I am very anxious to put this matter properly into perspective. I agree with Deputy Kitt that this is very much a side issue. The main purpose of this whole endeavour is to get our own independent Defence Forces organisation up and running by agreement, consultation and so on. Affiliation with other bodies is a matter that will be very much down the road. There is an important point of principle involved. That is the reason the specific provision is there requiring the consent of the Minister.
This legislation, and the regulations that are envisaged, will all relate to the Defence Forces body or bodies. That is the whole purpose of this exercise. Now we are talking about affiliation with other bodies that are not being regulated by regulation or are not subject to statute as this body will be. We will set up our own national body under the legislation of the Oireachtas and the regulations agreed with this new body or bodies will be incorporated in legislation of the Oireachtas. We are talking about that national position. This is very important when you consider that we are talking about a body or bodies who will encompass members of our Defence Forces. One is into a totally different ball game if we talk about organisations outside the legislation. Surely that is particularly a matter which should lie with the discretion of the Minister. He must take into account that any involvement with other bodies will not and should not in any way compromise the position of the Defence Forces either within or without the State. That is a particular responsibility which I, or whoever is in my job, has to fulfil. That is the essential requirement of his oath of office. His prime responsibility is to the State in regard to the Defence Forces.
Surely it is a matter of primary concern who the major national body associates or affiliates with, inside or outside the country because that is a matter that could have a security implication. I am not going to say that that will be the position in every case. There will be numerous cases where there will be requests for affiliation with a body such as the Irish Conference of Professional Services Association, which would require the consent of the Minister but, of course, that would be one I would clearly consent to or any other association of that kind that would encompass members of the representative group or groups, for example, engineers; there may be involved members of an outside engineering association, as well as members of the Defence Forces organisation. Clearly there is a whole range of constructive or innocuous affiliations which a Minister for Defence would allow but there could be — and this is where the responsibility comes in — undesirable affiliations that would cut across policy matters.
Deputy Bell was perfectly correct in relation to policy matters. I knew what he was talking about but Deputy McCartan did not. Deputy Bell was talking about our military neutrality which is the policy of this State at present and on which all parties agree. There might be some question of a wrong association with another such body, association or union of an army or state that had a strong aggressive military policy in certain directions. I am taking that as an example of what Deputy Bell was talking about. There is a major policy aspect involved.
In my view 90 per cent of the affiliates with which Defence Force members would wish to associate would be acceptable but I must keep, on behalf of this State as Minister for Defence, a section of this kind there to ensure that I, as Minister, acting in the broad responsible manner, about which I have spoken, would be obliged to examine on its merits each such application for association or affiliation. Where I see a conflict between such affiliation or association, either inside or outside the country, and the security of the State, either internally or externally, then obviously I will have to make a decision. That is my primary function. The function provided for in this Bill is a very important one. I am glad to be in a position to facilitate this very progressive measure through the Dáil and the Seanad and to ensure its implementation. It is still secondary to my primary duty, as Minister for Defence in an Irish Government, which is to the national interest and the security of this State. I must have that subsection in the Bill to fulfil that duty.