Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Commencement Matters

European Security Strategy

2:30 pm

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State. Will he assure us that Ireland will not sign up to permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, on security and defence at a European level? What are his views on the concerns raised regarding Ireland's neutrality, our triple-lock system and our crucial role in peace-building and arms control if we did sign up? I also ask him to address the position regarding the European defence fund.

I was glad Ireland was not among the countries that recently sent a notification to Federica Mogherini in respect of a new permanent structured co-operation on security and defence but I am concerned that we have seen mixed signals from the Government regarding that agreement. The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee has, for, example, spoken about the hope that Ireland might be able to participate in a way that respects our long-standing practice and policy of neutrality. Our long-standing policy of neutrality is not only something we must respect, it is also something that has earned us respect internationally. Ireland's multilateralism is grounded in our neutrality. It has underpinned Ireland's reputation as an honest broker, its effectiveness within the UN system and its outstanding contribution to peace-building, from the work of a former Minister, the late Frank Aiken, who first drove the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, to the anti-nuclear treaty signed by the current Minister, Deputy Coveney, in September. Permanent structured co-operation on security and defence with nations that are not neutral and have different mandates, interests and military histories is not compatible with our neutrality.

While there may be scope within the EU treaties for such co-operation, those treaties are not our only frame of consideration. We must also consider our State, our legislation and the frame of the UN. It is notable that while the specific needs of NATO members are given some discussion in the PESCO notification, there is no similar discussion of United Nations mandates or missions. The UN, as far as I can see, is only mentioned once. Peacekeeping and peace-building are not mentioned at all in the lengthy notification about PESCO and co-operation on security and defence. This must be a concern to a country which has prided itself on its role in peace-building and peacekeeping and which has always placed that role at the centre of it defence policies.

The answer to the global challenges we face is not, regardless of what may be posited by President Macron, another army.Areas such as human trafficking and cybercrime, while important, are all areas where co-operation can be facilitated through our civilian policing systems. They are not a justification for PESCO and its attendant military commitments. Signing PESCO would tie Ireland into a relentless long-term spiral of increasing military spending, which would not necessarily go towards much-needed improvements in the terms and conditions of service members, as PESCO also sets out criteria for how that money should be spent.

Does the Minister of State agree that Ireland cannot be part of the proposed European defence fund as multi-country procurement would mean we were accessories to the purchase of weapons which might be used outside a UN mandate? Irish companies that wish to compete for military contracts are free to do so under EU procurement law regardless of whether Ireland signs up to PESCO or not. It is crucial that our national defence policies in no way appear to be involved with or influenced by the commercial interests of private companies. Ireland's historic freedom from military industrial interest has contributed, along with our neutrality, to our very effective and necessary work on disarmament. I had the opportunity to be in Croke Park where the global ban on cluster munitions was negotiated. These are the medals of honour for Ireland and the things we must be proud of.

Mine is not a romantic view. I am very aware of the realities of security and the realities of war and death that shadow any conversation about military co-operation. In any talk of efficiencies, procurement and exercises, we are in the end talking about the circumstances under which Ireland might contribute directly or indirectly to the loss of life. The bar must be high. The triple-lock is not a technicality but an essential safeguard. Rather than being a follower on a slippery slope towards ever deeper militarisation and a possible European army, Ireland must take the chance to be a leader. We can and should act as beacons for a renewed focus on peace-building and constructive diplomacy within Europe and the wider world at a time when Europe has deeply neglected peace-building within and between nations. I ask the Minister of State to make it clear to our European friends that Ireland's neutrality is an asset to Europe. It is no coincidence it was an Irish man, Eamon Gilmore, who was able to so effectively act as EU envoy in the peace negotiations in Columbia.


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