Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Statement on Neutrality.

16.

asked the Minister for Defence if he will clarify his statement on neutrality as issued on 15-16 November last.

19.

asked the Minister for Defence if he will expand on the comments attributed to him in interviews with theSunday Independent and Sunday Press of 16 November last, in which he was reported as describing our attitude to neutrality as totally illogical; if he will outline the certain severe circumstances under which he believes this country should join NATO; if he will indicate in what way he believes this country has paid lip service to neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

21.

asked the Minister for Defence if he will clarify his position on neutrality as a result of his interview of 15-16 November 1986; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

24.

asked the Minister for Defence if he will clarify his statement of 15-16 November 1986, regarding our capacity and ability to defend ourselves.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 16, 19, 21 and 24 together.

One of these is a question nominated for priority.

I will call Deputies to ask supplementaries in the order in which their questions appear on the Order Paper, in accordance with the order of the House. If the Deputy wants to pursue the matter into the time for priority questions, he is entitled to do so.

I propose to reply to Questions Nos. 14, 16, 19, 21 and 24 together.

The Government's defence policy is directed towards preserving the sovereignty and security of the State from a neutral position, outside military alliances, and towards supporting the Government's commitment to the pursuit of peace in the world. The commitment to neutrality was reaffirmed in theProgramme for Government in 1982 and there has been no dilution of that commitment.

The purpose of my recent statements was not to suggest that there had been or that there should be any dilution of the commitment but rather to develop a more realistic dialogue on these matters. The financial burden of defence, more onerous when based on a neutral policy, is particularly heavy on smaller nations and the fact that, proportionately, certain other neutral countries spend considerably more on defence is indicative of the price one may have to pay to support a neutral status. It is reasonable to question whether those who tend to be so emphatic in their comments in this area are willing to commit the country to higher levels of defence expenditure.

Irrespective of any increase in expenditure there is, obviously, still a limit to the extent to which a country can defend itself, especially a country of our size in a world of super powers with vast and terrible potential for destruction. Even without escalation to the nuclear level, modern warfare with highly sophisticated weaponry narrows the circumstance in which a capacity to defend against any attempted breach of our neutral position can be assured. That said, any potential aggressor would have to weigh carefully the full implications of any contemplated aggressive action against this country.

Currently, the Defence Forces are maintained and equipped to meet the demands made on them. They are highly trained in modern weaponry and techniques and there is a planned capacity for an escalatory response should the prevailing circumstances so require. I am more than satisfied with their commitment, morale and standard of performance and, if any proof were needed, I have only to refer to their proud record in peace-keeping operations.

I will try to put all my questions together because I will probably only get one shot.

I will allow the Deputy to ask two supplementaries.

I am glad to hear the Minister's commitment to neutrality, for what it is worth but I want to concentrate my question on the defence of the country in case of attack. The Minister referred to financial restrictions, but what does he believe is essential in terms of expenditure for an appropriate defence, which we do not have at the moment? In view of the fact that we are an island nation, attack would be by way of sea or air. We have been told there are sufficient anti-aircraft SAM missiles. Will the Minister say what coastal defence he has in mind and what would be required in that area to put up a reasonable defence?

First, I do not accept that our defences at the moment are not adequate in the kind of circumstances I envisage. However, I can envisage other circumstances where our defences would not be adequate, and would not be adequate if we were to spend ten times the amount we spend each year. That is the point I tried to get across in my statement. There is a limit beyond which one cannot go, and beyond which one should not go, because the level of expenditure on land or coastal protection must be dictated by resources and by the wealth of the country involved. I am satisfied that the level of expenditure on our defences is within the criterion I mentioned, that is, based on our resources to do the job. In relation to coastal resources, the Deputy must accept that because of the offensive weaponry there is at sea from nuclear submarine level downwards, we have not got, and we will never have, the kind of defences which could save us from that kind of attack no matter how much we spend. Despite the vast sums being spent by the Americans, they cannot guarantee themselves total security against that kind of attack, and the Deputy knows it.

Will the Minister agree that his statement could have a serious effect on the stability and morale of our Defence Forces because it undermined our unambiguous position on neutrality which we have held for the past 40 years? Over the past year 84 per cent of the Irish people have clearly shown total support for and trust in our neutral position. Deputy O'Toole, in his privileged position as Minister for Defence, reporting to the Commander in Chief, has made a serious error and has undermined the confidence which our people and other countries have in our neutrality.

I wish the Deputy, who is chief Opposition spokesman for Defence, would read what I was alleged to have said——

What did the Minister say?

——and then read my correction of the first statement published.

It did not come out very soon after.

The Deputy should not interrupt the Minister.

I did not interrupt the Deputy. I came out immediately. I did not attack neutrality. I said I was totally in favour of neutrality and totally at one with my colleagues in Government on the whole concept of neutrality. I alerted people to the fact that neutrality presupposes a certain level of one's capacity to stay neutral and I questioned our commitment, in money terms, and our ability to be able to do that. Being neutral is not a passive thing. You must work at being neutral. I explained my position and made the point that people tend to confuse neutrality and partiality, which are two totally different things. I should like to point out to Deputy Treacy that subsequent to my statement, and as a commentary on that statement, he said on radio that in the event of external attack he would, under his policy, and I assume the policy of the party to which he belongs, destroy every port and airport in this country to ensure that the external attacker could not land here or sail in, as if that attacker would need to land here or sail in. We could be attacked from five miles in the air and from 150 miles or even further off the coast. The destruction of our ports and airports was his answer to our defence of neutrality. If that is the Deputy's level of defence then go bhfóire Dia orainn.

I am surprised at the Minister. The interview I gave was in answer to questions on Radio na Gaeltachta. To translate from the official language into the English language, basically what I said was that in the event of that happening we should render our facilities operable. I did not say I would do it but I said there should be some type of policy there.

Registered in the UN.

I said we should make our position quite clear, that we are totally in favour of neutrality and that we should ensure that we would, as a result of the Minister's statement, have to clarify our position in the European Parliament and in the UN. That is exactly what I said. There is no point in the Minister trying to put a different interpretation on it to get himself out of this situation.

A question, Deputy.

In the Minister's original answer he said that those who tend to be emphatic on neutrality should be prepared to commit themselves to expenditure on defence. I am telling the Minister that as the person entrusted with responsibility for the defence affairs of this nation, the level of priority we give to investment in defence is a matter for him.

That is a speech. The Deputy should ask a question.

I am asking a question.

It does not sound like a question.

It is up to the Minister for Defence to ensure that his priority is persuading his Government to provide sufficient investment in defence in line with what is needed. The Minister spoke about modern weaponry. Since this Government came into office they have been giving commitments to providing modern weaponry but we are still waiting.

Please, Deputy, you are making a long speech.

We have not yet got any decision. In view of what the Minister said today, when can be expect decisions said today, when can we expect decisions

That kind of vague question — when are we going to get modern weaponry — is indicative of the level of knowledge being expressed by the Deputy on the work of the Department.

We have heard it all before.

Will the Deputy specify what modern weaponry he is talking about and on what modern weaponry is awaiting a decision? There is no misrepresentation on my part on his statement on Radio na Gaeltachta. He flabbergasted the interviewer so much that he asked if by destruction — scrios was the word he used — he meant explosives and the Deputy's answer was yes.

(Interruptions.)

Order, please, we are in priority time.

Arising from the Minister's failure to clarify the position will he agree that the serious statements he made and which he has tried to retract are typical of what has been emanating from the Government during the past four years? In view of the fact that we are now about to discuss the Single European Act will he agree that his statement is having a serious effect on the public international attitude to our position on neutrality?

I have defended our neutrality. Mention by the Deputy of the Single European Act is one other red herring. That has been explained. The Single European Act strengthens our position because for the first time it is being recognised in writing by our colleagues in Europe, that we have a neutral status. The Deputy should read what the Single European Act is all about and he will realise that.

I have read it.

It is strengthening our neutral position, not weakening it.

I wish to ask a final question.

It had better be a short one.

Can the Minister clarify what he means by having an open mindvis-à-vis whether we should join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?

I mean exactly what I say, that there are certain circumstances, doomsday circumstances, that I do not expect will arise in which I would consider seeking help. I am quite sure the Deputy would not be far behind me in those circumstances.

He would be way ahead of you.