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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Other Questions. - Partnership for Peace.

Enda Kenny


24 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Defence the plans, if any, made for the Defence Forces to join Partnership for Peace; the discussions, if any, he has had with the forces in this regard; the implication for resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16609/99]

Brendan McGahon


29 Mr. McGahon asked the Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself that the Defence Forces can make a meaningful contribution to Partnership for Peace without any further investment in equipment. [16737/99]

Frances Fitzgerald


112 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Defence the plans, if any, made for the Defence Forces to join Partnership for Peace; the discussions, if any, he has had with the forces in this regard; the implication for resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16823/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24, 29 and 112 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, the question of Ireland's participation in Partnership for Peace was the subject of a Private Member's motion and debate on 28 January 1999 in this House, culminating in the passing by the House of a Government resolution undertaking favourably to examine further Ireland's participation in PfP, taking into account the ongoing public debate. Any decision by the Government in favour of Ireland's participation in PfP would be submitted to the House for its approval and would make clear the nature and scope of such participation. The Government published an explanatory guide to PfP on 20 May 1999, as part of the preparatory process. This guide is widely available. Partnership for Peace was also the subject of statements in the House on the same day.

Participants in PfP subscribe to a framework document which sets out the basic purposes and objectives of PfP. In addition, individual states decide on the scope and extent of their participation in PfP activities and, in this regard, agree individual partnership programmes covering the activities to which they wish to subscribe. In Ireland's case, should it be decided to participate in PfP, it is envisaged that selected activities would include peacekeeping under a UN mandate and humanitarian and rescue tasks. These are activities in line with our traditional involvement and experience in these areas. These activities would also be reflected in Ireland's presentation document which would be presented to NATO upon signature by Ireland of the PfP framework document. These matters will be addressed in detail in the coming months as will the question of resource implications. I would stress, however, that it is the policy of the Government to ensure that the Defence Forces are adequately trained, equipped and resourced to undertake whatever overseas operations they are assigned from time to time and in line with the Taoiseach's announcement that membership of PfP will not lead to any increase in real defence spending.

Did the Minister say "should it be decided to participate in PfP"?

Does this mean that a decision to participate has not been taken?

The House has endorsed a Government resolution. We will now go on to prepare the framework document, the basis on which Ireland joins. Once we have completed that work there will be an announcement of the formal declaration of joining PfP. We need to negotiate our position. It is up to each country to do that and we will negotiate to the best of our ability and with regard to our needs and strengths.

Has the Government made a decision on the basis of the European election results? The Taoiseach said he would make an analysis on the basis of those election results. Has that analysis been made?

As the Government party in Europe which gained more seats than any other party in the recent elections, we are free to make democratic decisions on that basis about Partnership for Peace or other matters. The election result was a clear endorsement of the Government.

The Government did not make its position clear.

Other parties who pretend to be interested in this subject do not even come to the House when the matter is being debated.

I hope the Minister is not referring to Dana.

Has the Deputy checked with Dana?

Has the Minister had meetings with other EU defence Ministers and with the Department of Foreign Affairs on the subject of membership of PfP? Has he spoken to other members of PfP regarding the place Ireland might take within the partnership?

There have been two informal defence Ministers' meetings since I became Minister for Defence. On the margins of ministerial meetings, almost everything is discussed from time to time. We are not unduly influenced by what other countries might do. We have our own strengths, our own tasks to do and our military neutrality to protect. I have had consultations with the Department of Foreign Affairs and we are now embarking on the more serious task of working out the kind of draft document which will suit us in our deliberations on the question of joining Partnership for Peace. I will now begin the more serious part of working out the type of draft document which we think suits us in terms of our deliberations in joining Partnership for Peace. Of course, we will gain some experience from what has happened in other places, but we will not be unduly influenced by it.

I believe the Taoiseach indicated we would join Partnership for Peace in the second half of this year. Can the Minister indicate when this might happen?

I cannot give a precise indication, but as the Taoiseach indicated it will be before the end of the year and probably not before the end of October.

Can the Minister give the House information on what Ireland might include in the framework document? To take up the point made by Deputy Wall, what discussions have taken place about the contents of the framework document?

It is early days to outline specifically what will be contained in the document, as a negotiating framework must also take place. We are entitled to set out our own stall. We would like to influence the direction of certain aspects to military activities by participating countries and we might be inclined to include in the framework document some specific details on how the armaments industry is developing. We cannot be sure about this yet, but we do not need to show our hands openly at this stage beyond saying there are areas of very specific interest to us. The majority of countries in Partnership for Peace are not members of NATO. A consultative process is also necessary to ensure the right criteria are set out and efforts are made, as it is a major decision. We will keep our cards close to our chests for a little while longer.

I am concerned that there has been an information deficit in relation to this debate in the public arena and that so little information is available on the contents of the framework document. I urge the Minister to broaden the discussion. I welcome what the Minister said on including something on the armaments industry. This would be very important and I think the public would be greatly assured by it. How will the Minister ensure there is a more open debate and that more information is given to the public on this matter? The demands for a referendum have been fuelled by a lack of information on Partnership for Peace.

There is no better place to work than in this House if one wants to continually deal with scare tactics and people trying to use long and outdated methods of scaring the public. As far as I am concerned, we are an independent country and we have our own stall to set out. We will not be isolationist but rather will participate. We will not stand idly by when we see unspeakable atrocities being committed against people. We will do the best we can in an independent and open way. I will see to what extent we can have a more participative involvement in how things proceed. I will keep the House informed at every stage and I am sure my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, will be anxious to do the same. We have received very strong support for this measure in the House and people are entitled to know what is happening as soon as possible. We can have a further debate later in the year.

I welcome the change in policy by Fianna Fáil.

The Deputy should never be worried about Fianna Fáil changing its mind. It is a great strength not to be hide-bound by everything one has said in the past.

It is one of the party's core values.