Priority Questions.

Overseas Missions.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

1 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Defence his plans to bring forward legislation to permit Defence Forces personnel to train abroad as part of the proposed EU battle groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17655/05]

At this time, I have no plans to bring forward legislation regarding overseas training.

When I last spoke in the House on this matter I stated that, to reach the requisite level of interoperability, and taking account of the short timeframes envisaged for the deployment of the EU's rapid reaction elements, it seemed to me that the various forces and elements comprising a battle group would need to be familiar with the equipment, standard operating procedures, organisation and operations of the group as a whole. However, that does not lead to an inevitable conclusion that there is a requirement to undertake extensive overseas training or that there is a requirement for legislation in that regard. Indeed, Defence Forces personnel have for many years attended workshops, training courses, desktop exercises, seminars and other events overseas as part of their military training and I expect that they will continue to do so. The Defence Forces have also attended training courses and workshops under PfP PARP, the purpose of which is to improve the level of interoperability between forces in the context of peace support operations and the Petersberg Tasks. Whether possible participation in battle groups would change that situation remains to be seen.

As the House is aware, I have established an interdepartmental working group to examine all issues regarding Ireland's potential participation in battle groups. Among the issues to be examined in that regard is the question of the need for overseas training and the issues to which such training might give rise, including policy and legal issues. Pending the completion of the work of the group, I cannot say whether overseas training will be necessary, having regard to Ireland's possible contribution to a battle group and, if it were necessary, whether that would give rise to a need for legislation.

Ireland has a long tradition of participating in the UN force in many troubled areas throughout the world. It is my understanding that the UN strongly backs the concept of battle groups and a rapid response to tragedies that might be happening in the neighbourhood of or adjoining the European Union, or anywhere in the world. Rapid reaction means that the job must be done immediately. If we take so long simply to prepare our involvement in such an operation, how in God's name are we ever to be able to take part in a force that will have to act within hours in certain cases if it is to stop crises evolving in certain parts of the world? As I have said before, Ireland is not only famous for its participation in the UN forces in crisis points throughout the world: as a country, Irish voluntary groups and organisations have undertaken a great many humanitarian missions throughout the world.

Mr. John O'Shea of GOAL, when interviewed recently regarding various crises throughout the world, said the distribution of food and aid was not the problem. The establishment of law and order and distribution routes is sometimes the major problem. Unless both can be achieved, the whole exercise is impractical. I therefore urge the Minister to do whatever is necessary so we can have a combined effort to solve any serious crises that might arise in the world.

The Deputy is right about our very long and proud record of service to the United Nations, and I emphasise that it will continue. The battle group concept is that a relatively small force should go in very quickly to stabilise a situation. Later, there would be ordinary UN involvement, and we will of course continue to play a role in that.

The Deputy said the concept of the battle groups had UN backing. That too is correct. The UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, has urged us and all European countries to contribute to the battle group concept. Personally, I am very well disposed towards becoming involved in the battle group concept. We have certain difficulties, which I have outlined to the House on several occasions. The purpose of the interdepartmental group is not to delay, prevaricate or obscure but to find ways around those difficulties.

The Deputy alleged that a long, drawn-out delay characterised Ireland's approach to this matter. That is not correct, as one will see if one examines the situation in Europe. There are two possible sources of battle groups. There are national battle groups such as the UK might provide. If we participate, however, we will be part of a multinational battle group. There are very serious issues regarding multinational battle groups, including common costs and training, interoperability and various other matters that have not been resolved at EU level.

Last Monday I was at a meeting of Defence Ministers in Brussels, and it was very clear that there are still very serious issues to be resolved, and many of the countries around the table said they would not be able to participate in a multinational battle group until 2008 or perhaps 2009. We had been hoping to have full capacity under the Helsinki goals by 2007, with two back-up battle groups, at least one of which would be a multinational battle group, by the second half of 2007. We have not yet reached that, and the chairman of the meeting the other day asked whether any country or countries around the table might be prepared to volunteer. Thus far, they have not been prepared. They told me afterwards in private conversation that it was because many of the issues regarding multinational battle groups had not yet been resolved.

The situation is still very much evolving.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

2 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence the outcome of the recent Defence Forces mission to the Lebanon to try to establish the location of the remains of Private Kevin Joyce who has been missing since 1981; if he has any expectation that the body will be recovered and returned here for burial; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17653/05]

On 27 April 1981, an observation post in South Lebanon manned by two members of the Irish battalion serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, Private Hugh Doherty and Private Kevin Joyce — Seoighe — came under attack. Private Doherty was later found dead from gunshot wounds, and Private Seoighe was missing. Some equipment was also missing. The attackers are unknown.

I assure the House that efforts to obtain information on the whereabouts of Private Seoighe's remains have been ongoing since his disappearance. My predecessors have raised the matter with the Israeli ambassador, and the matter has also been pursued with the Palestinian authorities by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

During every visit by my predecessors to UNIFIL, they took every opportunity to raise the issue with Government and local representatives and the Lebanese media. In addition, each successive Irish battalion between 1981 and 2001, when the Irish battalion was withdrawn, was tasked with pursuing the matter.

I am advised by the military authorities that the situation in UNIFIL is that the case remains open. Efforts are made from time to time in Lebanon to establish the location of Private Seoighe's remains and, if located, efforts will be made to repatriate his remains. The recent visit by two senior officers of the Defence Forces was part of the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of Private Seoighe. It is not possible at this stage to say if this visit will bear fruit. However, my Department will continue to make every effort to bring this tragic case to a conclusion.

I am sure the Minister will agree that this is one of the last unresolved tragedies arising from the service of Irish troops with UNIFIL in the Lebanon. Sometimes I feel the country does not appreciate the sacrifice of the Defence Forces. The suffering continues in the case of Private Caoimhín Seoighe, who, as the Minister said, has been missing since 1981. I know efforts have been made to find the remains.

I understand that officers were sent to Lebanon in a renewed effort to find the body. Perhaps the Minister might say whether there was any report as a result of the visit. It is generally acknowledged that Palestinian elements were responsible for the death of Private Seoighe and his colleague, Private Hugh Doherty. Is he aware that an Oireachtas delegation is to visit Palestine early in June and meet representatives of the Palestinian Authority? Perhaps he might ask the delegation to raise the matter with the Palestinian authorities and urge them to help bring this tragic matter to a conclusion.

I am aware of the delegation and will of course ask it to raise the matter with the Palestinian authorities. That said, the Minister for Foreign Affairs raised the matter with the Palestinian authorities quite recently, without any positive conclusion.

In a "Léargas" programme, broadcast on RTE on 25 April 2005, Brigadier General Sultan Al Anien indicated that he knew of the burial site of the remains of Private Joyce. It was then decided that two senior officers of the Defence Forces would travel to Lebanon to meet the brigadier general to discuss the matter. From the discussions that have since taken place, he must get back to them after further inquiries. Someone unknown tipped off RTE that this was another fruitless mission and that nothing would come of it. I am not aware of that and I do not wish to comment on the success or otherwise of the mission until such time as I am informed that this gentleman has got back to the two officers who travelled to meet him.

Does the Minister agree that the family is entitled to expect that the State will continue to search until his remains are found and the body returned to Ireland?

I accept that completely. We will continue with our efforts. We had communication from members of the Joyce family in light of current events. That communication is confidential and I do not wish to go into it here. I am arranging for the chief of staff to speak to the family and all our efforts will continue on this matter as the family deserves closure.

Defence Forces Property.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

3 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Defence the discussions he has had with the Irish Aviation Authority and South Dublin and Kildare County Councils regarding operations at Weston Aerodrome at a longer runway and with the use of larger aircraft; the safety impact these operations might have on Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel; the sanctions available to him in the event of unauthorised use of Weston Aerodrome from a safety perspective; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17654/05]

My Department has written to the Irish Aviation Authority to express concerns about possible developments at Weston Aerodrome. The Irish Aviation Authority has not received an airspace change proposal for Weston Aerodrome. If and when the authority receives such a proposal, my Department will be consulted and the matter will be addressed in light of potential implications for the safety and operation of Casement Aerodrome.

I have a much larger file on this issue. Weston Aerodrome is a code one licensed runway of less than 800 metres. A clearway has been added to it and is being used as an extension to the runway. I provided the Irish Aviation Authority with a videotape showing the use of the clearway as a runway. The Irish Aviation Authority informed me that it has sent a copy of the videotape to Weston Aerodrome, which is a minor slap on the wrist. The GOC of the Air Corps, in his role as the director of military aviation, would have a major problem with larger aircraft that could land and take off from the aerodrome as the requisite flight path would compromise the safety of flight paths currently used by the Air Corps in Baldonnel.

There are a number of different agencies monitoring this, including the Department of Defence, the Department of Transport, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Kildare County Council, South Dublin County Council and the Irish Aviation Authority, yet nobody seems to have control. The air space in Baldonnel is one problem but the whole issue concerns the safety of our airspace. Will the Minister write to the owner of Weston Aerodrome to order that he cease this activity? The owner may not have a licence, but that is not stopping him from using the aerodrome. He has advertised on his website that his runway is 1,410 metres long but he only has a licence for less than 800 metres.

It seems that this man is very powerful, even though he has received warning letters from South Dublin County Council. He has engaged people like the former county managers of Kildare County Council and South Dublin County Council and is tying up both local authorities. This has been described as a second airport for Dublin. This gentleman can do what he pleases and nobody seems to have control over him.

I have given the Deputy much latitude as she is new to the House, but she must submit questions to elicit information from the Minister. What is the Deputy's question?

What is the Minister's view on the tape I supplied? What can he do to control this? Is he talking to other State agencies and Departments about this?

The Deputy has some very interesting information and I would appreciate if she would furnish me with copies of the documentation in her possession. The ultimate control of those using airspace or extending an aerodrome rests with the Irish Aviation Authority. This is supposed to be done legally. If someone wishes to extend an aerodrome, he or she must submit an airspace change proposal to the authority. The authority would then contact the parties affected, which in this case is the Department of Defence. The Air Corps would then carry out a safety evaluation and the Department would urge the Irish Aviation Authority not to grant the change proposal if it diminished the safety of Irish aircraft.

County councils are also involved as this organisation has not got planning permission. The organisation wrote to my Department, but I did not reply because we took the view that the Department should not have any dealings with the individual involved until his planning issues were resolved. I spoke to officials about the matter and I was told that although extensions were made without planning permission, no extra activity has taken place. If extra activity has occurred, I would be very interested to hear about it and we may have to revise the decision not to deal with him directly.

Overseas Missions.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

4 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Defence the recent discussions he has had with the Department of Foreign Affairs with respect to the triple lock policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17656/05]

The conditions under which the Defence Forces may participate in overseas peace support operations have been made very clear by the Government. The conditions, which are known as the triple lock, must be satisfied. The operation must be mandated by the United Nations and it must be approved by the Government and by way of a resolution of Dáil Éireann.

Section 2 of the Defence (Amendment)(No. 2) Act 1960 provides that a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force may be despatched for service outside the State as part of a particular international United Nations force if, but only if, a resolution has been passed by Dáil Éireann approving of the dispatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service outside the State as part of that international United Nations force. An international United Nations force is defined in the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993 as "an international force or body established by the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations".

The UN mandate for the force and the Dáil resolution provided for in section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1960 form two elements of what has become known as the triple lock. The third element is the Government decision approving the dispatch of the contingent and the introduction of an appropriate resolution in Dáil Éireann.

Section 2(2) of the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1960 provides that a contingent of the Defence Forces can serve overseas in the absence of a Dáil resolution in three situations, namely, where the force is unarmed, where the contingent consists of no more than 12 members of the Permanent Defence Force, or where the contingent is intended to replace, in whole or in part, or reinforce an existing contingent. Finally, as I have stated on many occasions both in response to questions in this House and in public speeches, there are no plans to reform the current arrangements in regard to the triple lock.

This question is related to some extent to that which precedes it. The triple lock system is excessively restrictive and we should examine ways of making it more flexible. The United Nations can sometimes move slowly in coming to a resolution and there is also the issue of the veto enjoyed by certain member states. Is it acceptable that China, for instance, should have a veto over Ireland's participation in a peacekeeping force that is badly needed in some part of the world? There have been examples of such vetoes in respect of Macedonia and the Balkans, for example.

If we are to participate effectively in the battle groups, we must introduce some flexibility in regard to the triple lock. This could be achieved by a provision that Irish forces can take part in any operation in respect of which the principles of the UN Charter are clearly applied. Does the Minister believe that Ireland can participate in EU battle groups without reform of the triple lock mechanism? In view of the case of Macedonia, in respect of which China effectively vetoed the deployment of Irish troops, does the Minister accept that giving other states such a veto is extremely unwise for a sovereign state such as Ireland?

The question of whether Ireland can participate in EU battle groups within the confines of the triple lock system is under examination by my Department. We intend to identify the obstacles that exist in this regard while ensuring the triple lock is maintained. The feedback I receive from the public indicates there is great confidence in the triple lock mechanism. It provides significant reassurance to the public and there is widespread support for its retention. The triple lock ensures that Ireland's participation in any type of foreign military adventure is strictly controlled.

Deputy Murphy used the example of Macedonia to highlight the difficulties that may arise as a consequence of the veto enjoyed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is the case that any one of those members can prevent an operation from being designated as a UN-authorised mission. In such an instance, Ireland cannot legally participate in the relevant expedition. However, the triple lock has not prevented us from playing a leading role in UN peacekeeping operations for the past 50 years and there is international recognition of that proud and effective role.

I recognise there are difficulties in respect of UN decision-making procedures in that the process is often slow and cumbersome. As Deputy Murphy observed, there is the possibility that any one of the five permanent members can unilaterally impose a veto. These difficulties are a matter for the UN, however, and we cannot unilaterally change the decision-making procedures. Deputy Murphy is aware that the UN is currently examining those procedures in detail. The expected reform in this area will impact on our future participation in peacekeeping operations.

Those involved in crisis situations accept that getting to the source of the problem and resolving it quickly is the most important issue. Is it possible to devise a system whereby Ireland can participate in overseas missions in respect of which the principles of the UN Charter are observed?

Deputy Murphy proposes that we replace the requirement that overseas missions must be authorised or established by the UN with more vague criteria. That would involve unlocking one of the three locks of the triple lock and is against my policy.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

5 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence the military hardware that will be used by the EU battle groups. [17748/05]

The European Union, which produces 25% of world GDP and has a population of 450 million, is one of the richest trading blocks in the world. Recognising its wealth, influence and impact on world affairs and conscious of the obligations such a position brings, the Union has committed itself to support, through all the various means at its disposal, international peace and security.

The instruments available to the Union to support international peace and security within the framework of the UN Charter include political, diplomatic, financial, economic and trade instruments, together with development aid and support for civil administration, justice and policing. The EU has set itself a new headline goal for 2010. One aspect of this — I emphasis it is only one aspect — is the formation of rapid response elements which are available and deployable at very high readiness and capable of the full range of Petersberg Tasks.

The equipping of a battle group will depend on the nature of the response which may be required of it, given the wide and potentially diverse nature of the tasks which may be assigned to it, within the overall context of the Petersberg Tasks. In major conflict, which might require the separation of opposing forces and the protection of civilian populations, the military hardware could involve significant arms capabilities and force protection assets. In the case of a humanitarian disaster, the military hardware would more likely be in the nature of heavy transport equipment, airlift, cranes, logistics and other engineering type equipment.

Battle groups by their nature must be ready for all eventualities and the equipment available to them cannot be dependent on the nature of any future and unknown mission. The equipment purchased by the British army for its participation in the EU battle groups includes transport aeroplanes, unmanned aircraft and precision-guided missiles. This is hardly the equipment needed for humanitarian or peacekeeping missions.

The Minister said in November 2004 that the Government had agreed in principle that Ireland would participate in the EU battle groups. In January 2005, however, he stated that Ireland would not join the battle groups due to legal and constitutional difficulties. This week he announced the Government has not yet made a decision in this matter. Which of these three positions is the correct one?

Is the Minister aware that a UN mandate will not be required by the EU for the deployment of battle groups? Has he been informed that the agreed EU security doctrine does not require a UN mandate? Nor does it restrict EU military deployment to peacekeeping or humanitarian missions but can be extended to foreign intervention and the military backing of other Governments in counter-insurgency operations. Is the Minister aware that NATO officials have said the battle groups must be prepared to go to war?

Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question related to the military hardware to be used by the EU battle groups. I have told him in quite reasonable language that the type of military hardware that will be used will depend on the mission in which a particular battle group is engaged. If it is involved in mainly humanitarian tasks, it will be the type of equipment to which I referred. If it is involved in a chapter VII mission such as that which took place in the Balkans, where warring armies are trying to kill each other, it will obviously require different capabilities, including force protection assets, heavy weaponry and so on. The hardware required by any individual battle group will depend on the task in which it is engaged. The Petersberg Tasks range from humanitarian rescue missions on the one hand to peacemaking operations at the other extreme.

I said in December that Ireland was favourable in principle to joining battle groups. My position remained the same in January and is the same now. Nothing has changed. We are in favour in principle but are nevertheless committed to the triple lock and will not sacrifice that merely to participate in battle groups. We are engaged in a process of trying to find ways to overcome the difficulties to participating in battle groups which are posed by the triple lock. Our policy is to stand by the triple lock if it proves insurmountable even after UN reforms.

I am cognisant of the issues raised by Deputy Ó Snodaigh in terms of UN mandates. He is aware that many countries do not require any UN mandate to become involved in foreign military adventures, whether the purpose is aggressive or involves peacekeeping or making. I assure the House that, if we join the battle groups, no Irish contingent will become involved unless the three conditions set out in the triple lock doctrine have been observed. A Government decision and Dáil approval will be required and the operation will have to be authorised, as defined in the Defence (Amendment) Act 1960, by the UN.

Last October, the Minister told me that no increase in defence spending would result, yet the equipment in question will put an extra charge on the Exchequer. Has the Minister commenced cost projections for the equipment he will seek for these battle groups or our participation therein?

That is outside the scope of this question but the Minister may answer if he so wishes.

It concerns military hardware for EU battle groups.

It is not included within the question.

It is a supplementary question.

Last Monday, a meeting of Defence Ministers was held in Brussels. Of the many countries which will participate in battle groups, none intends to increase defence expenditure and neither does Ireland. A requirement catalogue which sets out the possible weaponry requirements of battle groups in operations will be finalised under the EU Presidency. In addition, an organisation, the European Defence Agency, will regulate the fragmented market in armaments which will permit countries to purchase armaments more cheaply. Our policy and that of our European colleagues is not to spend more money but to receive better value for our current expenditures.