Priority Questions

Defence Forces Reorganisation

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

1. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether the essential element of military efficiency and effectiveness is command and control, and that this is only effective when this operates closest to the operational troops; if it is the case that the 2012 reorganisation of the Defence Forces has undermined this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25256/15]

This question is straightforward and aims to establish if the Minister accepts that command and control are at the heart of military efficiency and effectiveness. Does the Minister believe that the 2012 reorganisation has contributed to enhancing or diminishing the whole area of command and control as we have experienced it?

Effective command and control is indeed essential to military effectiveness, and exists within all units of the Defence Forces. Equally, having an appropriate organisational structure is also key to military efficiency and effectiveness.

The objective of the reorganisation of the Permanent Defence Force in 2012 was to design a viable organisational structure which prioritised the operational capacity of the Defence Forces, within a strength level of 9,500 personnel. The proposals for the reorganisation were developed by senior civil and military personnel. The recommendations for the territorial areas of responsibility and the location of brigade headquarters were assessed with due regard to operational requirements. I am advised by the military authorities that proximity to a headquarters is not the determining factor for effective command and control.

Final proposals relating to the reorganisation of the Permanent Defence Force were agreed between the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and the Secretary General. The recommendations for the reorganisation were accepted in full at the time by the then Minister for Defence. I am satisfied that the current structures optimise the operational capacity of the Permanent Defence Force and have enabled the Defence Forces to deliver the required operational outputs, within a strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel.

I am not sure I concur with the Minister. To me, there is an inescapable logic in saying that command and control are most effective when closest to the operational troops. At the heart of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter's, reorganisation of the Defence Forces was the relocation of the command and control of Custume Barracks in Athlone and Finner Camp in Donegal to Dublin. The control of troops in Renmore Barracks in Galway was relocated to Collins Barracks in Cork. That seems to me to be a questionable initiative.

It is difficult to believe that there have not been additional costs accruing to the Defence Forces as a result. Can the Minister tell us if there have been additional costs arising from troops carrying out routine duties in Dublin, yet having to travel from Dundalk, Athlone or as far afield as Donegal in order to do so?

I am advised that there are no practical day-to-day difficulties involved. Clearly, however, there is now a requirement for people to travel to certain meetings and so on. From a territorial viewpoint, however, Ireland is not a huge country. We have reorganised the Defence Forces in a way that essentially went from three senior command structures to two. That was done on the basis of giving advice to the Minister, having had a long discussion between the Secretary General and the then Chief of Staff.

From my experience of having been Minister for Defence for nearly a year, and from what I have seen, the operation of the Defence Forces is highly efficient. Of course there are some requirements at times to travel either to Cork or Dublin from the locations the Deputy mentioned. However, I do not think it has had a significant operational cost impact on the overall command and control structures within the Defence Forces.

There are many within the Defence Forces who would disagree with the Minister. The Minister will recall that at his very worthwhile symposium in Farmleigh, this reorganisation featured as a particular issue.

Many would argue, and I would concur, that the formation structure of our Defence Forces was to allow for expansion or contraction as the need arose. It is difficult to believe, however, that there are not real, identifiable, additional costs arising from that reorganisation. It is equally inescapable that many people in the Defence Forces, with a deeper knowledge of those forces than either I or the Minister, would suggest that efficiency and effectiveness have been diminished rather than enhanced as a result of these changes.

There will always be people who have different views, but the context here is a Permanent Defence Force of 9,500 people. A decision was made to close four barracks, as well as restructuring and reorganising to reflect the new, agreed strength levels of the Defence Forces. It was to ensure that we had barracks and structures that were full, busy and fully operational, as opposed to trying to spread them across a large infrastructure having reduced the overall number within the Defence Forces. That is what happened.

The Deputy referred to our recent symposium on defence in Farmleigh, but this issue was not a big feature of that discussion.

It may have been mentioned during the day, but I have had many discussions concerning the Defence White Paper, which is approximately 160 pages long. We have tried to accommodate as many viewpoints as we can both from the military and civilian sides, and we are continuing to do so.

I acknowledge there are others who share the view the Deputy is advocating in this regard, but my experience as Minister for Defence is that the current structures are working well.

European Security Strategy

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence if he has read the European Commission's communication on the European security agenda; if he held discussions with the Taoiseach ahead of the next European Council meeting, which takes place on 25 June 2015, considering that the Council will discuss the security challenges facing the European Union and the European security agenda at that meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25309/15]

My question relates to the meeting today of the European Council which will include discussion on the EU's security strategy. This meeting takes place against the background of what is happening in the Mediterranean and in Ukraine. There are real concerns, in particular, about the military build-up by EU and NATO on one side of Ukraine and by the Russians on the other side, and the approach Ireland is taking to that matter.

The Deputy's question is relevant and fair in the context of the discussions that are going on today, although they are somewhat overshadowed by the continuing negotiations on the situation in Greece. There is ongoing liaison between my Department, the Department of An Taoiseach and other relevant Departments regarding security and defence matters generally. In preparation for the European Council meeting, which is taking place today and tomorrow, 25 and 26 June, I attended a meeting of the Cabinet committee on EU affairs on 10 June, at which all aspects of the June European Council, including defence matters, were discussed.

I understand from my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, that the European Commission published its communication on the European agenda on security for the period 2015-2020 on 28 April. The communication sets out a series of actions to support member states in their work combatting three areas presenting significant challenges to the internal security of member states and the Union, namely, preventing terrorism and countering violent radicalisation, fighting organised crime, and fighting cybercrime. The communication was considered at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 15 and 16 June 2015. The conclusions of the meetings of the Council of Justice and Home Affairs of December 2014 and June 2015, taken together with the European agenda on security, constitute the renewed EU Internal Security Strategy 2015-2020. It is expected that a decision will be taken at the European Council 2015 to progress work on the renewed strategy.

In regard to common security and defence policy, it is expected that the European Council will request the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, HR-VP, to prepare an EU global strategy on foreign and security policy to be submitted to the European Council in June 2016. In addition, it is expected that the Council will agree to continue work on a more effective, visible, and result-oriented common security and defence policy, the further development of both civilian and military capabilities and the strengthening of Europe's defence industry.

Developments in Ukraine and the Mediterranean will also be discussed at the Council meetings today and tomorrow. In the context of activities in the Mediterranean, there is to be a discussion as to whether a quota system should be introduced for the acceptance of migrants. The objective is for other member states to share the burden Italy is currently carrying more or less on its own. There is a great deal to discuss and we will have to await the outcome.

I am always concerned when I hear about common security and defence policies at EU level. We proclaim ourselves to be a neutral state, but I do not see a strategy or actions from the Government to support that assertion. For example, Fine Gael's four MEPs voted in favour of a European Parliament report which advocated possible military action in the Black Sea basin following the annexation of Crimea by Russia. That does not tally with the position of the Government and the State that Ireland is neutral.

Neutrality is not about sitting on the fence. It is possible as a neutral state to play a very positive and constructive role internationally, as we have seen from Ireland's involvement in peacekeeping, conflict resolution and human rights advocacy. What is the Minister's plan in these meetings to assert Ireland's neutrality and offer something separate from the position that will be taken by the representatives of NATO countries with whom he sits at the table?

These issues arise all the time. We are a militarily neutral country, which means we are not militarily aligned to any other country. However, neutrality does not mean one stays out of everything or one cannot take a position on a particular report. Neutrality means choosing to support or not support positions on the basis of their particular merits. Ireland sometimes takes positions that are consistent with those of other member states. On other occasions, that is not the case. When I attend meetings of the Defence Council, I consistently refer to our relationship with the United Nations when other countries are talking about EU co-operation with reference to NATO. That serves to re-emphasise on a regular basis Ireland's connection with the UN, which is very much linked to our military neutrality and is the protector of that neutrality in terms of our international reputation and so on. We will continue to do that.

The fact that a number of our MEPs might vote for a report because they happen to consider it worth supporting does not undermine Irish neutrality. I have not read the particular report the Deputy mentioned, but I would defend the right of MEPs from any party to do so where they happen to agree with the thinking behind and the merits of a report's recommendations. Irish neutrality allows our MEPs to vote either for or against such reports on the basis of whichever is the right thing to do. That does not undermine Irish neutrality.

The problem is that there is history here. Some of us will recall, for example, the Beyond Neutrality document produced by Alan Dukes, a former leader of the Minister's party. There is a concern that Fine Gael does not support the historical decision of this State in terms of neutrality. It is an honourable tradition and one that has served us well.

Regarding the current situation in the Mediterranean, we are all very proud of the role the LE Eithne is playing and we want to ensure its mission remains a search and rescue one. The mission launched recently by the EU is something very different from the one in which we are currently engaged. Will the Minister assert very clearly to the Taoiseach that we must continue our involvement solely in a search and rescue capacity and will not align ourselves with a mission that has an entirely different agenda, one that is driven by NATO states in Europe? I am seeking an assurance from the Minister that the work being done by the Defence Forces and Naval Service, work of which we are all very proud, will continue and they will not be sucked into some other agenda.

To clarify, the Beyond Neutrality policy document was put together by Gay Mitchell at a time when my party was in opposition.

It was fully advocated by the party's former leader, Alan Dukes.

I simply wish to correct the record on that point because I know Mr. Mitchell put a lot of work into it.

The LE Eithne and its crew continue to do extraordinary work in the Mediterranean for which they have received a great deal of recognition. From the videos I have seen and the reports I have received from the ship and through the Department of Defence, it is clear they are doing a first class job in terms of the compassionate and professional way they are dealing with people. There are huge numbers involved, with some 2,300 people having been taken on board the LE Eithne at this stage. As I said, we intend to continue that work. I have given a commitment - which, however, is under constant review - that we will have an Irish naval vessel in the Mediterranean on search and rescue and humanitarian work until the end of September at least. The LE Eithne will probably be rotated towards the end of July.

The EU's naval force, NAVFOR, mission has been approved at European level. To be clear, what is proposed under that process involves three phases. The first is little more than what is happening at the moment, namely, information gathering and so on. Phases two and three require a UN mandate before they can proceed, as far as we are concerned. If we are to be part of the mission, we would have to go through the normal approval process involving the triple lock of UN mandate, Government decision and Oireachtas approval. NAVFOR is not on the agenda of the meeting at the moment. If a request comes in for Ireland to participate and if there is a UN mandate for it, we will debate the proposal and make a decision. For now, our focus is solely on our humanitarian role in the Mediterranean, which effectively involves a bilateral arrangement with Italy. I understand Deputy Clare Daly has tabled a question on that specific point. The humanitarian role is our sole focus at this time and there are no other agendas at play.

Overseas Missions

Clare Daly

Question:

3. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence if he will explain his previous responses that the Irish Defence Forces were not involved with Operation Triton in view of the fact that FRONTEX, which runs the operation, says that we are involved, and his comments to the media that Ireland has agreed a new military mission with other European countries, involving the disruption of smuggling gangs, which is awaiting sanction from the United Nations Security Council. [25231/15]

This question follows on from previous ones. The Minister is developing quite a reputation as a bit of a hawk. There is a major contradiction between what he has just said, what he said on the last occasion and what he said on the airwaves and in other public statements. When I asked during our last Question Time whether it was appropriate for LE Eithne to take part in a FRONTEX operation, Triton mission, the Minister said it was not taking part. However, FRONTEX says we are participating. It is on its website and in its material. The Minister has said other things on the airwaves. I would like him to clarify some of the contradictions.

First, I would like the Deputy to outline what the contradictions are because I have been absolutely consistent on this issue from the start and remain so today.

LE Eithne is not engaged in Operation Triton or in any form of border security operations as part of its deployment in the Mediterranean. Section 3 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 permits, with the approval of the Government, the despatch of the Naval Service vessel and personnel for the purpose of “undertaking humanitarian tasks in response to an actual or potential disaster or emergency”. It does not permit the carrying out of border control-type tasks, such as those undertaken by Operation Triton. A reference on the FRONTEX website referring to Ireland’s contribution to the Operation Triton mission is incorrect and is being removed.

The deployment of LE Eithne, following Government approval, supports those measures already taken by Italy and other EU states in the area of searching for and the rescue of migrants and the provision of humanitarian assistance, as provided under international law. There is no international humanitarian search-and-rescue operation established by any decision of any international body or national authorities in the Mediterranean. Rather, it is the unilateral deployment by Ireland of a Naval Service vessel to the Mediterranean where it is undertaking humanitarian search and rescue tasks in accordance with the applicable provisions of international conventions governing search and rescue situations and in co-ordination with the Italian authorities.

The humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean is of great concern to Ireland and to our EU partners. LE Eithne and her crew are an invaluable asset in assisting with the Mediterranean migrant crisis. The success of the operations carried out to date, involving the rescue of approximately 2,136 migrants, demonstrates clearly the value of Ireland’s participation in this important humanitarian mission.

At EU level, a Council decision to launch the European Union military operation, EUNAVFOR Med, was adopted at the formal meeting of the foreign affairs Council in Brussels on 22 June. The mission is one element of the EU’s comprehensive approach to addressing the migration crisis in the south and central Mediterranean. Irish Defence Forces personnel are not currently taking any part in this mission. Consideration of participation by the Irish Defence Forces in EUNAVFOR Med will occur only if there is a UN Security Council resolution and the applicable national statutory requirements are met. I understand that discussions on a draft Security Council resolution are ongoing. In the interim, Ireland will continue to remain focused on its humanitarian search-and-rescue operation. This is exactly what I said to the previous questioner. It is also exactly what I said on the last occasion we were here for questions. If the Deputy is going to say I am inconsistent, she might point out what I am inconsistent on.

Absolutely. I will be delighted to. It is incredibly convenient that when we point out that FRONTEX claimed Ireland is a participant in Operation Triton, that claim is now deemed a mistake on FRONTEX's part. Was its comment that we were one of the 26 European countries taking part the only mistake? Were there other countries in respect of which a mistake was made?

What is the inconsistency?

After a session on the last occasion, the Minister went on the George Hook radio programme and said:

What we have also agreed along with other European countries, including the UK, is a new military mission, which will be partly around search and rescue and monitoring. But also, phase 2 of that will be to try to disrupt, disassemble, and tackle very well-funded people-smuggling human-trafficking gangs that are operating out of Libya at the moment. What we are planning to do now is that the EU will work with state actors in places like Libya. We have agreed a new military mission.

That is not what the Minister said in here. However, it is what he said on the public airwaves. The versions do not tally. Which is the real Simon Coveney?

The Deputy is selectively quoting.

It is word for word.

Let me explain. When I said "we", I was talking about the European Union, and the Deputy knows that. I have confirmed in the answer I have just given that the European Union has agreed to an EUNAVFOR mission. It is a military mission and it is also an information-gathering mission and a mission that wants to disrupt human trafficking in North Africa. It is all the things I said on the show but Ireland's participation in it is an entirely different matter. We cannot and will not participate in what has been agreed by "we", as the European Union collectively, unless we have a UN mandate to do that and have passed the required decision-making structures here in the Dáil and Cabinet. We, as the European Union, have agreed to a new mission to try to disrupt people-trafficking from North Africa. In the meantime, Ireland continues to operate as an individual country in co-operation with Italy on a humanitarian search-and-rescue mission.

When the Deputy quotes me as having said "we", she should note it refers to a decision taken by EU foreign and defence Ministers collectively. It has been approved subsequently but does not have a UN mandate at present. We, as in Ireland, will not be part of that without a UN mandate. Even if there is a UN mandate, we will have to debate it and consider it.

If one plays back the interview, one will realise it is quite clear the Minister was talking about Ireland. He said, "We [...] along with other European countries, including the UK". Therefore, he is not talking about the European Union but about us in Ireland, along with our colleagues in Europe. It is a decision for Ireland. The Minister said: "We have agreed a new military mission." I realise the Minister will have to go through the motions and attend to the optics in the Dáil if that mission is to go ahead but the point being made, including by Deputy Mac Lochlainn, is that this is clearly the direction in which Fine Gael wants to go. Of course, UN sanction is needed before we can make progress on it properly. Is the Minister now trying to tell us he will not be arguing for our participation in this mission? Is he saying it will be entirely a matter for the House? It is quite clear that is not the case.

The triple lock was never entirely a matter for the House. It requires a Government decision in addition to a Parliament decision. With respect, the Deputy should not be talking about our approach to the Mediterranean as if there were some kind of conspiracy around the corner. Our approach to the Mediterranean at the moment is a purely humanitarian one. The debate that happened at EU level has been to try to find a way of doing more than rescuing people in the Mediterranean, who are currently being herded onto ships that are not capable of getting across the Mediterranean. We must do something in North Africa to work with others there to try to disrupt criminal gangs that are taking advantage of and making a lot of money from people who are very vulnerable. That is the decision but Ireland will not participate in that mission without a UN mandate and UN approval. I have made that very clear, in the public airwaves and in this House. It is no more complicated than that. This is not some kind of conspiracy from any one political party that is seeking to move away from neutrality or anything like that. To be honest, it is a bit disingenuous to suggest it.

Defence Forces Reserve Strength

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

4. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence the measures he is putting in place to enhance the Defence Forces Reserve, and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25257/15]

It is a little hard to follow the last question.

It was trying to bring politics into something we should not be political about.

My question on what the Minister can do to enhance the Defence Forces Reserve is posed against the background of very strong statements of support by the Minister for the reserve despite continuing discontent among its ranks over the Government's commitment to its continued expansion and growth. It is also posed in the context of the Minister's symposium at Farmleigh, where there was much emphasis on the increased maritime responsibility of Ireland, with control over or responsibility for approximately 20% of the EU maritime territory. Against that backdrop, we see the establishment figures for the Naval Reserve reduced from 400 to 200.

The Deputy is correct that this was a focus. It was one of many but it was an important focus at the symposium.

The Defence Forces Reserve is an important asset to the State. I value the contribution of all of its members who volunteer their time and service so willingly. I am fully committed to its future development. To that end, an ongoing development process for the reserve is under way. This is being led by a high level civil-military oversight group which is addressing the agenda of issues identified in the review of the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, published in November 2012. This review was undertaken as part of the Government's overall programme of value-for-money, VFM, reviews. The VFM review identified a range of issues which were adversely affecting the capacity of the Reserve Defence Force. These included high turnover of personnel, poor uptake of training and inefficient organisational structures.

The review recommended a range of measures to ensure the continued viability of the reserve. These measures included the implementation of revised organisational structures based on a strength level of over 4,000 personnel, implementation of revised recruitment policy and practice, a critical review of the approach to the delivery of training, a revision of the regulatory criteria for classifying reservists as effective and the preparation of options for the future development of the first line reserve.

As I mentioned at the outset, the implementation of the review recommendations is ongoing. The revised "single force" structure, introduced in March 2013, offers significant potential to enhance Defence Forces' capabilities through improved interoperability between permanent and reserve elements. At present, reserve units remain under strength - I think they are about 46% under strength but I can give the Deputy the exact numbers if he wants them - and a key priority is to recruit further members to the RDF in order to reach strength level targets. Revised recruitment procedures were introduced with the goal of improving retention rates. However, the numbers recruited to date have proved disappointing. Progress in this regard and the implementation of other recommendations of the VFM review is being closely monitored.

We are taking this issue seriously in the White Paper on defence, which the Deputy will see pretty soon. We are trying to ensure that, in particular, we can get specialist skillsets into the reserve that can be used strategically and in interoperable way with the Permanent Defence Force. Let me be clear because some people seem to unaware of this-----

The Minister is way over time. I want to proceed to Ordinary Questions.

We are strongly committed to an effective and well-trained reserve force into the future. Certainly, that will be reinforced by the White Paper.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Preparation of the White Paper is nearing completion and I expect to bring the draft to Government for approval shortly. The Deputy will appreciate that pending Government approval, it would be premature to discuss any plans for the future development of the reserve that are contained in the White Paper.

I continue to be encouraged by the Minister's positive statements but we must move from positive statements to positive action. Is he willing to arrange for the devolving of control, organisation and implementation of recruitment to the RDF? This would allow the organisation to recruit up to the establishment figure, as required, as quickly as possible. Would the Minister consider facilitating RDF recruitment by testing applicants in regional locations rather than asking them to travel long distances to manned barracks to attend for things like fitness training, as is currently the case? They are two very practical steps that could assist straightaway.

A couple of points need to be made about that. This is not just about numbers. We need to get the right people who are there for the right reasons. It should not necessarily be easy to join the reserve, although we need to make it as easy as possible within the rules and standards we are setting. The objective here is not to get 4,000 people in, if they are not the right people. The whole point of the reserve is that it is effective and a real asset, which I believe it can be. There are about 2,200 reservists at the moment and we need to increase that figure. Clearly, my objective is to get the reserve force up to a full-strength but the way in which we do that must ensure that we get and motivate the right people to make sure they are a significant asset. The objective in terms of recruitment is motivating and attracting skilled and non-skilled people who are motivated and want to be part of the Defence Forces but who cannot be part of the Permanent Defence Force for all sorts of reasons. I think the emphasis must be on quality.

I would have thought it would have gone without saying that we would all be committed to the idea of recruiting suitable personnel who will bring added value to the Defence Forces. I am bit worried about the Minister's apparent acceptance of the idea that it is okay to put obstacles in the way of people joining-----

I did not say that.

Perhaps the Minister did not say it directly but it was implicit in what he said. Is he prepared to see a defined role given to members of the RDF? Does he see a role for them in overseas missions. The people on LE Eithne are literally fishing refugees out of the water in the way fishermen might do. I could see a role for properly qualified and trained civilians in that initiative and yet the commitment to the Naval Reserve is such that establishment figures have been cut from 400 to 200. We need to see some practical commitment now rather than in the future.

There is a higher percentage in terms of filling Naval Service reservist posts than there is in the Army reserve at the moment. There are no plans to deploy reservists overseas but that issue is being considered in the White Paper. My view is that if there are skillsets that would add to the operational and response capacity of the Permanent Defence Force, particularly in specialist areas, we should look at recruiting, supporting and maintaining that skillset within the Reserve Defence Force. We will have that discussion when we are debating the White Paper but I certainly have an open mind on it.

Nobody is suggesting that we would deliberately put obstacles in the way of people wanting to join the reserve. The point I am making is that there are requirements to be met in terms of fitness and standards in order to become a reservist so that we get the right people who can do a job when we call on them to do so.

Military Aircraft Landings

Clare Daly

Question:

5. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence his views regarding whether Defence Forces personnel were present during the landing of the United States of America Air Force KC135 mid-air refuelling aircraft, number 80106 from Alabama Air National Guard at Shannon Airport on 14 June 2015; the reason for their presence; the nature of duties undertaken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25232/15]

On 14 June, a US Air Force KC135 mid-air refuelling aircraft from Alabama landed at Shannon Airport. There is no possibility that this aircraft is not involved in military action because its purpose is to refuel military aircraft. Were the Defence Forces personnel called to that, who called them and what was their function on the day?

Similar questions have been asked in the past and this is a similar answer. An Garda Síochána has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces is the provision of aid to the civil power, ATCP, which, in practice, means assisting An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.

On many occasions since 2003, the Defence Forces have been deployed to Shannon Airport in an ATCP role in support of An Garda Síochána. The decision to seek support from the Defence Forces is an operational matter for An Garda Síochána. Accordingly, any security assessments and the reasons for decisions to seek support from the Defence Forces are a matter for An Garda Síochána.

With regard to the landing mentioned by the Deputy in her question, I can confirm that in response to a previous ATCP request made by An Garda Síochána, Defence Forces personnel were already present at Shannon Airport when the aircraft in question landed and continued to be deployed after it departed.

I am not entirely clear about it. It is a similar answer but I am not sure this situation is entirely similar. Since I tabled the question, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that this aircraft had made an unscheduled landing, allegedly as a result of a technical diversion. Quite a few aircraft are landing without permission.

The Minister said they were already present.

Why were the Defence Forces already present? The Minister also said they stayed until after the plane took off. Were they diverted to the aircraft and what did they do? This is important in terms of compliance with our neutrality because it is not the case, as the Minister said earlier, that neutrality means looking at things on their merits and making a decision. In actual fact, it does not mean that; being neutral means not taking sides, and if we are facilitating US military aircraft on a regular basis, which we are, without proper authorisation, then that is a breach of our neutrality and it is a serious problem.

My understanding is that we were there assisting An Garda Síochána, having been requested to do so before the aircraft landed. We happened to be there when it landed and we were still there when it took off.

In terms of the granting of permission, under the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952, all foreign military aircraft require the permission of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to overfly or to land in the State. That is where the primary responsibility lies. I do not have the full details as to the reason the aircraft landed but it was presumably diverted for some reason. I suspect we can get the details from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. From a defence perspective, I do not think there was any threat to this country from facilitating the landing.

I could explain the threat. I realise the Department of Defence is only one of four Departments that deal with the issue. The Minister made the point earlier that our approach to the Mediterranean is a humanitarian one. We need to step back from that. I put it to the Minister that if it was, we would be taking a hell of a lot more refugees than we have agreed to take. We would not be just leaving them in Italy for the Italians to deal with them. In any case, if we were really concerned we would be standing back and looking at the circumstances that made those people refugees in the first place. One of the key reasons for that is the destabilisation of the region and the interference by the US military, an interference which we have facilitated and continue to facilitate through the use of Shannon Airport. Unless we address those issues then we are complicit in the circumstances that are giving rise to all those people who are desperately drowning in the Mediterranean and all of the other circumstances of destabilisation in that region. Perhaps the Minister might take up the issue at Cabinet level because there is an incredible inconsistency in our alleged neutrality while we allow the continuation of the landing of flights on a twice-daily basis.

Deputy Daly and I have a fundamentally different view of the role the United States plays in the world. I do not say mistakes have not been made, but I do not see every conflict and every cause of mass migration in places such as North Africa being caused by the United States. Some conflicts and some broken states are now trying to recover from wars in which the United States and many other countries have been involved, but that is not the same thing as to suggest that they were caused by the United States.

It is also not true to say that we are not thinking about, debating and talking about what the European Union can do in the medium term to try to address the causes of mass migration in places such as North Africa, across multiple states. We have Defence Forces personnel in some of the countries concerned who are trying to assist in providing stability and peace. In Mali, for example, I visited a training mission around St. Patrick's Day. Let us not simplify the situation. This is a hugely complex problem. This country is interested in longer term solutions and investment in trying to bring stability to states where there are currently significant migration problems because of fear of regimes and persecution, among other reasons. Multiple solutions are required. One of them is search and rescue, and we are actively part of that approach but we are also part of the broader debate as well.