Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

An Bille um an Ochtú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Neodracht) 2018 : An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

 

9:15 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Is oth liom go bhfuil mé anseo arís ag impí ar Theachtaí Dála sa Teach seo tacú leis an mBille um an Ochtú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Neodracht) 2018. An fáth go bhfuil mé anseo ná gur theip orm sna hiarrachtaí eile agus theip ar an bpáirtí in ainneoin gur éirigh linn níos mó Baill a mhealladh i dtreo seasamh ceart a thógáil ar son neodrachas na tíre seo agus an deis a thabhairt do saoránaigh an Stáit an focal neodracht a chur sa Bhunreacht. Rinne mé féin agus mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Crowe, iarrachtaí é sin a dhéanamh roimhe seo i 2003 agus i 2016 ach theip orainn, ach an uair deireanach bhí níos lú vótaí caite i gcoinne an Bhille, agus bhí dream acu sin as Fianna Fáil agus rinne siadsan staonadh. Níor thacaigh leis an mBille ach beidh deis acu, b'fhéidir don chéad uair riamh, tacú leis an mBille seo agus seasamh le pobal na hÉireann atá go huile is go hiomlán tiomanta ar an gceist seo.

Tá tacaíocht ollmhór ag an aidhm chun neodrachas a bheith sa Bhunreacht. Bíodh cnámh droma ag Teachtaí Fhianna Fáil b'fhéidir don chéad uair riamh agus caith vóta. An cheist a táimid ag caitheamh vóta ar sa chás seo ná déanamh cinnte de nach bhfuil aon creimeadh eile ag tarlú maidir leis an neodrachas atá ag an Stát seo, rud atá á dhéanamh de shíor ag an Rialtas seo agus ag Rialtais roimhe seo, go dtí an stad anois go bhfuil airm na hEorpa le bunú faoi 2025 agus go bhfuil €13 billiún á atreorú ó chiste sóisialta agus caiteachas talmhaíochta ach go háirithe i dtreo caiteachais agus cothú armlóin nua go mbeadh á úsáid ar thíortha bochta timpeall na cruinne. Tá sé in am stad a chur leis sin.

Once again I appeal to the Tánaiste, the Government and the Government's partners in Fianna Fáil to show common sense and pull back from the headlong rush into an EU army. On this issue, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade does not need to be the best boy in the class. He can stand with the Irish people, show backbone and take a firm stance against the EU warmongers and those imperialist countries which are harking back to the past in order that they will have the support of the EU in their future resource wars outside the boundaries of Europe. The signing of permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, is another example of the major changes this Government has taken to undermine Irish neutrality. PESCO was described as the sleeping beauty of the Lisbon treaty by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and it lays the basis for a full security and defence union. It also lays the basis for an EU army, which the Minister has repeatedly denied is the intention of the EU.

One of the issues raised the last time this Bill was debated was that it would interfere with our ability to participate in peacekeeping missions. Nothing is further from the truth. This legislation will allow us to take part only in peacekeeping missions which have a United Nations mandate that allow a neutral country to participate, unlike what has happened of late, where this Government and its predecessor have tried to find ways to circumvent our neutrality, the Constitution and legislation. I need only refer to the EU training mission in Mali, which is circumventing the triple lock mechanism a previous Fianna Fáil-led Government persuaded the Irish people to support. It is undermining our neutrality. I recognise that we have a very longstanding and honourable reputation as peacekeepers around the world. Irish soldiers have been in areas where they have not only managed to gain the respect of the warring factions, but also of the communities around them. The Minister is now jeopardising that respect by engaging in a headlong rush into the EU military project.

I ask Members to consider if it is good enough for Ireland to agree with PESCO. Is it good enough for the Irish people to agree to the diversion of €13 billion of EU social funds to be spent on military research and the production of military equipment for use in foreign wars? A plethora of high profile EU leaders have blatantly called for the establishment of the EU army. They do not mince their words. There is no pretence or hiding behind greater security and defence co-operation. They have clearly set out their agenda. Any time I have raised this matter in the House, the answer I get is that the Government does not support an EU army. In fact, it does support and EU army because every single action Governments have taken on EU security and defence issues since 1997 have undermined our neutrality to the extent that neutrality does not seem to be an issue for some EU leaders who flout it and ignore even the meek protestations the Minister may make in back rooms.

They know Deputy Coveney will roll over and be a good boy, as he did in 2017 when he signed up to the PESCO project against all expectation. I hope the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will for once listen to what is being said on this side of the House on this issue and that he will stand with the Irish people, who want to see neutrality enshrined in our Constitution. That is the effect of the Bill, nothing more, nothing less. Put it to the people; what has the Government got to be afraid of? This time, the Tánaiste should vote with us.

9:25 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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This Bill is similar to the one I introduced during the Thirty-first Dáil in that it seeks to amend the Constitution to ensure that Ireland will not and could not aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for a war, save with the assent of the Dáil. The Bill also affirms that Ireland is a neutral State, and that the State would have a policy of non-membership of military alliances. That Bill was supported by members of the Independent Alliance, but when we voted on a similar neutrality Bill in 2016 they decided to vote against the Bill and in favour of a weak Government amendment. Tonight they have the chance to return to the previous position of support for neutrality and to back this Bill, rather than a continuation of the status quoand the undermining of Irish neutrality. I will not hold my breath in that respect.

The continued use of Shannon Airport by foreign militaries to facilitate their ongoing wars, coupled with the increased militarisation of the EU and this State's deeper integration in the EU's military system, especially through PESCO, ensure that this Bill is timely. Sinn Féin believes that if Ireland followed a policy of positive neutrality, our State could make a highly significant contribution towards the long-held global objective of international peace with justice. The aim of the Bill is to give power and choice to the Irish people to decide by referendum if they want to enshrine neutrality in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Who in this House could be afraid of that? I appeal to all parties and Teachtaí Dála to allow the Bill to pass Second Stage and to let us begin an honest and open debate about Ireland's policy of neutrality.

It is important to enshrine such a fundamental principle in Bunreacht na hÉireann because successive Governments have breached the Hague Convention and undermined Irish neutrality. The Government claims that there are already constitutional protections for neutrality, but the reality is that neutrality is not mentioned once in Bunreacht na hÉireann. This has allowed successive Governments to wear down neutrality piece by piece, against the wishes of the vast majority of Irish people. As neutrality is not specifically protected in the Constitution, previous Governments have signed Ireland up to NATO's Partnership for Peace and allowed and facilitated the civilian airport in Shannon to become a virtual forward base for the US military. The current Government also continues to support Ireland's involvement in the emerging EU military structures through PESCO. The next EU budget will for the first time have a fund for EU military spending, containing a massive €13 billion. A referendum to insert neutrality would bring greater clarity to the State's neutrality policy, which has become blurred, distorted and riddled with doublespeak as successive Governments say one thing but actually do the opposite. Given that the momentum behind the creation of an EU army has been accelerated by Donald Trump's election and Brexit, this Bill is timely. The EU is developing a military-industrial complex and is setting aside EU and national funds in order to do so. Across Europe, children are going to bed hungry while taxpayers' hard-earned money is going to be spent on military funding. Sinn Féin MEPs have consistently voted against these disastrous projects and attacks on Irish neutrality whereas other parties, including Fine Gael MEPs, have supported and cheered it on.

We do not need to look to Brussels to find the Government's undermining of neutrality, we just need to focus our attention on Shannon Airport. An estimated 3 million US troops have passed through Shannon Airport since 2002. Like many others in this House, we have consistently raised the issue of the failure and the need for the Garda authorities to investigate and search flights carrying military personnel through Shannon. These foreign military airplanes are guarded by Irish Army personnel and the Garda, but they have never been given an order or even asked to do even a cursory search of these craft for weapons. Groups like Shannonwatch have provided the Garda with all of this information but the evidence is ignored and, strangely, no investigation has taken place to our knowledge. Shannon is a civilian airport and not built for military traffic. Any accident or crash there could cause major civilian casualties.

Some Deputies will argue that neutrality is outdated. We do not agree. We live in a world where half of the population lives in poverty, with one person in every eight suffering from malnutrition, and where poverty kills approximately 19 people every minute of every day, yet trillions of euro are spent on military expenditure every year. To ensure that we live in a safer and more equal world, greater military expenditure is not the solution, nor is supporting the creation of an EU army or assisting NATO. We need to challenge the very structures that cause poverty, food insecurity, conflict and division. If Ireland allowed a policy of positive neutrality, the State could make a significant and powerful contribution towards the long-held global objective of an international peace with justice. Through a policy of positive neutrality, the State would not look to increase its military spending, take part in the arms trade or profit from war and people's misery. Instead, it could focus on enhancing the economic, social, political and cultural rights of people worldwide. If we redoubled our efforts to focus on working with countries on implementing global targets on issues such as land rights, climate change, citizen participation, economic equality and government accountability, surely our planet would become a better and safer place for us all. Irish neutrality is not a policy of opting out of international affairs. Rather, it is a genuine commitment to a different type of international politics that is focused on justice, development and human rights.

Sinn Féin supports the continued role of Irish troops in UN peacekeeping missions around the world and the brave work that they do. Blue helmet peacekeeping missions and Irish Aid continue to be two of the most positive pillars of the State's foreign affairs over the decades. Surely it is long past time that power was given to the Irish people to decide on Ireland's future and on whether neutrality should be at the core of that policy.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I extend a warm welcome to representatives of the Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance, PANA, who are in the Gallery. Tá fáilte rompu. The ownership of the neutrality of Ireland rests with the Irish people and with them only. The Bill provides that: "War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war or other armed conflict, nor aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for war or other armed conflict, or conduct of war or other armed conflict, save where it is immediately necessary in defence of the State and with the assent of Dáil Éireann." This provision should be welcomed, supported and enshrined in our Constitution. The further provision should similarly be welcomed and supported that:

Ireland affirms that it is a neutral state. To this end the State shall, in particular, maintain a policy of non-membership of military alliances.

This position, based on opinion polling, is the will of the Irish people. Some 57% of persons who responded to polling in February 2016 supported the enshrining of neutrality in our Constitution. I have every confidence that this percentage has grown in the period since. Over the past years and under Fianna Fáil Governments every bit as much as under those of Fine Gael, there has been a distinct dilution of our status as a neutral country. This began with the use of Shannon Airport in the Iraq war in the early noughties and that unacceptable facilitation continues to this day, under the watch of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney.

It was also happened under the watch of the Labour Party, which could have ended it when in government under the previous mandate.

This is an unforgivable situation. The facilitation compromises Ireland's international standing. We are accommodating interference in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen and perhaps in other countries in the Middle East and beyond that we are not aware of. We are in a year of European Parliament elections which are but a matter of weeks away. Europe is at a crossroads. Many of the so-called main players in the European project support moves towards the establishment of a European army. I fundamentally reject this position, as does my party. I commend the work of the four Sinn Féin MEPs, namely, Matt Carthy, representing Midlands-North-West, Lynn Boylan, representing the city of Dublin, Liadh Ní Riada representing Ireland South, Martina Anderson, our representative of the six county community on this island. They have stood solidly and squarely against these moves at every turn, within the opportunities open to them as Members of the European Parliament.

There was a time that I believed we all held the view that Irish neutrality was precious. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The Minister will dilute it or give it away at his peril. There is no reason a referendum should not be held to allow the people to have their say. Enshrining neutrality in our Constitution is the right thing to do.

9:35 pm

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Ó Snodaigh. Is Bille an-tábhachtach é seo agus ba chóir don Rialtas tacú leis. This Bill seeks to amend Bunreacht na hÉireann to ensure that this State will not participate in or assist other states in the preparation or conduct of war or other armed conflict. At a time when there are clear moves towards the creation of a European army, this assertion of Irish neutrality is needed more than ever. EU leaders, including Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, have openly called for the creation of an EU army. Last December the European Parliament voted to establish a European defence fund. When established it will receive €13 billion of public money, to be spent on research and development in to new weapon systems. This will include direct funding for arms programmes.

Seo airgead gur chóir a infheistiú i seirbhísí poiblí ar nós talmhaíocht, sláinte, oideachas agus ag dul i ngleic leis an athrú aeráide. We must also be mindful that European arms manufacturers are already selling weapons to states, including Saudi Arabia, which are using these weapons against civilians in Yemen and elsewhere. The policy of allowing US troops to use Shannon is a shameful example of the direction successive governments have moved in recent time. I include in that the disgraceful refusal to recognise the state of Palestine. This Government has no anti-colonial instinct or sense of Ireland's proper place in world affairs.

Is féidir le achan Teachta Dála tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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While the Government does not support this Bill, we welcome the opportunity to once again reaffirm this Government’s wholehearted commitment to Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality.

It is a policy underpinned by constitutional provisions which set out Ireland’s principles and beliefs, including that co-operation among nations is founded on international justice and morality and the adherence to the peaceful settlement of international disputes. These principles are at the very heart of our foreign policy, and of our broader engagement on the world stage. However, this Bill would potentially serve to undermine this international role and could curtail Ireland’s efforts to contribute to the achievement of international peace and security. On that basis the Government is opposing the Bill.

Our long-standing policy of military neutrality remains a crucial element of Ireland’s foreign policy, as articulated in the statement of foreign policy, The Global Island, approved by the Government in January 2015. This was further reinforced in the ten-year strategy on defence, set out in the White Paper on Defence, approved by the Government in July 2015 and committed to in the 2016 programme for Government. I understand this Bill has been put forward due to concerns about foreign military aircraft, in particular those from the US, landing at our airports. This is an issue I have addressed many times in the Dáil, but I am happy to correct any misconceptions.

Facilitation of landing requests for foreign military aircraft does not alter or breach Ireland's policy of military neutrality. Such requests must meet a number of conditions, including that the aircraft are unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives, and do not engage in intelligence gathering, nor can the flights form part of military exercises or operations. We impose these conditions to ensure compatibility between these arrangements and our neutrality. Governments have made landing facilities at Shannon available to the US for over 50 years. These arrangements do not amount to any form of military alliance with the US.

It has also been suggested that this Bill would protect Ireland’s policy of military neutrality from the increased militarisation of the EU. I hear increasingly aggressive language making that assertion. I completely reject that view of the EU. The European Union is an organisation borne of a desire to end war and division, founded on the principles of peace, security and human rights. Robert Schuman, in his famous declaration of 9 May 1950, stated that the aim of this European integration was the foundation of a European development indispensable to the preservation of peace. These are principles that Ireland shares and holds dear, and Ireland is proud to be part of an organisation that upholds and acts on those beliefs, whether it be through the provision of development aid and humanitarian assistance, or the upholding of human rights and democracy. Listening to some in this House one might think that the EU is some kind of war monger.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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Imagine that.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It has been the absolute counterbalance to that since its inception and continues to be today. Ireland has directly benefitted from peace-building programmes such as the PEACE programme, which works to support peace and reconciliation and to promote economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the Border region, but people simply choose to ignore that element of the EU. While there are some who may discuss closer EU co-operation in response to increasing security challenges, how such co-operation is designed is entirely in our hands. Our values, our principles and our neutrality are fully respected at the EU level. Ireland's participation in European common defence is prohibited by Article 29.4.9o of the Constitution. This protection is reinforced by the Irish protocol to the Lisbon treaty. Any change in that position could take place only with the approval of the people in a referendum to amend the Constitution.

The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, is a recognition of the obligation on those states which are privileged to be part of this successful peace project to look to how they can help promote peace, prosperity, democracy and the rule of law elsewhere. There is a moral obligation on us to do so, and Ireland is proud to participate in those efforts. Tools and mechanisms are needed to allow states to work together efficiently and effectively to achieve those aims. PESCO is one such mechanism.

It is about member states making more binding commitments to each other to jointly develop military crisis-management capabilities for use in support of CSDP operations. Crucially in PESCO individual member states decide to opt in or not to opt in depending on the project or proposal.

Our participation in PESCO in no way diminishes or undermines our traditional policy of military neutrality. Certainly for Ireland, PESCO has nothing to do with the creation of a European army. Indeed, the Irish protocol to the Lisbon treaty unambiguously states that the Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army. Rather Ireland’s participation in PESCO will contribute to the enhancement of capabilities for UN and EU-mandated missions. Inaccurate presentations of these policies and issues do a disservice to this House and to the public. Irish people are rightly proud of Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping, whether that is through the EU, the Partnership for Peace, PfP, or the UN.

Ireland’s support for the work of the UN on international peace and security issues has been demonstrated by our continuous participation in UN peacekeeping missions for the past 60 years. Today, more than 600 Irish peacekeepers are serving in international crisis-management and peace-support operations across the globe and I, for one, am very proud of them. That participation is rightly facilitated by Members of the Dáil when needed, as part of the safeguards relating to participation by Defence Forces in conflict situations. The Defence Acts provide for the triple lock principle which governs the deployment of Irish Defence Forces personnel overseas. It mandates that: deployment for overseas peace support operations may only be made if that operation is mandated by the United Nations; deployment must also be approved by the Government; and if it is proposed to deploy more than 12 personnel, a Dáil resolution must also be approved.

It makes little sense to cast aside such protections and safeguards in favour of a Bill which, rather than enhance protections, could in certain circumstances undermine the work that Ireland is undertaking in the international sphere. The Bill could jeopardise Ireland’s ability to fulfil its obligations to support UN-mandated actions, in particular peace-enforcement missions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

I am more than satisfied that Ireland’s long-standing policy of military neutrality is sufficiently safeguarded through existing constitutional provisions, through the protocol to the Lisbon treaty, through the Defence Acts, and through long-term strategies adopted by consecutive governments.

I have had the privilege of being Minister for Defence and I have the privilege of being the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I have visited our troops on peacekeeping missions in different parts of the world, including in the Middle East and Africa, on UN-mandated missions in conflict zones. For me neutrality is not about inactivity or excluding oneself from difficult situations. It is about being proactive but not being aligned to any broader military alliance.

9:45 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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We are aligned to NATO and the EU.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We are not in NATO.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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What is the Partnership for Peace then?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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This House chooses when and where-----

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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What are Irish soldiers doing in NATO headquarters?

Photo of Declan BreathnachDeclan Breathnach (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Please do not interrupt.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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This House chooses when and where to send Irish troops abroad. As I said earlier, we do a disservice to paint the European Union as something it is not. We also do a disservice to make the case, which is not based in reality that somehow Ireland is drifting towards being part of some broader European army which is not taking shape. Instead I am confident we can continue to rely on the safeguards we have which provide the guarantees that Ireland will continue to make its own decisions to send well-qualified troops to parts of the world in order to keep people alive, to support peace, to disarm people when necessary, and most importantly to make a contribution towards peace and stability in parts of the world that need that kind of intervention.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil is dedicated to Ireland's policy of military neutrality, a policy we have pursued in government and out of it. It has as a key defining characteristic non-membership of military alliances. This policy of military neutrality has gone hand-in-hand with strong support for international co-operation for peace and stability as manifested in Ireland's participation in UN-mandated peacekeeping operations. However, we believe that a constitutional provision would be too rigid, too doctrinaire and unnecessary. Therefore, Fianna Fáil will oppose the Bill just as we opposed similar Bills in 2015 and in 2003.

If we were to amend Article 28, as proposed in the Bill, in the event of an international emergency where the UN Security Council had unanimously approved an international intervention involving military forces, it could mean the Dáil needing to be recalled to allow airplanes to refuel at Shannon Airport. Is this necessary? While those who propose this may feel it would not apply in this case, it is still possible that a court challenge on this basis might arise.

On the amendment of Article 29, the definition of a military alliance is open to interpretation. Is it NATO? Could it be interpreted as an EU battle group on a peacekeeping mission with a UN mandate? Is our participation in the UNDOF or UNIFIL a form of military alliance? Furthermore, in the event of Ireland being attacked, would such an article not render it unconstitutional for us to form a military alliance to repel the attack. A constitutional declaration of neutrality is no guarantee that our neutrality will be respected.

Various Defence Acts passed by the Oireachtas mean that Ireland only takes part in missions that are unambiguously authorised by the UN on the basis of a sovereign decision by Government and subject to the approval of Dáil Éireann. Furthermore Article 29 of the Constitution confirms Ireland's dedication to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations, founded on international justice and morality. Article 29 also upholds our observance of the principles of peaceful resolution of international disputes.

Dr. Martin Mansergh, a former Member of this House and the Seanad, observed that our neutrality is a policy rather than a status. Since the 1930s and 1940s we have never sought to have a type of neutrality which, for instance, Belgium had before 1914, for the very good reason that it proved not to be worth the paper on which it was written. With this in mind Fianna Fáil does not see the case for amending the Constitution in this area.

The second referendum on the Nice treaty introduced a provision in the Constitution affirming that Ireland would not partake in common defence without further amendment to the Constitution. This gave constitutional effect to the solemn commitment in the national declaration by Ireland at Seville that a referendum would be held in Ireland on the adoption of decision taken by the EU to move to a common defence. The Seville declarations clarified that there was nothing in the Treaty of Nice or previous treaties that posed a threat to Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. In order for Ireland to join a common defence, the people would first have to vote to delete or amend this constitutional prohibition.

Of course, while no decision to create a common defence can be taken in the European Council without Ireland’s agreement, it has never been Ireland’s position that we would attempt to block the desire of other member states to establish common defence arrangements among themselves in circumstances where Ireland was not ready to participate, as long as these arrangements would not prejudice Ireland’s national interests.

At the Seville summit in June 2002, Ireland secured the agreement of our EU partners to declarations that reflect Ireland’s position on military neutrality and European Security and Defence Policy. Two declarations were included in the Nice treaty to underline the Irish position. The national declaration by Ireland states that: Ireland is not party to any mutual defence commitment; Ireland is not party to any plans to develop a European army; and Ireland will take a sovereign decision, on a case-by-case basis, on whether the Defence Forces should participate in humanitarian or crisis-management tasks undertaken by the EU, based on the triple lock of UN mandate, a Government decision and approval by Dáil Éireann.

The declaration of the European Council at the time confirmed that Ireland's policy of military neutrality is in full conformity with the treaties, on which the European Union is based, including the Treaty of Nice and that no obligations arising from the treaty would or could oblige Ireland to depart from that policy. These declarations are solemn political declarations of a formal kind which were deposited in the UN and we stand by them.

Ireland has always conferred fundamental importance to the UN since we joined 58 years ago and, working with other members, we have supported international action in areas such as disarmament, peacekeeping, development and human rights. We are strong and committed supporters of collective security through the organisation. This has been the stated policy of many Governments during the past 58 years. Alongside this, we have endorsed and supported the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security in accordance with the charter of the United Nations. This emphasis on the UN is not one we should lightly discard.

While we are conscious of the opposition to the triple lock from some military and political commentators, we believe there is overwhelming public support for the mechanism. We acknowledge the UN is not perfect and can be slow to respond to developing crises but it is the still the guarantor of the freedoms of small nations and the best bulwark against unilateralism. Its imprimaturprovides a greater legitimacy for peacekeeping operations than any other international organisation.

Furthermore, the legitimacy conferred by a UN mission bolsters the safety and security of our Defence Forces when they participate in peacekeeping missions. No mission will be without risk but the absence of the blue hat will heighten the risk. While neutrality was the given policy of successive Governments prior to the Second World War, it was that conflict that put it to the test.

Regarding constitutional provisions for neutrality, Ireland is not alone in providing a constitutional provision for its neutrality. A number of our EU partners do the same thing. Sweden has a long-standing policy of neutrality but it is not a feature of its constitution. Similarly, its neighbour and our EU partner, Finland, is not in a military alliance but does not feel any need to provide for a constitution prohibition. In the EU, only Austria has such a provision. After the war, Austria, similar to Germany, was divided into zones assigned to the four powers of the USA, the UK, the Soviet Union and France. To secure the withdrawal of those forces, and especially the Soviets, Austria provided for a constitutional statute proclaiming its neutrality in return for the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. The Swiss provide for it constitutionally. Switzerland is not in the EU and it is not so long since it joined the UN.

What would happen if we made a provision for neutrality in the Constitution? It is likely that the impact is that it would be for the Supreme Court to decide on what our neutrality could mean. Can the definition of a military alliance also be open to interpretation? Is it NATO and only NATO? Could it also be interpreted as an EU battle group on a peacekeeping mission with a UN mandate?

Is our participation in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon a form of military alliance? If the provisions of this Bill become law, that could well be for the Supreme Court to decide because I have no doubt that there would be a challenge to such missions.

A constitutional provision could be too rigid and too doctrinaire. It could also have a detrimental impact on the ability of the Government to manage foreign policy issues. Neutrality should not mean neutering. Frankly, it could undermine the entire purpose of collective security and the United Nations to which Ireland is so committed.

I will share the reminder of time available with my colleague, Deputy Jack Chamber, who has now arrived.

9:55 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to be able to contribute this topic as my party's spokesperson on defence. As my colleague, Deputy Collins, said, Fianna Fáil is not supporting this Bill, as we are concerned it may impact on our ability to take part in vital peacekeeping missions around the world. As a country that pursues military neutrality, Ireland has a long history and tradition of peacekeeping. As mentioned, the UN disengagement observer force could be compromised, as could the interim force in Lebanon. We would be handing over the jurisdiction, the oversight and the role of what we have in the current legislative provision potentially to the Supreme Court, which is a high bar in the context of our own participation, of which everyone collectively is proud. That is not clarified in the Bill.

We are renowned for our efforts in keeping and restoring peace in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Those of us in this House and beyond should all be very proud of that legacy and we should not compromise or undermine future missions. We should not, as this Bill provides for, take actions that would jeopardise our commitment to helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in some of the most underdeveloped in the world. The legislation could also result in difficulties and complications in the event of an international emergency where the UN has approved a humanitarian intervention and there could be a technical challenge to the Supreme Court, which could go beyond the current wording that has been provided for.

Perhaps most relevant of all, a constitutional declaration of neutrality is no guarantee our neutrality will be respected. History, unfortunately, is littered with examples of small independent peaceful countries, which have had that status completely ignored. Some Members and parties would have people believe that the country is sleepwalking its way towards becoming a fully-fledged military power, but anything but that is the case. It is worth re-emphasising Ireland’s commitment to being a militarily neutral State. Why do we have ongoing scaremongering every time defence or foreign affairs policy is discussed?

Various Bills, many of which were introduced and passed by my party, underscore the fact Ireland can only take part in missions authorised by the UN and on the basis of a decision by the Government and backed by the Dáil. Our commitment to this triple lock is sacrosanct. There are also the constitutional commitments to Ireland as being a peaceful and friendly nation which will co-operate with other nations. The various referenda on European unity over the years have resulted in some incredible red herrings surfacing, often put forward by the party which has not supported any EU referendum and which has introduced this Bill. The country was told that ratifying the Nice treaty meant Ireland was signing up to NATO. Similarly, we heard that ratifying the Lisbon treaty would result in Irish people being conscripted into a European army, none of which has happened and will not happen because of the constitutional and legislative measures we have in place, as I have outlined.

Moreover, there is no provision in the EU treaties for the creation of an EU-wide army, although again some in this House continue to suggest that PESCO is in fact that. We need to be clear that PESCO is about security and co-operation and those claiming otherwise, a bit like the Brexiteers in the UK who made wildly unsubstantiated claims, need to be called out for misleading people. The only way that could happen would be by the consent of the people. I do not know any Irish person who would want that. It is important we recognise the democratic and constitutional provisions that we have in place, which can only be changed with the consent of the people. PESCO is about defending Europe’s shared borders and improving the capacity of the EU and Ireland to support international peace and security, and to assist in crisis management, particularly humanitarian crises. If Europe is worth building, then it is worth defending. In addition, involvement in PESCO will also ensure that our Defence Forces will have access to the best equipment and training. Sending our men and women on overseas peacekeeping missions without the best preparation would not be appropriate and it would be reckless. PESCO is not about building a European army but about deepening European integration. That is not something from which Ireland should recoil in the context of Brexit and what is happening in other countries where eurosceptism is on the rise, and we will probably see that in the European elections. This is more relevant now, particularly as Brexit continues to play itself out.

Greater co-operation is also essential to properly tackle threats to national defence and security that did not exist a few years ago. The area of cyberattacks comes to mind in this regard. Such attacks have shut down apparatus in other countries, including the UK. I fear it is more through luck than design that Ireland has not been affected by such an attack. However, given our ever-growing status as a world leader in information technology and communications, it stands to reason that we remain vulnerable in this area. In addition to bolstering our cybersecurity capabilities, something which I am consistently calling on the Minister for Defence to do, greater co-operation among nations in intelligence gathering and information sharing is the best way to defend against cyberattacks. It goes beyond the historic argument of what neutrality is about in that we have to share information to defend ourselves. That is an important context not to forget in the 21st century.

However, this Bill would remove all that. Rather than follow the approach being advocated, I would like greater consideration to be given to an active neutrality approach. Such an approach would move us away from the past and reflect the reality that our sovereignty is secure, our democracy is functioning well and we are one of the most successful developed countries in the world.

Perhaps most important, it would also reflect the fact we are at a juncture in our development where we have an enhanced opportunity to focus on what we have to offer to other members of the international community. In this sense, we have a responsibility to share the lessons of our experience of peace building on this island and of peacekeeping on the international stage in the Middle East and Africa with others who may benefit from them.

In disagreeing with the proposal, I believe it is time for Ireland to further our approach in international affairs, building on our long and proud contribution in areas such as peacekeeping and development. In an era when differences between the developed and developing worlds continue to challenge us, we have an opportunity to seek to build on our reputation as a bridge between nations, and we do ourselves and the world some service in this regard. We need to continue on our present legislative and constitutional basis and oppose this proposal.

10:05 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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The policy of the Labour Party is unambiguously to support Ireland’s long-standing policy of military neutrality. By debating this Bill, we have a useful opportunity to restate our perspectives on what Ireland’s neutrality means today. That is perhaps the real purpose of this Bill’s introduction.

I will return to the text of the Bill but I want to first elaborate on the core issue of our military neutrality. Labour's perspective on Ireland's neutrality has a number of dimensions and I would like to focus on three of them: first, Labour's role in the long history of opposition to conscription and violent conflict in Ireland; second, the adequacy of our current defence policy on maintaining military neutrality; and third, the need to redefine neutrality as an active concept that can and should be promoted across Europe and abroad, including as a response to new forms of warfare, as well as a response to conventional warfare.

On the first point, Ireland's people have a long history of rejecting armed conflict as a means to achieve political or economic ends. Ireland adopted neutrality as a policy during the Second World War and that has been maintained as our national policy. However, decades in advance of that, Labour's then leader, Tom Johnson, was a prominent pacifist. Recently, we recalled that he was the primary author of the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil but he also called western Europe's first successful general strike, when he mobilised Ireland's working people against conscription during the First World War. Following the death of Connolly, Johnson became the leader of the labour movement and he and labour associates worked to achieve national independence. Crucially, Johnson was a constitutionalist, guided by the rule of law. When the anti-treaty faction of Sinn Féin refused to recognise the Dáil and the Civil War began, he spoke out against the Army mutiny and in favour of civilian control. This is all relevant to today’s debate because we are talking about the deep roots of Irish people's antipathy to war and violence.

Ireland's working people were mobilised by the labour movement against conscription in the First World War. Labour sought to hold together the fledgling Irish State, and Johnson was the leader of the Opposition in the Dáil for the crucial period of 1922 to 1927, including for all but three months of the Civil War. After that conflict, it was Labour that helped ensure the reintegration of the Civil War enemies into the Dáil, albeit as bitter rivals, and it was ultimately the constitutionalist, civil tradition that won out over violent factionalism in the establishment of this State and its traditions, including our tradition of military neutrality.

On my second point, we have a range of defence policies and relationships in place that respect Ireland’s military neutrality. The triple lock arrangement means the Army will only be deployed when there is a UN mandate, a Government decision and a Dáil vote. Ireland's military neutrality is respected by our EU partners. The Lisbon Treaty has its protocol on the concerns of the Irish people. Among other things, the protocol states that the Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army or for conscription to any military formation. It will be for member states, including Ireland, acting in a spirit of solidarity and without prejudice to its traditional policy of military neutrality, to determine the nature of aid or assistance to be provided to a member state which is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of armed aggression on its territory.

Defence spending in Ireland is the lowest in the EU at 0.3% of GDP in 2017, compared to an EU average of 1.3% and spending as high as 1.8% in France or 1.9% in the UK. That is as it should be. We should not be spending a lot of money on defence, although I would like us to spend more when it comes to the pay and conditions of our Defence Forces personnel, many of whom are on shockingly low wages, as Labour has stated many times in this House.

If these policies are currently working to maintain our military neutrality, the question that arises for Sinn Féin is what, if anything, requires us to amend the Constitution at this time. From Labour’s perspective, we do not want the Army involved in warfare. However, Ireland has a proud record of UN peacekeeping where we make a unique contribution. The Army is recognised as having world-class expertise in countering improvised explosive devices. As part of UN peacekeeping work, Ireland has been involved in the destruction of mines, the removal of dangerous chemicals and the destruction of ammunition for small arms in the Balkans and Ukraine. Participation in UN-mandated peacekeeping operations does not challenge our military neutrality.

The third substantive point is that neutrality is not a concept that is fixed in time. There are different traditions of military neutrality around the world and within Europe. Switzerland has a long history of neutrality but it is a form of neutrality underpinned by mandatory military service for its citizens and a convincing military capacity to repel invasion. That is not the type of neutrality we want for Ireland. We want to promote peace and to share our antipathy to the use of violence to achieve political ends. I do not see anything in this Bill that would ensure that Shannon Airport is not used to transport weapons of war, and while I share Sinn Féin's concern that this would not be the case, I cannot find that referred to anywhere in this Bill. We do not want a large military but we do want to be able to defend ourselves adequately, including against terrorism and new forms of warfare such as cyberattacks. That requires us to have some engagement with military alliances to access the technology and shared intelligence we need to protect our citizens.

The proposed legislation seeks to make fundamental changes to our current tradition of military neutrality. The proposed changes to Article 28.3.1° could make it impossible for Ireland to continue to participate in UN peacekeeping missions, as it rules out any participation in armed conflict except to defend the State. The proposed changes would tie the hands of any Government and Dáil if they wanted to offer some assistance of a military nature to another European country that was invaded or suffered a major terrorist attack. If something happened, the proposed text would not only rule out direct involvement in any mission but it would prevent Ireland from taking any action at all, even sharing anti-terrorist intelligence with our European partners. At an extreme, the modified article could also rule out a range of normal civilian co-operation if that co-operation also had a benefit or alternative use for military operations. While I sympathise with the intent behind the Bill, it would appear to promote an isolationist and uncooperative form of neutrality that would not respect our current traditions.

On the proposed additional text for Article 29.3, I agree with adding the text: "Ireland affirms that it is a neutral state". Perhaps it should state "militarily neutral and committed to non-aggression" to spell out exactly what we mean by neutrality in our own context. However, the additional text is more problematic, depending on how it might be interpreted. If the Constitution stated that the State shall "maintain a policy of non-membership of military alliances", would that rule out co-operation on UN-mandated peacekeeping missions if there was NATO involvement or membership of PfP? Could that text even rule out membership of the EU itself? After all, the Union has mutual defence as part of its treaties, even though Ireland has an opt-out in the protocol to the Lisbon treaty. I raise these questions because the Constitution as it stands probably does not need to be amended to maintain our neutrality. This text again would appear to have unintended consequences that would disrupt our existing tradition of military neutrality without any obvious benefit. While Labour, of Ireland's political parties, has unquestionably the longest and clearest commitment to non-violence and military neutrality, there is no necessity, therefore, for a Bill like this to ensure we maintain our military neutrality.

It is utterly dishonest and frankly surreal for the Government, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to declare their commitment to neutrality and then move quickly to stating why they are going to oppose this Bill and defend our current relationship with the evolving European military machine. They do not mention our ongoing complicity with the US war machine. It is a little disappointing to hear a slightly diluted version of the same surreal narrative from the Labour Party, which states that this Bill is not necessary. What about Shannon Airport? That is the reality that blows a hole in the nonsense we just heard from the Government and Fianna Fáil about their commitment to neutrality. Some 2 million US troops have passed through Shannon Airport since the onset of the US-led slaughter in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have facilitated that machine in conducting that slaughter with utterly disastrous consequences and in defiance of any meaningful definition of neutrality.

Members can play around with all the legalistic nonsense they want and try to dissect the Bill in a legalistic way in order to deflect attention from that reality, but they are not going to get away with it. The people of this country do not believe it for one solitary second. They know the reality. They expressed their feelings on that reality when the Irish political establishment facilitated war in Iraq in 2003 by coming out on the streets in unprecedented numbers. That was probably the biggest demonstration that had happened in the State since its foundation. The only demonstrations that even came close to the one that happened on 15 February 2003 were the recent protests against water charge. The numbers were so great that we still do not know how big the demonstrations were. One of the organisers, Mr. Roger Cole, is sitting in the Gallery. He, Mr. Brendan Butler, Mr. Gearoid Kilgallen and I met others several months in advance of a war we knew was going to happen in order to plan those protests for 15 February 2003 in the hope that this demonstration, as part of the global mobilisation that happened on that day, might force the US, Britain and their allies not to proceed with the military assault on Iraq. The world spoke in the biggest demonstration in human history. There has not been a bigger demonstration on a single day before or since. People begged political leaders in this country and across the world not to support or in any way facilitate that military onslaught.

I remember writing an opinion piece for The Irish Times a few weeks before the war started. I quoted some NGOs' estimates of what the casualties of that war would be and wrote that up to 50,000 people might die in Iraq if that war went ahead. As it turned out, more than 1 million people were killed. I ask Members to think about that. This was the absolute destruction of Iraqi society. Some 4 million people were displaced in the worst displacement in human history until the war in Syria. The latter conflict is a direct consequence of the war in 2003. There would be no Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, if it was not for that war. We facilitated it, we justified it, we defended it and we allowed it to happen.

The NATO military assault on Afghanistan which preceded the 2003 war continues. That occupation is a humanitarian disaster for Afghanistan. That war was justified on the basis that NATO had to respond to the horrific atrocity of 11 September 2001, but the majority of people who carried out that horrific assault were from Saudi Arabia. Last year, Saudi Arabia overtook Russia as the world's third biggest spender on arms after the United States and China. Where does Saudi Arabia get all its weapons? It gets them from Britain, France and our friends in PESCO. Some €1.8 trillion was spent on weapons last year. I invite Members to look at the list of spenders - the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, France, the UK, Japan and Germany. Are these countries with a great history of peacemaking? Come on. These are imperial and sub-imperial powers with a bloody history of using their military power to crush colonial peoples and grab their resources, and to fight savage wars against each other in order to control markets and resources on a global level. That is what we are involved in when we facilitate the US military at Shannon Airport. That is what we are involved in with the Partnership for Peace, whose Orwellian name belies its nature as a structured alignment with the NATO military alliance. It is headed up by precisely those powers who account for two thirds of all global military expenditure, who led the war in Iraq and who led the disastrous assault on Libya that destroyed yet another state. NATO has a first-strike nuclear policy. That means that it will fire nuclear weapons at other countries even if they do not shoot first. That is the policy of NATO. We are now aligned with it through the PfP and the PESCO arrangements, every hand's turn of which is about establishing interoperability between the evolving European military structures and NATO with its bloody history.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour state that we do not need something in our Constitution to vindicate the views of the majority of people in this country who opposed the use of Shannon Airport for the war to which I refer and who oppose our involvement in military alliances or to vindicate the history of this country, whose neutrality flows from the fact that the State was born in a fight against empire. We need this in our Constitution in order to vindicate that history and the view of the majority of Irish people.

10:15 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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We will also be supporting the Sinn Féin Bill. This is a bit mad. The abuse of language in making arguments about this issue is a somewhat disheartening. We know there is no concrete and clear commitment to neutrality in the Constitution. This has been taken advantage of by too many for too long. Our facilitation of the US military's use of Shannon Airport for the Iraq War in 2003 was criminal by any standards and made a complete mockery of any notion that Ireland is neutral. The then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, argued that facilitating the use of Shannon for the illegal invasion of Iraq was not of a sufficient degree of substance to constitute participation in the war.

I wish to refer to customary international law, namely, the Hague Convention (V) Respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land of 1907.

The convention states that a power which claims to be neutral is forbidden to allow belligerence or move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral power. That has not proven to be the case, however. The language used in the motion debated in this House in March 2003 was unreal. The motion stated that Dáil Éireann "declares its commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq". Deputy Clare Daly and I visited Iraq last year and that is not the impression one would get of what happened because the place was destroyed. One cannot invade and destroy a country and at the same time respect its sovereignty and independence. That is not the way it works. The same motion welcomed the arrangements put in place by the Government to ensure that Ireland would be able to contribute rapidly to the humanitarian effort in Iraq. The motion further stated that Dáil Éireann "recalls the long-standing arrangements for the overflight and landing in Ireland of US military and civilian aircraft" but it did not indicate that any US troops who passed through Shannon Airport up until 1999 were either going on holiday or travelling to air bases in Germany; they were not going to war. What happened in 2001, including the military incursion into Afghanistan, was a game-changer. People who pretend otherwise are being economical with the truth.

If one checks the record, in 2013, Deputy Enda Kenny questioned the use of Shannon Airport for US military purposes. Before we were elected to the House in 2011, I heard some Labour Members question the use of Shannon Airport by the US for military purposes. It is amazing the difference between what people say in opposition and what they say in government.

The truth is that, sadly, we have been linked to terrible atrocities since 2001. When the Tánaiste was present, he was defensive about the EU's peaceful role. The EU has not engaged in as much military aggression or warmongering as the US. For some time, however, I have found the its actions to be pretty disappointing. I disagree with the support of many of its member states for the war in Afghanistan. I disagree with the EU's support for the war in Iraq. I disagree with its involvement in the bombing and destruction of Libya. I disagree with it providing arms to jihadists in Syria. I disagree with its lack of constructive opposition to what Israel has been doing to Palestine for a long time. I disagree with the EU's silence on what is happening in Yemen. The most recent official figure we received indicated that 13 million people are at risk of poverty in Yemen. The US has supported the Saudi-UAE coalition in bombing the living daylights out of Yemen for a long time. That campaign started in March 2015. There is only one crowd bombing in Yemen. There is no opposition involved in bombing. Only one crowd has ever dropped a bomb from the air and it is the Saudi-UAE coalition, armed and supported by the US, the UK and France. How bad is that? How bad does it have to get in Yemen before anyone screams "Stop"?

A girls school was bombed on Sunday in Sana, Yemen. Horrific pictures show the children trying to get out of the place, losing clothes and books as they went. Does that make any impression on the European powers? Are they going to disassociate themselves from the US warmongering? The arms industry has become one of the biggest industries on the planet. In fairness to Donald Trump and his honesty, when it was put to him some months ago that perhaps it was time to stop arming the Saudis because what is happening in Yemen is not very good, he stated that more than 20,000 jobs were created by the arms the Americans are selling to the Saudis and that if they stopped selling them, those jobs would be lost. Mr. Trump also referred to all the money they get for the arms that they sell. He asked if they should stop and let the Russians or the Chinese sell arms to the Saudis instead. He stated that he did not think so. I admire his honesty because that is the truth. Mr. Obama met the Saudis in 2012 and organised a regime change in Yemen. They threw out Saleh and brought in Hadi and then sanctioned the war which started in March 2015. He did not speak with such honesty. What Obama used to do is not very much different to what Trump does now. The only difference was that he looked well, sounded intelligent and was articulate, but he was a lying so-and-so.

10:25 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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I thank our colleagues in the Rural Independent Group for giving us their time on this extremely important topic. I also thank Sinn Féin for tabling this incredibly timely motion. The discussion so far has been sad, particularly as this is such an important issue. We hear so much now about fake news because it is the order of the day, but we have had a lot of fake discussion. We have had people saying one thing when the reality is patently different. That is quite shocking and it gives on a feeling of being in "The Twilight Zone". There is a certain irony that the speaker from the Labour Party spent half her time talking about Labour's role up to the First World War. There is a reason for that. It is because the party's contribution thereafter, particularly when it has been in government, has been pretty shameful in terms of the defence of our neutrality. We do not say that to score cheap points but that is the reality and people have to own up to their political sins or crimes, whatever one wants to call them.

Deputy Wallace introduced a Bill on neutrality in the previous Dáil and, in fairness, Sinn Féin introduced a similar Bill. Now we have the Bill before us. It is more relevant now than it was then because nearly every week we are being asked to support some new assault on our neutrality. It is quite clear that the Government cares very little about that. Its view is diametrically opposed to the views of most citizens. It is precisely because we cannot leave these matters to the whim of politicians or the permanent Civil Service that we need to have our neutrality enshrined in the Constitution.

At the core of why we are not neutral is, as others have stated, what happens at Shannon Airport. I pay tribute to the two US Veterans for Peace who made such a determined and noble stance to highlight the complicity of Shannon Airport in the US war machine with their attempts to peacefully and respectfully examine US military aircraft at Shannon on St. Patrick's Day. For the stance that they took, Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers, both of whom Deputy Wallace and I had the privilege of meeting, ended up being denied bail in Ennis District Court and being imprisoned for two weeks. Did two men, aged 82 and 77, proud, peaceful US veterans, really need to be denied bail for such a dignified protest? It is shameful and is sending out a signal to let the US know that we will take on anybody who tries to jeopardise its use of Shannon Airport.

The irony is that the lads and their colleagues who came to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day told us, as veterans who passed through Shannon Airport, that they had guns in their pockets despite the fact that we have been told here repeatedly by successive Ministers that that does not happen. Those men told us that that is what they did and what all of their colleagues did as they went through Shannon Airport. We know from our own case, in terms of when we tried to examine US military aircraft, that people gave testimony. One person had been accused of robbing some US weaponry from a ship and another from a plane and another catering worker gave evidence that he had seen weaponry on the aircraft.

What we have is an Irish solution to an Irish problem. The Government tells us that military aircraft come into Shannon Airport but they are not involved in any military exercises and are not carrying anything. It says it knows that because the US told it they are not but that does not explain how these aircraft travel two and three times a day on an annual basis now to destinations where we know appalling atrocities are being carried out with the assistance of the US military. Instead, it says the troops travel on civilian aircraft and that the civilian aircraft only carry soldiers whose weaponry is stored underneath in the hold and that they do not have access to them. That is not true. This weaponry is on board and we have direct evidence, as has the Government, that that is the case. We perpetuate a lie and pretend there are no weapons on them because we do not ask, even though everybody knows that there are and where they are going, when appalling examples have been given to various Ministers, even in recent days, of aircraft on their way to Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti, the location for facilitating the ongoing war in Yemen. We are complicit in that situation and that is certainly not something people want.

As other Deputies said, the Irish public is very much in favour of neutrality. The Government is very much out of step with that from the battle groups, to PESCO, to Operation Sophia, and obviously to Shannon. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, said that the EU is all about peace and the rule of law. Is that really the case when we see what happened in Libya over the weekend, which we discussed earlier in the statements on the pre-European Council meeting? I was in Libya 30 years ago. I flew into a modern airport on a Libyan Arab Airlines aircraft to meet students - I was a student leader at the time - who were the best educated people in Europe and the wealthiest per head of capita. The last remaining airport in Libya, which has not had international travel for years, was bombed at the weekend, with 28 people losing their lives. Thousands of people have been killed in Libya. The country is a basket case because of regime change facilitated by powers in Europe supported by our Government. We are complicit in that and it is not what Irish people want.

The Tánaiste said earlier that he was sorry that the Operation Sophia humanitarian exercise was not back on track. He is misinformed. He is not stupid so he obviously knows what he is saying is wrong. We had the same Ministers telling us at various times that Operation Sophia was not a military exercise only to tell us at the end that it was a military exercise. Today, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, tried to tell us it is a humanitarian exercise. It is absolute and utter nonsense. That is a continuation of talking out of both sides of our mouths in terms of our neutrality.

We believe tonight's motion is incredibly important. Neutrality is not doing nothing. Neutrality is ploughing an independent furrow. People talk about defending the country. Fianna Fáil is worried about what will happen if Ireland is invaded. I am sorry, and as a proud daughter of an Army family, I believe it will not be our conventional Army that will defend us if we are invaded. I do not believe it is the €6 million the Minister is spending on anti-aircraft missiles that will defend us either if it comes to that. If we wanted to defend a country and a world, do the mathematics on it. There are more wars now, more refugees and more terrorism. I wonder if there could be a connection between that. Guess what? There is because when people are murdered in their beds, their societies are wrecked and their children are killed, that does not make them very happy. It makes them leave their homes in pursuit of a better life elsewhere. The instability is coming from that and the best stance against that is to stand for international solidarity across nations and for an end to war. We can be a proud beacon in that but to do that, the first step is enshrining this legislation in our Constitution.

10:35 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Before going on to the next contributor, I think it is important to say and to acknowledge that those 158 of us who have the great privilege, and it is an outstanding privilege, to be here to represent the people share an absolute responsibility at all times to speak the truth, not any variation on the truth, but the truth itself. I call Deputy Martin Kenny who is sharing with Deputy Munster.

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry. I am always doing that. The next speakers are Deputies Mitchell, Martin Kenny and Ó Broin. Gabh mo leithscéal.

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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Ceart go leor. Irish neutrality has been an important principle since the founding of the State but, unfortunately, in the past few decades it has been eroded by successive Governments. The beginning of that can be traced back to 1997 when Fianna Fáil signed this State up to NATO's so-called Partnership for Peace and the deployment of Irish troops on NATO-led missions. Since then, various Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour Party and Green Party Governments were happy to turn Shannon Airport into a staging post for the US military in its illegal war of aggression across the Middle East. Fine Gael Deputies have been very clear that they would be happy to abandon Ireland's position of military neutrality. I believe that is shameful.

The right of our State to determine our relationships with others and to decide our foreign relations policy is a cornerstone of independence. Recently, we have seen EU figures like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron openly calling for an EU army. It is no surprise that it is the largest states that want to make this a reality.

I ask anyone of those who believe an EU army or a military alliance is a great idea to look at the chaos in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and other countries where EU states and the US have engaged in reckless, ill-thought out and illegal conflicts and tell me they trust those countries to have the best interests of Irish men and Irish women at their heart. They should get real because a small nation like ours will not be calling the shots.

We had a situation where our Defence Forces were heroically saving refugees from the Mediterranean - an unending task - while over their heads flew French, British and US war planes bombing countries like Libya and Syria and creating more refugees. We are a small nation which suffered the horrors of invasion and repression. The idea that we would align with those who continue to dole out such horrific treatment to others is unthinkable. Not only would taking part in such conflicts be morally wrong but it would undermine us and our proud history as a nation which acts as a mediator, a peacekeeper and an honest broker.

It is my belief that the Irish public, and it is important that we remember the Irish people, want our neutrality enshrined in our Constitution.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It is hard to understand why any party in this House would oppose this Bill. Since the Lisbon treaty, there has been a step change in the development of a European Union common defence policy. It is worthwhile reminding ourselves what that step change involved. Article 28 of that treaty committed member states, "to make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union for the implementation of the common security and defence policy". The treaty went on to commit that member states shall undertake to progressively improve their military capabilities.

There is no doubt that the crash of 2008 and the eurozone crisis may have tempered the advance of this militaristic logic, but the direction of policy from the Lisbon treaty to the present is very clear. The articles enshrined in EU treaty law override, in the words of one of the country's EU defence policy experts, rather than accommodate the neutrality of member states. From Sinn Féin's point of view, that is the key reason this constitutional amendment is necessary. It is needed to protect us from the slow but undoubtedly relentless logic driving the EU common defence policy. It is the logic evident in the development of PESCO and the initial commitment of €1.5 billion of military spending committed under PESCO up to 2020, including contributions from Ireland. It is a logic that has led to the first fully EU funded military project to develop a military drone, at a cost of €500 million, and it will take another major leap forward in the forthcoming EU budget, with an expansion of military expenditure to the tune of approximately €13 billion.

Anybody watching this debate who has a family member on a hospital trolley or who is paying high rent, desperate to get into social housing or paying high childcare costs would be aghast at the idea of any additional taxpayers' money being wasted on such expansionist military projects. More important, all of this erodes Irish neutrality and draws us ever deeper into an EU defence policy that is inextricably linked with NATO, thanks to the Lisbon treaty. It is no surprise that Fine Gael will not support this Bill. As my colleague, Deputy Mitchell, made clear, Fine Gael MEPs have launched a document suggesting that we should move according to its title, Beyond Neutrality. The voting record of Fine Gael MEPs in the European Parliament shows that they have supported every advance in the direction of an EU common defence policy as advocated by major powers.

The choice before us is simple. We either stand up for our neutrality and ensure that we continue to play a positive and progressive role on the international stage, free from either active or tacit involvement in any military alliance or adventure, or we continue the corrosive entanglement with an EU common defence policy that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have actively promoted over the past 20 years. My colleagues and I in Sinn Féin know where we stand tonight, but when the vote on this Bill is taken on Thursday next the public will know where every Deputy stands on this crucial national issue.

10:45 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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The issue of neutrality could not be more pressing than it is today. Angela Merkel has publicly supported the idea of creating an army for the European Union. She said that the EU will have to create a European intervention unit with which Europe can act on the ground where necessary. This echoed similar comments by Jean-Claude Juncker who said that the common European army would show the world that there would never again be a war in Europe. This is an increasingly worrying development.

Over the past number of years, the EU army agenda has been advancing at a rapid pace. Mr. Macron's letter to The Irish Timesrecently mentioned a better Europe when he focused on the EU army agenda. This agenda includes increased military defence budgets as well as moving towards a European defence union. It includes vast increases in funding for military purposes. After 2020 the funds will go from €500 million to €13 billion, a 2,000% increase. On top of this there is a 180% increase in funding for internal EU security and a 260% increase for migration and border security. The new defence fund will also be used to develop new weapons. Under this scheme, private arms companies will have up to 100% funding for development and 20% of prototyping costs will be covered. The EU is basically funding an arms race to go along with its desire for an army to call its own.

Many of the PESCO projects are aimed at developing this common EU weapons system and military development for use by member states in future EU military missions. The Government has justified Irish involvement in PESCO by stating that the initial PESCO projects are of limited scope. This ignores the clear evidence from the EU that these projects are only the beginning and that the scope of PESCO will be increased in the future. Speaking in the European Parliament, the Taoiseach stated that Ireland was pleased to join this military alliance and to participate in EU defence. He went on to say that the Lisbon treaty demanded this from the State. This ignores the constitutional opt out that the State has. Fine Gael assures us that PESCO does not undermine neutrality, yet this is contradicted by the party's stated goal of redefining Irish neutrality. Fine Gael and the Taoiseach have been clear in their belief that the State should be willing to participate fully in military alliances.

It is worth reminding the Government that the Irish people are not in favour of the State being part of an EU army. In a survey commissioned by Red C Research & Marketing, 78% of people agreed that Ireland should have a clear policy on neutrality. None of this appears to matter to Fine Gael, which does not want to respect Ireland's constitutional position on defence. In an EU context national defence is, and must remain, a member state competence.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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On behalf of the Government, I wish to make the Government’s final contribution to tonight's proceedings. I thank the Members for their contributions to the debate. This is a final opportunity to echo the comments of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, in categorically emphasising the Government's commitment to Ireland's long-standing and highly valued policy of military neutrality.

That policy is underscored by robust constitutional and legal frameworks which are worth highlighting again. Article 29 of the Constitution provides a framework for our policy of military neutrality. It clearly commits the State to uphold the ideals of peace and friendly co-operation among nations and "the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes". The Treaty of Lisbon contains a legally binding protocol, negotiated by the Government, which recognises "Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality" while our Defence Acts provide for the triple lock principle which governs the deployment of Irish Defence Forces overseas. That lock mandates that deployment for overseas peace support operations may only be made if that operation is mandated by the UN; deployment must also be approved by the Government; and if it is proposed to deploy more than 12 personnel, a Dáil resolution must also be approved.

The changes proposed in the Bill undermine rather than strengthen these frameworks and call into question the Executive's authority to take necessary and urgent action when obliged to do so, and to take those difficult yet necessary decisions through the powers entrusted to it by the Constitution. They jeopardise the Executive's authority with respect to external relations. They undermine the efforts that successive Governments have made in the contribution towards global peace and security as they put in jeopardy the State's ability to fulfil its obligations to support UN-mandated actions.

Much has been said regarding Ireland's participation in international crisis management and peace support operations. The Defence Forces have participated in UN-mandated missions for more than 60 years. They are highly experienced and highly regarded. The Irish public is rightly proud of the role they play in the attainment of peace and security. We have an obligation to continue to work towards the achievement of peace and security, whether its through our development assistance, our humanitarian assistance or our active participation in peacekeeping. We have an obligation, too, to share the experience and expertise that we have built up over 60 years of service. Next week, peacekeepers from Bhutan, Namibia and Togo will learn invaluable peacekeeping skills from our Defence Forces at its UN training school. I cannot support a Bill that would curb vital and necessary work undertaken by our Defence Forces overseas. I take this opportunity to commend and thank our Defence Forces for the work they do in putting Ireland's principles and values into action.

To those concerned about Ireland's involvement in NATO's PfP, I reassure the House that the work we undertake though our participation in the PfP is vital to the development of the capabilities and safety of our Defence Forces. There is no desire to become part of NATO, and this participation is not a precursor to membership. It is an international platform for the upskilling of our Defence Forces and serves as a vehicle for the achievement of our foreign policy goals. It has allowed us to highlight and push forward on issues such as the protection of civilians and the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security; disarmament issues; post-conflict recovery, with support to countries such Serbia, Albania, Ukraine and Jordan; the provision of education to reduce the risk of injury to populations by explosive remnants of war; the provision of equipment to defuse improvised explosive devices; and the destruction of anti-personnel landmines.

As to concerns expressed about potential involvement in an EU common defence, let me once again assure the House the European Union treaty makes it clear that there will be no common defence without the unanimous agreement of the European Council. Moreover, Ireland's participation in a common defence is prohibited by Article 29.4.9° of the Constitution. This is reinforced by the Irish protocol of the Lisbon treaty. Any change in that position can only take place with the approval of the people in a referendum to amend the Constitution. May I also address concerns about continuing public participation in the CSDP? The CSDP is an integral part of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy. It provides the Union with an operational capacity to undertake missions outside the European Union for peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. We have participated in a number of the EU-CSDP missions. These include peacekeeping operations in Chad, Congo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, training and capacity-building missions in Somalia and Mali, and Operation Sofia in the Mediterranean. All these operations have been mandated under United Nations Security Council resolutions, and, where required, they have been approved by the Government and Dáil Éireann. Given that the existing frameworks and oversight mechanisms work, the role of the Dáil in such operations is clear, strong functions well.

I also want to reassure those who continue to be concerned about the Government's policy on the use of Shannon Airport by the United States. The Tánaiste has made it very clear that this is not incompatible with our traditional policy of military neutrality. The conditions and criteria set out by the Department for the landings of all foreign military aircraft, irrespective of the state they are from, are very clear and are designed to ensure compatibility with our policy of military neutrality. These conditions include that aircraft are unarmed and carry no arms or ammunition, that they do not engage in intelligence-gathering and that the flights in question do not form part of any military exercises or operations are strictly controlled and imposed.

Finally, I take the opportunity to thank all the Members who contributed to tonight's debate but, as I said at the outset, unfortunately, neither I nor the Government will be able to support this Bill.

10:55 pm

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle.

At the outset, I pay tribute to Margaretta D’Arcy, who was imprisoned for her opposition to the use of Shannon Airport to transport combat troops from the USA to the battlefield, and from the battlefield back to the USA. When Margaretta D'Arcy was in prison, to her credit, Sabine Higgins, the wife of President Higgins, visited her. I also wish to remember Sally O'Neill from Dungannon who was killed in a car accident in Guatemala. She highlighted the terrible injustice of the arms being used by a proxy junta in El Salvador and being supplied by the United States of America.

Much has been said tonight about America's involvement, along with France, Britain and others, in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and about Syria and Libya. Some 2 million people are dead as a consequence of the actions of these countries. The whole area has been destabilised and destroyed by these actions to effect the change they wanted for their imperial needs.

In 2017, the country signed up to PESCO. By joining PESCO the Government has committed to increasing military spending and linking a defence policy that will be aligned to NATO's strategic aims. It commits to funding military projects and missions, irrespective of involvement, and opens our defence budget to critique by the EU for compliance with military spending targets. In part, pressure has been put on the EU by NATO and the USA to increase military spending. In a vote in the European Parliament in December 2017, Fine Gael MEPs supported an EU motion on the CDSP, which called for 2% of member states' GDP to be spent on defence. That violates any concept of Ireland's neutrality. The fact MEPs voted on behalf of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and others who have supported that position means they have violated any concept of neutrality.

I also pay tribute to the tremendous work done by the Irish peacekeeping forces, which have been a beacon of light throughout the world for people who are most in need.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin strongly believes in the sovereignty and neutrality of Ireland and its people. Our approach to the EU has evolved as the EU itself has. However, our opposition to the emergence of a united states of Europe and an army to defend its interests has never faltered. PESCO is another step in the direction of an EU army that would see Ireland being pushed to raise military spending and to boost the profits of arms manufacturers. The people have shown in repeated referendum campaigns that they too see the danger of an EU army and oppose any such moves. In 2016 a poll found that the majority of people wanted neutrality enshrined in the Constitution.

A majority believe Shannon Airport should not be used for foreign military flights. Numerous polls have found that to be true. The Nice and Lisbon treaties were rejected by many voters on that basis. Sinn Féin has been warning of an EU army for a long time. Recent geopolitical events have made this future even more likely. Political leaders at the heart of the EU are now talking more brazenly and more than ever about this. Macron, Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker and many others recently made pronouncements on the virtues of an EU army. Unfortunately, recent polls have shown that a majority of the French people back this position also. Germany's justice minister, Katarina Barley, said recently that Germany was ready for the next step in arriving at an EU army. A recent deal between France and Germany was described by both premiers is an important step towards an EU army. Merkel said the pact aims to build a Franco-German common military culture and contributes to the creation of a European army. Merkel even boasted that the army would complement NATO.

Given the lack of any care shown to Ireland, Greece and Portugal in recent years, and the bully-boy tactics of the EU towards anyone who dares to oppose its neo-liberal and anti-democratic policies, they have a great deal to fear from this move and should do everything their power not to be part of, and to oppose, it. We had 800 years of an imperialistic army and that did not work, so why do we want another European army?

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom, i dtús báire, mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leo siúd a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht, in ainneoin nach n-aontaím leis an gcuid is mó a tháinig ó urlabhraithe Fhianna Fáil agus Fhine Gael agus fiú amháin ó Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre, sa chás seo.

I believe wholeheartedly that the proper role for Ireland in this changing world is to be neutral, to be an honest broker and to live to up to our reputation as an international peacekeeper. Some who contributed to this debate insinuated that this Bill would in some way undermine the role Ireland has played and can play in future EU and UN peacekeeping missions. This is a red-herring and is another reflection by the crawlers in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Are they so blinkered that they cannot see the writing on the wall or is it that they do not want to see it? On what the Tánaiste said earlier, I am seriously worried if he believes what he read into the record, especially where he said that we impose conditions on military airplanes landing in Shannon Airport and where said that the EU was indispensable to the preservation of peace. I appeal to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to take the blinkers off and to see for themselves exactly what is happening.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked what has happened and what changes dictate us having this debate at this stage. Since the last time we had a vote here, when the Labour Party indicated it would support the Bill, the Government has signed up to PESCO.

Since then, the PESCO policy has been signed up to by Government. The EU military headquarters has been agreed on and acted on. The European defence fund has been set up. The NATO and EU status of forces agreements have only recently been signed up to by this Government. The European Defence Agency has added to its work and, lately, the Government has sought to send the Army Ranger Wing to Mali, a place where there are already 20 Irish soldiers without any backing from the Dáil despite the supposed triple lock. These changes demonstrate that we need to allow the Irish people to have a say on this. What is the Government afraid of? We should put the wording to the people. I can guarantee that we will have a proper debate. I can also guarantee that, based on the polls to date, the people will overwhelmingly support the wording we are suggesting. Nothing in this legislation would prevent Ireland from defending itself in future, as some in the House have tried to insinuate tonight.

The Tánaiste said our neutrality was fully respected at EU level. The EU laughs at Ireland every time this comes up. They know that, like a good poodle, the Government will roll over for a tickle when the time comes and will capitulate as it has done since 1997, when Fianna Fáil signed up to the Partnership for Peace. It is the NATO Partnership for Peace, not that of the EU. Mention of the triple lock was made and has been flaunted in the House.

We should put this to a vote and allow the people to have their say. Mar a dúirt mé níos luaithe, tá sé tábhachtach go dtugann muid deis do ghnáthphobal na hÉireann vóta a chaitheamh mar gheall ar fhoclaíocht a chur sa Bhunreacht a dhéanfaidh cinnte go dtugaimid cosaint cheart do neodracht na hÉireann. Níl an deis sin acu faoi láthair toisc nach raibh an crógacht ag aon pháirtí i rialtas é sin a dhéanamh go dtí seo toisc go raibh eagla orthu roimh a máistrí san EU. Tá sé in am seasamh suas dúinn féin mar náisiún, ár bpolasaí eachtrannach a dhéanamh muid féin, agus cosaint a thabhairt dúinn féin seachas a bheith ag luí isteach leis an bplean atá ag cinnirí an Aontais Eorpaigh chun bogadh i dtreo arm Eorpach a bhunú. Tá sé sin ag tarlú in ainneoin an méid a dúirt an Tánaiste an Aire Stáit agus urlabhraí Fhianna Fáil.

Cuireadh an cheist. Question put.

11:05 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 11 April 2019.

The Dáil adjourned at at 10.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 10 April 2019.