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.