Tuesday, 26 June 2018
40. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the proposal by the European Commission to increase funding to PESCO and other military spending in the draft multiannual financial framework; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27729/18]
What are the Minister of State's views on the proposal of the European Commission to increase funding both to PESCO and to other military spending, which is contained in the draft multi-annual financial framework? Will he make a statement on the matter?
The next EU multi-annual Financial framework, MFF, will determine the budget spending for the EU for the period from 2021 to 2027. On 2 May 2018, the European Commission presented its EU budget proposals for the multi-annual financial framework. Included in this, the Commission proposed that a budget of €13 billion over the 7 year period be dedicated to the European defence fund - €4.1 billion to defence research and €8.9 billion to the development of defence capabilities.
There are links between the European Defence Fund and PESCO projects. A project that qualifies for co-funding under the capability window of the defence fund and is also a PESCO project will receive an additional 10% funding under PESCO.
The PESCO projects where Ireland has confirmed our participation relate to the ongoing development of Defence Forces capabilities for peace support and crisis management operations and for domestic operations. Maritime surveillance enhancement will assist the Naval Service in developing capability and capacity both for overseas and domestic operations. The Training Mission Competence Centre will support Ireland's engagement in missions such as the training mission in Mali.
It is envisaged that the European Defence Fund will promote co-operation and cost savings among member states. By pooling resources, it is proposed that individual member states can achieve greater output and develop defence technology and equipment that may not be feasible on their own. The fund will also foster innovation and allow economies of scale, which will enhance the competitiveness of the EU defence industry. The fund will co-ordinate, supplement and amplify national investments in defence. Collaborative projects with significant cross-border participation by small and medium-sized enterprises will be particularly encouraged. This will ensure that the fund remains open to recipients from all member states, regardless of their size and location in the Union.
The MFF process is at a very early stage. The allocation of resources across all of the various EU sectoral funds will be considered in the context of the eventual total agreed budget for the EU.
I understand there was a meeting yesterday of the European foreign affairs and defence ministers. Who attended representing the Irish Government? I understand it was agreed yesterday to establish a co-ordinated annual review on defence, CARD. The review of defence spending by the European Defence Agency covers individual member states. The aim is to provide an overview of national defence plans. Can the Minister of State confirm that Ireland's defence spending will be monitored under this new system? Can he confirm that the reviewers can put proposals to the Irish Government and State? Can he confirm that the proposals will be binding? I believed we had the troika out of this place a couple of years back but now we see European monitoring bodies, such as the one in question, making recommendations that I understand are binding in respect of defence expenditure in this State. The Minister of State might confirm that.
Any expenditure on defence is a matter for the Government, as the Deputy knows. The Deputy has now seen two budgets going through this House. He has an opportunity to vote on all the budget outcomes. It is up to each Member of this House to do so. It is a matter for the Government to bring forward a budget. If the Government wants to spend a certain amount, be it on agriculture, enterprise, arts and heritage, defence, justice or education, it is a matter for it. As with all budgets, all proposals are passed by the House.
I was unable to attend the Council meetings of yesterday and today because of parliamentary questions. It is quite difficult to change the schedule for parliamentary questions. My Secretary General, Mr. Maurice Quinn, and the assistant secretary with responsibility in this area had a joint meeting with representatives of the Department of Foreign affairs and Trade. The Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, attended with his officials. I will be getting a full briefing on the outcome of the meetings yesterday and today upon their return.
The Minister of State might tell us what happens if CARD makes a recommendation on increasing defence expenditure in this or that area in this State and the State, Government or this House does not accept it. Could the Minister of State please clarify the position?
What is agreed in these proposals is European Defence Fund expenditure of €13 billion over seven years. That is not a doubling, trebling or quadrupling; it is a 22-times increase in European defence spending. It requires Ireland to increase expenditure from 0.5% to 2% under the PESCO proposals, in other words from €905 million to €3.62 billion. We have a homelessness and housing emergency. How many houses would the money build? How many child care workers would it provide? If a house costs €150,000 to build, which is probably the absolute minimum, the money would build 24,000 homes. Does the Minister of State believe that what is being done represents the best allocation of resources available to the State?
Decisions on spending are and will always be a matter for the Dáil. Dáil votes will determine how Ireland spends its money on defence, as I stated to the Deputy a while ago. Deputy Barry and many like him with similar views on defence come into the House and give out about what we spend on equipment and defence matters. If something happened to people overseas, whether they were killed or badly injured, the Deputy would be the first person breaking in the door here, jumping up and down, as he did earlier, and doing a jig on the floor looking for an explanation as to why we were not spending and allocating resources. I have no issue whatsoever defending every penny we spend on our Defence Forces' members and equipment. It is like somebody coming in here today saying that in Operation Sophia we gave migrants over to the Libyan coastguard. The individual concerned had hardly got an explanation when he was gone. He said he got a reply to a question on it. It could not be further from the truth. His line and Deputy Barry's line suited their left-wing agenda. I want Deputy Barry to think about this. I will defend every penny spent on equipment for members of the Defence Forces because their safety is my priority.