Dáil debates

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

1:52 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the high-level steering board, chaired by the Secretary General of his Department, to oversee the implementation of the high-level action plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. [52764/22]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the high-level steering board, chaired by the Secretary General of his Department, to oversee the implementation of the high-level action plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. [54842/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the high-level steering board, chaired by the Secretary General of his Department to oversee the implementation of the high level action plan for the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. [54844/22]

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the high-level steering board, chaired by the Secretary General of his Department, to oversee the implementation of the high-level action plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. [54853/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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16. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the high-level steering board, chaired by the Secretary General of his Department, to oversee the implementation of the high-level action plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. [55386/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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17. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the high-level steering board, chaired by the Secretary General of his Department, to oversee the implementation of the high-level action plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. [56449/22]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to answer questions Nos. 12 to 17, inclusive, together.

The high-level action plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces sets out initial implementation and oversight structures. It was agreed by the Government on 12 July 2022. Under the action plan, a high-level steering board will oversee the implementation of the report's recommendations. In addition to supporting and guiding the implementation, the board will also act as a clearing house for issues or blockages in the implementation of the Commission's recommendations.

The steering board will be chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. Membership of the board will include the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, the Secretaries General of the Departments of Defence, Justice, Foreign Affairs, Public Expenditure and Reform and the Environment, Climate and Communications, as well as the Chair of the implementation oversight group. It would not be anticipated that the board will meet until the implementation process has had some time to get under way.

The independently chaired implementation oversight group will oversee and drive progress with regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the commission. Significant work is progressing on the early actions and the development of the implementation plan. To support this work, the implementation oversight group met for the first time on 3 October, with a further two meetings due to take place before the end of the year.

A civil-military implementation management office has been established to support the implementation of the overall programme required to implement recommendations from the commission's report. The initial focus of the office is the implementation of the 38 early actions as set out in the high-level action plan and the development of an implementation plan within six months of the Government decision in July. Reporting mechanisms have been established to facilitate regular progress on the early actions.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I ask for Deputies' co-operation. Deputy Clarke has one minute.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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In the same week that the high-level action plan was published by Government, it was reported that female members made almost as many sexual allegations in the previous 12 months as they had in the previous decade. Yet, the Minister was told in June 2021 there was just one such allegation to that point.

How can the Women of Honour group and others have confidence that the review group that was set up after the Sinn Féin motion calling for a full statutory inquiry will effect the necessary change when such contradictory information surrounding even the level of reporting exists? We should not confuse engaging with that review as complete support for that review.

Has the Taoiseach seen the interim report by the review group? Does it address the allegation processes that sought to limit or circumvent reporting? Does it address the use of non-disclosure agreements? The majority of those in the Defence Forces are honest, hard-working people. They also need to have confidence in this report. When will the transformational change to modernise the organisation culture be in place, namely, the civilian head for transformation and the gender adviser?

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy. Her time is up. We have to be fair to everybody.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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Does the Taoiseach intend to publish a progress report before he leaves office?

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy. Next we have Deputy Boyd Barrett. He has one minute.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The decision of the Putin regime to sanction the Taoiseach and other Ministers is a further worrying sign about what is happening to our reputation as a neutral country.

It has implications for our Defence Forces whose safety when deployed on missions is also linked to our reputation as a neutral country. We all condemn Putin's bloody war and the escalation we are seeing at the moment. However, the Government's association with and echoing of the NATO line, abandoning a position of neutrality which should be about upholding opposition to war and military solutions in dangerous conflicts like this, is undermining our neutrality and our international reputation as a neutral country. Ultimately it is endangering the Irish Defence Forces.

2:02 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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The latest in the undermining of what is left of neutrality and participation in a process of European militarisation is reported today, with Ireland backing a plan for EU member states to team up to purchase jointly military equipment. That comes on top of the revelation that Ireland participated in person at two meetings happening at NATO headquarters in Brussels over the last couple of months and one meeting at NATO allied air command at the Rammstein air base in Germany. It also comes just before participation in a military training exercise for Ukrainian troops. According to the press statement, the aim of the mission is to contribute to enhancing the military capability of Ukraine's armed forces. It is clearly a full spectrum. Will there be a vote in the Dáil?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Why is the State continuing to use non-disclosure agreements against women in the Defence Forces who take court action on the issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence within those forces? The Defence Forces have had a culture of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence which has thrived on secrecy. That culture of secrecy is now being bolstered and supplemented by the State's use of these non-disclosure agreements. We are told that the independent review group will submit its report to the Minister by the end of the year. Can the Taoiseach be more exact? Will it be next week, or the week after? When is the Taoiseach going to concede the necessity of a full statutory inquiry which the Women of Honour have been forced to wait for for too long now?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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All the questions are about the implementation of the high-level action plan in respect of the Commission on the Defence Forces, which is a broader issue and is going at pace. In respect of the Women of Honour issue, I have met with both groups and we are waiting for the conclusion of the review. It was important to do that review and then to take further action depending on its recommendations. There is a need for fundamental culture change within our Defence Forces in respect of the treatment of women, parity of esteem, respect and true equality.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Why is the State using non-disclosure agreements?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, I am very disturbed by what he has said. He effectively justified Putin's decision in sanctioning my good self and others. He said it is a worrying sign in terms of Ireland's reputation as a neutral country.

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

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is not.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We are now seen as protagonists.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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By Putin. We are seen by Putin as a protagonist and the Deputy is sort of saying he is right, that the Taoiseach should be worried because Putin sanctioned me. I do not understand where he is coming from, genuinely. He added on that dangerous line about endangering the Irish Defence Forces because Putin is a bully and is trying to intimidate people.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We have respect as a neutral country.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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The Deputy should let the Taoiseach respond.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should withdraw any implication or suggestion that Putin's sanctioning the Taoiseach of the day in this country is somehow confirmation that Ireland is not neutral.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am saying the Taoiseach is now a protagonist in a war.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We are militarily neutral. We are not protagonists in this war. We have welcomed Ukrainian refugees into this country.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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We are training their military.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We have allocated humanitarian aid to Ukraine. We have worked with our colleagues in the European Union. We are part of the European Union, a political bloc which values liberal democracies and has no truck with and does not believe----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Except in Palestine, western Sahara, or Saudi-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Europe is the biggest donor to Palestine. That is the Deputy's classic line on this. That is why I doubt his commitment totally. It is all whataboutery with Deputy Boyd Barrett. Of course we condemn it, he says, and then he moves on. I always note his emphasis and where he focuses.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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These are consistent principles.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is always predominantly against Europe and the West, and less so, frankly, against Russia. He throws out the one line about Russia and moves quickly on.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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We have been condemning Putin for years. When Bertie Ahern was shaking his hand we were condemning him.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That has been the hallmark of all of his contributions in this crisis. I take issue with what he has said in respect of Putin's sanctioning of my good self as somehow confirmation that we are perceived no longer to be neutral. That is an outrageous assertion. We are militarily neutral. We are not members of any alliance.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We have taken sides in a conflict between military blocs.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We are taking sides on behalf of a country that has been invaded on the basis of an imperialist 19th century view that Ukraine has no right to exist. The Deputy is saying we are taking sides. Absolutely, we are supporting Ukraine in its right to its territorial integrity and sovereignty and the rights of the Ukrainian people to a decent life, not to be bombed every single day by a despot.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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What about non-disclosure agreements? Not a word.