Wednesday, 3 November 2021
Defence (Amendment) Bill 2020: Report and Final Stages
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, and his officials. Before we commence, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on it. Each non-Government amendment on Report Stage must be seconded. I ask Senators to bear that in mind.
Based on conversations I had with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, on Second and Committee Stages and his indication that he was interested in examining areas of the Bill, I had been hopeful that the Government would have proposed amendments in respect of this part of it. That would have been appropriate. The Bill has already been passed by the Dáil, so I do not know what opportunities remain in this regard. Perhaps changes may come in a subsequent Bill.
Concerns have been flagged. One of the key aspects is that the legislation as set out defines international force in an extraordinarily wide way. This is breaking new ground in respect of our national defence legislation. The Bill defines an international force as "an International United Nations Force or any force to which a contingent or a member of the Defence Forces may be assigned to for service outside the State". I raised with the Minister my concern that the term "any force" is, frankly, extraordinarily wide. It is too wide and does not give us clarity regarding the kinds of force and circumstances that may be involved. I had suggested narrowing the definition to refer to a United Nations force, but I withdrew that proposal in acknowledgement that it might be too narrow. Nonetheless, to have no clear definition of "any force" remains a concern. Section 2 continues with the words, "may be assigned to for service outside the State for any purpose specified in section 3 of the Act of 2006", but that assignment is only limited by the proposed new section 17A(1)(a) of the principal Act.
My proposed amendment, which has a wide sense in this regard - wider than I might like - at least ties the definition of "international force" to an existing definition set out in the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006. That definition refers to an "international organisation" as meaning "the United Nations; the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe; the European Union or any institution or body of the European Union; or any regional arrangement or agency that participates, or has participated, in operations as part of an International United Nations Force". I have concerns about the phrase "or any regional arrangement or agency" that I will address later, but that is at least a definition and we can point to it and see the source. In my amendment, then, I have suggested that we would tie the definition of "international force" to the definition of "international organisation" that already exists and has some attendant detail included in the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006. This would give us a degree of clarity regarding the kinds of forces and organisations to and situations in which we might transfer operational control.I was hopeful that the Minister would have brought us a definition, whether he agreed with how I sought to define "any force", on which we could all rely and refer to. We may have agreed or disagreed about it but at least a definition would have given clarity. I am concerned that this legislation proposed to be passed in the Seanad today still does not have clarity on "any force".
I regret to speak against my colleague on this but we live in an evolving world now and things change. For example, nobody would have believed or envisaged a couple of years ago that the European Union would put its own forces into a specific conflict zone. Therefore, I am reluctant to tie anything down at this stage and urge that we retain flexibility. If we commit troops overseas to anything, with any organisation, the matter will be debated in the Dáil and Seanad before we send anybody into harm's way, so I would leave the flexibility to the Minister of the day in this Bill.
I agree with Senator Craughwell. I understand, as ever, that Senator Higgins is coming from a reasoned place but I think the issue was addressed by the Minister for Defence during the Committee Stage debate. We must, as a House, trust that the Minister of the day will make the right decision. I am also conscious of the fact that the triple lock still applies and there are still procedures in place to prevent going beyond what was intended by legislation.
I have not tabled an amendment on this matter but rereading the definition and context of the amendment tabled by Senator Higgins it seems to me that there is an extra "to" in the definition. The Bill reads: "'international force’ means an International United Nations Force or any force to which a contingent or a member of the Defence Forces may be assigned to". There is an extra "to" and the definition is grammatically incorrect. Perhaps the definition can be amended as a simple technical matter. The definition should read "any force to which a contingent or a member of the Defence Forces may be assigned". I do not agree with the Senator's amendment in any event.
I thank Senator Higgins for tabling her amendment. I also thank Senators Craughwell and Ward for their comments.
An extensive debate took place on Committee Stage on a similar amendment and the Minister for Defence has given careful consideration to this matter. The Senator is concerned about the definition of "international force" in section 2 of the Bill. It is important to clarify that the purpose of section 2 is to provide for the delegation of a level of operational control to the force commander. The legislation simply provides for the current de facto position and does not alter the existing long-standing legislative provision set out in the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006.
In particular, I wish to assure the Senator that the wording of section 2, including the definition of "international force" in no way widens or extends the types of role and functions for which Defence Forces personnel may be deployed overseas. Strict statutory limitations already exist for any such roles or functions and they are clearly specified in section 3 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006.
I wish to add that the reference to "any force" in the definition of "international force" is explicitly linked to the provisions of the Act of 2006. Accordingly, I am satisfied that the use of the term "any force" in the definition is appropriate and, as previously stated, does not alter the purposes for which Defence Forces personnel may be dispatched overseas.
As the Minister advised the Seanad on Committee Stage, in particular concerns that the Senator's amendment would neuter the effect of section 3 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006, which recognises that certain missions, including humanitarian and training operations, would usually not be subject to a UN Security Council resolution as such operations do not constitute a threat to international peace and security for the most part. I am certain that this was not the intention of the Senator. However, it is important to note that if this provision was enacted then certain humanitarian operations and training missions, conducted using military forces and capabilities, would not be possible as they would not be a UN or a UN-mandated operation. They are both training and humanitarian missions. They do not necessarily fall into the category of a UN or UN-mandated operation but they may well require co-ordination, under a force commander, to ensure that there is proper operational control. The wording of section 2 appropriately reflects this position.
As Senators Ward and Craughwell have outlined, there are existing democratic structures for when troops are deployed. There is also an accountability remit that happens annually through the Oireachtas committee and the Dáil in terms of defence matters.
For the reasons outlined, there are serious concerns about this amendment if it was introduced. Therefore, it is not possible to accept the amendment.
I regret that the Government has not clarified this matter. As Members will be aware, my amendments explicitly excluded the humanitarian piece on Committee Stage but there are lots of other things such as monitoring, observation and recognisance. There are a number of different activities listed in section 3. Most of them are not direct military activities but it does matter and makes a difference for whom one does them.
I agree that we are in an evolving situation internationally. In fact, we are in a devolving situation internationally because clearly, over the last five to seven years, there has been a strong pull away from multilateralism, and from structures of the United Nations and others, and into a dynamic whereby we talk about larger states which have states that support them. That is why we need to be clear about the type of international organisations. If Ireland is a champion for multilateralism then we need to be clear about the type of multilateralism and who we work with. We do not want to be part of the coalitions of the willing, friends or groups of like-minded nations that act without clear clarity of actual multilateral structures. To be clear, those are not simply offshoots or extra things that happen. In many cases, those kinds of alliances or forces are set up to dilute the international multilateral structures that were hard won after centuries of war. We know that we need to have clarity, rules and international structures. We need international structures that move outside the realm of interests and operate instead on the basis of principle. That is why we need to be clear not just about what we do but who we do it with and on what grounds. It is a pity that we do not have clarity from the Government on what is meant by the reference to "any force".
I accept that the Minister of State will not accept my amendment at this time but that is regrettable. I hope that this question will be revisited and that there is clarity. I hope that the defence committee will monitor in terms of which forces, with whom we work and for which circumstances. I will revisit some of those monitoring matters and other measures that we can put into place in my later amendments. I have decided to withdraw the amendment because I will revisit some of the other others and I do not want to divide the House.
Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are logical alternatives to amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, may be discussed together, by agreement. All of these amendments are in the names of Senators Higgins and Black. I ask Senators to note that if the question on amendment No. 3 is agreed then amendments Nos. 4 and 5 cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 12, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following: “Amendment of section 1 of Act of 2006
17. Section 1 of the Act of 2006 is amended in paragraph (d) of the definition of “international organisation” by the insertion of “and is currently working” after “or has participated”.”.
The reason I move it is that it is particularly important and it is one where we would have a heightened concern following the debate on Second Stage. Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, relate to changes to section 3 of the Act whereas amendment No. 2 is really about section 1 of the 2006 Act. It specifically relates to that definition of "international organisation". This is one of the reasons I did not press my amendment No. 1. There are concerns around the way "international organisation" is defined in the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006. One specific concern relates to section 1(d) which includes international organisations to which not just an individual but an entire contingent of our Permanent Defence Forces may be assigned. Under the new provisions of the new legislation, they may be assigned and may have operational control transferred in regard to their activities. It includes any regional arrangement or agency that participates or has participated in operations as part of an international United Nations force. On Committee Stage, my concern was about the words "or has participated". Frankly, my concerns are much deeper than they were going into Committee Stage because the example given was co-operating with NATO in regard to mine clearing under a UN mandate, and that is something I support as it happens under UN mandate. However, the question is having co-operated with NATO in regard to mine clearing under the UN mandate, does that mean we can then always co-operate with NATO? That seemed to be the position being put forward. I know we have a triple lock but it is a concern if we have regional arrangements or regional agencies which have engaged in UN mandated activities in that the fact that they have at some point engaged in UN activities does not mean that is a carte blanche that we should consider the other operations of that international organisations are necessarily ones to which we can second contingents of the Permanent Defence Forces and to which we potentially concede operational control. There are many other activities that NATO or any other regional alliance or agency may take part in which are very much not in the remit for Ireland, and that is very important.
I have another amendment in that regard. I have tried to clarify it to give some clarification in respect of "or has participated" to "and is currently working as part of an international UN force". I am trying to make it very clear. I am not saying that we do not work in exceptional circumstances with many different kinds of partners. I recognise that, but the fact that we worked with it under a UN mandate once does not mean the State should consider it fine to work with it in other circumstances. I would bear in mind that section 3(1)(a) is quite wide in what we might second Permanent Defence Forces to. There are other aspects of the definition which I have chosen not to take issue with because I am really trying to drill down to the core piece here. There are other aspects. If we look at partnerships the European Union has had - I am not sure where they fall in to it - it has made some mistakes in its partners. Consider the immigration control deals we had in the past where the European Union partnered and trained the kinds of activities covered here, such as the Libyan coastguard which has been involved in extreme human rights breaches, or where the European Union supported the former military dictatorship under Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir in Sudan for his border guard. There are times when co-operation may be appropriate but there are other times when it is not appropriate. There is much at stake in terms of ensuring we make clear and good decisions. We must be clear on who we work with, and when.
This does not rule out the humanitarian capacity but it states that when seconding an entire contingent of the Permanent Defence Forces, we should be sure we are doing so either to the United Nations, OSCE, the European Union, or if it is a regional arrangement or agency, that we do that as part of a United Nations force. This does not affect engagement in humanitarian partnership under section 3(1)(b) to section 3(1)(h). It does not affect those activities but it affected the secondment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Forces.
It is a loophole and it may be an oversight in the legislation. We can all understand that "has participated" one time does not mean it is an imprimatur of permanent potential alignment. Given that the Minister gave the example of NATO under this example - I did not suggest this example; it came from the Minister on Committee Stage - that rang alarm bells for me.
I do not agree with the amendment. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, used NATO as an example on Committee Stage but as the Senator said he used the example of mine clearing in the context of the co-operation that goes on between the Irish Defence Forces and NATO. My understanding is, and I am open to correction on this, the other structures that are in place to protect our involvement in international operations remain. The notion that the definition in section 1 of the 2006 Act could be stretched to where Senator Higgins is expressing concern is legally impossible. It is a definition that has been there for more than 15 years. It does not appear to have been misused in any way. I wonder if Senator Higgins is identifying a problem that is not actually there. The definition is undeniably broad but I refer to what I said in respect of the first amendment. To an extent we must trust in the Minister of the day whoever he or she may be or whatever party he or she may be from to make the decision and to afford that Minister the flexibility to make the decision, conscious of the fact that he or she could not make a decision that would contradict Ireland's neutrality or put Irish forces into an operation that would contradict the triple lock that is in place.
While I acknowledge that Senator Higgins identifies an issue, I am not sure it is in real terms a practical issue that might arise. It is a definition that has been there for some time. To use it in the way the Senator fears it may be used would be to stretch it to a legal breaking point.
On Committee Stage, that when we deploy troops overseas under command of a local commander, we cede a certain amount of responsibility to that person on the ground in order that they can move troops to different places. If there is any danger that we are crossing the line or being asked to cross the line, there is a senior Irish Army officer or a senior Defence Forces officer in the field who can get straight back to the Department. There is very little chance that our troops could be used for something that was not approved by the Dáil and Seanad in the first instance.
I thank Senator Higgins and others for their comments. In regard to amendment No. 2 and some of the other amendments, I know these were discussed on Committee Stage. I am concerned that if this amendment No. 2 was accepted it would result in a fundamental change to what is a long-standing and settled policy in regard to the despatch of military contingents for overseas service. It might be useful to set out briefly the quite strict limitations in law on the roles and functions for which the Defence Forces can be deployed overseas outside of being part of an international United Nations force under the 1960 Act. These particular roles and functions are specified in section 3 of the 2006 Act as follows:
(1) A contingent or member of the Permanent Defence Force may, with the prior approval of and on the authority of the Government, be despatched for service outside the State for the purposes of— (a) carrying out duties as a military representative or filling appointments or postings outside the State, including secondments to any international organisation;
(b) conducting or participating in training;
(c) carrying out ceremonial duties, participating in exchanges or undertaking visits;
(d) undertaking monitoring, observation or advisory duties;
(e) participating in or undertaking reconnaissance or fact-finding missions;
(f) undertaking humanitarian tasks in response to an actual or potential disaster or emergency;
(g) participating in sporting events, or
(h) inspecting and evaluating stores, equipment and facilities.
There is nothing in this Bill which would seek to alter or extend those specific purposes as Senator Ward has outlined.This specific amendment proposes to amend the definition of "international force" in section 1 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 by inserting the text "and is currently working" after "or has participated" in paragraph (d) of this definition. This paragraph refers to any regional arrangement or agency that participates, or has participated, in operations as part of an international United Nations force. However, inserting the text "and is currently working" into this definition would only allow the State to potentially deploy or work with organisations that are currently working under a UN mandate. That is unnecessarily restrictive and would prevent the Defence Forces from being deployed overseas with many well-respected organisations. For example, it might prevent the secondment of individuals or the posting of small numbers of personnel. Checks and balances on such postings already exist within the Oireachtas. The practical effect of this amendment and the other amendments in this grouping would be that additional restrictions would apply if the Minister for Defence considered personnel for appointments or postings in the EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, or any other similar organisation. That is my position on this issue.
With due respect to the Minister of State, what he has said is not accurate. The amendment would not prevent postings in the EU because the EU is covered under paragraph (c) of the existing definition, which refers to "the European Union or any institution or body of the European Union". It would not prevent postings to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe either because it is covered under paragraph (b). It would only place a condition on paragraph (d) which refers to any regional arrangement or agency that is not the OSCE, the United Nations or the European Union or any institution or body thereof. It is inaccurate to suggest that the amendment would affect work with the OSCE or the European Union. It is also unnecessary to list all of the various factors under section 3(1) of the 2006 Act because the next three amendments will amend those and because this amendment does not affect any of them except the first one. My amendment No. 2 would not affect participation in training, ceremonial duties, monitoring or observation, humanitarian tasks, reconnaissance, sporting events or the inspection or evaluation of stores. It would only affect the provision at section 3(1)(a), which relates to secondments to an international organisation of individuals and contingents of the Permanent Defence Force.
There has sometimes been a tendency to present one piece, which we are all in favour of and which is, therefore, passed, but let us be clear. My amendment specifically seeks to define an international organisation and to ensure clarity on taking part in regional arrangements or agencies - which, again, is very wide phrasing - that are not the OSCE, the UN or the EU. It would still allow participation with such arrangements or agencies under all of the other grounds I have listed. It would only affect engagement with them in respect of secondments. It does not even interfere with appointments or postings outside the State. It only relates to secondments, that is, where we are giving our Permanent Defence Force personnel to another international organisation. It is reasonable that we would be clear on what international organisations we may do that for. If it is not to be one of our trusted multilateral partners, we should at least now that we are acting under a United Nations imprimatur. That is the clarity we need and that we should have.
We are discussing activities for which contingents of the force may be seconded which are not covered under sections 3(1)(b) to 3(1)(h), inclusive, of the 2006 Act and not carried out by the OSCE, the United Nations, the European Union or any of its bodies. These are other activities that we are seconding people to other forces to take part in. It is a problem. In fact, it is an abuse of the United Nations if we use the fact of having previously participated in a United Nations activity as a badge to give sanction for any potential future activity. That is a misuse of the United Nations. It makes it problematic for the United Nations to work with specific regional or other parties, groupings and forces if, when it does, that is seen as an imprimaturfor other countries to continue to co-operate with them on any level. It is problematic and Ireland, with its responsibility to the United Nations, should be careful as to how United Nations participation is used or abused. The Minister of State gave the example of mines and asked whether I was suggesting that, when we finish participating with the United Nations, we should not continue to co-operate with those involved, outside the UN mandate. I was very clear that we should not.
I regret that the Minister of State is not able to accept the amendment. It is something on which we need to be clear. We are entering very turbulent times internationally. We need clarity. Ireland has something to lose because we have been champions of multilateralism. That is why I want us to have high standards and clarity. I will press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 12, after line 36, to insert the following: “Amendment of section 3 of Act of 2006
18.Section 3 of the Act of 2006 is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after
subsection (2):“(3) Where a seconding under subsection (1)(a) is—(a) for a contingent, rather than an individual member, of the Permanent Defence Force,the Minister shall seek the agreement of the Dáil before any initial secondment of a period longer than 12 months or before the renewal of such a secondment.”.”.
(b) for an international organisation not operating under a United Nations mandate, and
(c) or a purpose not listed under subsection (1)(b) to (h),
Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, all relate to section 3 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 and propose a new section 3(3) to introduce a little clarity. Again, I have adapted all of my amendments to reflect the discussion I had with the Minister. I greatly respect the Minister and the very strong points he made on Committee Stage. That is why I have adapted these amendments to reflect that discussion. It is also why I am disappointed that the Minister and the Department have not brought forward their own amendments because that would have been a very positive signal.
Amendment No. 3 seeks to introduce clarity with regard to secondments under section 3(1)(a) of the 2006 Act. My amendment refers to the secondment of a contingent. The Minister made the case, which I understood, that Ireland may occasionally have to second individuals to a number of different kinds of international organisations. This may be for the purposes of giving an organisation those individuals' expertise or it may relate to the honorific appointment of a member of the Irish Permanent Defence Force. However, when a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force is involved, that is, a large grouping that can be commanded, especially under the new Act, thereby giving military power to an international organisation, rather than an individual who is there to represent and be the voice of Ireland in a given situation, it is appropriate that there would be engagement with the Oireachtas where such secondments are for a period of 12 months or where a second secondment to the same organisation is proposed.
I am again trying to give space. The Minister said that most of these secondments and roles tend to last six months. These are not covered in my amendments. I am allowing the Minister to make decisions that may be needed to second a contingent to an international organisation for six months. My amendment explicitly refers to secondments that last for longer than those six months, for 12 months or more, and to the renewal of secondments, that is, a second period of secondment. At that point, we are no longer talking about situations in which speedy decisions need to be made, perhaps in high-pressure circumstances. There will have been a period of at least six months, if not one year, in which the Minister will have had the opportunity to engage with the Oireachtas appropriately and to discuss why Ireland is choosing to second contingents, not individual members, of our Permanent Defence Force.Sadly, due to the poor terms and conditions that apply within the Defence Forces because of the failure to value its members, we do not have as many personnel as we should have. That is a separate discussion, which, I am aware, we all had on Second Stage. I hope we will have a chance to address it further. If we are renewing an arrangement to send a contingent of our overstretched Permanent Defence Force to an international organisation, or sending it for longer than one year, it is appropriate for the Minister to engage with the Oireachtas and make his or her case for it. That is what amendment No. 3 seeks.
Amendment No. 4 refers to where a contingent or member of the Permanent Defence Force is seconded to an international organisation described under paragraph (d). Again, this relates to the issue regarding paragraph (d). Amendment No. 4 does not affect the secondment of an individual or a contingent to the OSCE or any EU or UN body, but it means that when sending individuals or a contingent to be part of a more ambiguous arrangement, such as a regional agency, body or alliance, such as NATO, they should be engaging only in activities under section 3(1)(b) to (1)(h) of the 2006 Act. I refer to arrangements involving a force that may have participated at some point in a UN activity but that may not be participating under a UN mandate. The activities encompassed include humanitarian action, reconnaissance and information-related work, or those associated with the various grounds that the Minister of State listed. If there is ambiguity over an alliance that personnel are to be seconded to, let us at least nail down the exact purpose for which they may be seconded. Under the relevant section of the 2006 Act, there is not a tightening of purposes. Section 3(1)(b) to (h) clarify the purposes. If we cannot tighten the kinds of bodies encompassed, let us tighten the purposes further.
Amendment No. 5 is the same. Again, I am responding on the basis of the Minister of State making good points. There is a wide range of bodies to which members of the Permanent Defence Force may need to be seconded. Amendment No. 5, which is a reasonable compromise, proposes restrictions and simply suggests that those restrictions should apply only to contingents of the Defence Forces rather than individual members.
I engaged very thoughtfully on what we discussed on Committee Stage. I believe these amendments reflect a refinement, a nuance and the discussion. My preference would always be for the Government to introduce its own amendments to address the issues and concerns raised. The amendments are my attempt to do so. I hope the Minister of State might be able to consider them or at least indicate his intentions to address these issues.
I thank the Senator again for her points. As I set out previously, there are quite strict limitations in law covering the roles and functions in respect of which members of the Defence Forces can be deployed overseas beyond being part of an international UN force under the 1960 Act. I set out the roles covered in section 3 of the 2006 Act.
Amendments 3, 4 and 5 are alternatives and are concerned with the provisions in the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 for the secondment of members of the Permanent Defence Force to an international organisation. These amendments, if accepted, would significantly alter the process for the secondment of a person for duties as a military representative or filling an appointment or posting outside the State. Most of the time, secondments are of individuals or small numbers of personnel being posted. If it were a larger contingent of the Defence Forces, other checks and balances would apply. The practical effect of the amendments would be that additional restrictions would apply if the Minister for Defence considered personnel for appointments or postings in the EU or to the NATO Partnership for Peace liaison office, the OSCE or any similar organisation.
Amendment No. 3 would, in certain circumstances, require the Minister of Defence to seek the approval of Dáil Éireann regarding the secondment of a member of the Permanent Defence Force to an international organisation. It is important to note that the list of organisations and types of organisations covered by the term "international organisation" are clearly specified in section 1 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006. They are:
(a) the United Nations,
(b) the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe,
(c) the European Union or any institution or body of the European Union, or
(d) any regional arrangement or agency that participates, or has participated, in operations as part of an International United Nations Force
There are already clear provisions in the Defence Acts covering the secondment of a member of the Permanent Defence Force to an international organisation. It is vital to our national interests, in respect of engaging with and influencing developments in these spheres, that the State have the capacity to deploy personnel to such organisations, in support of international peace and security, to influence ongoing developments, gain professional experience and knowledge of the structures and modi operandiof such organisations and feed that information back into the defence organisation and the wider Government system, as appropriate.
The Minister has considered the Senator's amendments. As indicated, we will not be accepting them. There is an annual motion in the Dáil that already allows for the discussion of secondments. That is an existing structure within our parliamentary system. The relevant Oireachtas committee regularly debates the secondments or any international role the Defence Forces have. Information is also made available through our parliamentary question system, whereby details and facts are given to Members.
I will be brief because I am aware there are more amendments to get to.
My amendments did not relate to individual members. My proposed subsection (3)(a) explicitly states, "for a contingent, rather than an individual member, of the Permanent Defence Force". It was explicitly about contingents, not individual members. It is unfortunate that the response still reflects the same argument made on Committee Stage when, in fact, the amendment is trying to address something quite different.
It is good that there is a discussion on secondments. I hope there will be a more detailed one. Unfortunately, the parliamentary question system is not available to us in the Seanad – that should be rectified but I will leave that aside for now – and that is one of the reasons we seek clarity and more information.
With absolute respect for the Minister of State, I took on board the various concerns, including on the training of individual members. My amendments do not relate to individuals; they relate only to contingents.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 12, after line 36, to insert the following:
"Amendment of section 3 of Act of 2006
18. Section 3 of the Act of 2006 is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (2):"(3) A contingent or member of the Permanent Defence Force shall only be seconded to any regional arrangement or agency that participates, or has participated, in operations as part of an International United Nations Force, where that regional arrangement or agency is operating under a United Nations mandate or such a secondment is for the purposes set out in subsection (1)(b) to (h).".".
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 12, after line 36, to insert the following:
"Amendment of section 3 of Act of 2006
18. Section 3 of the Act of 2006 is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (2):"(3) A contingent of the Permanent Defence Force shall only be seconded to any regional arrangement or agency that participates, or has participated, in operations as part of an International United Nations Force, where that regional arrangement or agency is operating under a United Nations mandate or such a secondment is for the purposes set out in subsection (1)(b) to (h).".".
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 12, after line 36, to insert the following:
"Report on operation of Act
18. The Minister, shall every 2 years after the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas outlining— (a) a summary of international missions in which Ireland is participating,
(b) secondments of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force under section 3(1)(a) of the Act of 2006,
(c) delegations of operational control under section 17A of the Principal Act, and
(d) where the Minister authorises participation in international missions, delegation of operational control or the secondment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to an international organisation not operating under a United Nations mandate, and the report shall include—(i) information on the relevant category of international organisation as defined in section 1 of the Act of 2006, and
(ii) information on the relevant purposes under section 3(1)(a) to (h) of the Act of 2006.".
Amendment No. 6 relates to reporting in respect of operations. The Minister of State has indicated that a motion on secondments will be brought before the Dáil, which is appropriate, but the purpose of my amendment, which proposes that report be laid before the Houses, is to strengthen slightly the information we have and our examination of our participation.Every two years there would be a report to both Houses of the Oireachtas. I know that a motion is being brought to the Dáil but I am seeking to include the Seanad in this. The report would give a summary of international missions in which Ireland is participating and a summary of the secondments of the contingents of the Permanent Defence Force. I recognise that there may be confidentiality reasons relating to individuals when they are seconded, so this provides that it is only where there is a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force that we would have that information regarding secondments. It would outline the delegations of operational control where a delegation of operational control has been decided upon and where the Minister has authorised that under the new powers in the Bill we are passing today. Where a Minister has authorised "participation in international missions, delegation of operational control or the secondment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to an international organisation not operating under a United Nations mandate", that is, if any of those other grounds of a covered international organisation or potentially wider grounds covered by any force, the report should include information under the relevant category of international organisation. If it is under that definition that includes the OSCE, the European Union and its relevant bodies and regional or other alliances, there is clarity on which international organisation we have delegated operational control to participate in an international mission with or seconded a contingent of the Defence Forces to, and information relating to which of the purposes listed under "section 3(1)(a) to (h) of the Act of 2006" have been relevant.
Some of this information may already be available and it certainly may be available in response to individual questions, but it is important that we identify the patterns. I believe we must have further examination even under the categories of sections 3(1)(a) to (h). As I said, some of the apparently benign activities, for example, activities where we are perhaps participating with or supporting the European Union, are raising very serious questions that are actually at odds with some of Ireland's humanitarian and human rights commitments. The fact is that many of those who we partner with are not bound by the principle or idea that one only engages in military activity or in these security activities in respect of principles, but that one does not do so in respect of consolidation of powers. One of those clear areas has been in respect of immigration control. The question for us is whether we participate in or contribute to a security agenda which is, in fact, an immigration control agenda.
I believe the European Union has lost a lot of international credibility with regard to its human rights record through some of the arrangements it has made, which are security arrangements and which have involved the transfer of military and other supports not necessarily to direct conflict but to authoritarian regimes, in respect of immigration control. One has to ask if that is an appropriate purpose. The Libyan coast guard is the example I gave, but the other example, which is very sadly in my mind at present, is the support that was given to the Sudanese border guard which many humanitarian organisations identified as having connections to the Janjaweed during the military regime of Omar al-Bashir. Ireland was an example of how the European Union could have been doing something very good in that region because Ireland had an excellent diplomat, Dr. Sinead Walsh, who was the EU representative in South Sudan and doing incredibly important work, the type of work Ireland can lead on, on diplomacy and peace-building. At the same time other elements of the European Union were giving partnership, military training and supports to a border guard. Eventually that ceased, which was good, but those who were originally supported are now part of the military coup that overtook the civilian-led Government just a month ago in Sudan. That is really tragic because that was probably one of the most visionary and peaceful revolutions and transitions away from dictatorship that we have seen on the continent of Africa. It is heartbreaking that this has happened.
I am saying this to indicate why I am seeking that report. I am sure that technical information might be available mission by mission, but it would be useful to put them alongside each other and to also put it in a context of having a conversation about where we want to contribute and what we want to be part of. Ireland's humanitarian search and rescue in the Mediterranean got switched to a security agenda which involved basically ensuring that nobody crossed the Mediterranean, even though people ended up in Libyan camps funded by the EU where human rights breaches were taking place. This is the context. I am very pro-Europe and I am part of the future of Europe. I believe Ireland can be the moral standard in terms of humanitarianism, human rights and extremely thoughtful and principled military engagement in defence, security and peace-building engagement in Europe. The reason I am seeking this extra information and discussion and want the Oireachtas to get engaged on these issues, is that I believe we have something important to offer and it is important that we do not let it slip away. I hope the Minister of State can give a response on the report.
We are almost at the end of the discussion on this Bill and I am supposed to adjourn the proceedings at 2 p.m. I would like to get this finished. It is not up to me; it is up to the Senators. I will allow anybody who wishes to contribute now as well as the Minister of State. Then Senator Higgins can contribute again. Can I get agreement that we can finish the debate? We still have a little time. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I will be brief. The Minister of State has addressed the capacity of the Oireachtas to query all the activities of the Defence Forces through the Oireachtas committees and parliamentary questions. That is there already so I do not see a need to duplicate reporting.
I thank Senator Higgins for her remarks. It is important to note that section 2 of the Bill simply provides for the current de facto position and will ensure the continued efficient and effective operation of the mission to which the contingent is being deployed. It allows the force commander to direct the activities of the Irish contingent, within certain limitations prescribed by the Minister, to undertake the mandated tasks required for the effective operation of that force. The Bill does not extend in any way the purposes which are clearly specified in section 3 of the Defence (Amendment) Act. This legislation maintains the same approach that has applied on an administrative basis for many years in terms of what has been a delegation process, which was not written into legislation. That is now being regularised through this Bill. The Bill is not putting anything new in place. Furthermore, the legislation does not alter the current legislative framework relating to the triple lock and any requirements in terms of getting Government approval, Dáil approval and having a UN mandate.
As regards the proposed requirement to report on the operation of the Act every two years, as has been stated by others there is already a statutory requirement for the Minister for Defence to report annually to Dáil Éireann on the deployment of members of the Defence Forces on UN missions or UN-mandated missions. The report includes details of any such missions and it could also be used to provide information relating to any delegation of operational control issued by the Minister for Defence in the previous year. In addition, there is a motion in Dáil Éireann each year on this report. This gives the Members of the House an opportunity to have a comprehensive discussion on all issues relating to overseas missions. As Senator Craughwell mentioned, all those reports, and I schedule them as a Whip, are referred in the first instance to the respective Oireachtas committee where there is a comprehensive discussion. Then they are referred back to the Dáil with the committee's approval. There is Seanad involvement from that perspective.
Furthermore, details are provided regularly in response to parliamentary questions or Commencement matters on the deployment of members of the Defence Forces on overseas operations, including details relating to the secondment of members of the Permanent Defence Force to international organisations. To summarise, the Minister is of the view that there are existing comprehensive mechanisms in place for the reporting of information on the deployment of the Defence Forces in overseas operations and that there is no requirement for any additional reporting structures, so I will not accept the amendment.
I know where we are. I have one minute or two minutes to go. I would hope to involve the Seanad directly because the Seanad has something to contribute. It would be useful if the Seanad were to have an annual discussion on these matters.
Perhaps that is something we could seek. The Seanad has an international interest and an international perspective. The Minister of State will be aware that many key debates on defence, ranging from Jadotville to other matters, have taken place in the Seanad.He will also be aware that the Seanad has a long record of human rights and humanitarian activity and motions. In fact, not just this Seanad but several Seanaid have had that focus. The annual discussion that takes place in the Dáil might be something we should seek to replicate in the Seanad. It is certainly a proposal I will bring to the Seanad Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight or to our leaders' meetings. I hope the Minister of State and the Department will facilitate such a discussion because Members would have useful perspectives to add to the debate and it would give further assurance or another level of scrutiny or set of perspectives to that scrutiny. In this context, I will not press the amendment but I am going to pursue an annual discussion on secondments and international missions in which Ireland takes part.
For example, I am very concerned that Ireland is withdrawing its participation in the UN mission in western Sahara at a time when I believe the mission should expand from supervision of a referendum that is not happening to humanitarian and human rights monitoring on the ground. The mission in western Sahara that deserves a slightly expanded brief and I hope Ireland will continue to participate in it. I am aware the Permanent Defence Forces are overstretched, which is another reason we need to be very careful about how we are using them in order that they are most effective and used where Ireland can add its unique value and talent and its particular perspective and international credibility as a neutral but committed human rights and humanitarian peacemaker.
Before we conclude, I thank the Minister of State and his official, as well as the Seanad officials and Senators Wilson, Ward, Craughwell, Higgins and Ó Donnghaile. I appreciate their co-operation. It was a nice discussion of several matters.