Thursday, 24 March 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
78. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way that Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality was expressed at the recent European Council meeting; the verification methods that have been or will be used to ensure that the proportion of aid from Ireland to Ukraine is humanitarian in nature; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15761/22]
This is also a useful question to respond to on the record. Ireland’s policy of military neutrality has long been an important strand of our independent foreign policy. As practised by successive Governments, the policy means that Ireland does not participate in military alliances or mutual defence arrangements. While militarily neutral, Ireland has always been politically active, promoting peace and development through the UN, the EU, and our bilateral initiatives. This approach has also informed our active engagement in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP. In this context, Ireland has been engaging in a number of recent discussions on CSDP, including on the EU’s Strategic Compass, an important strategy document on the future of CSDP. Throughout these discussions, I have been clear that Ireland’s approach remains guided by our policy of military neutrality and our long-standing contribution to crisis management and peacekeeping. This policy is well known and respected by our fellow member states.
As part of our commitment to enhancing the EU’s ability to promote international peace and security, Ireland also participates in the European peace facility, EPF, an off-budget instrument established last year, which can be used to fund CSDP actions. On 28 February 2022, in the wake of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, the EU agreed an EPF package of €500 million in military assistance for Ukraine to help Ukrainians defend themselves. This consisted of a €450 million allocation for lethal equipment - weapons - as well as an additional €50 million in funding for non-lethal equipment. On 21 March, EU foreign ministers reached political agreement on a further €500 million package of EPF assistance.
Ireland's support, in line with the programme for Government commitment, will only be spent on the non-lethal elements of both packages. Our total share will be valued at approximately €22 million, which includes the provision by Ireland of 10 tonnes of ready-to-eat meals and 200 units of body armour for the Ukrainian military.
I thank the Minister for his response. In recent weeks we have heard mention of being politically active and militarily neutral. I am only aware of it having come up recently. Nobody has ever said we should not be politically active. Nobody has ever said we should not be putting our views across in any situation. The question is about military neutrality. That is always been the question and has always been the concern. Some of the Minister's recent statements about the EU developments have also been of concern. He said there is a good chance that we will be involved in the rapid reaction forces that are being discussed at the moment. He has mentioned that some people are uncomfortable with the triple lock because the UN Security Council mandates could be blocked by Russia or China. I wonder who those people are because I have not heard anybody talk about being uncomfortable with the triple lock. The triple lock is a very worthwhile process. That is the only security we have in terms of our neutrality at this stage.
I stand over all those things. People have questioned the triple lock for years on the basis of not being comfortable with a country in the UN Security Council being able to veto a decision Ireland might want to make to send troops to some part of the world. On balance - I have advocated for this - I think the triple lock is a good thing. I can completely understand why people would question it in terms of Ireland's ability to decide where in the world our own soldiers may go.
Many people have questioned the wisdom of it. I can give the Deputy details on it if he wants.
In the context of my comments on Ireland potentially participating in a rapid reaction force, that is simply a development of what already exists. Irish personnel have been training for years in what are called battle groups, the most recent one led by Germany, which ensures interoperability, common standards and the sharing of training facilities and equipment. This is so that if Ireland does decide to send peacekeepers to other parts of the world with other EU countries, we know we are interoperable and we can work with each other.
We are involved in a lot of EU missions in different parts of the world, from training missions in Mali to humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean, and many others. It is not a new concept, this idea that we would work in partnership with other EU countries to promote peace and to make peace interventions in different parts of the world.
In regard to working with countries in other parts of the world, would that include the Naval Service being involved in the EU naval presence in the Indian Ocean? In terms of interoperability, it would be interesting to know whether that is envisaged as well. The Minister might expand in the context of how we ensure the EP, budget at EU level is for non-military use?
There are no plans to send any Irish naval vessels abroad for now. We have challenges in the Naval Service at the moment in terms of recruitment and retention. We have work to do to get our personnel strength up to where it needs to be so we have the flexibility to be able to send a vessel from our naval fleet perhaps to another part of the world, should it be justified to do so, should it be consistent with a UN mandate and should it have the approval of this House and the Government. That is just like we did when we sent a ship to the Mediterranean which, at the time when we did it, did not require a triple lock because it was a humanitarian intervention, as it happens, but I think it was strongly supported by everybody in this House, given the work they were doing.
On the EPF, we were very involved in shaping that to ensure there were two separate funds, one that could be used for lethal weapons and the other that would not be. It was on the basis of having that distinction in the EPF that Ireland supported it. Ireland, Austria and Malta were the three countries which ensured that and we will, of course, make sure that the system for how that money is spent has integrity.