Ratification of EU and NATO Status of Forces Agreements: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of:

(i) the Agreement between the Member States of the European Union concerning the status of military and civilian staff seconded to the institutions of the European Union, of the headquarters and forces which may be made available to the European Union in the context of the preparation and execution of the tasks referred to in Article 17(2) of the Treaty on European Union, including exercises, and of the military and civilian staff of the Member States put at the disposal of the European Union to act in this context, done at Brussels on 17th November, 2003, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 2nd January, 2019; and

(ii) the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Partnership for Peace Status of Forces Agreement, done at Brussels on 19th June, 1995, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 2nd January, 2019;

subject to the respective reservations, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 2nd January, 2019."

On 16 January, the House discussed this motion before its referral to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. I appeared before that committee on 24 January to discuss the motion further. I thank Deputies for their input to date. I acknowledge the views expressed and hope that this debate can provide any further clarity that may be required.

A status of forces agreement, SOFA, is designed to regulate the legal and administrative arrangements applied to members of foreign forces operating within the state where they are deployed. SOFAs provide for immunities and privileges extended to members of our Defence Forces when serving on overseas missions. SOFAs also relate to the immunities and privileges extended to members of the Defence Forces when engaged in exercises in EU or NATO and Partnership for Peace, PfP, member states, or when on standby for the EU battle groups. All international organisations, including the UN, EU and NATO, have concluded SOFAs with the states where they have deployed forces or engaged in training missions. The SOFAs deal with matters such as jurisdiction, claims and applicable law between the sending organisation or state and the host state where these personnel are deployed.

Approval of this motion will allow Ireland to become party to the EU and PfP SOFAs. This will ensure that our Defence Forces enjoy the same immunities, rights and privileges as their military colleagues while serving overseas on peacekeeping and crisis management operations or engaged in exercises where these SOFAs apply. They will acquire these immunities and privileges as a matter of right rather than having to rely on a complicated procedure of exchange of letters between jurisdictions, which may or may not be concluded on their behalf. We cannot continue to operate on that basis. Our Defence Forces should be protected in the same manner as all other military personnel with whom they operate on missions and exercises when deployed outside the State.

In the past, issues have unnecessarily arisen in the completion of an exchange of letters through no fault of either party concerned. The resolution of such issues requires that Ireland depends on the goodwill of our EU or other partners. Ultimately, situations have arisen where no exchange of letters has been agreed and our Defence Forces have been restricted in their participation or operate without the relevant protections.

In 2016, as part of Ireland's participation in the German-led battle group, Germany advised that it could not facilitate the exchange of letters arrangement in the time required due to legal, constitutional and parliamentary requirements. In the case of this battle group, the immunities and privileges afforded to foreign militaries could only be extended through the PfP SOFA. As a result Ireland could not participate in the field exercises undertaken by all other battle group participants in the German battle group. This is unsatisfactory from a training and inter-operability perspective. We also had to rely on the goodwill of partners and members of the Defence Forces in respect of the deployment of a number of personnel to the battle group operational headquarters for the standby period. Another example is the case of the three month deployment to Operation Artemis, the EU mission in the Congo in 2003. For this mission, while the terms of the exchange of letters was fully agreed in advance, with France as lead nation, the formal process had not been concluded before the troops had completed the mission.

I was asked in committee why I was bringing forward the ratification of these agreements now. My answer is simply that I would like to get these matters resolved before our proposed participation in the German-led battle group in 2020. We need to have the SOFA in place so that the Defence Forces can participate in the full battle group exercise before the standby period.

The EU SOFA has been ratified by all EU member states except Ireland. It can only come into force upon ratification by Ireland. All other non-aligned or neutral EU member states, including Finland, Sweden and Austria, have ratified the EU SOFA.

In relation to the PfP SOFA, it is important to note that EU crisis management operations and battle groups have operated under this agreement where there has been third state participation in operations. Often Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, missions and operations also involve third state participation from non-EU member states. These third states are usually parties to the PfP SOFA but not party to the EU SOFA, therefore making it more appropriate to apply the PfP SOFA in such context.

In response to questions raised in previous debates, I assure Deputies that these SOFAs will not apply within the State. Article 15.6.2° of the Constitution states that "No military or armed force, other than a military or armed force raised and maintained by the Oireachtas, shall be raised or maintained for any purpose whatsoever." Taking account of the Attorney General's advice on this provision of the Constitution and the application of the SOFAs in Ireland as well as the policy advice that I received from my Department, I have decided to include reservations to both agreements. The reservations make it clear that Ireland will not be a receiving state for the purposes of the SOFAs. As a result of these reservations, there is no situation in which the rights, immunities and privileges can have application in Ireland, including in relation to forces in transit or visiting personnel. These reservations will be associated with Ireland's instrument of ratification in respect of each of the SOFAs should this motion be approved by Dáil Éireann.

In response to other concerns raised by Deputies, I cannot stress enough that Ireland's policy of military neutrality is not diminished, circumvented or reduced by our ratification of the SOFAs. If anything, our national position is more strongly discernible following this process, given the reservations we are attaching to our instruments of ratification. The reservations, as I have stated, do not allow for any ambiguity.

Let me be clear that my sole purpose in bringing forward the ratification of the SOFAs is to ensure that our Defence Forces personnel are protected in the same manner as all other military personnel with whom they operate on missions and exercises when deployed outside the State, all the while making an invaluable contribution to international peace and security, and conflict resolution. I commend the motion to the House.

Fianna Fáil will be supporting the proposals to ratify the status of force agreement that will facilitate the participation of Ireland in the EU battle groups. When I last was in the House speaking about this matter a few weeks ago, I set out our reasons and rationale for supporting this. It will provide the immunities, privileges and process for the joint co-operation that, as I stated previously, has been happening anyway. The letters of exchange were an exception that went on for many years. It is important we facilitate this. In ratifying the agreement, we are providing for and protecting Irish men and women who serve abroad. It will enhance their training and also their protection while on any foreign mission.

When Ireland plays a role in crisis management, it is important that we provide for the legal certainty for members of our Defence Forces. As the Minister of State stated, in 2016, the Germans questioned the letters of exchange regarding the German-led battle group and for the 2020 battle group.

I also welcome that there is democratic legitimacy to this motion being provided in Dáil Éireann, that it was discussed at committee and that it has been referred back here even though it is currently covered within present treaty law. When Fianna Fáil was last in Government, we supported the development of the EU's rapid response capability in support of the United Nations. This is in keeping with the State's long tradition and policy of support for the United Nations' multilateralism and for the Security Council as the lead authority for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Among the operations in respect of which a battle group could be deployed are those of a humanitarian nature involving assisting, if requested, the authorities in a state that has been devastated by a natural or man-made disaster where there is unlikely to be a UN Security Council resolution because the situation may not involve any security issues. In 2006, Ireland was involved with the Nordic battle group with the EU and this provided for a response. In the context of this agreement, it is important to note that the SOFA protects Irish troops who are abroad. I welcome that.

It is also important that we put on the record that this is part of Ireland having an approach that reflects an active neutrality. An active neutrality reflects the fact that our sovereignty is secure, our democracy is functioning well and Ireland is one of the most established democracies in the world.

It also reflects the fact that we are at a juncture in our development where we have an enhanced opportunity to focus on what we have to offer other members of the international community. An active neutrality says that we have a duty to share the lessons of our experience of peace building on this island and peacekeeping on the international stage with others who may benefit from them. As part of the triple lock and maintaining our status of neutrality, we can offer an independent role on that basis, but we have to be involved to play a positive role. Ignoring the EU SOFA and ignoring co-operation does not achieve that.

It is important that we are a bridge between the developed and the developing world, a global leader in the fight against poverty, disease and underdevelopment and an intermediary and facilitator in peace processes. In that regard it is important that we should never abandon the triple lock, specifically the requirement in the 1954, 1960 and 1993 Defence Acts that there would be a UN mandate when sending a contingent of 12 or more armed Irish troops overseas. It is important that we reflect that Ireland's position of neutrality is a positive policy. We need to ensure that we continue a multilateral approach and continue the triple lock but that we also co-operate with others so that we can defend our country and others against the threats of the 21st century. Our participation in the agreement allows that.

My party will be supporting this motion.

Unlike Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin not be supporting this motion. Sinn Féin will oppose this motion and will vote against it.

We heard from the Minister of State about SOFAs. Basically, SOFAs grant immunities to soldiers in the face of prosecution and give them protection from local courts and local justice systems in order that they be returned to their home countries and face prosecution in some cases. In what they do, that is fair enough. However, it is worth noting at this juncture of the debate that SOFAs have also been used controversially by the military of some other states over recent years. I refer, for example, to US and British soldiers who committed crimes in Iraq.

We already have SOFAs in place with the UN for Irish soldiers operating under UN-mandated missions. The key point, from my party's perspective, is that this is already in place.

The Irish soldiers are already protected under UN missions and for other missions when the exchange of letters takes place to deal with the legal issue. The question we need to ask ourselves as a Parliament and as a people is why is the Government bringing forward two status of forces agreements, SOFAs, to deal with the EU and NATO now. Why, at this time? Is it a tidying up of some side issues to prepare us for more intense or greater links with the EU army being proposed by many of the Government's partners in Europe? When this motion was discussed in the committee, and again today, the Minister of State clearly said the Department was told that the Defence Forces would not be able to participate in the German-led battle group in 2020 if Ireland did not have the SOFA in place. There it is: this is a vote on Ireland's participation in an EU battle group. That is what the Minister of State has said in the committee and again repeated here today: that and our participation in the NATO so-called Partnership for Peace, PfP. The Partnership for Peace is basically a stepping stone to full NATO membership. For Ireland to have any link at all with NATO is contrary to our neutrality no matter what way Deputies try to dress up that issue.

Sinn Féin is emphatically opposed to this motion. It is a disgrace to see Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael continuing to work together to undermine Irish neutrality and lay the groundwork for an EU army. Every step that has been taken on defence issues in the EU since has moved us further along the path of the creation of an EU army. This was seen in the Treaty of Lisbon and the creation of EU battle groups. Sinn Féin rightly told the Irish people that the Lisbon treaty would be a betrayal of Irish neutrality and lay the foundations for the creation of an EU army. We were proven right and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael continue to lie to the Irish people about the true extent of what lies behind this. Those parties know how popular neutrality is here. That is why on three occasions in the last 13 years they have refused to support Sinn Féin’s legislation to hold a referendum on enshrining neutrality in Bunreacht na hÉireann. If they really believed in Irish neutrality and if they had no problem with Irish neutrality then they should have backed our motion, not once, not twice, but three times to make sure it was locked in tight and enshrined in Bunreacht na hÉireann. But no, time and again Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have voted against that. We know the direction these two parties, along with their sister parties in Europe, are trying to take the European project. These parties know the Irish people would support inserting such neutrality into the Constitution and neutrality is something that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael want to do away with. That is the long and the short of it. This explains why they have been slowly eroding and chipping away at it since the 1990s. I believe that they cannot hide and pull the wool over peoples' eyes anymore.

An EU army is coming if the EU masters get their way. Do not just take my word for it or the word of Sinn Féin. Let us look at what some of those so-called European masters are saying. Let us put on the record of the House what they are declaring to the EU citizens and to the world. Jean-Claude Juncker has said that creating an army is one of the main goals of the EU. Or take the words of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French President, Emmanuel Macron, who recently signed the Treaty of Aachen. They both explained how important the treaty was for their military co-operation and how it contributes to the creation of an EU army. The Minister of State could even listen to his own colleague and Dublin MEP who along with other Fine Gael’s MEPs produced a paper calling for a complete disbanding of Irish neutrality and full integration into the EU military apparatus and NATO itself. It is in black and white in a position policy paper published by that same MEP.

We could also listen to what is being said in Madrid. Fianna FáiI's group in the EU, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, has adopted a European election manifesto that says the party welcomes greater European co-operation in defence spending and agreement of PESCO, and encourages member states to increase defence co-operation further in areas of mutual advantage, in greater co-operation with and to "complement...NATO as NATO remains the backbone of military co-operation and guarantor of collective defence for Europe." Well, not on our watch. The leader of the ALDE group, which is Fianna Fáil's sister party, has openly called for an EU army and European defence union. He has said that Europe is only spending 40% to 45% of the US military spending and three times more than Russia. To booming applause from his liberal audience he quoted Macron saying that having 28 armies is a waste and that the EU needed only one army and Fianna Fáil’s EU leader spoke of it being their project.

Let us be clear about where they are trying to take the European project with regard to defence. So far the lack of SOFAs on the level that the Government now wants us to operate has not in the main hampered Irish Defence Forces in doing incredible work on United Nations mandated peacekeeping missions. That has happened and will continue to happen with or without these SOFAs before us.

What we really have before us is a change to how we deploy the Defence Forces overseas. We do not have to pass these two SOFAs today or at any stage when we already have quite an effective operating SOFA which deals with what is laudable and acceptable to the Irish people, which is participation in UN missions abroad. That is where it should start and where it should end. The motion is about making it easier for different countries to amalgamate their militaries and to have joint operations. This is about dragging Irish soldiers in the EU and NATO military apparatus and sending them off on missions. What should be before us is a motion extracting ourselves from these military organisations that compromise our neutrality. What should be before us is a Bill that Sinn Féin put forward to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution. That would be the right thing to do and what the vast majority of Irish people want. Instead we have a very similar situation to that of permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, where there was very little understanding or public debate on this huge change to our neutrality. Then all of a sudden it is foisted on us out of the blue. This is the common tactic of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in their attempts to undermine our neutrality, in that gradual and bit-by-bit erosion, piece by piece, along with their sister parties in the EU.

We have not heard a demand from anyone within the Defence Forces looking for these SOFAs. I put it to the Minister of State that there are sufficient protections available, such as the SOFA for UN missions. Instead this is joining us up to the EU’s continued militarisation project. The people have repeatedly taken stands to demand that we respect neutrality. That is what this Parliament should be doing. This is why Sinn Féin will call a vote on this issue. The motion before us is totally contrary to the idea of Irish neutrality. Sinn Féin rejects it and we will continue to reject all attempts to erode Irish neutrality and to immerse Ireland in the EU military apparatus and the EU militarisation project, which is gaining momentum across Europe. We will oppose any attempt to bring Ireland closer to or into any NATO project associated with that.

Our history of neutrality is a strong one and we, of course, hold it very dear. Our Defence Forces historically and currently have done us proud in making peace and keeping peace all over the world. Diplomatically, our stance of neutrality has informed our approach to nuclear disarmament, which has seen us act as a world leader in this area since the late 1950s. It was our resolutions that led to the creation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which has held as a bulwark against mass nuclearisation over the past six decades. In 2009 Ireland hosted a conference to ban cluster munitions and we have strong positions against chemical and biological weapons.

As a State we seek to protect and help the most vulnerable against the most belligerent. Our membership of the European Union and its Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP, and within that the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, places our neutrality in a constant state of discussion, and in some quarters uncertainty. When motions like this appear on the Order Paper they can bring us into somewhat confusing waters.

During the course of the evolution of the EU's CSDP, our EU partners have always fully respected Ireland's sovereignty, independence and neutrality. The legal guarantees given by the European Council in June 2009 confirmed that the EU’s security and defence policy does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality and Irish troops will not be deployed to any conflict zone or CSDP mission without the triple lock of UN authorisation, Government approval and Dáil approval. Ireland’s sovereign right to decide to deploy, maintain or withdraw troops on the initiative of the Government and Dáil Éireann as provided for in the Defence Acts is fully protected.

Defining our neutrality in the early 20th century and during the Second World War was quite simple. The Cold War added some shades of grey but in essence our neutral stance was clear. The post-Cold War world with the evolution of the European Union with its Common Security and Defence Policy has created different challenges to our historical position of neutrality.

As an ever evolving body, however, with complex arrangements among what are soon to be 27 member states, the European Union makes matters a little more tricky. Arrangements are more complicated and multilateral and have different goals and objectives. It is through this complicated view that we need to discern what is a real threat to our deeply held position of neutrality and what measures benefit our own standing professional defence forces, of which we are very proud and wish to support.

The European Union's status of forces agreement is designed to regulate the legal and administrative arrangements in respect of particular privileges and immunities applicable to members of foreign forces operating within the state where they are deployed. I understand certain aspects of status of forces agreements might sound distasteful, providing as they do for immunities in relation to the nature of military equipment involved and the potential use of lethal force. Such wording makes those of us of the neutrality tradition instinctively recoil. However, we need to pause and realise our troops operate in dangerous environments when peacekeeping and such wording in legal texts is understandable and at times necessary. It does not mean that Defence Forces personnel will be given licence to operate with lethal force in an act of military aggression or crime. Some Deputies raised the issue of SOFAs in relation to the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war and the protections they provided for US military personnel. I am 100% confident that the men and women of the Defence Forces would never need to test those particular limits of SOFAs.

We spend a lot of our time debating the pay and conditions of Defence Forces personnel. We talk about supporting our soldiers and ensuring they have dignity at work. In all of those debates we say how proud we are of the exemplary role they play on the global stage. We are and should be proud. However, if we do not ratify the SOFA, we will make it more difficult for the Defence Forces to practise professionally. This has been proved in recent years with our personnel excluded from some training operations. I support the Defence Forces at all levels and want to ensure they are able to participate in training exercises with our EU partner states. Motions like this are intermittent reminders to some in this House that our neutrality operates in a more complex multilateral environment. Ratifying the SOFA does not equate to a creep towards an EU army of aggression. It does not compromise the triple lock arrangements. It does not compromise our neutrality. Perhaps it is worth reminding the House that it has been signed by the other neutral and non-aligned countries in the European Union. The SOFA will make it easier for the Defence Forces to operate in the current environment and engage in multilateral and peacekeeping operations with our EU partners. It will give them legal certainty in situations which can be most uncertain.

Yesterday 67 Army cadets and one Air Corps cadet were commissioned at a ceremony in Dublin Castle. We all were excited to see the class graduate and enter the Defence Forces as officers. We want them to be proud to wear the uniform and know that we are proud of them, too. Issues of pay and conditions are recognised on the Opposition benches as ones that need to be resolved. We have Defence Forces personnel who have nowhere to call home as their housing arrangements are so insecure. In recognising the realities of individual soldiers we must also be mature and recognise the realities in which the Defence Forces operate on the international stage. We do not want our women and men to be stuck in dilapidated old barracks, from commissioning to retirement, awaiting an invasion by some foreign army. Our women and men want to be out in the world, improving their skills, keeping the peace, rescuing vulnerable migrants and making the world safer and better. Splendid isolation and blind eye neutrality are not the reality in the Ireland in 2019. Ours is a mature, sovereign state which has deep relationships with our EU partners. We have ensured during the years that the core tenets of our neutrality are protected, but, with that, we must recognise that our relationships require complex legal agreements to protect the men and women of the Defence Forces. The SOFA is one of them.

As I indicated in the discussion before the motion was referred to the committee, there is something Orwellian about the Government's claim that involving ourselves in an arrangement with NATO does not impact in any way on our neutrality. The phrase "Partnership for Peace-NATO" is Orwellian, too. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is a military alliance dominated by some of the most aggressive military and imperial powers in the world. As an organisation, it should not exist. One could have claimed a rationale for it during the Cold War, although I would not have. Both sides in the Cold War were aggressive imperial blocks competing for influence around the world, with devastating consequences in huge numbers of places, including South America, Vietnam, Africa and the Middle East. One can go through the list of the consequences of that geopolitical competition between NATO and the Soviet bloc. Whatever rationale there might have been for NATO before the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet bloc, there is no justification for it now. It should not exist, yet it does because the imperial ambitions of the major powers continue. They are the United States of America, Britain, France and so on. Europe is progressively aligning itself with these imperial ambitions and the expansionist and interventionist military machines.

I note some recent examples of what NATO has done. The NATO chief has lauded the bombing in Syria and commented on how wonderful it was to bomb the hell out of it. The people concerned have complimented themselves on the NATO operation in Libya. It is incredible that they could compliment themselves on it. If ever there was a disaster, it was NATO's military intervention in Libya which virtually destroyed the country. We now have a situation where desperate people fleeing parts of North Africa are being herded like slaves, abused and exploited by militias operating in the mess NATO left behind in Libya. We are co-operating with them to prevent the people in question from crossing the Mediterranean as they flee in desperation to seek a better life here. This is the mess NATO created, yet the Minister of State wants us to align with it. The Government is going to drag Ireland into Europe's moves to align itself with that alliance, while claiming that doing so somehow does not infringe our neutrality. It is preposterous and ridiculous to even make that claim. It is equally ridiculous for the Minister of State to suggest that because the immunities and so on included in the status of forces agreement between NATO and Partnership for Peace will not operate here, our neutrality will not be infringed in that manner either. Give us a break.

We have seen 2 million US soldiers pass through Shannon Airport to prosecute a war in Iraq which has completely destroyed that country. We have participated in it by allowing these troops to pass through Shannon Airport. The consequences for Iraq and the entire region have been a disaster, just as those of us who mobilised for the protest in 2003 warned. Our worst case estimates of what the war would cost Iraq were, in fact, dwarfed by its murderous reality. I remember writing an article in The Irish Times prior to the war in which I included estimates from some groups that up to 50,000 people would die in Iraq if the war went ahead.

Credible estimates now put the death toll in Iraq as a result of the war at in excess of 1 million people. The greatest refugee crisis in the modern history of the world resulted from it, with approximately 4 million people displaced. Iraqi society was absolutely devastated and will probably never recover. Depleted uranium munitions are all over Iraq, poisoning and deforming children not even born and will do so for generations, munitions used by the very powers the Minister of State wants to align us with. The mess in Syria today would not have happened if it was not for that military intervention in Iraq. It is a direct consequence. The growth of ISIS and everything else is a direct consequence of the Iraq war, and the Minister of State wants us to align with these people and claims it does not infringe on our neutrality. It is dishonest nonsense.

If the evidence of what NATO and the powers central to it have done, and I could give many more examples but I do not have time, is not enough in and of itself, what are the European promoters of European militarisation saying about their project? They are saying they are developing a European army. Merkel said it explicitly in the European Parliament in recent weeks. Macron says we are developing a European army. Tusk says we are developing a European army. Mogherini says we are developing a European army. Every major promoter of the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, and what was inserted into the various treaties to institutionalise this evolving military structure has said it is about developing a European army, but the Minister of State comes in here and says it will have no impact on Irish neutrality and everything is fine. It is ridiculous. He knows it is ridiculous. Everybody knows it is ridiculous. Opinion polls have shown the population thinks it is ridiculous because they believed it was wrong for us to facilitate US troops in the Iraq war, and the majority believe these measures are infringing on our neutrality.

The Minister of State resists properly defining neutrality because the fact it is not properly defined allows him to claim this ridiculous Orwellian suggestion that we are not eroding or destroying our neutrality. The Hague Convention's definition of neutrality when applied to what we did at Shannon would clearly put us outside any meaningful definition of neutrality because we allowed forces engaged in conducting a war, aggressive military action, to use our territory to do that, providing logistical support for it. That breaches neutrality. It is only because the Minister of State resists defining it that it is not clearly set out in the Constitution and law. Therefore he can make these ridiculous claims.

It will not make any difference, and I know the Minister of State will get up and just repeat again and again that this will not impact on our neutrality and Fianna Fáil will do the same. Let us tell the truth. What is the dirty secret of all of this? We are afraid to say "boo" to the US. That is the truth. Everybody knows it is the truth. We would not dare suggest to the US it should remove its troops from Shannon or in any way question its right to act as a global policeman. That is the reality. At least it would be honest if the Minister of State just said this is the real reason we are shredding our neutrality. On the 100th anniversary of the Dáil, this is poignant. Among other things, the Irish revolution was against empires. That is what it was about. Fundamentally, it was against empires, but what the Minister of State is doing is progressively dragging us into the imperial project that is NATO and, frankly, it is quite shameful.

We will vote against the motion. We disagree very strongly with what is going on. As Deputies Boyd Barrett and Pearse Doherty have said, our neutrality is growing into a myth and has not really existed for a long time. The motion has been presented as a completely necessary formality that Ireland should agree to for Irish forces to take part in peacekeeping and training missions throughout the world, protected by the same legal structures as the armed forces of other nations, and that as a result of passing the motion, no armed force from another country will be stationed in Ireland or transit through Ireland. I will repeat "or transit through Ireland". The manner in which we can ignore the fact we have let a couple of million US troops pass through here on the way to causing untold damage in other regions beggars belief, as does the manner in which the Government deals with it from a legal perspective. Previously I have touched on the cable exposed by WikiLeaks from 2009, which highlighted the facts the Government is hiding. The Minister of State states foreign troops will not transit through Ireland and what is happening in Shannon with the US is an informal arrangement. I repeat: "an informal arrangement". I just hope that, whatever parties form the next Government, if there is anybody new apart from the three neoliberal parties, namely, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party, which are in favour of this, they insist on Shannon Airport being closed as a US military base.

It is as if our world leaders and their advisers and our intellectual elites find it easier to imagine another world exists than finding a way to stop imperialism, war, plunder and the other drivers of instability, such as global warming and extractive industries. The motion is presented as a common-sense legal formality. There is stuff about the status of the forces and the privileges, facilities and immunities that will apply to them when they are present on the territory of another state, while the larger debate is ignored, which is why are we integrating our forces further and further into NATO structures, taking part in ten PESCO training missions and the European defence fund, and presenting these moves as if it is business as usual for Ireland. Things are changing and I do not understand why this is happening now. The Minister of State has said that all of the other countries in Europe have signed up to this. As Deputy Boyd Barrett said, just about everybody in Europe at this stage is afraid of the US. This is why European countries are jumping at supporting the ludicrous idea that the US would accept a member of the opposition as the new President of Venezuela. All of the western European countries bar Italy are toeing the line and behaving like lapdogs to the US.

The Government is at pains to stress it is all about peacekeeping, learning new skills and getting group buying deals on expensive new hardware for our underpaid forces to use. The message in Europe is dramatically different. Jean-Claude Juncker has stated that by 2025 we need a fully fledged European defence union. He has stated we need it and NATO wants it. Damned right it does. Last month, Germany's defence minister stated that Europe's army is already taking shape and Europe needs to improve its ability to act on behalf of its own security. Not many politicians, particularly not our own, are very clear on from whom or what Europe needs to defend itself. Different bogeyman are hinted at. Russia is still thrown up as the big threat. Maybe if the US and NATO stopped impinging on the territory around Russia's border there would be a little bit more peace in the region. Maybe if the US, with the help of the EU, had not engaged in a coup in Ukraine, which has caused untold turmoil there since, there would be a bit more peace in the region. Where in God's name are we going with this stuff? Can we imagine the Russians getting involved in Mexico or Canada?

That is what is happening on the other side. Immigrants are invoked to make this argument. Where are those people coming from? We have facilitated the creation of immigrants. A minimum of 36 million people have been displaced by war. We helped to bomb those people and now we want to put up walls to stop them coming into Europe because we have destroyed the communities in which they lived. It is horrific.

All of the rationales fail to register the policies that have given rise to all of this. I refer to all of the efforts at regime change. What has that all been for? More than anything else, that has been to further the economic interests of the United States all over the world. Europe tags along because of its economic, political and now, sadly, military ties with America. Looking at what has happened in the world in the past 100 years - and this goes back to the situation in Venezuela - the Americans have interfered in 41 elections in Latin America. It is called democracy.

Why are we attaching ourselves to this nonsense? God help us. The anthropologist, Dr. Jason Hickel, pointed out recently that the most recent data show that more money flows from poor countries to rich countries than the other way around. That includes everything - aid, loans, foreign investment and remittances. Net outflows from poor countries amount to $2 trillion each year. Developing countries, or the global south, are enriching the developed world in the West. Those countries are already rich. We are penalising developing countries morning, noon and night and still raping the place like we are colonialists.

There is no sense to this. We throw aid at those developing countries as if that is a substitute for the fact we rob them blind. This free market extremism creates corruption, impossible economic climates and destabilises all of these regions. We should not be a part of all of this. When we talk about PESCO, the European Defence Fund and the NATO PfP, which should be called the NATO partnership for war, we are really speaking of pulling up the drawbridges to Europe and denying compassion to the people we have helped to bomb, starve and disenfranchise through our support for all of this imperialist activity and economic exploitation.

When we take part in training missions and operations to enhance our ability to police the borders of Europe, we are showing we agree with the nationalist xenophobic far-right ideologies this neoliberal philosophy has brought forth. That is what we are buying into. I am as fond of Europe as anybody but I am seriously worried about where it is going. I am also seriously worried about the role Ireland is playing and the way we are allowing ourselves to be dragged into these military alliances. It does not make any sense. Only 104 MEPs from a total of 751 MEPs voted to oppose regime change in Venezuela in the European Parliament last week. God help and save us. Where are we going?

The Government can cod people all it likes by twisting the language but the Irish people want to be neutral. They do not want to take part in war efforts. They do not want to take part in economic exploitation and impoverishing communities that have suffered long enough. There is no logic to this. It is not what the people want. I would love if the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour parties took a serious look at where their political philosophy is taking Ireland. I am referring to this neoliberal hawkish approach and slavish adoration and subservience to the US which is continuing to destroy so many parts of the world and keep billions of people in poverty.

I am sharing my time with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. I am delighted to make some comments on the ratification of the EU and NATO SOFAs. I listened carefully to the previous debate we had on this issue in January, only a few weeks ago. It raised more questions than answers. I heard what the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, had to say on how a SOFA regulates the legal and administrative arrangements applied to members of foreign forces operating within the state where they are deployed.

I also noted the apparent purpose of this motion is to have immunities and privileges extended to members of the Defence Forces when serving on overseas missions as part of UN-mandated forces. Ireland, and Tipperary, has a proud record of soldiers serving in the UN over many decades. Those were years when we were a very impoverished country with weak armed forces and not long established as an independent State. My colleague, Deputy Grealish, is trying to have some of the personnel of the Defence Forces who fought in the Congo recognised. We all are trying to do that and we all know some of those people. I am being written to regularly by people who served and they are not getting their due recognition. They should get that recognition and the Minister of State is dragging his feet.

Immunity is one thing but extending privileges is another. In the case of the EU and the NATO PfP, the SOFA also relates to the immunities and privileges extended to members of the Defence Forces when engaged in exercises in the EU, NATO or PfP member states or on standby for EU battle groups. That reference to EU battle groups should be enough for us. If we are neutral, we cannot be going into battle. That statement should be enough for the Minister of State and for his colleagues in government. We are not in any battle with anyone.

The Government is, however, in a financial battle with the citizens of this country. It is also in a health battle with the nurses. We are not, however, battling any other country in wars. The Minister of State has referenced in this motion being on standby for EU battle groups. It would be better for the Government to look after the nurses, the people who are homeless and those who are being made homeless by the merciless banks. That is who the Government should be on standby to battle but it will not touch them at all. On one hand, this motion is all very well and good. We need our soldiers to have legal protections on a par with other member states.

We had a barracks in Clonmel. I was very proud of those soldiers and I am still proud of the ones that have been shunted off to Kilkenny thanks to former Deputy and Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, "Phil the Enforcer". More of our soldiers have been shunted off to Cork and we have been devastated. The Minister of State and his Government has done more damage to Clonmel and south Tipperary than Oliver Cromwell did. We kept him out of Clonmel but we could not keep "Phil the Destroyer" out of the town. The Government has destroyed the town. The Minister of State has relations in Carrick-on-Suir and he should know better about what happened in Clonmel.

We must certainly have protection for our Defence Forces personnel when they go abroad. We need to have legal protection on a par with other member states. That is needed when we are on peacekeeping missions saving lives. I salute the work of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean Sea. It has plucked many unfortunate people from the sea, including youngsters, mothers and people of all ages. I agree with Deputy Wallace. Having created the mayhem, we now have to send forces to try solve the problem. This is like a situation where a person out selling sweets makes the concoction sweeter to get people to buy them. It is farcical. The Minister of State needs to pinch himself, see what he has signed up to and where this is going.

This motion appears to do nothing to diminish the clear concerns that exist regarding how instruments such as these continue to impact on, and undermine, our neutrality. It is as plain as the nose on the Minister of State's face.

They run entirely contrary to what our neutrality stands for. That is my opinion but it is also the opinion of many other Deputies, although not the Deputies in the major parties. The Government is welded so closely to Europe that it cannot see the nose on its face.

We either take our neutrality seriously or we do not. There is no halfway house. If we take actions that remove that neutrality, the Government needs to be upfront about it. It is not upfront about anything, however, and will hardly be upfront about this. It is not upfront about cosying up to the banks and giving them immunity to do what they like. Yesterday, the Central Bank announced that hundreds of millions of euro more were swindled from ordinary mortgage account holders.

I noted what Deputy Clare Daly said about the previous motion regarding the issue in January. She said any decisions involving a closer association with NATO or the western European Union would represent a substantial change in our defence policy and would have long-term, if not immediate, implications for our policy on neutrality. She went on to state that any such proposals must be put to the people in a referendum before a decision is taken. Is the Government considering a referendum on the weather? There is one on nearly everything now. More referendums are planned and the Government is trying to bamboozle and cod the people. It thinks that it can feed them with social issues and whatever, that there will be voting on the issues and that it will be great craic. Keep the ordinary peasants occupied, let them eat cake, to quote the famous woman, and the Government can do what it likes. I agree with Deputy Daly that we need a referendum.

There is an increasing sense that we are not getting the full picture of the gradual erosion of our constitutional position on neutrality. I do not know whether it is gradual, however, because it was quite fast with motions earlier in the year to celebrate an Chéad Dáil, or 100 bliain since the First Dáil, and here we are, rushing through this kind of legislation and these debates. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh pointed out, the tone of the motion before us is similar to PESCO, or "presto" as I called it at the time. We used to feed that to hens but the Government wants to feed all kinds of nonsense to the people. Deputy Healy-Rae and, I am sure, the Ceann Comhairle will remember presto. With PESCO, there was no understanding or preparation to say whether we need to go down the road and, all of a sudden, it was foisted on us out of the blue.

For these reasons and because we need to tread far more carefully, slowly and seriously in this area, I will oppose the motion. The Government should consider what is happening in the Middle East. We cannot have a debate on the Middle East because it is not feasible for the Government's friends, given the persecution of Christians and minority Muslims. On PESCO, there was no debate in the House - only a Topical Issue matter accommodated by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the ratification of EU and NATO SOFAs, and that the topic is returning to the House in a short number of months. I listened carefully from my office to the earlier speakers such as Deputy Wallace and others, who made good statements, because I wanted to follow exactly what was said.

I congratulate our Defence Forces on the efforts they make. While I acknowledge the Minister of State also respects their efforts very much, I would like the Government to reward them more. The people who go abroad on peacekeeping missions and who have done so for many years deserve our respect, gratitude and, while we are at it, proper pay. Similarly, the members of the Defence Forces who remain in the country and who play an important role, especially when they are called upon in emergencies from time to time, are treated as second-class citizens, with which I do not agree. They play an important role and those who go on peacekeeping missions have always had a respectable name, whether at home or abroad. They should be treated better than they have been.

To return to the motion, I listened with interest to Deputy Wallace's contribution on US politics. Whenever I think about America, my first thought is of the gratitude for all the people, including many from my family, who left here, went to America and were damn glad to land there. They were damn glad to find work there, have a way of life and get on with rearing their families, and they appreciated it very much. While we can all have our differences of opinion on politics and the way the United States operates around the world, it is not right for us as a country to criticise in the House a place that has been good to us. We greatly appreciate the jobs that have been created here by Americans and the contributions they make to our society. As the saying goes, I would rather be looking at them than looking for them, any day of the week. Likewise, in the case of the jobs our families got when they went to America, I would rather be looking at them than looking for them. As a neutral country, we must be careful to protect and enhance our role as a neutral country, and we cannot have it both ways, as Deputy Mattie McGrath noted. Our neutrality is acknowledged in Europe and around the world. We have a respectable reputation and, in considering the motion, we must be conscious of such issues.

Yesterday, I was very proud, as I am sure the Minister of State was, to attend the commissioning of 67 or 68 cadets into the Defence Forces, along with the young Maltese officers who were trained in Ireland. The co-operation with Malta is an example of the way we can work in co-operation with the rest of the world. It was very moving, and one can tell that those young men and women will do us proud. In some cases that might be due to knowing them or their families, but the sense of them as a team together suggested that they will do our country proud, as the Army, the navy and the air force have done over the years.

The cadets swore allegiance to the State, the Constitution and the Republic - as well as to the House, in a way, because it gives the Defences Forces their direction and sets their strategic missions. It gives us such a sense of responsibility that we must get things right and ensure that we do right by them, which includes ensuring we pay them properly. The disorganisation in our armed forces, through the mix-up of battalions and so on a few years ago, must be reversed in order that we get our organisational structures right. More importantly, the average age of those young men and women is 23. Let us consider the next 20 or 30 years when they will fulfil the promise they made yesterday, and the world into which they are going. Any dispassionate assessment of our situation would raise a sense of caution about what is happening in both European and global contexts.

While it is true that we are involved in realpolitik and the larger states have a strong influence, the French President clearly stated that he wants a true European army to handle the Russian threat and reduce our reliance on the US, and the German Chancellor backed him up. Is that how we see ourselves? Is that the strategic military direction we need to take in the world? The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in his State of the Union speech a couple of years ago, stated, "A strong, competitive and innovative defence industrial base is what will give us strategic autonomy." Are we satisfied that is the strategic direction that will best serve those young officers, soldiers, seamen and women and aviators over the years? Will our buying-in to that sort of vision of a strong industrial base serve them? We live in a world with all sorts of complications involving military technology; the use of drone technology, which we seem to fete in our European statements; and the advancement of robotics, which create various ethical dilemmas in the use of military force. That is what makes me think we will not serve those officers well if we just buy into that narrative and think it is the future security that will work best for the Irish people, the European people or the wider world.

We have heard it time and again with the launch of the European Defence Fund. European Commission Vice President Jyrki Kaitanen has said the fund will act as a catalyst for a strong European defence industry in developing cutting edge and fully interoperable technologies and equipment. The Minister of State has come to us and told us to fear not, as all we are talking about is interoperability in order that our soldiers can do their best job. Nobody would want to deny them that opportunity. We are not blind or deaf and can speak English and read documents from the Commission and elsewhere. We can read the background analysis of PESCO, and other interoperability mechanisms we are to enter, including NATO partnerships. It is all about increasing military spending on hardware and advancing robotics, drone and other technologies. I do not trust us or, I am afraid to say, Europe to best deploy them in a way that will suit our armed services in the tradition in which they have excelled. I have heard the story of Irish Army officer heroes who stood in a difficult position in a Lebanese village when somebody was about to be beaten up and killed. They stopped it and protected people with the power of a pencil in just having the bravery to stand in a square and say they were writing everything down. They were willing to protect the people concerned by standing as soldiers who were not just bringing in big weapons or technology but bravery and a presence on the ground. In so doing they averted that death. All of the officers I met would fill us with a sense of pride. I have met Irish intelligence officers behind certain operations in which we participated in Africa and they realised there were complexities in European engagements in Africa that required a diplomatic approach, rather than focusing on the industrial military and its technology.

Somebody told me that the American army had learned about what we had done in Liberia when we went to a village to give computers to a local community, thereby winning the hearts of the community we were protecting in order that we could work with them in a really effective way. I have heard of Irish Army bases that were not industrial with a high technology spend but which had open fortifications in a sense. Although they were still secure, they kept the area open in order that there was not a sense of massive walls acting as a break between the Irish Army and the people the soldiers were there to defend. They would not send their big and fancy vehicles along the small country roads in the middle of the rainy season for fear that if they did, local farmers would not be able to use them to get their food to the market, thereby exacerbating a tense position. That is our skill and what we are brilliant at. It is what we bring to peacekeeping.

Unfortunately, in everything I read there is mention of interoperability. In a sense, these status of forces agreements, SOFAs, are a metaphor for interoperability. We are told that with interoperability we could see an average saving of 30% if we were to bring all of our helicopters and drone equipment together. That does not lead to a saving in budgets but rather an expansion. It is very explicit as it is a €500 million increase this year, with a view to having ever-increasing budgets. As I indicated, some people will see this ending with a true European army as an ideal or full interoperability. The agreement between NATO and Europe argues that having a stronger NATO and Europe is mutually reinforcing. I am not too sure we are serving our young men and women if we think that is our particular place in the world today. We are living in a world that is complex and difficult, with the West in decline. As the former UK Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, said, ten years ago, the West accounted for 60% of economic activity, but that is now down to 40%. Europe will have to manage what will be a relative decline by protecting our civilisation, looking after citizens and ensuring we will manage our borders, although not in a way that will lead to "fortress Europe" or bring massive investment in an industrial armaments base in an attempt to restore or hold on to what we sense we are losing. Europe will be great and we should be great within it when we have a slightly different version of where we are going from here. The young men and women who will serve us would be better served by an Oireachtas that would signal such intent, rather than one that is behind growth in industrial armaments expenditure as the way forward. Although we very much want to look after our soldiers, that is why we cannot agree to the motion. It is part of an overall movement in which the Minister of State seems to be taking the country's armed forces. It is not secure.

I thank everybody for his or her contribution. Deputy Boyd Barrett appeared very calm this evening in comparison with his other contributions to debates and I wondered about the reason for it. As I remember it is his birthday tomorrow, that is why he is saving all of his energy for tomorrow and I have no doubt that we will all receive an invitation in the post.

I thank Deputy Jack Chambers for supporting the motion and Members across the House for their comments. Deputies have correctly highlighted the importance of our reputation for peacekeeping. In peacekeeping and crisis management operations the status of forces agreements will offer the Defence Forces equal protection and immunities as colleagues from other countries with which they work in a large number of missions across the world. We also want our personnel to benefit fully from the training available in exercising with peacekeeping partners and contributing states where such opportunities are available. We are facing increasingly complex crisis management operations and such exercises contribute extensively to the capacity and capabilities of any mission. Ratification of SOFAs can ensure the Defence Forces can participate fully in such training exercises without in any way compromising or diminishing our traditional policy on neutrality.

Since becoming Minister of State with responsibility for defence, at both committee level and here in the Dáil we have debated a large number of matters. We will always have differences of opinion and I respect everybody's opinion, but the question of whether Ireland is joining a European army is always to the fore. Deputies Boyd Barrett, Wallace and Pearse Doherty raised that query, but their concerns could not be further from the truth. The Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army or conscription to any military formation. Any change to this position would require a treaty change, but no such change is proposed. The Treaty of Lisbon explicitly states it does not provide for the creation of a European army or conscription to any military formation and it does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy on military neutrality. Deputies mentioned Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, the German Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, and many others, but I encourage everybody to look at the Lisbon treaty and the protocols around it. It expressly protects our military neutrality against the idea of a European army.

Another question highlighted concerns about Ireland being part of the NATO PfP. There is a principal benefit of participation in the programme.

It has allowed us to enhance the Defence Forces' capabilities and interoperability with other professional military forces for peacekeeping, preventative and crisis management operations under UN mandates. We have been a member of PfP since 1999 and there is no plan whatsoever to join NATO. Participation in PfP is in no way a stepping stone to NATO membership but I can safely say it enhances our capability, interoperability and it helps that we are able to work alongside like-minded states.

The discussion paper launched by the Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes, some months ago was raised. It was in no way a political policy from my party. This was a discussion paper and it is important that we have people who are interested in defence issues and policy who put out discussion papers that we are able to debate openly and honestly.

In no way did PESCO come out of the blue. I was discussing it at committee level for 18 months before the motion was passed in the House.

I commend the motion to the House. I thank Deputies Jack Chambers and Eamon Ryan for their support. I ask other Members to consider supporting it.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 7 February 2019.