Tuesday, 21 November 2017
European Security Strategy
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.
I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad on this important issue of permanent structured co-operation, commonly referred to as PESCO. I am happy to inform the House that the Government earlier today approved the formal notification by Ireland of our intention to participate, subject to Dáil Éireann's approval in the near future. PESCO provides a treaty based mechanism whereby EU member states can participate jointly in capability development projects. These capabilities can then be made available for common security and defence policy, CSDP, crisis management and peacekeeping operations. Participation in any particular PESCO project is entirely voluntary. As such, Ireland, along with all other member States, is free to decide for itself whether to opt in to any project on a case-by-case basis. Ireland has been centrally involved in the development of the CSDP from the outset and has been one of the leading contributors to CSDP operations.
Ireland supports the role the EU can play in support of international peace and security with the UN at its core. PESCO is a further initiative in strengthening the Union’s capacity in this regard. It should be noted that all CSDP operations to date have either been mandated or supported by the UN and endorsed in UN Security Council resolutions. This commitment to the UN is restated in the PESCO notification which recalls "the commitment of the European Union and its Member States to the promotion of a rules-based global order with multilateralism as its key principle and the United Nations at its core". Last September, at the informal meeting of Defence Ministers in Tallinn, I met the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Mr. Jean-Pierre Lacroix. During that meeting he outlined his support for PESCO as potentially providing additional capabilities for UN-mandated operations. PESCO is also a means of enhancing interoperability and, working with EU partners, ensuring that our troops are equipped with the latest and best equipment and training.
A key challenge to the European Union's capacity to mount crisis-management operations has been a lack of essential capabilities and the political will from member states to commit the required capabilities for CSDP operations. PESCO has been designed to address this challenge, enhancing the political commitment of member states to both develop and deliver capabilities in support of CSDP.
Participation in PESCO is provided for in Articles 42.6 and 46, and Protocol 10 of the Treaty on European Union. Participation in PESCO has no implications for Ireland's policy of military neutrality, for the triple-lock or the roles we play in peacekeeping, peace building and arms control. The participation criteria expressly stipulate that PESCO will be implemented in full compliance with the Treaty on European Union and its protocols, respecting the constitutional provisions of the member states. Three other neutral EU member states, Finland, Sweden and Austria, have already committed to join PESCO.
PESCO was comprehensively debated in the context of the Lisbon treaty which was approved by the Irish people when they voted on the treaty in October 2009. The Senator may nod her head but if she goes back, looks at the treaty and listens to the debates,-----
PESCO was specifically referenced in the Lisbon treaty protocol to address the concerns of the Irish people and in Ireland's national declaration. The legislation setting down Ireland's approval process for PESCO was published in advance of that vote and enacted in November 2009.
The Senator also makes reference to the European defence fund. The purpose of the fund is to promote research and innovation and contribute to the strengthening of the European defence technology and industrial base so that it can deliver essential capabilities required for CSDP operations.
The defence fund is divided into two strands or windows which are complementary. The research window involves Commission-funded direct grants for research in innovative defence products and technologies. This is already under way for the period from 2017 to 2020 in the form of the preparatory action on defence research.
Under the capability window, participating member states will pool their financial resources to jointly develop and acquire key defence capabilities. The EU will offer co-financing from the EU budget on the development phase of such projects. Eligible projects developed through the PESCO framework could benefit from additional financing under the European defence fund. The voluntary nature of participation in the European defence fund is very much a feature of this initiative and fully acknowledges and reaffirms that defence remains a member state prerogative. Ireland would be in full control regarding what type of project it wanted to participate in and with whom. The Senator can be assured that the proposals under the fund fully respect the EU treaties and the Lisbon treaty protocols and pose no challenge to Ireland's traditional policy on military neutrality.
It is a very sad day. In times of far more pressure during the 1940s members of the Minister of State's party and other parties met to discuss the role Ireland would play. I was looking back on those debates from the 1940s, in which one Member said, "This country belongs not to the Government or to any political party: it is the common heritage of Irish men and women of all classes." These comments were made under great international pressure.
The decision the Minister of State is proposing to the Oireachtas will damage not only Ireland's heritage and record, but also our capacity in the future. We have thrown away the opportunity to lead out a new approach that focuses on peace building. The Minister of State invoked the UN and quoted what I note is the only reference to the UN in the PESCO document. However, he has not said whether he agrees that Europe needs to focus on peace building rather than simply security or told us what role he sees for Ireland in championing a peace building approach.
Finally, regarding the European defence fund, how, if we have multi-country procurement, can we be assured that the weapons we co-purchase will only be used in accord with the triple-lock? Perhaps the Minister of State has this strategy in place and can reassure us in that respect. Again, I hope we will have a debate in the Seanad as well as debates in the Dáil on this issue. An opportunity has been missed. Europe is moving in the wrong direction in respect of militarisation and Ireland has joined in that flotilla rather than providing a new, much-needed focus on peace building and diplomacy, which will save our Union and contribute to global peace in very dangerous and hawkish times.
I reiterate to the Senator that this does not place in question Ireland's traditional policy on neutrality. We must bring it to Cabinet, which I did this morning, and I am delighted to say it was passed by Cabinet. In the very near future I will proceed to bring it to the Dáil for full ratification under the triple-lock mechanism.
The Senator mentioned the 1940s. We face a very different Ireland from that of the 1940s, but I very much respect her views, the views of the people in the 1940s and the views of every other Minister and Member of both the Upper and Lower Houses on defence policy. The Senator mentioned peacekeeping. PESCO was welcomed by the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping at the UN peacekeeping conference in Vancouver last week, which I attended on behalf of the Irish Government. There are a huge number of positives in PESCO for peacekeepers, including for members of our own Irish Defence Forces. One of the most important things is to work with like-minded countries, which we do in peacekeeping and common security and defence policy, CSDP, operations. It is very important we are at the core of PESCO yet reflect our own policy on neutrality. This is very much reflected in the final PESCO document where it states categorically its recognition of "the specific character of the security and defence policy of all Member States". This reflects our own policy on neutrality. There is also acknowledgement of the constitutional provisions of member states.These are two very important lines in the PESCO document, and I directed my officials to ensure our neutrality standing was very much reflected in the final documentation.