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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 Nov 2016

Vol. 928 No. 1

Other Questions

Common Security and Defence Policy

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


17. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on a proposal agreed on 26 October 2016 that seeks to allocate €25 million annual funding for innovative defence technology over a three year period from 2017 under the so-called preparatory action for defence research; and his views on the opinion expressed by a person (details supplied), who said the EU subsidy had been largely driven by the European Commission and the arms industry. [33652/16]

This question relates to a huge shift in the European Union on research and development. Until now, it has been a peaceful participant in research and development. The proposal is to move towards funding research and development in, and creating, innovative defence technology. The question is whether the Minister of State has indicated to his fellow defence Ministers that Ireland will not partake in such initiatives and that it is contrary to the aims of the European Union.

In December 2013 the European Council, in its conclusions on the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, highlighted that "Europe needs a more integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB) to develop and sustain defence capabilities. This can also enhance its strategic autonomy and its ability to act with partners".

An effective EU defence technology industrial base is considered necessary to ensure member states will have assured access to supplies of defence material and services. The European defence industry can enhance the European Union's strategic autonomy and its ability to act with partners in support of international peace and security. In addition, for many member states, the defence sector is a significant contributor to jobs, growth and innovation and has a strong economic leverage effect. In this context, the European Council endorsed the Commission's proposal for a preparatory action on CSDP-related research, which is seen as a test mechanism for a proposed defence related research programme.

The objectives of the preparatory action are to stimulate investment in defence research and technology throughout Europe and generate the collaborative research and technology that will be required to support future capabilities. This preparatory action may ultimately pave the way for a European defence research programme post-Horizon 2020. Horizon 2020 is the framework programme in the European Union for funding industrial and sectoral research and development. The programme is funded from the EU budget. The Commission has proposed a budget of €25 million in 2017 to fund the defence preparatory action and the European Parliament, on 26 October, approved this funding.

I understand the individual to whom the Deputy has referred, who represents the European Network Against Arms Trade, has voiced concerns about the approved funding for the preparatory action, including the belief the European Union is subsidising the arms industry. The preparatory action on CSDP-related research should be welcomed. As the Deputy is aware, Ireland does not have a defence industry. However, it does need to equip its Defence Forces with modern and advanced equipment for force protection on crisis management and peacekeeping operations. In this regard, I should point out that one of the key issues raised by Members of this House when the Government decides to deploy Defence Forces' contingents on missions is the extent to which they are appropriately equipped with the most effective defensive equipment. For the European Union to sustain and maintain a defence industrial capacity to deliver essential capabilities for operations, it needs to invest and develop in technologies for the future. The funding provided by the preparatory action will go some way to securing this.

I presumed naively the Minister of State would state Ireland would not partake in this initiative and would not encourage it and that he would endorse what the European Union had been originally established for. He has said that, with the architect, he supports €100 million being spent on research and development in the coming year or two. It is planned to spend up to €3.5 billion on research and the development of military equipment. The architect of this initiative is a special adviser to Commissioner Juncker. He was the person who came up with the idea in 2013. Will the Minister of State agree that Ireland will desist from encouraging any such multibillion euro expenditure package for military research and innovation and that instead the money, in line with what the European Union was supposed to do, should be spent to enhance poverty eradication?

With the defence spend of EU member states on research and technology at an all-time low, the funding provided by way of the preparatory action will advance current capabilities in a way that would not be possible otherwise. The European Defence Agency was established to support member states and the Council in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities in crisis management and sustain the CSDP as it stood and was developed. Ireland has been a strong supporter of the role of the European Union in international crisis management through the CSDP and there is a clear need to ensure that collectively it has the capability to undertake crisis management operations and that member states can commit to support operations mandated by the Council. To this end, it is important that there be the industrial capacity in the European Union to ensure the requisite capabilities. In many instances, we rely on European suppliers to provide the Defence Forces with the defence equipment necessary to undertake the roles assigned to them by the Government. When Defence Forces personnel travel overseas, we must have the best equipment available to protect our personnel. It is important, therefore, that we partake in such initiatives.

This issue is of such importance that a further debate should have been held in the House to outline the full extent of the programme before anybody proceeded to support such an initiative which is contrary to all of the aims of the European Union which was in receipt of the Nobel peace prize which was bizarre at the time. That it is now lining up to spend €3.5 billion on military research and development is a disgrace. The character at the time was Commissioner Michel Barnier, a French Commissioner who had replaced Charlie McCreevy. He has continued in the role of trying to promote the diversion of money away from poverty eradication and social services and building the European Union towards creating an arms industry which would benefit NATO. What was said about this originally was that it must be autonomous, while showing solidarity, in particular, with the Atlantic alliance. It is jumping to the tune of NATO and probably falls into line with what the new US President would have the European Union do.

There is as yet no definite amount agreed for the research programme. However, a budget in the region of €2 billion to €3 billion for the period from 2021 to 2027, inclusive, has been mentioned in a number of Commission fora. This, however, has not been agreed to by any member state. As with the Horizon 2020 programme, it is envisaged that the defence forces research programme will be funded from member states' contributions. On 28 October the European Defence Agency signed grant agreements worth a total of €1.4 million on selected research projects to be carried out as part of the pilot project. I reiterate to the Deputy that even though there has been mention of this recently, it has not been agreed to by member states.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Clare Daly


18. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 683 of 18 October 2016, if he will address allegations that members of the Defence Forces not only did not receive a face-to-face consultation to assess their suitability to take Lariam but in some cases Lariam was also prescribed to persons who had a history of anxiety and depression recorded on their written medical files. [33809/16]

This again relates to the use of Lariam and the fact that it is widely known and was for decades that certain people should not be prescribed it. What is the response of the Minister of State to many members of the Defence Forces who state they did not have a face-to-face consultation to assess their ability to take Lariam? In this sense, what they are stating is the State did not protect their interests and failed in its duty of care to them.

The Deputy is aware that there is ongoing litigation in respect of the use of Lariam in the Defence Forces, to which the Minister for Defence is the defendant. As I have previously outlined, the State Claims Agency is managing these claims on behalf of the Department. The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot discuss allegations about the screening or prescribing of Lariam, where matters are the subject of ongoing litigation.

However, the military authorities have assured me that significant precautions are taken by Defence Forces medical officers in assessing the medical suitability of members of our Defence Forces to take any anti-malarial medications. It is the policy of the Defence Forces that personnel are individually screened for medical fitness for overseas service and medical suitability to be prescribed the necessary malaria chemoprophylactic agent.

Malaria is a serious disease which killed approximately 438,000 people in 2015, with 90% of deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, as reported by the World Health Organization. There are three anti-malarial drugs in use in the Defence Forces, namely, Lariam, Malarone and Doxycycline. The United Nations recent medical support manual 2015, which is intended to serve as a standard reference document on medical support aspects of United Nations peacekeeping operations and political missions in the field, provides that anti-malarial medicines can be used to prevent malaria. It does not make any recommendations as to which malaria chemoprophylaxis should be used but rather references the WHO international travel and health handbook for the latest information on malaria chemoprophylaxis.

The WHO handbook provides for a range of anti-malarials which includes Lariam, Malarone and Doxycycline. The WHO handbook notes that there are specific contraindications and possible side effects for all anti-malarial drugs. I am advised that Defence Forces medical policy on the use of malaria chemoprophylaxis, including the use of Lariam, is in line with these United Nations and World Health Organization guidelines.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Where malaria has been identified as a risk in a particular mission area, the choice of chemoprophylaxis medication is dependent on a number of factors, including the type of malaria in the destination, resistance to particular drugs, the profile of the traveller in terms of contra-indications, underlying health conditions, purpose of travel, etc., the duration of travel, the mission operational profile and adherence issues.

Mefloquine, or Lariam, is one of the drugs listed for use by the WHO in its international travel and health handbook. Of the options available, Defence Forces medical policy has identified Lariam as the drug which in most circumstances, having regard to the nature and duration of operational deployments, minimises the risk to Irish personnel of contracting malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. As I have previously indicated, there are specific contra-indications to its use and personnel must be individually screened for suitability.

Defence Forces medical policy also provides for Malarone and Doxycycline to be used in sub-Saharan Africa, in specific circumstances. The potential usage of these alternative options is carefully considered having regard to the individual in question, the specific circumstances of the mission, the operational imperative for deployment of the individual, constraints associated with the drug and the overall risk profile. The risk-to-benefit ratio is a determining factor in recommendations from the director of medical branch permitting use of these medications.

The choice of medication for overseas deployments, for both officers and enlisted personnel, is a medical decision made by medical officers in the Defence Forces, having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual members of the Defence Forces. The use of, and the information on, medications is kept under ongoing review by medical professionals within the Defence Forces.

I assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces remain a high priority for myself and the Defence Forces.

On the one hand the Minister of State says he cannot say anything as it is the subject of litigation but he then says there is nothing to see here and that we should move on. He is missing the point that sworn public testimony has been given, by one member of the Defence Forces after another, in which they categorically state that the guidelines issued with regard to the prescription of this type of medication were not followed. Defence Forces personnel did not receive face-to-face consultation and in many instances medical records, which were available to the Defence Forces and gave information of mental health issues, were not taken into account before the soldiers were prescribed Lariam.

The Minister of State repeated, verbatim, the standard line we got from his predecessor, Deputy Coveney, that everything was grand and there had been an assessment but what steps has he taken to verify that what he says is the case as against the sworn testimonies of others which state the complete opposite?

As the Deputy is aware, a number of cases of litigation are taking place at the moment and I will not comment on individual cases or who had or did not have face-to-face consultations. The military authorities have assured me that significant precautions are taken by Defence Forces medical officers in assessing the medical suitability of members of the Defence Forces to take any anti-malaria medication. I understand that to be face-to-face consultation.

The first priority is the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces who are serving abroad. The death rate figures for malaria are startling - some 438,000 in 2015 alone in sub-Saharan Africa. That is not a risk I want to take. I depend on the advice given to me by the chief medical officer of the Irish Defence Forces.

Malaria can be effectively combatted by other prescription medication than Lariam, and most defence forces organisations around the world choose other drugs. I pose these questions against the background of Ireland remaining an exception in continuing to use Lariam.

The Minister of State should realise that the health effects suffered by the loyal members of our Defence Forces are real. They include acute depression, suicidal thoughts and many cases of suspected suicide and severe mental health problems as a result of taking this medication. Is the individualised medical risk assessment a policy paper? Does the Department actually have any evidence that it is taking place? Are records kept on file of the risk assessments? How does the Minister of State square what he says with the fact that people can give evidence that their prior medical history, which was known to the Defence Forces, was not accessed with a view to protecting them from Lariam when it clearly should have been?

I accept that the Minister of State takes this issue seriously but the same institution that is reassuring him is the one that would be liable if found to be negligible, as other armies around the world are finding out with medical officers and chiefs of staff who gave directions on Lariam being held to be negligent. I ask the Minister of State to take it so seriously that he goes beyond the medical advice from the institution in question.

The Minister of State's reply is that he is relying on advice from the chief medical officer but I ask him to arrange a face-to-face meeting between the chief medical officer and spokespersons in this House, so that we can discuss the issues that regularly come up and will continue to come up.

The choice of medication for overseas deployments for both officers and enlisted personnel is a medical decision taken by the medical officers. Deputy Ó Snodaigh spoke of the chief of staff giving me advice but the chief of staff also depends on advice from the chief medical officer, who has the qualifications to give it. Each individual is screened before they go to sub-Saharan Africa to ensure Lariam is suitable for them. If they do suffer side effects steps are taken. If they are abroad the medication can be changed and they are screened on an ongoing basis.

Question No. 19 replied to with Written Answers.

Defence Forces

Brendan Ryan


20. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has read the report on the Defence Forces well-being entitled Your Say Climate Survey 2015; his views on the report and its findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33828/16]

I ask if the Minister of State has read the report to which I refer, and if he has set about implementing any of its recommendations.

The third and most recent report of the implementation monitoring group was published in September 2014. Among its recommendations was that a climate survey be conducted within 12 months and subsequently at reasonable intervals. A similar survey was conducted in 2008. The aim of the survey, which was conducted by the University of Limerick, UL, was to identify trends to inform best practice in human resources management and training and education within the Defence Forces. As with the 2008 survey, approximately 11% of the workforce, 1,055 personnel, was sampled.

The key findings of the survey are grouped under topics such as work-life balance, peer support, organisational justice within the organisation, procedural justice, organisational fairness, Defence Forces integrity and supervisory justice. The University of Limerick researchers who undertook the project point out that the findings of the report and the recommendations are interconnected and caution should apply to reading any one particular finding in isolation.

I have reviewed the report in detail. I have also received a briefing on the findings from the University of Limerick. The survey findings clearly point to challenges for the Defence Forces, particularly in the areas of leadership, communication, organisational culture, the working environment and active management of personnel expectations. However, many positives also emanated from the survey, especially in regard to the commitment of personnel to the values and mission of the organisation, high levels of work satisfaction, pride in the organisation and positive views on culture and work support.

The response to the issues raised in the report of the climate survey is being led by the Chief of Staff by way of an action plan which involves the engagement of all levels of management within the organisation. RACO and PDFORRA were recently briefed by the University of Limerick researchers on the findings and conclusions of the report. Following on from that briefing, I met recently with the representative associations to hear their views and concerns in regard to the report. It was agreed at that meeting that the representative associations would be fully engaged in the response to the report through the IMG framework, where they could put forward their views on appropriate responses. It was also agreed that there would be a further meeting with the University of Limerick and the IMG to consider the findings and to tease out the quantitative data in the report. The associations will also attend planned focus groups to be facilitated by the University of Limerick to further explore the issues raised in the climate survey report.

In the time between 2008 and 2015, the Defence Forces underwent significant changes, an economic downturn, a moratorium on promotions and recruitment and a major reorganisation involving the restructuring of many units, all of which had a major impact on it, as outlined in the report. The study was commissioned to identify trends to inform practice in HR and-or training and education. I note the Minister of State's response in terms of some of the actions already taken. However, the findings would suggest that the individual's perception and experience of the work will be dependent on a number of factors, including his or her rank within the Defence Forces, gender, tenure and the service in which he or she works and so on. What I am seeking from the Minister of State on behalf of the Defence Forces is an assurance that this report will not be left sitting on a shelf but will inform an agenda for change and that in respect of that change an implementation plan, inclusive of targets and timelines, will be put in place and a commitment from the Minister of State and senior personnel to delivery of that plan, including progress reports in terms of its implementation, will be given.

I can assure the Deputy that this report will not be left sitting on any shelf. I have met both representative organisations. I have also met Defence Forces staff, including the Chief of Staff, on this matter. I have asked the Chief of Staff to develop an action plan in response to the findings of the survey, with consideration to be given to how best we might gain a more detailed insight into the underlying issues which have given rise to the positive and negative perceptions mentioned in the report so as to inform the way forward. I have agreed to full engagement of the representative associations in the process and to their having an input into the review and proposed action plan through the framework of the IMG. While the response to the issues raised by the survey report will be led from the top by the Chief of Staff, management at all levels within the organisation will be required to engage with and communicate effectively, knowledgeably and frankly with the personnel with whom they work.

In terms of my engagement with the Defence Forces, I talk to the people on the ground, the soldiers, who are the heart of the organisation. It is courageous and forward-looking of the Defence Forces to take on such an initiative. I would encourage other organisations to engage in a similar exercise. It is important that as Minister of State with responsibility in this area I and the Secretary General of my Department and the Chief of Staff know the thoughts and concerns of all members of the Defence Forces.

I must ask Members to respect the time limits.

We owe it to our Defence Forces to act expeditiously and comprehensively on this report. I hope this will be done in the context of benchmarking best practice against other forces. I would ask the Minister of State to ensure this is factored into the response.

Absolutely. I have spoken to the Chief of Staff and he is aware that as leader of the organisation it is important he would interact with other defence organisations and armies not only within the European Union but further afield to determine best practice going forward. I would welcome that. There are many similar organisations to ours in Canada, Australia and so on that we can learn from. I credit the Defence Forces on the establishment within that organisation of an LGBT group. That is very welcome. We are a changing society and, as in the case of other organisations, our Defence Forces must change with society.

Defence Forces Operations

Clare Daly


21. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of times to date in 2016 that the Defence Forces has been called on to perform aid to civil power duties at Irish airports in respect of US military planes. [33811/16]

This question seeks from the Minister of State data on the number of times to date in 2016 that the Defence Forces were called on to perform aid to the civil power duties at Irish airports in respect of US military planes. I would expect most of those to have taken place in Shannon Airport, it being almost de facto a US military air base at this stage. Would the Minister of State be willing to take Shannon Airport under his auspices, as is the case with Baldonnel airport, such that we would not have to put questions in this way given the amount of traffic by the US military at Shannon Airport?

The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power, ATCP, which, in practice, means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. Since 5 February 2003, the Garda Síochána has requested ATCP support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport, as required. The number of duties incurred in the provision of ATCP support at Irish Airports to date in 2016 in respect of US military planes is 350.

This is an important issue. I note the Minister of State stated in a reply earlier this year that the amount of money expended on this area was over €135,000. In essence, what we are talking about is Ireland giving over time, space and hundreds of thousands of euros, that could be better spent elsewhere, to activities that are in reality a flagrant breach of our neutrality so that the US military can be facilitated in terms of its activities abroad. I would like the Minister of State to deal with the issue of Yemen in particular. There is a strong suspicion that Ireland may have played a role in one of the most horrific civilian massacres in Saudi Arabia's campaign in Yemen in that it facilitated the use of Shannon Airport for the transportation of weaponry to Saudi Arabia which ended up being used to kill civilians in Yemen. Will the Minister of State comment on the spike in aircraft activity around the NATO exercises in Poland earlier this year and on use of Shannon Airport in that regard and whether it is not glaringly obvious that our neutrality is being undermined by these activities?

The Government's recent review of foreign policy and the Defence Forces White Paper on Defence confirmed that Ireland will continue to maintain its traditional policy on military neutrality in terms of non-membership of military alliances and non-participation in common or mutual defence arrangements.

The issues of over-flight by foreign military aircraft and the use of Shannon Airport by military aircraft are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. However, the Deputy will be aware that successive Governments have made over-flight and landing facilities at Shannon Airport available to the United States for well over 50 years. These arrangements are in line with our traditional policy and military neutrality. The Defence Forces have no responsibility for the search of foreign military aircraft landed at Shannon Airport.

In regard to the Deputy's question on cost, expenditure relating to the deployment of Defence Forces personnel at Shannon Airport is met from the Defence Forces annual Vote.

In these matters ignorance is not bliss, nor is it an excuse. While President Obama may be more handsome and accommodating than President-elect Trump it is nonetheless the case that under President Obama, $115 billion worth of weaponry was sold to the Saudis. We know that aircraft refuelled mid-air at Shannon were en route to Saudi Arabia. Shannon Airport in that sense had a role to play in the destruction of Yemen. The Minister of State did not in the context of his reference to our traditional neutrality mention that our traditional neutrality involved garrison troops in Cold War Germany who were not on their way to active combat or their holidays. This is not a two or three times a day occurrence through our airports. I would welcome a comment from the Minister of State on the spike in landings.

It went from about 19 in June to approximately 32 per month earlier in the year and around the time of the NATO exercises in Poland. It is clear that we are being used to facilitate the further militarisation of Europe.

I do not believe that for one minute. I reiterate that this has been reviewed on a number of occasions. The Deputy talked about ammunition aboard aircraft. The Defence Forces have no responsibility to search any foreign military aircraft which lands at Shannon Airport. They are an aid to the civil power and An Garda Síochána when they deploy personnel to the airport.

Partnership for Peace

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


22. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will provide a categorical assurance that no Irish defence personnel will participate in any Russian deterrent force and that no Defence Forces personnel have been deployed in a manner which would facilitate other member states' involvement in this military operation. [33655/16]

Is the Minister of State concerned about escalating tensions and the militarisation of the borders between the European Union and Russia? Will he confirm that no Irish soldier will take part in any NATO operation or deterrent force, as it has been termed, or facilitate the setting up of a deterrent force in any way?

At the NATO Warsaw summit in July this year which I attended the establishment of a military presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland was announced. This military presence, also known as the Russian deterrent force, is being established in the Baltic region by NATO. The establishment which will be led by the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada will comprise four multinational battalions of 1,000 troops each. Ireland's co-operation with NATO is conducted through Partnership for Peace. The primary aim of our PfP membership is to enhance the Defence Forces' interoperability with other professional military forces for the purpose of engaging in UN-authorised peacekeeping and peace support operations led by the United Nations, the European Union or NATO. Participation in Partnership for Peace is fundamental to Ireland being able to meet its obligation to provide professional peacekeepers for international crisis management and peacekeeping operations mandated by the United Nations. The deployment of the Russian deterrent force is related to NATO's mutual defence capacity. As a matter of policy, Ireland does not participate in mutual defence arrangements and, as such, will not be participating in the Russian deterrent force.

The Minister of State says we will not participate in mutual defence arrangements based on NATO membership. Given that the deterrent force is to be based in the Baltic states, in particular Poland, and that a threat has been issued by the NATO chief, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, that the force of 4,000 soldiers with tanks and everything else could be increased quickly to 40,000, is the Minister of State concerned that our participation in Partnership for Peace is facilitating NATO members in concentrating on their militarisation of these borders rather than their UN duties, as we hope they would?

As a matter of policy, Ireland does not participate in mutual defence arrangements and, as such, will not be participating in the Russian deterrent force. At the NATO Warsaw summit in July this year the establishment of an enhanced forward military presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland was announced. NATO sees the Russian deterrent force in the Baltic region as a credible deterrent which has been designed not to provoke but prevent a conflict. The establishment of multinational battalions of 1,000 troops each will be led by the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. On 26 October these four allies set out their plans for the battalions they will lead. Other allies, including Denmark, France and Italy, have also indicated that they will send troops. As I stated, Ireland is absolutely making no arrangements to participate in such a deterrent force.

The Cold War continued for many years and drained Europe and much of the world of much-needed resources which could have been deployed more productively elsewhere. It was not meant to provoke a war. While it did not provoke a war, it provoked a stand-off which lasted for years. Is the Minister of State concerned that the deterrent force will be on EU soil? If there was to be a clash, Poland could trigger the Lisbon treaty's mutual defence clause as France has done on foot of the attacks on its soil in recent times by ISIS and those intent on dismantling Europe. In that case, it could be a clash on the shores of Poland into which we would get dragged through no fault of our own in defence of other European nations.

Ireland receives regular requests for participation in various missions and they are considered on a case by case basis. There are a number of considerations to be taken into account when Ireland is determining the missions in which it will partake. The assessment includes whether it is a peacekeeping operation and an appropriate response. I do not believe this mission is an appropriate one for Ireland in which to participate. Ireland has no plans to participate in a deterrent force. The primary aim of our PfP membership is to enhance the interoperability of the Defence Forces with other professional military forces for the purposes of engaging in UN-authorised peacekeeping and peace support operations led by the United Nations or the European Union.

Question No. 23 replied to with Written Answers.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Mick Barry


24. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if, in view of indications that the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors will have statutory access to the same statutory industrial relations fora as other trade unions, his Department will extend these same rights to PDFORRA and RACO. [33821/16]

The Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors are to have statutory access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. Will the Department of Defence extend the same rights to soldiers and organisations such as PDFORRA and RACO?

As the Deputy is aware, the scheme of conciliation and arbitration for members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, provides a formal mechanism for the PDF representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to engage with the official side. The purpose of the scheme is to provide a means for the determination of claims and proposals from the associations relating to remuneration and conditions of service. The representative associations have been to the fore in advancing the interests of their members in this regard, bringing them into line generally with the pay and conditions available in other public service employments. The conciliation and arbitration scheme includes access to independent adjudication. In addition, there is a framework which facilitates the associations' engagement with the official side in talks parallel to those taking place between the ICTU and the official side at national level. This parallel process was successfully operated in respect of last year's rounds of discussions facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission on an extension to the public service agreement, 2013 to 2016, which led to the Lansdowne Road agreement.

I have recently received representations from PDFORRA seeking to have access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court made available to them in the event of future legislative changes to provide An Garda Síochána with access to same. I am advised that the proposals in relation to An Garda Síochána being granted such access will require detailed legislative changes. I remain satisfied with the arrangements in place for the Defence Forces and have no immediate plans to make changes. However, in the light of PDFORRA's representations, the matter will be kept under review, including in the context of the arrangements to be made for An Garda Síochána.

Like the Garda representative organisations, PDFORRA and RACO have taken a case to the European Committee of Social Rights under Articles 4 and 6 of the European Social Charter seeking the same right of access to industrial relations machinery as other unions have, as well as the right to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The claim of the Garda organisations was upheld, despite resistance and opposition from the Government. Is the Government going to mount the same resistance to members of the armed forces and their representative organisations achieving the same civil rights?

As things stand, the armed forces now have the lowest level of legal protection and the poorest democratic rights of all workers. A number of High Court cases are pending on this. Will the Minister of State comment on the situation? I ask him, rather than simply explaining the status quo, to consider changing it immediately.

I will not comment on any legal cases before the courts. It would be improper of me to make any comment on any cases.

Under the terms of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1994, Defence Forces representative associations are prohibited from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body without the consent of the Minister of State. Accordingly, the representative associations PDFORRA and RACO cannot be affiliated to ICTU. The basis of the prohibition is that it would be inappropriate to apply the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act 1992 to members of the Defence Forces. The taking of any form of industrial action would be irreconcilable within the military service. This is a long-standing policy position that has been taken by respective Governments since the foundation of the State. Defence forces may be called to contribute to maintaining vital services in times of industrial action, as we saw last week

As I said in my original reply, in light of PDFORRA's representation this matter will be kept under constant review in the context of the arrangements to be made for An Garda Síochána.

Specific issues have been raised with my office, namely that the Organisation of Working Time Act does not apply to the armed forces. Claims have been made by Army rangers and Defence Forces chiefs that have been upheld in the courts, but have not yet been honoured by the Department of Defence. The armed forces suffered the same impositions as the rest of the public service, including pension levies, pay cuts and pay inequality. Their conditions compare unfavourably to those of the Garda, but they have even fewer rights when it comes to giving any kind of expression to the savaging of their living standards.

My office was astonished to be told that members of the armed forces are even prohibited from discussing issues relating to their working conditions with Deputies. Why is that? I want to say to any soldier, sailor or member of the Air Corps that he or she can talk to my office in confidence.

In its submission to the public service pay commission in late August, the AAA specifically called for civil and trade union rights for the armed forces. Why are they being granted to gardaí but not soldiers?

As I said in my original reply, I will keep the matter under review. I meet Defence Forces personnel on a regular basis, and I make sure I speak to them face-to-face. I do not meet those from management level alone, rather I meet those from all levels of the organisation. I encourage members of the organisation and the Irish Defence Forces, if they have issues of any kind that they want to discuss with me, to do so. I met PDFORRA and RACO on numerous occasions. A number of issues the Deputy has raised with me were not raised with me directly since I was appointed Minister of State. My office door is always open to listen to any representative organisations.

One representative organisation said there is more of an open door policy in my office than was the case in the past. It is important that I, as Minister of State with responsibility for defence, am able to interact and maintain good relations with representative organisations. If they want to raise issues with me I have no problem with listening to them.

EU Meetings

Clare Daly


25. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the representative from his Department who attended the informal meeting of European Union Defence Ministers in Bratislava on 26 September 2016 had any discussions with the Secretary General of NATO, who was also in attendance, regarding Ireland's neutrality not being compromised by accelerated EU-NATO co-operation; and if he will provide details of the discussions that took place at that meeting. [33810/16]

My question relates to the informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Bratislava at the end of September. It took place around a flurry of NATO-related activity. A statement was issued following the meeting, which referred to accelerated practical co-operation between the EU and NATO. What stance did the Minister of State take in those gatherings, given that we are supposed to be a neutral country?

As I advised the House previously, Dáil and Government business precluded my attendance at the informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Bratislava which took place on 26 and 27 September 2016. The Secretary General of the Department of Defence represented me at the meeting. The meeting included a working session which focused on EU-NATO co-operation and, in particular, on the ongoing work to present concrete options for implementation of the joint EU-NATO declaration signed in July 2016. The Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, attended this session.

The declaration highlights seven key areas where the EU and NATO can further strengthen co-operation. They include countering hybrid threats; broadening co-operation on maritime security and migration; expanding co-operation on cyber defence; developing coherent, complementary and interoperable defence capabilities; facilitating a stronger defence industry and defence research; stepping up co-ordination on exercises; and supporting countries in building their defence and security capabilities. They represent practical areas of co-operation in support of international peace and security, international crisis management operations and the protection of civilians. Progress on developing a set of proposals in these key areas, which will be agreed by the EU and NATO Councils, was discussed during this session. The HRVP, Ms. Federica Mogherini, and the Secretary General of NATO will report to the respective Councils in December on options to implement the EU-NATO declaration for their consideration.

Importantly for Ireland, the EU-NATO declaration confirms that future co-operation will fully respect the decision-making autonomy of both organisations and will not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of any member state. As this is already embodied in the declaration, there was no requirement at the recent informal ministerial meeting for the Secretary General in the Department of Defence to raise the issue of Ireland’s neutrality not being compromised by EU-NATO co-operation. Officials in my Department will continue to monitor closely proposals that emerge under the key areas I mentioned.

In fairness, the Minister of State and his Department have a fluid interpretation of neutrality. It seems to be the case that whatever NATO wants it gets. It is a little bit Irish, in terms of what other people would understand the definition of neutrality to be. Is the Minister of State concerned, for example, about the fact that a NATO warship docked to refuel in Cork harbour at the weekend? It was manned by Dutch soldiers who were armed with high velocity rifles. Is it acceptable practice for NATO warships to be refuelled in Ireland while engaged in operational work? Is this what we talk about when we refer to enhanced practical co-operation?

My problem is that the Government never seems to refuse any type of military activity. It seems to be the case that NATO is gearing up its aggression against Russia, for example. Do we want some form of conflict? Will Ireland be going along with the EU's new global security strategy? Does the Minister of State agree with the statement on the strategy that soft power is no longer enough? Is this the direction in which we are going? Are we sleepwalking, despite our protestations, into a situation of becoming a minor power in the evolution of NATO across the EU?

Deputy Daly wants to know whether Ireland has any plans to join NATO. I can assure her that there are no such plans. Ireland's co-operation with NATO will continue to be conducted through the Partnership for Peace process. There has been no change in the policy on Ireland's engagement with NATO or deploying troops to NATO-led missions which require that the mission be UN mandated and have the approval of the Dáil and Government.

The Government's 2015 review of foreign policy and the White Paper on Defence confirm that Ireland will continue to maintain a policy of military neutrality that is characterised by non-membership of military alliances and non-participation in common or mutual defence arrangements.

The only relationship we have with NATO is through Partnership for Peace, which was launched in January 1994 as a means of outreach to new democracies in central and eastern Europe and as a way to promote stability and strengthen relationships through the promotion of practical co-operation. Since Ireland joined Partnership for Peace, it has been joined by both states that wish to become NATO members and states that do not. Partnership for Peace includes the neutral or non-aligned states of Finland, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland. Ireland became a member of Partnership for Peace and of its political counterpart, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, in December 1999.

The problem is that there is no peace in Europe and a large number of refugees are a consequence of the war efforts of imperial powers. To date, the reality is that our neutrality has not stood in the way of Ireland's participation in the ever increasing militarisation of Europe. The Minister of State did not comment on the fact that a NATO warship with Dutch military personnel onboard was openly engaged in activity and refuelling in Cork harbour last weekend. It is an Irish solution to an Irish problem to say that we are neutral yet, at the same time, we do not stand in the way of the massive number of military aircraft that pass through our so-called civilian airports on the way to perhaps refuel aircraft in Saudi Arabia, to decimate people in Yemen or destabilise the Middle East.

The Minister of State states that we are neutral but the reality is that everything we have done has been done to facilitate NATO. Will we be going along with the EU's new global security strategy? What does it mean for us? We do have a strategic link with these countries.

I refute Deputy Daly's assertion that whatever NATO wants it gets. I assure her that is not the case. It would be wrong of me or any Member of this House to refer to our neutrality policy in loose terms. Our neutrality policy is and has been of the utmost importance in any decision that this Government, or any previous one, has made in this House. We have never gone beyond it. Our neutrality is often debated in this House and everyone has been given an opportunity to participate in those debates.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.