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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Dec 2016

Vol. 932 No. 3

Priority Questions

European Defence Action Plan

I understand it is proposed to take Questions Nos. 28, 29 and 32 together. According to Standing Orders, the Member who tabled the first question in the group should introduce them.

Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle clarify how that will work?

Deputy Chambers will introduce the questions and the Minister of State will say which ones are being grouped.

Lisa Chambers


28. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the implications for Ireland of the European defence action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40072/16]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


29. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will be attending the meeting of the European Council of Ministers in Brussels on 15 December 2016; and the Government’s position on the European Commission's European defence action plan which is to be discussed there. [39978/16]

Eamon Ryan


32. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the implications for Irish defence policy of the recent announcement of a European defence action plan. [40172/16]

What are the implications for Ireland of the European defence action plan? Clearly, the EU is facing an unprecedented set of security challenges both within its borders and outside.

It is my view that this plan is a reaction to those threats. I would like a statement from the Minister of State please.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28, 29 and 32 together. The College of Commissioners adopted the European defence action plan on 30 November last. This is simply a proposal from the Commission. It has not been discussed or agreed by the member states or the European Parliament. As such, it has yet to go through the wide ranging and extensive EU procedures before any part of it becomes a reality.

The aim of the plan is to explore how EU policies and instruments can ensure that the EU's industrial and skills base will be able to deliver required defence capabilities in view of current and future security challenges. As part of this plan, the Commission has proposed the creation of a European defence fund. In addition, the plan aims to offer supports to small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs, start-ups and other suppliers to the defence industry. There are also proposals in the plan to increase transparency in relation to defence procurement under the existing EU procurement directives.

The purpose of the defence fund is to promote research and innovation and contribute to the strengthening of the European defence technology and industrial base, and to further stimulate the development of key defence capabilities. The Commission has proposed that the fund would have research and capability windows.

In the research window, it is proposed that €90 million in funding will be made available for collaborative defence research projects over the period 2017-20 in what is known as the "preparatory action". The Commission also proposed that, post 2020, a European defence research programme will be established which will require funding of €500 million per annum. It should be noted that this has yet to be negotiated as part of the post 2020 multiannual financial framework.

Under the capability window, the establishment of a fund is proposed. The fund would facilitate member states in purchasing capability platforms together through the pooling of national contributions, where possible, supported by the EU budget. The Commission estimates that this fund would be in the region of €5 billion per year. It is important to highlight that this would depend on individual member states agreeing to initiate joint projects which they would co-fund from national resources. To date, no such ambition on pooling resources across the union has been realised.

For certain member states in the EU, defence is a significant contributor to their economies, representing an industry of €100 billion with 1.5 million direct and indirect employees. Ireland does not have a defence industry. However, this does not mean we do not need to equip our defence forces with advanced defensive systems or that we will not benefit from this action plan. The action plan puts forward a range of proposals designed to deliver additional capabilities for the common security and defence policy, CSDP, and to support and regulate the defence industry as another sector of the Single Market.

I am satisfied that the proposals in the action plan fully respect the EU treaties and the Lisbon protocols and pose no challenge to Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. There is also a clear recognition and reaffirmation that defence remains a member state prerogative. Decisions about expenditure, military capabilities, research and technology are matters for member states.

At the Bratislava summit in September of this year the leaders of the 27 member states concluded "We need the EU not only to guarantee peace and democracy but also the security of our people." I agree with the Minister of State that suggestions will be put to him today and in the future that this is somehow an attack on our neutrality and I reject that completely. It is important to bear in mind that the second Nice treaty introduced a provision into our Constitution affirming that we could not partake in common defence without further amendment to the Constitution. We in Fianna Fáil abide by that.

We also believe, however, that it is in Ireland's best interests to have defence forces that are fit for purpose and able to carry out their duties effectively. The demand for resources is challenging and if there are ways we can boost our defences and ensure there is in place a credible defence policy we should do so. If the European defence action plan can provide opportunities for efficiencies and for making our defence spending go further we should avail of it. Even by the standard of neutral countries our defence spending is very low. What will the Minister of State do to ensure our Defence Forces can take advantage of this plan?

The Deputy is right to say that this does not put our neutrality in question. I agree ours is a changing society and the world is changing and we have to be ready for whatever eventuality happens. We have to have the best equipped Army to be able to react to whatever is the situation. This is only a proposal from the Commission. It is to be agreed by the Council. I do not want, and it would be wrong of me, to make any commitment until I see the decision of the Council which then has to go through the European Parliament. I assure the Deputy that I take all her views and sentiments on board. I will be singing off the same hymn sheet as the Deputy.

I listened with interest to the Minister of State's response to Deputy Lisa Chambers. Is the Minister of State aware that there is a defence or military industry in Ireland? On the Order of Business today a Deputy from the county where Timoney is based appealed for the purchase of more military equipment from Timoney. There is also a huge industry in respect of dual-use goods, including some which go to Israel for military purposes.

There was a concern when the European Defence Agency was proposed in the Lisbon treaty that this was exactly where it was going. The Minister of State’s response to Deputy Chambers is quite pathetic because he is not willing to take a position. What is the Government's position on this proposal? We know the proposal is to increase EU spending on military goods in research and divert money away from its current use for social good to military spend.

The European defence action plan refers to the creation of a European defence fund which consists of two distinct financial structures. In respect of the research window, Ireland recognises the need for investment to be made in defence research, particularly in innovative technologies and products and services which will assist the development of future capability requirements for our Defence Forces. The action plan proposes a €5 million annual budget for defence and dual-use research and development as a successor to Horizon 2020. This has yet to be negotiated as part of the post-2020 multi-annual financial framework. Ireland welcomes the reference in the European defence action plan to encourage the creation of synergies to boost innovation with civil economies such as cyber defence. Ireland has particular strengths in the areas of dual-use and civil commercial technologies which can support defence capability.

The Minister of State says this does not affect our neutrality but at a certain point it does and we are at that point with a €500 million per annum research budget which we want to tap into, and a €5 billion capability window to build up a defence industry.

As the Minister of State said, there are hybrid threats, cybersecurity threats and dual-use opportunities for which we will have these capabilities. However, it is increasingly drawing us in.

Just to focus on one specific question, the Minister of State said that he does not wish to contemplate the outcome of the Council meeting in advance. There is a proposal on funding and financing to the effect that the European Investment Bank, EIB, would have the capability of defence lending. That would be a shocking development which could have real implications for the EIB's ability to raise funds. No ethical fund would be able to invest in the EIB. The cost of lending would probably rise as a result. Does the Government intend to support any proposal that gives the EIB defence industry and arms industry lending capability? Does it think it better not to support that development or to be associated with it if the proposal is passed?

I will repeat what I said in my original reply. I am satisfied that the proposals in the action plan fully respect the EU treaties and the Lisbon protocols and pose no challenge to Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality. There is also a clear recognition and reaffirmation that defence remains a member state prerogative. Decisions about expenditure, military capabilities, research and technology are matters for member states. We will consider the Commission's proposal. I am not going to indicate to what we are going to commit.

To address Deputy Chambers, we live in a changing society. We have to be ready for every eventuality. We must have our Defence Forces equipped as best as they can be in order that they will be able to measure up and equal any other defence force. That is a real challenge for us. There are benefits for us in the proposal. We have to be able to equip our Defence Forces and that is the most important thing.

The Minister of State has exceeded his time.

If the Deputy talks to any member of the Defence Forces, he or she will tell her that the most important thing is-----

There is an overall time limit.

-----that they have the proper equipment.

Do Members agree to allow the three Deputies to ask supplementary questions and the Minister of State to answer them? Agreed.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh has said that this is about increasing military spending. The objective is actually to pool spending in order to increase efficiencies on the part of every member state that partakes in what is proposed. The European defence fund being proposed by the Commission represents a great opportunity for our country. We have a very tight military budget. I do not believe that we spend enough on our Defence Forces. They do not have the resources they need - through no fault of their own - to operate effectively.

There are two tranches to this: the research window and the capabilities window. The research window would fund collaborative research in innovative and strategic defence technologies. For example, technologies could include electronics, metamaterials, encrypted software and robotics. As a collective, we could achieve advances in technology. The capability window would support member states in joint spending. This is not about increasing the number of bombs or guns. We spend money on helicopters and other technologies for our Defence Forces in order that they can protect our citizens. We could pool resources to get a better price on those. Rather than taking the cynical view, there are actual savings to be made. Ireland is a small country with a small budget. To be able to pool collectively to create greater efficiencies and economies of scale is a good thing for Ireland. We need to recognise that. What is the Minister proposing to do to increase our ability of procurement in order to increase our capabilities?

Rather than retaining spending at the current cost, the proposal is based on the fact that the EU as a whole has a decreasing military spend. That is a laudable result and is not to be lamented, nor should it be increased to create an arms race similar to those from which Europe suffered greatly in the past. The Minister of State is saying that the Government has no position and does not want to pre-empt the debate. However, has Ireland already pre-empted this debate by assenting in October to the European Defence Agency, EDA, allocating €1.4 million to a pilot project in order to underline and prepare for the eventual project of increasing spending on research and pooling an initial €5 billion - up to €25 billion and maybe beyond that afterwards - in EU defence spending, as proposed by the EU and outside forces such as the US Presidency?

The Minister of State said that he would not answer my question on whether the Government will support the proposal that the EIB might fund armaments and defence spending in advance of the meeting. What is the point of us being here if we cannot get some sense of the Government's position in advance of a European Council meeting? As I understand it, we are encouraged to have an understanding of our own position in advance of a decision of the European Council. It is not a difficult question, a sensitive question or a question of military secrecy. Can the Minister of State indicate whether the Government has a view on whether the EIB should be lending for armaments and defence spending? If he will not tell me, will he tell me why he will not tell me or will he explain the position? His refusal to answer the question because the meeting is coming up next week is something with which I fundamentally disagree. That is not what this House is for or how we should approach EU Council meetings. It is not a secret. I wish to know in advance what is the Government's position on this issue.

There is huge potential in this proposal for Ireland. We must give that fact serious consideration. It is about pooling resources. I have said this in the House in the past. We must consider all of the proposals very carefully over the coming period, especially at Head of State level. That is where the Commission's proposals will really be considered.

The action plan will be formally sent to the European Parliament, the EU Council, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee for formal responses. I do not want to pre-empt anything, but I wish to say that we have to take these proposals extremely seriously and consider them. There is huge potential for Ireland. For a small country, given the amount we spend on defence, the proposals that the Commission has set out could get us more bang for our buck.

Are we in favour of the EIB funding armaments?

We move on now to-----

On a point of order, are we precluded from asking questions on the Government's position before an upcoming EU Council meeting? What is preventing us receiving an answer to that question?

I ask the Minister of State to reply.

That will be discussed at the upcoming EU Council meeting.

I know. What is our position?

I am not going to get into an argument. This is a proposal that has been sent. There is a huge amount of negotiation yet to be done in respect of it. We must give serious consideration to these proposals. There are huge benefits in this for Ireland.

So we are in favour of the EIB lending in respect of armaments.

Naval Service Operations

Lisa Chambers


30. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the preparations being made within the Naval Service to address possible increased fisheries protection requirements post-Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40073/16]

Are preparations being made within the Naval Service to address possible increased fisheries protection requirements post-Brexit? Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter?

The Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jursidiction Act 2006 established the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, as the competent authority for securing efficient and effective enforcement of sea fisheries protection legislation and the sustainable exploitation of marine fish resources from the waters around Ireland.

To this end, the SFPA has a service-level agreement with the Department of Defence to ensure efficient enforcement of sea-fisheries law at sea through the support provided by the Naval Service and the Air Corps. In accordance with this agreement, an annual control plan is agreed between the parties that sets out the strategy for achieving sea-fisheries control targets each year. The Naval Service is also responsible for the operation of the fisheries monitoring centre, which is located at the naval base and is operated by the Naval Service on a 24-7 basis.

The consequences of Brexit will depend on the manner in which, and under what circumstances, the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. It is, therefore, premature to anticipate the detailed implications of the UK referendum, including any possible impact on fishery protection requirements, at this stage.

However, the Deputy may be assured that the Department, the Naval Service and the Air Corps will work closely with the SFPA on how any new arrangements are enforced and will liaise closely with the European Fisheries Control Agency and with other member states as appropriate.

The Naval Service and Air Corps are well positioned to meet any new requirements that may emerge, including in their fishery protection roles.

The Deputy will be aware that the Naval Service ship replacement programme has seen the delivery of three new offshore patrols vessels in the past three years with a further ship to be delivered in early 2018. In addition, the White Paper on Defence from 2015 provides that the two Air Corps CASA 235 aircraft, which are tasked with carrying out maritime air patrol surveillance, will be replaced when necessary. These measures will ensure the Naval Service and the Air Corps have the capacity to continue to develop their fishery protection and other important roles in the maritime domain.

The Minister of State is no doubt aware of the recently published House of Lords analysis of Brexit. It has received a lot of attention here because of its call for the continuation of the current open land border between the UK and Ireland, the maintenance of the common travel area, the right of free movement within the UK for Irish and UK citizens and their right to reside and work in both countries.

However, in its hearings, the House of Lords also heard that Brexit is a big prize for the British fishing industry and will enable it to become a world leading seafood exporter like Norway. According to fishing industry leaders, withdrawal from the EU will enable Britain to regain control of its waters after decades of common grazing rights assigned to European neighbours. Mr. Bertie Armstrong said that the flaws in the EU fishing policy had their roots in the politics of joining the European Community in 1973. According to Mr. Armstrong, "Fishing was considered expendable and British waters were given to the EC as part of the accession negotiations. It was a deliberate act but an act of folly. Now we have the opportunity to right it."

Obviously, this could have implications for Ireland and while nobody wants to predict difficulties, we would be foolish not to recognise they may be lying ahead for us. What action has the Minister of State taken since the vote in June? Has he and have the officials from his Department met officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to discuss the implications of what I have just said?

First, I have had bilateral meetings with my counterpart in the UK. There are two Departments involved here, namely, my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as well as the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. As I have outlined, we have a service level agreement with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. The agency has set out the number of days it requires the Naval Service and the Air Corps to undertake sea fisheries protection duties.

The Deputy asked if there will be consequences for sea fisheries protection when Britain exits the European Union, but that will form part of the negotiations. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, has had talks on fisheries issues at EU level. As a matter of fact, the last time I was in Brussels, both the Minister and his departmental officials with responsibility for fisheries were also there engaged in talks.

I am not aware of the document to which the Deputy referred but-----

The Minister has exceeded his time. I must exert some control.

-----I assure the Deputy that we are very much on top of this.

The 2015 White Paper highlights the perils of being an island. There are many risks and threats listed in the EU maritime security strategy that are relevant to Ireland's maritime domain, including threats to Ireland's economic resources arising from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing or other illegal exploitation of our maritime resources. This has the potential to deplete our fish stocks and destroy maritime habitats. We know that we already have certain difficulties in our waters, including overfishing and illegal fishing. It is understandable that some UK citizens and parliamentarians would view Brexit as a positive development for their fishing industry. We need to get to grips with this and get ahead of the curve because while we might be eyeing the UK's commercial banking industry, they are very much eyeing the fishing industry.

There are many concerns that in post-Brexit Britain there will be a bonfire of regulations. Indeed, members of the Brexit committee in the House of Commons have called on businesses to submit their wish lists. We must be concerned about this.

Does the Minister of State accept that there is a need to protect our fish stocks and maritime habitats and that the Naval Service must beef up its preparations ahead of Brexit?

I would be the first to say that we need to protect our fish stocks. The fishing industry plays a very important role in our economy, especially in coastal communities, including in my own county in places like Kilmore Quay.

I assure the Deputy that whatever the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority requires from the Naval Service and the Air Corps post Brexit will be forthcoming. The Government has invested heavily in the Naval Service in recent years. Such investment was much needed and now we have the most up-to-date vessels-----

We have a lot of near-obsolete vessels too.

Regarding the Air Corps, the CASA 235 aircraft will be replaced in time. The Air Corps also plays a very important role in sea fisheries protection.

Defence Forces Reorganisation

Noel Grealish


31. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason soldiers from Finner Camp in County Donegal are being transported to Dublin and soldiers from Galway are being transported to Cork every day to carry out duties; the costs involved of these movements in terms of transport and soldier’s time; his views on whether the reorganisation of the Defence Forces into a two brigade structure has been a success; his views on whether the reorganisation has left Ireland exposed in view of Brexit, should a managed Border become necessary; and his views on whether the reorganisation has been a significant factor in the poor findings from the Defence Forces climate survey 2015. [40201/16]

Will the Minister of State explain why soldiers from Finner Camp in Donegal are being transported to Dublin and soldiers from Galway are being transported to Cork every day to carry out their duties? Will he provide cost details to the House of these movements in terms of transport and soldiers' time? Does the Minister of State accept that the reorganisation of the Defence Forces into a two brigade structure has been an unmitigated disaster?

The re-organisation of the Defence Forces, finalised in October 2012, resulted in a fundamental restructuring of Army formations and units throughout the country, including the closure of a number of operational posts. This was undertaken to enhance operational readiness and deployability while reducing the number of personnel involved in administration. The reorganisation led to a reconfiguration of the Defence Forces operational processes from a garrison-based system to a more flexible, deployable system that makes more efficient use of all resources, including personnel.

I have been advised by the military authorities that, for the most part, personnel are only deployed within their own brigade area. However, on occasion, personnel from Donegal, for example, have been redeployed for security operations to other locations, including Dublin, which is a key centre for large-scale operations and ceremonial activities for the Defence Forces. It is important that military personnel have experience of the full range of duties required of members of the Defence Forces in situations where they may be called upon to reinforce operations in different parts of the country. This requires their deployment to locations where they can gain such experience.

The Defence Forces operate in the most cost effective manner possible. Costs associated with the transport of personnel are included in the funds allocated to the military through the budgetary process and the reorganisation has not resulted in any excessive additional costs being incurred.

Primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Control of Ireland’s borders, which is primarily a security matter, falls to An Garda Síochána and, in respect of its responsibilities, to the customs service of the Revenue Commissioners. It is premature at this juncture to anticipate the detailed implications of the result of the UK referendum. While it is reasonable to engage in prudent planning, the fact of a British exit from the EU does not, of itself, give rise to additional border security requirements at this time.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The key findings of the climate 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 that caution should apply to reading or responding to any one particular finding in isolation. The University of Limerick is engaged in further work on the climate survey, engaging with personnel across all ranks and formations. This process will provide a greater understanding of the issues identified in the climate survey.

The following deferred reply was received under Standing Order 42A:

I refer to the above and the Deputy's supplementary question concerning vacancies in the Naval Service.

Based on the most recent figures available (Naval Service strengths at 31 December 2016) there are currently 39 vacancies at Officer level in the Naval Service: 32 of those vacancies are at the rank of Captain and the remaining seven (7) at the rank of Lieutenant.

There are currently 22 Naval Service Cadets in training and it is envisaged that 15 applicants from the 2017 Cadet competition will he inducted to the Naval Service in September 2017. Additionally, the Defence Forces also launched a competition in September 2016 to Naval Service Direct Entry Officers in order to address the short term manpower deficiencies in both the Operations and Engineering Branches. It is planned to commission the first successful applicants from these rolling Direct Entry competitions in Q1 of 2017.

I trust this information will be of use.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Is he aware of the difficulties being experienced by members of the Defence Forces? At present, the Naval Service is short 38 staffing officers. One of our naval vessels was unable to put to sea because no engineering officer was available. Soldiers are having difficulty accessing basic items such as replacement uniforms. Last month I heard of a soldier who had to buy a pair of boots because a new pair could not be issued to him locally.

In light of Brexit, does the Minister of State accept that the reorganisation of the Defence Forces has left Ireland exposed, should a managed Border become necessary? Does he also accept that the reorganisation was a significant factor in the negative findings of the Defence Forces climate survey of 2015?

First, I commend the Defence Forces on conducting the aforementioned detailed survey of members. The findings of the survey are very interesting. In conjunction with the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, my Department is making sure that issues raised in the climate survey affecting members of Óglaigh na hÉireann are addressed.

I am not aware of personnel not being able to get parts of their uniforms. If there are such cases, I would like to hear about them.

The Deputy referred to personnel having to travel from barracks to barracks or from where they live to a barracks that may not be in their locality. Bearing in mind the brigade structure, I have asked that when recruit classes are being taken in, personnel be located in the barracks closest to where they live. That will solve a considerable number of the problems. A considerable number of problems arose after the reorganisation. We are trying to solve them and relocate personnel to the barracks closest to where they live. For personnel with expertise in specific areas, it does not always work that way.

Has it been brought to the attention of the Minister of State that a naval vessel could not be put to sea because there was no engineering officer available? Is it true that there are 38 officer staff vacancies in the Naval Service? If the Minister of State does not have this information to hand, he might be able to send it to me on another occasion.

I am not aware of a ship not being able to go to sea because of an issue associated with engineering personnel. There are vacancies at present for officers. I will revert to the Deputy with the exact number. We have the biggest cadet class, including members of the Air Corps, Naval Service and the Army. One hundred personnel in the junior cadet class started in September 2016. This will address a number of the issues associated with officers. This shows the commitment of the Government regarding the officer corps within the Defence Forces.

The Deputy referred to Brexit and the Border. That will be a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Francis Fitzgerald. Where there is a call to aid the civil power, it will be matter for the Department of Justice and Equality to assess the circumstances after Brexit.