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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Dec 2016

Vol. 932 No. 3

Other Questions

Defence Forces Properties

Fiona O'Loughlin


33. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to develop lands in the area of the Defence Forces training centre on the Curragh to enhance relationships with the local community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39823/16]

The fact that the Curragh is home to the Irish Defence Forces is a matter of great pride for the people of Kildare. We appreciate the great history attached to it, particularly this year when all the personnel received commemorative medals. However, the Defence Forces training centre is not a military base in isolation; it is home to a community that was once full of thriving businesses, schools and community groups. Some of the residential areas are currently blighted by the issue of overholders, who in many cases remain in legal limbo.

I acknowledge the Deputy's concerns in this area. As she is aware, the Curragh forum was established to enable key stakeholders of the Curragh plains to meet and contribute to the ongoing management, protection and future development of the plains. Membership of the forum, which is chaired by the Department of Defence, includes representatives from the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the Curragh Racecourse, Curragh racehorse trainers and Kildare County Council. The forum also considers inputs from other representative groups of stakeholders and interested parties, as required.

To date, there have been three meetings of the forum, the most recent of which was held on 27 October. Issues discussed have included illegal encampments, illegal parking, dumping, overgrazing and the ongoing management and maintenance of the Curragh plains. At the most recent meeting, a number of actions were agreed by the members of the forum to assist in addressing these issues. They include the updating of by-laws, where necessary, for the protection of the Curragh; putting formal processes in place for the reporting and processing of breaches of the by-laws and civil law on the Curragh, to include prosecutions etc. where appropriate; a memorandum of understanding to be agreed for actions between the responsible parties, including the Defence Forces organisation, the Garda and the local authority; possible development of facilities on the Curragh plains for use by the public; and development of educational programmes to ensure users of the Curragh are aware of its uniqueness and the practices necessary to protect it.

I am well aware of the many issues that need to be addressed in the context of the day-to-day management and use of the Curragh plains and consequently I am supportive and appreciative of the work being undertaken by the forum. I am confident that in working together, the members of the forum will provide the resolve and expertise to assist greatly in the identification and implementation of solutions to the problems that need to be addressed.

With the greatest of respect to the Minister of State and the forum, there are many more areas that the forum needs to consider. I acknowledge that there are really wonderful community groups within the camp and surrounding areas. The personnel of the Defence Forces engage with them, particularly in regard to the Curragh PRIDE resource centre. I was delighted to have some of the ladies involved here as my guests recently.

So much more could be done under the remit of the Department. There are approximately 1,500 personnel stationed within the camp at any given time. There are many others also. There are two primary schools, which are DEIS schools. Both are under the dual patronage of the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin and the Minister for Defence, which the Minister of State will acknowledge is quite unusual and demonstrates his responsibility. The secondary school is also a DEIS school and is under the auspices of the ETB. It is run by the board of management. Its location causes a problem, however. It is in the centre of the Curragh Camp. There is an excellent new principal, Ms Nessa Lawlor. I was delighted to see one of the groups winning awards recently. The figures of the Department of Education and Skills show that the school is undersubscribed. While it has the capacity for 225 students, it has in the region of 169. The Department of Education and Skills, other patron boards and the Department of Defence could play a valuable role here in dealing with the problem of oversubscription in schools in the area and possibly in providing a site for a new school, bearing in mind the needs of the ETB. Those concerned should really work together to make sure the school will be a school of choice.

I can chat to the Deputy privately about this. That are a number of schools, both primary and secondary, based in the Curragh Camp. I am very much aware that when they were originally set up, the number of personnel in the camp was much greater than it is now. Of course, numbers are dwindling in the schools. This is one of the first matters I inquired about after my appointment earlier this year. I know where the schools are in the Curragh Camp. There are concerns over this, as stressed by the Deputy.

Last week, I was made aware that there is a new principal in one of the schools. I, as Minister of State, have no problem whatsoever meeting the Deputy or a delegation to discuss a number of issues concerning educational requirements in the Curragh Camp.

I appreciate that and I will take the Minister of State up on his kind offer.

There are a number of shops and businesses in the camp that are empty and no longer of use. It is very unfortunate that these have closed and have now become very unsightly. We need to consider a regeneration programme for the Curragh. The Minister of State has assured us here on a number of occasions that plans are under way to develop the institute for peace support and leadership training at the training centre in the Curragh. I understand it is foreseen that this will be of an international standard and contribute to the overall development of knowledge and experience in the areas of conflict resolution and peace support. It is important that a regeneration programme be implemented at the same time, with a specific timescale for establishment. This is really important. Projects could run in conjunction with one another.

I have a number of plans for the Curragh Camp. As the Deputy is very much aware, now that there are additional cadets recruited since September, this is an area in which I personally want to invest.

If one looks back ten, 15, 20 or 30 years ago, the number of personnel in the Curragh Camp was greater. The numbers have dwindled in the schools because of the fall in the number of personnel there. There were many more commercial businesses there at that time. I would like to have resources available to me to be able to pump into the Curragh Camp. The Partnership for Peace initiative will add to the camp. On the original question the Deputy asked regarding education, I have no issue with discussing with the Oireachtas Members from the south Kildare area the facilities the Deputy outlined.

European Defence Action Plan

The next question is in the name of Deputy Boyd Barrett, who requested the Ceann Comhairle to give permission to have the question taken by Bríd Smith.

Richard Boyd Barrett


34. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has reconfirmed Ireland's neutrality to his European counterparts in view of the European Commission's recent proposal for a €5 billion defence fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39836/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett


53. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans for a discussion in Dáil Éireann on the European defence action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39835/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett


54. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on his discussions with his counterparts in Europe with regard to the European defence action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39833/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett


60. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has entered into new agreements with foreign powers on air defences in view of the European defence action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39837/16]

This question relates to Ireland's neutrality and asks whether the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, or the Taoiseach is about to reconfirm or has reconfirmed Ireland's neutral position to the European Union and the European Commission in light of the Commission's recent proposal for a €5 billion defence fund, and will he make a statement on the matter. This is a serious matter and the Minister of State did not adequately address it earlier.

I propose to take Question Nos. 34, 53, 54 and 60 together.

As I outlined earlier, the College of Commissioners adopted the European defence action plan on 30 November last. The aim of the plan is to explore how EU policies and instruments can ensure 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 seeks to offer supports to small and medium enterprises, SMEs, start-ups and other suppliers to the defence industry. There are also proposals in the plan to increase transparency in defence procurement by member states. The purpose of establishing a European defence fund is to promote research and innovation, to contribute to the strengthening of the European defence technological and industrial base and to stimulate further the development of key defence capabilities.

As part of the Foreign Affairs Council held in November, which I attended, the Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship presented an outline of the European defence action plan to defence Ministers. It should be noted that details contained in the plan, in particular relating to the creation of a European defence fund, are currently simply Commission proposals. They have yet to be fully defined and negotiated with member states. For example, the proposed funding for research and innovation will require agreement on a future EU multi-annual financial framework and then agreement on a defence research budget line by the member states and the European Parliament. In addition, the annual fund of €5 billion envisaged is dependent on member states pooling existing defence expenditures in favour of EU-wide co-operative programmes. There is no guarantee that member states would be prepared to pool resources in this way. As such, there is a lot yet to be worked through before any of these proposals can come into effect.

The proposals in the action plan fully respect the EU treaties and the Lisbon protocols and they pose no challenge to Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. There is, therefore, no requirement for me to reconfirm Ireland's neutrality to my European counterparts at this stage. However, this will be kept under review by my Department as the proposals within the action plan become more clearly defined.

I am satisfied that there is also a clear recognition and reaffirmation that defence remains a member state prerogative. There is no change to the status quo in that regard. Decisions about expenditure, military capabilities, research and technology are matters for the member states to decide.

It is interesting that the European Union issued a press release from the meeting the Minister of State referred to on 30 November in which it stated that this big defence plan would "reverse billions of euro in cuts and other actions, supporting Member States' more efficient spending in joint defence capabilities". The EU is welcoming a reversal in cuts to its military budgets while at the same time insisting that key austerity measures are continually enforced on this country and on Greece.

I ask the Minister of State again if he will reaffirm Ireland's neutral stance when he meets the European Commission for this European defence action plan, how much Ireland will be contributing and how neutral Ireland can be if the defence budget is to be determined by the European Commission. We do not have a great history, given that we allowed more than 1 million troops through Shannon Airport in the recent past and there is evidence that Shannon Airport has been used for rendition for torture. People are rightly concerned about the viability of our neutrality. Given that this amount of money is being poured into a joint defence fund, this question is not being adequately addressed by the Minister of State.

Let me assure the Deputy that at every opportunity I reaffirm Ireland's position and policy on neutrality.

The proposals in the action plan fully respect the EU treaties and the Lisbon protocols and they pose no challenge to Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. Therefore, there is no requirement for me to reconfirm Ireland's neutrality to my European counterparts at this stage. Let me assure the Deputy that at all stages officials in my Department will carefully consider the proposals within the action plan as they become more clearly defined to ensure we remain within the confines of our policy on neutrality. If, at any stage, we see that there is a shift from that, I will reaffirm Ireland's position on military neutrality.

I call an Teachta Ó Snodaigh.

Do I get to come back?

If we get an opportunity, yes. These are not priority questions and other Deputies may indicate.

Does the Minister of State accept, and we have had some of this debate already, that these European Commission recommendations that EU investment in defence would increase from €1.4 million this year to €25 million next year, €90 million in 2020 and then possibly €500 million are an increase in anybody's eyes and us being tied to that would be contrary to our neutrality because we would be pooling and working hand in glove with NATO countries?

In terms of the second Commission proposal, while initially talking about harnessing €25 billion to procure weapons, the proposal's detail also talks of €100 billion. As well as being contrary to neutrality, there is nothing in that to indicate that any saving that such pooling will achieve - in the region of €5 million or €20 billion depending on which part of the proposal one cites - will be ring-fenced to tackle poverty or disease eradication. Rather, it will be reinvested in destructive industry and will be added to proposals contained in terms of creating EU bonds on this, using the European Investment Bank and diverting research funds from the European Structural Investment Fund. Will the Minister of State say that Ireland will oppose all such moves that are likely to add to a growing arms race, that we are a neutral country and that we will not contribute in any way to that arms race?

First, I can assure the Deputy that we will consider every part of the Commission's proposal.

There must be savings when one pools resources and it would be only right and proper that we consider all of the proposals. There are opportunities here for Ireland.

We are living in a society in which circumstances change at a rapid pace and we must be able to keep up to date on all equipment and technology available to the defence organisation. We cannot afford to be left behind. I assure the Deputy that if we did not consider the proposals here and we were left behind, many Members on the benches opposite would be the first to raise it in the House and say that we were not treating the proposals in a satisfactory and professional manner.

The joint French-German paper calls for a new European security contract. In this, NATO wants all other members to increase their spending to 2% of GDP. I hope the Minister of State will answer my question fully, rather than skate around it. Does he not agree that this would fundamentally change the character of the European Union from a supposed peace and economic project to a project that is more aggressive and in reality is giving a subsidy to the competitiveness of the arms industry and its capacity to export abroad, which will not serve our interests?

I do not agree with the Deputy's accusation. I repeat that we will maintain our traditional policy of military neutrality in whatever decision we make here. The Government will consider each of the proposals that have been put forward in a very serious manner. There is potential here for Ireland so we must consider each of the proposals seriously. Society is changing at a rapid pace and we must be able to keep up with that. If that means equipping our Defence Forces, that is exactly what we must do.

White Paper on Defence

Lisa Chambers


35. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will publish regular reports on progress towards achieving the 88 separate actions specified in the White Paper on defence. [39808/16]

Will the Minister publish regular reports on the progress towards achieving the 88 actions specified in the White Paper on defence which was released just over a year ago? It is important that we work collectively to monitor the implementation of the report and that it does not just fall to the Minister to ensure it is implemented.

The White Paper on Defence sets the defence policy agenda for the next ten years. It encompasses the Government’s policy on defence of the State from armed aggression, the defence contribution to domestic security, the defence contribution to international peace and security and a broad range of other “non-security” roles which the Government requires the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence to undertake. It considers the defence capabilities required so that the Defence Forces can successfully deliver on the roles assigned by the Government. Finally, the White Paper also considers implementation and the actions required to ensure that defence planning and provision processes are further developed.

Therefore, the White Paper encompasses all work carried out by the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence. The 88 actions or projects which have been specifically identified are a subset of the totality of the work being carried out to implement the White Paper. Implementation of the specific actions arising from the White Paper will be carried out over a ten-year period. The initiation of each action is planned across the ten-year period of the White Paper up to 2025. Actions are being initiated on a phased basis in order to reflect the programme for a partnership Government and strategy statement commitments, the related nature of some projects and resourcing implications. This process is being kept under review and will be subject to change as issues arise.

The White Paper actions are being implemented through the use of a project management framework. Civil-military project teams are being established for each action as it is initiated.

Progress on implementation will be reported on as part of the annual report and be comprehended within the development of the planned fixed cycle of defence reviews. A core aim of implementation is to ensure White Paper actions are fully embedded in the day-to-day business of the Defence organisation. Updates on specific actions will be published in the normal manner through already existing channels.

It is just over a year since the White Paper was published. We all welcome it and wish to see it implemented. I and my party would go further and ensure a significant increase in the number of personnel, if possible. However, we will have to wait for that. I ask the Minister of State to publish regular updates on the progress made towards achieving the 88 actions. Perhaps that could be done twice a year - once at the end of the year and once mid-year. The Minister of State could attend a meeting of the committee on foreign affairs and defence to update members on the implementation of the 88 actions perhaps a fortnight or three weeks after the publication of such a report. Members could then have a detailed discussion each January when the Dáil resumes and early in July just before the summer recess. This would be very useful and informative, especially for communicating the good work of our Defence Forces. It would be beneficial, in terms of working with the Department, the Defence Forces and the various representative organisations, if we worked collectively on monitoring the implementation of the 88 actions to ensure there is accountability and regular updates for Members from the Minister and his Department.

As I outlined in my reply, there is a civil and military side to the implementation of the White Paper. I get regular updates from that group, which meets regularly. I will be happy to attend a meeting of the committee at any stage regarding the action plans. However, developments on the White Paper and the actions that are taken and delivered on will be reported in the annual review of the Department of Defence, which also includes the Defence Forces. Furthermore, if the Deputy wishes to ask questions on the White Paper and its implementation on any occasion during Question Time, I have no problem answering them.

Questions in the Chamber in this instance are useful, but the debate is truncated and we do not get an opportunity to discuss any single project in detail. It would not suffice in terms of the type of reporting I am requesting and the facilitation of debate not just between myself and the Minister of State, but with other Deputies and members of the defence and foreign affairs committee. I appreciate that there are military and civil aspects to all of the actions and that there are many matters to consider. However, I believe defence matters were too little considered by the committee in the last Dáil and Deputy Brendan Smith is anxious to make up for that in the current Dáil. I hope that can be done. Other Departments, such as the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, update the relevant Oireachtas committee regularly. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs, for example, liaises with An Garda Síochána and other stakeholders in the community and it manages to update the relevant committee regularly on its work. The Department of Defence could probably do the same with regard to the 88 separate actions. It would not pose a huge difficulty. I ask the Minister of State to explore doing it twice yearly and to do so two to three weeks in advance of a committee meeting so we can have a debate on it, rather than in the Chamber where the debate is too truncated.

I support the request that we be given such a report. It is our duty to try to measure proposals from the Government, in this case a White Paper, especially given that we are expected to prepare for proposals in the budget when the Estimates are provided and also proposals for multi-annual funding. We cannot do that if we do not know the current progress on these far-reaching 88 recommendations. I do not agree with all of them, but they are far-reaching. At the very least, we should schedule one session, be it just before or just after the summer break, to allow the committee, hopefully, to influence the Minister of State's thoughts and those of the Government when proposing the budget, to ensure that the proposals are making progress rather than, as happened in the past, being stalled because they were sometimes an afterthought.

I have no problem with updating the committee in the second quarter of next year on the implementation of the White Paper.

As the Deputy understands, this is an important document for the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces for the future. A great deal of work went into the White Paper and I would be delighted to do what the Deputy asked. I, the Department and the Defence Forces also intend to brief the representative organisations, Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, and the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association, RDFRA, on all the actions in the White Paper. We have specifically targeted 88 actions. I have no problem in updating the committee on this and I assure the Deputy that I have no problem in terms of the Dáil with respect to the annual report of the Department of Defence and keeping the associations up to date on exactly what we are at on the 88 initiatives.

Military Medals

Clare Daly


36. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will consider honouring the proposal of the late Commandant Quinlan to award medals to a number of men who served with the UN at the battle of Jadotville in 1961. [39705/16]

James Lawless


40. Deputy James Lawless asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will take the next step forward and award individual decorations of honour to soldiers in recognition for their actions during the United Nations intervention in the Katanga conflict in the Congo in view of the recent issuing of a unit citation to honour the collective actions of bravery of the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, UN service, of the Army ONUC contingent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39821/16]

Clare Daly


44. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps he has taken to liaise with the President on the presentation of military medals for gallantry notwithstanding previous initiatives in relation to honouring the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion that fought in Jadotville. [39704/16]

Before I call Deputy Clare Daly to introduce her question, I wish to check with the Minister of State if he is taking Questions Nos. 36, 40 and 44 together.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36, 40 and 44 in the names of Deputy Clare Daly, Deputy Lawless and Deputy Clare Daly, respectively.

My questions relate to an issue on which I have corresponded with the Minister of State, namely, the need for an appropriate recognition of the men who fought in Jadotville through the form of medals for bravery, a measure which was suggested by Commandant Quinlan. This is a sad part of our military history in that these people have never been properly recognised for the heroic courage they showed in 1961 in the Congo. In fact, they were stigmatised. While that is beginning to change it is not because of the State but rather because of their families and colleagues.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36, 40 and 44 together.

On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the siege of Jadotville, I decided to issue a unit citation to honour the collective actions and bravery of the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion. My Department organised and hosted a ceremony in Custume Barracks, Athlone, on Saturday, 17 September 2016, at which a unit citation was presented to the company in recognition of their collective heroism and professional performance during the siege of Jadotville while cut off from support and reinforcements.

During the ceremony a copy of the citation was presented to each member of the unit or next of kin in the case of deceased members. This was the first time a unit citation was awarded within the Defence Forces and I was delighted to be able to formally recognise the collective bravery and actions of the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion. In addition, a specially commissioned insignia, which is currently being procured, will be provided to the members and the next of kin of deceased members of A company.

These recent steps to honour and recognise the bravery of those who served with A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, build upon previous initiatives taken by former Ministers for Defence as follows. In November 2005, a plaque was unveiled in Custume Barracks, Athlone, to commemorate the events at Jadotville and the very significant contribution of A Company and of the 35th Battalion, as a whole, to the UN Peace Support Mission in the Congo. There was a presentation of scrolls in 2006. Portraits of Lieutenant Colonel McNamee, 35th Battalion commander, and Commandant Quinlan, company commander A Company, were commissioned. On 23 February 2007 these portraits were unveiled at the Military College and now hang in the Congo Room in the United Nations Training School in the Curragh Camp. In July 2010, the 50th anniversary of the first deployment to the Congo was commemorated in a highly publicised and well attended event in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. A Congo photographic book was also produced for the occasion, a section of which was dedicated to the events at Jadotville in 1961. A nominal roll of A Company, printed in copper, has been affixed to the monument in Custume Barracks and was unveiled as part of the 50th anniversary of the Jadotville affair in September 2011.

I am satisfied that the events and happenings to date properly honour the bravery of the men of A Company.

While the Minister of State may be satisfied, I do not believe the remaining men, their colleagues or their families are satisfied with the efforts. In some ways, one would have to ask why the Minister of State is going to all this effort to give these men what they do not want. The citation this year was a generic piece of paper to A Company, it had no identifying features such as the name or rank which is very important to military personnel. The plaque in Athlone is not good enough. The soldiers themselves had to pay to have the names put on it. There is no record of the presentation rolls in 2006. The Minister of State might clarify that.

With respect to the portraits in the mess hall, one is of Lieutenant Colonel McNamee, who was not even in the Congo and the other is of Commandant Quinlan who was ridiculed for most of his military career. A picture in a mess hall is not adequate given the bravery and trauma these men experienced. The initiative in Baldonnel was welcome but it was only publicised among the Army community. It is not an appropriate recognition.

The Minister of State gave out 10,000 medals to people who took part in a celebration of the centenary of 1916 and we cannot give out medals for bravery to people who took part in one of the most heroic and inadequately represented parts of our military history. What they want is a medal for bravery. There are only 30 or 40 of them left. It is time to acknowledge this.

I listened to the Minister of State's reply and I have read previous answers to questions tabled by Deputy Clare Daly, Deputy O'Dea and many others on this issue in recent times. The answers given do not appear to vary. I welcome the moves that have been taken to recognise these men and their families. I will not criticise the State for what it has done in recent times, albeit belatedly, but I ask the Minister of State, and this point was also articulated by Deputy Clare Daly, when individual decorations will be awarded. What steps are being taken to acknowledge the trauma suffered by the men and their families for the continuing and prolonged neglect and failure to recognise them?

I welcome the belated recognition that has come about, albeit in a joint manner, but I implore the Minister of State to go further. It means a lot to these families and those remaining men to have individual decorations awarded. A family member of mine fought with the UN, not in the Congo, and not in Jadotville. I know that being given individual recognition is something that would be deep and meaningful to those families. When will the granting of individual recognition be on the agenda?

First, I wish to state that the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann put their lives on the line every day of every week, 24-7, when they go on peacekeeping duties, be it with UNDOF, UNIFIL or many of the other missions we have scattered across the world. I took a personal interest in this matter when I was appointed Minister of State because I saw the human side of it when I was in opposition and over the past few years. I did not know any of the people personally, so I had no personal attachment in taking a personal interest in this.

This is the first time a unit citation and an insignia have been presented to any members or past members of Óglaigh na hÉireann. When I took a personal interest in this I said that we would have a ceremony in Athlone. I met each of the survivors personally and spoke to them and, contrary to what Deputy Clare Daly said, they were happy to receive the recognition, albeit not a medal, that I had given them. There is a legal position in that there is no provision in the regulations for the Minister to make an award of the military medal for gallantry other than on the recommendation of a military board appointed by the Chief of Staff, nor is there any mechanism for the case to be referred back to a military board for fresh examination. I have-----

Can I conclude?

I will allow the Minister of State back in.

Where there is a will there is a way. There is a sad irony in the fact that the battalion that followed the 35th and went out to the Congo received 25 medals while the 35th, to this day, has received none. The men of course welcome the Minister of State's actions and are glad of some recognition but given the scale of the siege and this battalion's monumental bravery against the odds, this is not enough. We need to find a way in which to recognise them appropriately.

A key part in the turnaround has been Rose Doyle's excellent book. The film, "The Siege of Jadotville", has also helped to rewrite history as it should have been. There is a view that one of the reasons the soldiers involved were not appropriately rewarded was to protect the reputations of the likes of Frank Aiken and Conor Cruise O'Brien, who might not have had as good a history of this experience as the men at the front. Will the Minister of State look at this again?

I am curious as to what the Minister of State has to say because I think he was about to give an explanation of the details of the case. Maybe we are making progress.

I will be allowing the Minister of State to reply.

There is a barrier there about which I am curious to hear.

There is a complex legal, political and military tapestry around the circumstances of this case. It appears one of the reasons, apart from the postcolonial emergence and conflict at the time, is the surrender of the soldiers in question. I remind the House, however, that many Irish patriots have surrendered, including those in the GPO during Easter week. The soldiers in question are not unique in Irish history of having surrendered against overwhelming odds to fight another day.

Individual commendations are appropriate. I would welcome the Minister of State’s clarification on what steps are involved and if he can overcome these issues.

After my appointment, this was one of the first issues I wanted to recognise. I have looked at this case upside down, inside out and every way possible. I recognise this is a complex situation, as Deputy James Lawless pointed out. There are rules and regulations around the presentation of medals and who receives them. There have to be regulations. When one sees the movie, "The Siege of Jadotville" one immediately recognises the bravery of these men, their commitment and what they went through. One also sees this with every member - men and women - of the Defence Forces who goes abroad on peacekeeping duties. I do take on board the views of both Deputies but I assure them I have looked at this in every way possible.

Naval Service Operations

Lisa Chambers


37. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Naval Service humanitarian mission to the Mediterranean Sea will continue to be a unilateral one or if he is giving consideration to integrating the Irish contribution in wider EU efforts. [39809/16]

Following a Government decision on 12 May 2015, three Naval Service vessels, LE Eithne, LE Niamh and LE Samuel Beckett, were deployed to the Mediterranean between May and November 2015 to assist the Italian authorities with the migrant crisis. During that period, 8,592 people were rescued in the Mediterranean by Irish Naval Service vessels.

On 6 April 2016, the Government approved the return of a Naval Service vessel to undertake humanitarian search and rescue tasks in the Mediterranean. From May to December 2016, three Naval Service vessels, LE Róisín, LE James Joyce and LE Samuel Beckett, were deployed to the Mediterranean. LE Samuel Beckett has recently completed its mission in the Mediterranean and is scheduled to return to the Naval Service base soon. A total of 7,029 people were rescued by Irish Naval Service vessels in 2016.

To date, Irish participation in the humanitarian mission has resulted in the rescue of over 15,600 migrants, which clearly demonstrates the value of Ireland’s involvement in this important humanitarian response. Tragically, a total of 74 bodies were also recovered by the Naval Service during search and rescue operations.

The despatch of Irish vessels was subject to a bilateral arrangement with the Italian Government on the deployment and operation of the Irish vessels and on the disembarkation and reception of any persons rescued or vessels in distress, in accordance with the applicable international conventions on the rescue of persons in distress at sea. The question of further deployment to the Mediterranean in 2017 is currently under consideration.

EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia is another element of the comprehensive approach being pursued by the EU to address the migration crisis. The primary role of Operation Sophia is targeted at security and countering people trafficking, and ultimately, preventing the loss of life at sea. Ireland has not, to date, participated in this mission. While Ireland remains fully supportive of the EU approach to this crisis, there are currently no plans to deploy Naval Service personnel or vessels to Operation Sophia at this time.

Last night, the Taoiseach, who is also the Minister for Defence, accepted the European Movement Ireland European of the year award on behalf of the Defence Forces. It was a special tribute which endorsed the efforts and sacrifices made by our Defence Forces personnel in the Mediterranean. The Taoiseach said last night that part of our commitment to Europe means working together with our partners to respond to the many challenges we face. The work of our Defence Forces is the clearest practical fulfilment of that commitment. He also said:

The current humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean is a particularly vivid example of the professionalism of the Naval Service, and indeed of Ireland’s solidarity with Europe. In response to the needs of people on the frontier of Europe, the six vessels which have patrolled the sea over two years have saved a total of 15,600 lives. While it is a tragedy that so many people attempt these dangerous crossings - and we are working to address that - the achievements of our Naval Service are indeed remarkable.

I agree wholeheartedly with him. We all agree that the Taoiseach is correct that this is a meaningful and important contribution to European solidarity. However, it is not the case that it is part of an integrated European approach. Instead, it is an isolated bilateral contribution. While in no way minimising the significance of what the Naval Service is doing in humanitarian terms in Europe, is it possible that the effect of this is to minimise the potential greater effectiveness of the Irish contribution? Does the Minister of State feel that if it was part of an integrated mission, the Irish contribution could be even more effective?

There are several policy issues around Ireland being part of the full Operation Sophia. Ireland’s response to the humanitarian effort in the Mediterranean in 2015 and 2016 was effective, however. I am not sure if the Deputy saw the programme "The Crossing" last night on television. It was excellent coverage of the work of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean. There were some absolutely harrowing pictures of what exactly it does every day. I would be favourable towards the continuation of this mission and humanitarian effort.

Will Members please stick to the times allowed? If we do not stick to them, some Members will not get to ask their questions.

In practical terms, participation in larger integrated search missions rather than isolated efforts would allow refuelling and resupply at sea, as well as integration with air support such as medevac. The Naval Service’s Operation Pontus is operating solely as a bilateral humanitarian mission and is isolated from associated EU operations such as the Frontex mission, the EU Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, mission, and Operation Sophia. Does this not reduce the operational effectiveness of the Irish mission and eliminate any training added value of a multilateral engagement? Does it not also mean we do not know with the return of the LE Samuel Beckett this week whether Ireland will continue to engage due to the size of overheads and questions over the sustainability of the operation? I appreciate there may be a triple lock issue. Has the Department any view on how we can accommodate both our triple lock traditions with our humanitarian approach? Again, I compliment the Naval Service on its work and hope it continues.

If we were to participate in the full mission, a number of caveats would be involved. The naval operation against human smugglers and traffickers in the Mediterranean, Operation Sophia, is one element of the comprehensive EU response to the crisis. The EU operation was launched at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on 22 June 2015. Its mission is to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and enabling assets used, or suspected of being used, by migrant smugglers are traffickers.

The objectives are not only to obstruct the activities of smugglers and traffickers but to also prevent further loss of life at sea and to reduce the suffering and exploitation of migrants caused by criminal organisations. Ireland is committed to addressing the humanitarian aspect of the crisis arising from the large numbers of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. While Ireland is fully supportive of the EU response to the crisis, there are no plans to deploy Naval personnel or vessels to the EU mission at this time. In addition-----

The Minister of State should be brief because he has gone over time.

I congratulate the Irish Defence Forces, which include the Air Corps, the Army and the Naval Service on receiving the European Movement award yesterday in Dublin. The award was presented by the Taoiseach to the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.

Question No. 38 replied to with Written Answers.

Military Aircraft

Mick Wallace


39. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his Department carries out periodic reviews of defence policy and decisions to ensure they uphold Ireland's stated policy of neutrality; if he has had any discussions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding the ongoing use of Shannon Airport by the US military as a result of concerns raised by groups (details supplied) over its potential implications for Irish neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39839/16]

Does the Minister of State's Department carry out any periodic reviews of defence policy and decisions to ensure Ireland's stated policy of neutrality is being upheld? Has the Minister of State spoken with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in light of the fact that US military hardware is still passing through Ireland on its way to war zones? How does this tie in with our notion of neutrality, military or otherwise?

The White Paper on Defence 2015 provides for the establishment of a new fixed cycle of defence reviews. These reviews will take the form of a White Paper update every three years and a strategic defence review every six years. The first White Paper update will commence in the third quarter of 2018, with the first strategic defence review commencing in early 2021. Our policy on neutrality has been confirmed in the White Paper.

The issues of overflights by foreign military aircraft and the use of Shannon Airport by foreign military aircraft are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Both my Department and the Defence Forces are informed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when requests are received for foreign military overflights or landings. This information serves to alert the Defence Forces, in particular, to a potential request for support from An Garda Síochána in the case of a request for landing approval at Shannon Airport.

As has been highlighted many times in the House, successive Governments have made overflight and landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the United States for well over 50 years. These arrangements do not amount to any form of military alliance with the US and are governed by strict conditions, which are applied to ensure compatibility with our traditional policy of military neutrality.

The recent debate on the Private Members’ Thirty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill 2016 clearly demonstrated that Ireland’s long-standing policy of military neutrality is sufficiently safeguarded through existing constitutional provisions, through the protocol in the Lisbon treaty, through the Defence Acts and through long-term policy strategies adopted by the Government.

In November 2014, two planes passed through Shannon Airport coming from Delaware. They were carrying class 1 liquid fuel explosives and rockets and class 1 explosives and rockets with bursting charges. I have heard Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael condemn the Russian use of cluster bombs in Aleppo. I condemn their use as well. Why in God's name are we allowing cluster bombs to go through our airspace to Saudi Arabia? The US is backing the Saudi mission in Yemen, a country in which there is an absolute humanitarian disaster. Cluster bombs going through Ireland are killing innocent people in Yemen on a daily basis. A UNICEF report last week showed that 2.2 million children in Yemen are suffering from malnutrition. There is a child dying every ten minutes as a result of malnutrition, not to mention those being killed by cluster bombs or bombs of another nature. How can we say we are neutral if we are allowing this to happen? I do not understand it.

Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power. In practice, this means that the Defence Forces assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. Since 2003, the Garda has requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport on occasion. The issues of overflights by foreign military aircraft and the use of Shannon Airport by foreign military aircraft are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It should be highlighted that successive Governments have made overflight landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the United States for well over 50 years. These arrangements do not amount to any form of military alliance with the US and are governed by strict conditions applied to ensure compatibility with our traditional policy of military neutrality. The Deputy has made suggestions. If he is aware of any such cluster bombs being on board these aircraft, I ask him to go to An Garda Síochána to report that fact.

We were given the information through an FOI request. We are not making it up. When we were being tried down in Shannon, three people testified under oath that they had seen weapons on board military planes. It is not rocket science. If we were neutral, we would not only condemn the Russians for using cluster bombs or engaging in war crimes, we would criticise everyone who engages in war crimes. However, we do not do so. We are taking sides. Only recently, a leaked document has shown that Barack Obama and Joe Biden knew that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the leading funders and weapons suppliers of extreme jihadi insurgents in Syria and yet arms are being transported from America, through Ireland and on to these people. They have escalated the situation in Syria. They have turned a blind eye to the fact that Saudi Arabia has been arming jihadist insurgents in Syria. The most important step we could take is to stop any foreign power from using our airports and airspace to transport instruments of war, whether bullets, soldiers, bombs or guns. Let us become a neutral country again.

Under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973 the carriage of weapons through Shannon Airport on commercial aircraft is prohibited unless an exemption has been obtained in advance from my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. The carriage of personal weapons by foreign military personnel travelling on chartered aircraft transiting through Shannon Airport is subject to the issuance of such an exemption in respect of each individual flight.

I thank the Minister of State and all the Deputies who participated on Question Time.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.