I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a second reading in order to protect the authority of the Executive to conduct external relations pursuant to Article 29.4 1° of the Constitution;
noting also, for example, that the Bill, as currently framed, may constrain the Government’s capacity to fulfil its obligations to support United Nations, UN, mandated actions, in particular peace enforcement missions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter;
reaffirming its commitment to Ireland’s longstanding policy of military neutrality;
acknowledging the constitutional framework within which the policy of military neutrality operates, in particular the following Articles of Bunreacht na hÉireann:
-- Article 29.1 which affirms Ireland’s "devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly cooperation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality";
-- Article 29.2 which affirms Ireland’s "‘adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination"’; and
-- Article 29.4.9° which states: "The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State.";
noting that the legally binding Protocol to the Lisbon Treaty negotiated by Ireland, states that "the Treaty of Lisbon does not prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality.";.
reaffirming the Government’s commitment to the "Triple Lock" principle provided for under the Defence Acts which govern the deployment of Irish Defence Forces overseas. The Triple Lock mandates that:
-- deployment for overseas peace support operations may only be made if that operation is mandated by the United Nations;
-- deployment must also be approved by the Government; and
-- if it is proposed to deploy more than 12 personnel, a Dáil resolution must also be approved;
noting that the Triple Lock provides for strong parliamentary oversight of deployment of Defence Forces personnel;
reaffirming the Government’s strong commitment to the principles of the UN Charter which states that "All Members shall settle their international disputes in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.";
further reaffirming its strong commitment to UN peacekeeping and notes that 573 Irish Defence Force personnel are currently serving with UN missions; and
restating its commitment to the implementation of the 2015 statement of foreign policy, The Global Island, approved by a Government decision of 6th January, 2015, which states "Our policy of military neutrality remains a core element of Irish foreign policy", page 29. Moreover, noting that the Government decision to approve The Global Island also stated that the Government "affirmed that, as the policy states, our policy of military neutrality remains a core element of Irish foreign policy.";
further affirming its commitment to the implementation of the White Paper on Defence, 2015, approved by a Government decision of 13th July, 2015, and re-committed to in the Programme for Partnership Government, 2016. Noting that the White Paper, which sets out a ten year strategy for Ireland’s Defence Policy, states, inter alia:
— "The Government’s recent review of foreign policy confirmed that Ireland will continue to maintain a policy of military neutrality which is characterised by non-membership of military alliances and non-participation in common or mutual defence arrangements.", page 24; and
— "While many EU member states are also members of NATO, there is full acceptance across the EU that a sovereign state has the right to choose its own defence policy, which in Ireland’s case is one of military neutrality." page 27.".
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute on this important Bill. The text of the Government's reasoned amendment has been circulated to the House.
The Government is clear in our policy on military neutrality. As Deputies will be aware, the policy dates back to the Second World War. Over subsequent decades, successive Governments have restated their commitment to the policy and it remains as strong as ever under the current Government. We are also clear, however, that the proposed legislation is unnecessary and would impact negatively on Ireland's ability to contribute positively in the international community. On that basis, we are proposing an amendment.
While I cannot support the Bill, today's debate affords a useful opportunity to restate our continuing commitment to Ireland's long-standing policy of military neutrality and to set out how and why we strongly support this policy. That commitment was most recently set out in the White Paper on Defence, which was published in August 2015. This reaffirmed that our policy of military neutrality remained a core element of foreign policy, as had been previously restated in the review of foreign policy, The Global Island, published in January 2015.
There are substantive provisions in the Constitution that underpin Ireland's policy on military neutrality. Article 29 establishes the framework within which Ireland conducts its international relations. In particular, Article 29.1 reads: "Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality." Article 29.2 confirms that Ireland adheres to the principle of the peaceful settlement of international disputes.
Further safeguards on this issue are provided in Article 29(4)(9) which imposes a constitutional block on Ireland’s participation in a common defence policy under Article 42 of the EU treaties. This safeguard will remain in our Constitution unless and until the people decide otherwise by referendum on some future occasion. Moreover, the protocols attaching to the Lisbon treaty specifically recognise Ireland’s policy of military neutrality stating, inter alia, "The Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality".
It is suggested that one of the bases for the current proposal is to ensure that we do not deploy our Defence Forces in support of military operations in international conflicts. As all Members of the House are aware, the Defence Acts set out the parameters within which Defence Forces personnel may be deployed on international operations. Any such deployment is constrained by the provisions known as the triple lock. The triple lock provisions also form part of Ireland’s declaration under the Lisbon treaty.
Successive Governments have pursued a policy of military neutrality, which is characterised by non-participation in military alliances and non-engagement in mutual defence commitments. Ireland’s concept of military neutrality has served us well. While we choose to remain neutral, that is not out of any lack of interest in issues underpinning conflicts or any isolationist stance. Ireland’s approach to international relations is founded on full and active engagement in the international community in support of international peace and security and the rule of law. We follow and will continue to follow this policy approach of being militarily neutral but fully engaged, because, as committed members of the United Nations, we subscribe fully to the principles set out in the UN charter.
In particular, we believe that disputes between states should be resolved in a peaceful manner. That is set out in the provisions of Article 2(3) of the UN Charter which states that "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered." We subscribe to, and are bound by, the provisions of chapter 6 of the charter, which deals with the peaceful settlement of disputes and chapter 7 which sets out provisions for joint action in respect of threats to the peace and acts of aggression. We are also committed as a UN member to meeting our obligations to contribute troops for deployment on UN-mandated missions, whether those are peacekeeping or peace enforcement operations requiring combat ready and capable troops. Since 1958, the Defence Forces have made an extraordinary contribution to such UN missions. As a nation we are very proud of the role that the Defence Forces have played, and continue to play, in very challenging and difficult missions. As of last Friday, Ireland is contributing more than 570 Defence Forces personnel to UN mandated missions throughout the world.
The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 379 personnel, and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, in Syria with 136 Defence Forces personnel. I have just returned from Lebanon this week where Ireland has entered the next chapter of our participation in the UNIFIL mission under the overall control of the head of mission and force commander, Major General Michael Beary. He is the first Irish person to hold this important post in more than 30 years. Since Tuesday last, Ireland has once again taken over the lead nation role in the joint Irish-Finnish battalion and will undertake this role for the next two years. Other missions include the UN-mandated, NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo with 12 personnel, the EU-led operation ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with seven personnel and the EU-led training mission in Mali with 18 personnel. These missions are undertaken in pursuit of the guiding UN principles to maintain international peace and security and to take effective collective measures to prevent and remove threats to peace.
Concern has been expressed at various times about Ireland’s participation in NATO-led operations. I wish to again put on record in the House that the NATO-led operations, in which Ireland participates, such as the NATO-led KFOR Mission in Kosovo and, previously ISAF in Afghanistan, have been authorised by successive UN Security Council resolutions. They are operations undertaken at the behest of the UN, authorised by the UN, and very often working with a UN mission. Ireland’s participation in them in no way infringes on our traditional policy of military neutrality and our participation is both welcomed and strongly supported by the UN, as is Ireland’s participation in EU battle groups.
Ireland’s co-operation with NATO is conducted through the Partnership for Peace, PfP. Our purpose in participating in the PfP is to improve our military capabilities so as to be able to participate effectively and safely with other nations in UN-mandated operations. In joining the PfP, Ireland, in common with other PfP nations, reaffirmed its commitment to fulfil, in good faith, the obligations of the United Nations Charter, and the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ireland’s decision to participate in PfP is in full accordance with Ireland’s policy of military neutrality.
Concerns have also been expressed at various times that our participation in the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, of the European Union has posed a threat to our military neutrality, most recently in the context of the publication of the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. That is not true. Ireland’s traditional policy on military neutrality is completely unaffected by our membership of the EU or by any treaties or policies associated with the EU.
Similarly, concern has been expressed about the recent joint EU-NATO declaration on co-operation. I can confirm to the House that the declaration clearly states that future co-operation between the EU and NATO 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, which in our case is one of military neutrality. The European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy clearly does not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states. That has been consistent treaty language in EU treaties since the Maastricht treaty in 1992. It was included at Ireland’s behest to fully protect our specific policy of military neutrality. It has been replicated and referenced consistently in all related policies since then, including in relation to the development of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, as part of CSDP.
There are no proposals to create a standing EU army and we are not and will not become part of any alliance or permanent military formation. Indeed, there are no provisions whatsoever under the existing EU treaties which would facilitate or enable the creation of a European army. The guarantees under the Lisbon treaty and Ireland’s declaration make this very clear. Moreover, any form of common defence that may be agreed can only come about if all the member states agree unanimously. Even if the member states were ever to agree that, Ireland could not participate without a separate referendum. What has developed in the context of EU-CSDP operations with military elements, is that the Union now engages in a wide range of crisis management operations, invariably in support of or in partnership with the UN. These are the sort of tasks already undertaken on UN-mandated crisis management operations combining the efforts of both civilian and military personnel.
In regard to EU missions and operations overseas under CSDP, the launching of any such missions requires the unanimous approval of the Council. As such, Ireland has the right of veto over launching any such mission. Also, it must be recognised that our triple lock would prevent Irish troops from participation in any such mission without a UN mandate and Dáil approval, as appropriate. I have highlighted the Government’s continued commitment to military neutrality, as evidenced through successive policy statements, the Lisbon treaty guarantees and, most recently, the Government's White Paper on Defence. While Ireland is committed to a policy of military neutrality, we must be clear that Ireland is not ideologically neutral. Political neutrality in international affairs has never been part of Ireland’s foreign policy tradition. Ireland is an outward looking country that has played a proactive role and continues to play a proactive role in preventing and managing conflicts and the maintenance of international peace.
Accordingly, in view of the strength and long-standing nature of this commitment reiterated by successive Governments spanning the political spectrum, the Government is satisfied that there is no need to insert a constitutional provision relating to this policy and has, therefore, proposed amendment No. 1. Not only are the proposals in the Bill unnecessary, they are also potentially fraught with difficulties. Enshrining these provisions in the Constitution could, for example, constrain the Government's flexibility and scope to respond effectively in emergency or urgent circumstances where speed is of the essence.
More serious are the potential effects which cannot be foreseen and indeed how the proposal may be interpreted in time to come. As a State, we have seen how constitutional provisions inserted at various times with apparent clear objectives have subsequently been subject to differing interpretations and the cause of ongoing dispute on both sides of the argument. I would be concerned, for example, that inserting the proposed text in the Constitution might constrain the Government's scope to support UN-mandated actions, particularly in conflict zones and fragile states involving both state and non-state actors. Moreover, I see no groundswell of public or political opinion to the effect that the people would wish to constrain the Government and Dáil Éireann in this way.
Our military neutrality has always been a matter of policy and principle rather than a matter of law. The instigators of the policy never sought to enshrine it in law and successive Governments have continued to maintain the policy but have not proceeded to give it legal or constitutional effect. This pragmatic approach has enabled successive Governments to respond to international crises through both civilian and military means in both peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions.
Finally, I would like to address the issue of the Government's policy in respect of the use of Shannon Airport by US aircraft and the inevitable claims that will be made that this policy is incompatible with our neutrality. Successive Governments have made overflight and landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the US for well over 50 years. These arrangements are governed by strict conditions, including that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and not engage in intelligence and that the flights do not form part of military exercises or operations. We impose these conditions to ensure compatibility between these arrangements and our neutrality.
This is the context in which today's amendment to the motion has been proposed. Government policy on neutrality is unambiguous. There are effective safeguards in place to protect Ireland's military neutrality while enabling Ireland to continue actively to play its part internationally through a range of actions, including diplomatic activity, humanitarian interventions and peacekeeping, peace enforcement and crisis management operations. The inclusion of the proposed provisions in the Constitution is neither necessary nor appropriate.