Dáil debates

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

4:10 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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1. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Finland and Estonia. [20608/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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2. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Finland and Estonia. [20610/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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3. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Finland and Estonia. [22899/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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4. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Finland and Estonia. [23441/22]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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5. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Finland and Estonia. [24324/22]

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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6. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Finland and Estonia. [24475/22]

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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7. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Finland and Estonia. [24569/22]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.

My visit to Finland and Estonia on Friday, 8 April, included meetings in Helsinki with the President Sauli Niinistö and the Prime Minister Sanna Marin and in Tallinn with the Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

Our discussions focused mainly on the impact of the war in Ukraine, including on security and defence, energy policy, and the continuing humanitarian crisis. Because of their history and location, Finland and Estonia offer significant insight on Russia's military aggression, which EU leaders have condemned since the start of the war as immoral and unjustifiable. I made clear that while Ireland is a militarily neutral country, we are not politically neutral in the face of war crimes.

I also discussed EU neighbourhood policy with President Niinistö and other current European Council issues with both Prime Ministers, including climate change, digital transformation, and the EU's relations with the UK. I thanked both Prime ministers for the support and solidarity from Finland and Estonia throughout the Brexit process, and briefed them on the political situation in Northern Ireland.

While in Tallinn, I also visited the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, which plays an important role in enhancing Europe's capacity to deal with cyber threats, and the e-Estonia Briefing Centre, which focuses on e-health.

Ireland and Finland mark 60 years of diplomatic relations this year. Last year marked 30 years of diplomatic relations with Estonia.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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There will be one minute for questions, and we will go back and forth.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I find the timing of the Taoiseach's visit to Finland and Estonia interesting because this weekend sees the biggest NATO military exercise in decades, which was planned before the war in Ukraine, taking place in Estonia involving Finland and Sweden, countries which are now planning to abandon their neutrality. That is the decision for them. It is interesting, however, that in advance of the war in Ukraine, NATO was planning massive military exercises, which it is now carrying out all over eastern Europe. We must all rightly continue to condemn the unjustifiable, brutal and murderous aggression of Putin but as a neutral country do we have nothing to say about this growing move into essentially dividing Europe into two armed military camps which are sideling up against each other in a pretty alarming way?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Has the Taoiseach any thoughts-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will hear the Taoiseach's thoughts if the Deputy gives him a chance to reply.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----about the fact that Ireland, on foot of its position as a neutral state, should warn against this military escalation?

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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The Government of Finland, along with the Government of Sweden, has just announced its intention to ditch its neutrality and apply to join NATO. The latter is a US-led military alliance that is responsible for decades of brutal occupation in Afghanistan and horrendous atrocities in the Middle East. During the war in Kosovo, it bombed hospitals, prisons, embassies and many people's homes. The political establishments in Sweden and Finland have used the horrendous Russian invasion of Ukraine to drive a pre-existing agenda of joining NATO. This is a classic example of what Naomi Klein called a shock doctrine, the purpose of which is to use a real crisis to drive a pre-existing agenda. The same shock doctrine is on display here and is reflected in the Taoiseach’s comments that neutrality is a policy issue that can change at any time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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If he had a free hand, I am of the view that the Taoiseach would like to sign Ireland up to NATO. However, he knows that he does not have a free hand so instead he wants to chip away bit by bit at what is left of our neutrality. Will he commit to giving people a referendum to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution in order to stop it from being a policy matter that can be changed?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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We have all been conscious of the volte-faceby Finland and Sweden in announcing that they would enjoy join NATO. I take this opportunity to restate Labour's support for the principle of military neutrality in Ireland. There is immense public support for neutrality in Ireland, and I do not think there is any suggestion of a similar move here. We would be very strongly opposed to it. In the face of brutal Russian aggression and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, however, as an internationalist party, we want to express our support and solidarity for the people of Ukraine and our condemnation of that Russian aggression. Military neutrality does not mean political or moral neutrality in the face of brutal and unprovoked aggression on the part of a state acting in an imperialist and militaristic sense, as Russia has done in invading Ukraine. That is a view the Irish people share.

That is why there is such immense support for the solidarity we have shown in bringing Ukrainians here and in supporting Ukraine in any non-military way that we can.

4:20 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Supporters of the militarisation of Europe were in full voice at the recent Conference on the Future of Europe. Emmanuel Macron, Ursula von der Leyen and others linked what they saw as the need to militarise with changes to the European treaties, including an end to unanimity clauses. Where is the Government in this debate? Will the Taoiseach support a two-tier Europe and if so, which tier does he want Ireland to be in? Will the Taoiseach support a convention for a new treaty when the issue inevitably arises at the European Council in June? Any removal of powers from the Irish State to the EU will require a referendum and if the Taoiseach was to support and advocate for that referendum, then it would be far from certain that he would win. Is the Taoiseach in favour of such a move and will he comment on these issues?

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn is staffed and funded by 34 countries, including Ireland, which is classed as a sponsoring nation. The central steering committee consists of one voting representative from each of the sponsoring nations, the membership status available to what are termed as "NATO allies". Can the Taoiseach clarify if Ireland is represented at the steering committee meetings that are held biannually and if our participation in and funding of the centre has any implications for Ireland's policy of neutrality? Could the Taoiseach outline what support this centre has provided to Ireland's National Cyber Security Centre, NCSC? As we know from the capacity review completed last year, the NCSC requires both legislation and substantial additional investment.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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Security and defence matters loomed large in the Taoiseach's discussions with the Prime Ministers of Finland and Estonia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is Putin and his actions that are dividing the world into blocks once again and, as we know, Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO. This will leave Austria, Malta and Ireland as the only non-aligned nation states in the EU. The Russian invasion has sparked a debate at home on Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. Each neutral state has its own unique history and circumstances and Ireland should not join NATO but we should be actively involved in the evolving EU common security and defence policy and in the so called strategic compass. This is compatible with our peacekeeping tradition, our commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and our commitment to the promotion of fundamental human rights. It also highlights our solidarity with the EU and with fellow EU member states. Will the Taoiseach outline to the House the security concerns of the Prime Minister of Finland which were conveyed to him? Can the Taoiseach speculate as to why Finland sees the need to join the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization?

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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The Opposition was surprised at the timing of the Taoiseach’s visit to two countries on the edge of the Russian Federation at a time when it has invaded another one of its neighbours. I am not at all surprised and the timing was correct. Today's vote in the Finnish Parliament to join NATO, by 188 votes to eight, is a sudden move but it is understandable from a Finnish perspective. While Ireland may not be on the border of Russia in terms of military activity, we are on the borders when it comes to cyber activity and the attack last year is something everybody in this country was concerned by. Will the Taoiseach outline what the Government learned from the trip? In particular, what did the Government learn about the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, which was mentioned by others, and about the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Finland? While ruling out any decision to join NATO, I would like to see the Government continue to be involved in these type of centres, which prevent cyber activity and threats to our democracy.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Boyd Barrett again chose his words carefully. When he suggested that the timing was interesting the clear implication was that I was going there because of NATO and Finland's application to join it, which was not the case at all. Both countries offer significant insights and they are both members of the European Union, by the way. I hope there is no problem with visiting fellow member states of the European Union. They are not the Swedish establishment or the Finnish establishment; they are the elected governments of those countries.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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The establishment parties.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That language, or the word "establishment", conveys that there is some sort of elite there that has no connection with anybody. Those governments are elected and I met the elected governments.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Like the Taoiseach is elected.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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No country has navigated an extraordinary relationship with Russia over such a long period of time peacefully and in co-existence more than Finland has. The Prime Minister of Finland told me that everything they were taught during their school days about the potential fear and threat of what could happen was realised in the invasion of Ukraine. Given that it is physically on the border of Russia there is a fundamental question that begs to be answered, namely, who will come to protect them if Russia invades. No one is obliged to do so. There is a mutual assistance clause in the European Union which is not as well defined as the NATO provisions are for a country like Finland. Ukraine is not in NATO and it is defending itself. Ukraine is getting support and weaponry from outside but it is young Ukrainian men who are on the front line.

The Deputies should never take from the fact that the reason Finland and Sweden are applying for NATO membership is the immoral and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine by Russia. There is no other rationale for it. That has been the clear catalyst for their applications and I would not call it a shock doctrine or say that people are delighted that they can now join NATO. That is not it and public opinion has changed dramatically. As Deputy McAuliffe said, the vote in the Finnish Parliament is indicative of the degree to which public opinion has shifted in both countries because of what has happened. What is happening is barbaric by any standard and entire towns and cities are being levelled in Ukraine. If you are near the border or on the border you have a different perspective; that is the reality of life and it is human nature.

I do not buy the argument that NATO planning major exercises is somehow comparable with what is happening in Ukraine. It is not and NATO has attacked nobody.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It has.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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NATO has not attacked anybody.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It has.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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NATO did not bomb any town or city.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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It has. Not now-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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This whataboutery and attempt by Deputies Paul Murphy and Boyd Barrett to have equivalence-----

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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This is whataboutery.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----between NATO and Russia's behaviour is unacceptable and wrong because NATO and NATO states like France and Germany did everything they possibly could to prevent war prior to it breaking out. I would make the same point to Deputy Barry. There is no militarisation of Europe but it will not be foolish in the face of Russian aggression against Europe.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Talk to Mr. Macron.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputies O'Rourke and Haughey mentioned cybersecurity. I do not know whether Deputy O'Rourke is for us participating in this security centre. He is. The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence is a multinational and interdisciplinary hub of cyber defence and it is located in Tallinn. It is staffed and financed by member nations and it is not part of NATO's military command or force structure. We applied for contributing participant status in November 2019 and the formal process to finalise accession is expected to conclude later this year. A member of the Defence Forces has been on secondment there as a national expert since November 2020. Our national expert works in the cyber operations branch and currently undertakes research on cybersecurity, cyber defence, planning processes and cyber threat intelligence gathering. Officials from the NCSC also engage in training provided by the centre.

I agree with Deputy Haughey's perspectives. It was Fianna Fáil that led Ireland to joining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons so we have a strong commitment to nuclear non-proliferation as a political party. We see that as a positive part of our military neutrality to date. Neutrality is a policy question. If we were to join a European defence pact that would be a matter for a referendum because the Constitution would have to be changed to facilitate that. We should have a reflective and informed debate and I have suggested the citizens' assembly as a way we could do that.