with people who have an involvement with NATO. We will make sure we get it right. We will go through the process of the UN, the Government and the Dáil. That is a very important safeguard as regards the sovereignty of the nation.