That the proposal that Dáil Éireann approves Ireland’s participation in a European Defence Agency Project in relation to Military Search Capability Building pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, be referred to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, in accordance with Standing Order 84A(3)(b), which, not later than 19th February, 2019, shall send a message to the Dáil in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 90, and Standing Order 89(2) shall accordingly apply.
In commending the motion, I will briefly outline the function of the European Defence Agency, EDA, and the background to the project that Ireland wishes to participate in. The agency was established by a Joint Action of the Council of the European Union in 2004 "“to support the Member States and the Council in their effort to improve European defence capabilities in the field of crisis management and to sustain the European Security and Defence Policy as it stands now and develops in the future". On 6 July 2004, the Government approved Ireland's participation in the framework of the EDA. Ireland contributes to the annual costs of running the agency including its annual work programme. The agency is focused on assisting member states in capability development, in obtaining better value for existing spending levels, improving competitiveness and securing greater efficiency, particularly in the area of research, technology and procurement of defence capabilities.
The Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 prescribes that participation in EDA projects or programmes is subject to Government and Dáil approval. Capability development projects within the EDA are classified as a category A project where all member states join unless they specifically opt out or a category B project where two or more member states come together to pursue a particular initiative. The proposal put forward by me today is to seek approval for Ireland to participate in a category B project in relation to military search capability building. The Defence Forces engage extensively in specialist military search activities, dealing with unexploded ordnance, improvised explosive devices and ensuring a safe and secure operating environment for military operations. The Defence Forces engineer specialist search and clearance teams are regularly deployed on home and overseas operations.
There are two specialist search teams operating overseas in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, and they predominantly conduct route searches and area clearances in advance of vehicle or foot patrols. The Defence Forces have also provided this capability to An Garda Síochána in support of aid-to-civil power operations during high profile visits by foreign VIPs and for searches for bodies and weapons. The Defence Forces corps of engineers does not have search teams at an advanced search capability level. Advanced search personnel are capable of conducting hazardous environment search, working in confined space and operating in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear environments. Participation in this project addresses this capability gap. The aim of the project is to develop common processes, techniques and procedures for military search for contributing member states. The overall cost of the project is €2.8 million over six years and will be funded by the eight participating member states. Funding comprises financial contributions and contributions in kind. Ireland's contribution over the lifetime of the project is €157,500. This comprises €102,500 contributions in kind associated with hosting an international seminar and a number of training events, and a direct financial contribution of €55,000. Costs will be met from within existing resources.
The eight member states planning to join the project are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Ireland. The anticipated benefits of the Defence Forces participation in this project are: it addresses a current deficiency at the advanced level of engineer specialist search and clearance capability; the training to instructor level that will be achieved from this project will ensure that ongoing training requirements can be met in-house into the future; the project provides an efficient and cost effective means of qualifying teams to advanced searcher level and maintaining their currency, which would otherwise be prohibitive if it had to be procured in the market. Additional benefits also arise from interaction with other forces and the sharing of tactics, techniques, procedures and experiences. Ireland's participation in this project affords us the opportunity to keep abreast of best practice and new developments in the defence environment, particularly as it impacts on multinational crisis management operations in a cost effective manner.