I reiterate my support and that of my party for the motion and the Defence Forces and State in joining and engaging with PESCO. PESCO is not about creating a European army or undermining our neutrality, which is simply false. What it is about is deepening our co-operation with other member states with which we are already part of a union. It is about working together, building co-operation, sharing knowledge and ideas, pooling resources, generating better economies of scale, providing better training for members of the Defence Forces and, ultimately, ensuring peace and stability across the European Union for citizens to protect them. We can benefit from the shared funding of overseas missions. As I stated, we can share knowledge. There are activities at which we are very good in this country in terms of defence, but there are also activities at which other countries may be slightly better. Why not work together? Why not share knowledge? Why adopt an insular approach, close everybody out and just work among ourselves? When has that ever been the best idea?
The effects of joining PESCO are many and positive. It reinforces the fact that we are fully committed to the European Union and its ideals and values. We engaged in all aspects of the process and ensured the Irish voice and concerns were heard, as reflected in the draft. Particularly in the context of Brexit and in a post-Brexit scenario, it is extremely important that we, as a member state which is fully committed to the European Union, show our support for it and all of its values, including common security and defence policy, which we have had a huge role in developing. We will gain a lot from joining PESCO. We will have members of the Defence Forces who will be better trained and equipped and have more knowledge. They will ultimately be safer when they go on overseas missions to represent the country. There are many times when Members across the House laud the members of the Defence Forces for their fantastic work and humanitarian actions overseas, including on their peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions, a point I have made several times. The troops do not go overseas on a holiday. They go on extremely dangerous missions to protect innocent lives, represent the country and put their own lives at risk. They are sacrificing a lot in their lives and those of their families. Therefore, the last thing I want, as spokesperson on defence and somebody who advocates for the Defence Forces, is to send our troops overseas knowing that they have not been trained as best they can be. That is why working with other member states and gaining experience in working with other member states can leave us safe in the knowledge that we are providing the most up-to-date training we can for the Defence Forces. I do not understand how, on the one hand, someone can support our participation in overseas missions and accept that they are dangerous and, on the other, only want members of the Defence Forces to train at home and not engage with the defence forces of other member states. The two ideals do not marry. Marrying them does not make sense to me. Nobody on the other side of this debate has yet articulated how he or she can justify his or her position.
As mentioned, PESCO was referred to in the Lisbon treaty in 2009. We ratified that treaty. Therefore, this is not a new idea. It has been on the table for quite some time. Many Deputies have complained and articulated certain views to the effect they have not had an opportunity to brief themselves properly on PESCO, to discuss this issue or raise it with the Minister. I disagree. I have had an ample opportunity to brief myself on it. In holding my portfolio I have a duty to know how PESCO will work, what it is about and whether it is good for the country. Based on an informed position, having educated myself on it, I am of the firm belief it is a good idea. I am of the firm belief I had plenty of opportunities to engage with the Government on it, including by asking questions in this House and at the committee meeting yesterday. Therefore, I absolutely reject the contention that the debate has not been adequate. If, however, Members believe the debate has been inadequate, they may take comfort in the fact that joining PESCO will certainly require a more robust debate on defence in the future. That is something from which we have to learn in this House. I would certainly welcome having more time to debate defence issues. I do not believe enough time is allocated to debate many of the issues affecting the Defence Forces and defence policy. It is regrettable that many Members are probably not as up to speed on defence issues as they should be. It is potentially a failing of the House not to provide Members with adequate time, resources and materials with which to brief themselves. I would certainly welcome more time to debate such matters.
Part of the reason we co-operate with other member states and the key reason we engage in UN missions is that we want to contribute, as citizens of a member state of the European Union and as global citizens, to peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions to ensure peace and security across the globe. We are global citizens; we do not live in an insular society and are affected. We cannot adopt the approach that these are matters for other countries, not us. If our shores were threatened, we would very quickly look to other member states for assistance, rightly so. It should be a two-way process. Joining PESCO means that, as a state, we will have to up our game on defence issues. We will have to do more to ensure we have an up-to-date, modern, progressive and efficient defence policy and proper equipment to deal with the ever-changing threats the country faces and the ever-globalising environment in which the Defence Forces operate.
Many concerns have been raised by other groups. I have received correspondence and representations from citizens on this issue and the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, PANA. They are concerned that co-operating with and joining PESCO somehow undermines our neutrality, but I have yet to see any evidence of this from anybody in the House. We have a militarily neutral position which is constitutionally protected and the triple lock mechanism remains in place. We will only engage on a project by project basis. If any Member can lay before the House evidence of how neutrality is being undermined, not just rhetoric or an opinion, I will be all ears, but I have yet to see it.
There are many who suggest joining PESCO is somehow the start of the development or coming together of a European army. On reading the draft of the text and understanding what PESCO involves, I cannot understand how anybody can suggest it somehow implies a European army. If Members would like to lay before the House evidence which supports that suggestion, I will be all ears and will be very pleased to consider it.
Some Members have suggested we should not join PESCO and that we should stay out of it. There are a couple of reasons I believe that would be a bad move for the country. First, as I have stated, I believe it is our job and responsibility to ensure the Defence Forces are trained as best they can be. Not working with other member states, areas, people and armies with expertise is not just bad for the country and the Defence Forces, it is also reckless. We will ultimately put the lives of members of the Defence Forces in danger if we send them overseas in the knowledge that they have not been properly trained and could have been better trained. Not joining PESCO would send the wrong message to our partners, neighbours and friends across Europe. It would afford us less influence in dealing with the Common Security and Defence Policy. I absolutely agree. Not joining would show that we were less committed to working with other member states to ensure security and peace across the European Union. It would also leave us as an outlier in the European Union in defence matters.
It will leave us politically marginalised. It will deteriorate our own defence capacity because we will be working alone. Again, I see no argument as to why that would be a good thing and I think it would ultimately diminish our peacekeeping options, the very thing we hold dear. Citizens take huge pride in overseas missions in which the Defence Forces participate and Member after Member in this House across the board has lauded them as fantastic.
We need to give a commitment to this House that while we are joining PESCO and see the benefits of it, we also hear the concerns of Members and of some citizens and we will commit to more robust and extensive debate on defence policy and defence issues in this House and at committee level on a more regular basis. Deputy Brendan Smith, the committee Chairman, would have no difficulty with that. We also need to give a commitment in this House that we are prepared to review the PESCO arrangements on an ongoing basis to ensure that it always represents the best option, as it does right now, for this country. We must further give a commitment to Members in this House that there will be full engagement with all Members across the House on any project in which we participate to ensure there is, at best, the most consensus that we can achieve in terms of our participation in those projects.
There needs to be far better engagement in terms of parliamentary questions and notification to Members on an ongoing basis, perhaps in report form on a quarterly basis from the Department, as to how PESCO is working, what engagements we have with it and what is expected of us on an ongoing basis. Such a report would be most helpful to ensure that Members are the most up to date they can be and that there can be no argument that Members or citizens do not know what is going on. It is our job to be properly informed and some assistance from the Department, the Government and the Minister would be most appreciated.
It is very important to note that joining PESCO is very much supported by the Defence Forces. I congratulate and commend the work of the officials who have engaged on this throughout the process in terms of articulating the Irish position on neutrality, the constitutional provisions in terms of defence policy and airing the concerns some citizens and some Members of this House have. All those things were taken on board and the draft text reflects that.
One of the concerns raised at the committee yesterday was that joining PESCO requires us to increase defence spending. I have no difficulty with that. We need to increase defence spending. The defence budget is paltry. It does not allow us to build the proper capabilities we need. It does not allow us to run properly functioning Defence Forces. Other Members in this House come into the Chamber on a regular basis talking about how underfunded and under-resourced the Defence Forces are yet one of their big concerns is an increase in defence spending in the context of PESCO. How does one marry the two? I cannot. We need to increase defence spending. We are one of the lowest spenders in the European Union. One of the positives of joining PESCO is that it will force the Government and the Department to properly fund and resource the Defence Forces and properly develop a robust defence policy that will prepare the country and ensure it is protected and properly participating in the common security and defence policy across the European Union.
It is important to send the message to members of the Defence Forces that we very much support them in the work they do. We are very proud of the work they do and we want to work with them to ensure that they have access to the best information, knowledge and training. One of the key benefits of joining PESCO is that we will now be able to work with other member states in research and developing technologies across the defence sector. That is not about building weapons. It is about building knowledge and building technology in terms of surveillance to protect our waters and the State and building capacity to work with other member states in terms of sharing information in order to protect citizens and protect the State. As a small country we do not have the capacity to do all that ourselves. We will benefit from economies of scale. We will benefit from working with larger member states and their resources to conduct research and develop technologies we know we need.
One of the areas of vulnerability recently highlighted in the State, where every member state is vulnerable, is cybersecurity. We do not have the capacity or the capability to do all that research on our own. We need to work with other member states because cyberattacks do not know jurisdictions or boundaries. They work across all countries. We are all facing the same threats together. The notion that somehow this country is safe and untouchable has proven to be completely untrue. We know that we are not safe from cyberattacks and we know they can happen. Joining PESCO sends a very strong message, that we are aware of the threats, that we know there are multiple threats and that they are constantly changing and adapting. We know the threats are sophisticated but also that we are not alone as other member states face the same difficulties we face. This is about deepening co-operation, working with like-minded member states to ensure we can protect citizens and have the most up-to-date technology to try to combat the threats.
While there will always be difficulties and opposing views, in particular in the area of defence, which at times is quite emotive and is controversial, and while there are times when we will never agree on certain positions, coming from an informed position, having had an opportunity over an extended period to educate myself on what PESCO is about, what it involves and what the benefits are to the State and the Defence Forces, I have no difficulty in supporting and commending the motion. I ask other Members to consider very strongly how they can marry the two positions, first, that we will support the Defence Forces and that we want them to do overseas missions while on the other hand we do not want them to train or work with other countries and, second, how we want the Defence Forces to be properly funded and resourced yet we do not want to increase defence spending.