Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Military Honours

John Brady

Question:

37. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence if he will consider the awarding of medals as per the recommendation of a person (details supplied) at the time to the members of the Defence Forces for their actions during the siege at Jadotville; the reason the medals were denied at the time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36693/20]

My question to the Minister relates to the awarding of medals for what can only be described as true heroism during the siege of Jadotville. In the Seanad last week the Minister made a statement on the matter and he announced the establishment of an independent review body, which I welcome. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister to elaborate on that and to state what timeframe we are looking at.

I thank Deputy Brady for the question. The issue of awarding military medals for gallantry, MMG, and the distinguished service medal, DSM, to personnel who served in Jadotville in September 1961 has been considered on a number of occasions over the years.

The siege of Jadotville was a prominent event that occurred during Ireland's peacekeeping mission in the Congo in September 1961 where A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, came under attack. From the 13 to 17 September the men of A Company endured almost continuous attack. At the end of the siege, the men were taken into captivity until finally released on 25 October 1961.

In 1962 and 1965 a properly constituted medals board considered the issue of the award of medals, including nominations, that had been submitted in respect of a number of the men of A Company. This medals board did not award any medals whose citation that mentioned Jadotville. This decision was subsequently reviewed by the medals board and it was indicated that the issued raised had received due consideration and that the board was not prepared to alter its findings.

In 2004 a broader examination of the events at Jadotville was conducted by military officers. This board recommended that the events of Jadotville and the contribution of the 35th Battalion be given recognition. The outcome of this broader examination of the events at Jadotville has led to a number of initiatives that honour the collective actions and bravery of the men of A Company at Jadotville and recognise the very significant contribution of A Company and of the 35th Battalion, as a whole, to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. The Deputy will receive my written reply, which goes through what we have done to date. I asked the Chief of Staff to consider this issue and he has recommended that we set up an independent expert review body to look at the issue again in the context of today's thinking around Jadotville. We hope to have that process concluded with a recommendation by the end of March.

The Minister is aware that next year marks the 60th anniversary of the siege at Jadotville. The commanding officer at that time, Commandant Pat Quinlan, recommended that 33 men from A Company, 35th Battalion, be recommended for the distinguished service medals, and that five of those men also be recommended for military medals for gallantry. I welcome that a review body has been established. Hopefully, it will validate the original recommendation from the commanding officer at the time. We are aware there was much political pressure on at the time, and there was a perception that these brave men were cowards. Unfortunately, that ultimately influenced some of the decision making at that time. Hopefully, the review panel will come back in time for the 60th anniversary and that these medals will be awarded.

It is important not to draw conclusions here as to what the motivations were back in the 1960s with regard to these medals. It is important that we put in place a review body that is genuinely independent and that has military and academic expertise on it so it is considered in the full context of the questions being asked today.

We had a very good discussion on this during the Seanad debate last week. Every political party accepts that decisions on medals should not be made by politicians. Those decisions should be made by an appropriate process that ensures we protect the value of the receipt of medals. I believe everybody agrees with that, and I hope the process we have put in place now will allow for an appropriate review and for us to be able to take the appropriate action on the back of that. We will see where that leads. I certainly look forward to doing anything I can to assist that process.

March is a reasonable timeframe for the panel to come back with the recommendations, which hopefully will overturn some of the political resistance that has existed. We need to be truthful that political resistance has existed over the past six decades.

I welcome this move. It is progress and is a step in the right direction. There has been much focus in this issue in the House, and rightly so. Quite recently, the Minister ruled out any progress on the issue, in that it would not be looked at again. I welcome that the Minister has established the independent review group and some of the people who will sit on it. Ultimately, however, we need to go back to the initial recommendations for the 33 brave soldiers, which was put forward by the officer on the ground. I look forward to a successful outcome to this lengthy process and the failure by the State to recognise the bravery of these men.

The way the process works is that people get recommended for either a DSM or an MMG. Those names then go to a medals board for assessment. Often, even though they have been recommended for medals, people are not awarded them because, for whatever reason, the medals board decides that the threshold has not been reached for the medal to be awarded. That is very much a military process, the integrity of which we must try to protect. I assure the Deputy there is absolutely no political resistance to trying to do what is right. Consider what has already happened in this space. In December 2017 a medal known as An Bonn Jadotville, the Jadotville medal, was specifically designed to recognise the role many of these men played in what was an extraordinary and courageous effort at the time.

There is a process in train now and I hope it can have a successful outcome that everybody can accept. I will come back to the House as soon as I have recommendations, and we will act on those.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

38. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Defence if the proposed commission on the Defence Forces will provide recommendations on outstanding and unresolved issues on pay, conditions and union recognition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37036/20]

I wish to ask the Minister for Defence if the outstanding issues on pay, conditions and union recognition that have affected morale in our Defence Forces and on the retention of key personnel and skills will be resolved.

The Deputy's question referred to the proposed commission on the Defence Forces but I am very happy to answer that question and any supplementary questions he may have.

The establishment of a commission on the Defence Forces was an important commitment made in the recently agreed programme for Government.  The programme for Government states that the commission will be tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review, which will include the following matters: arrangements for the effective defence of the country at land, air and sea; structures for governance, joint command, and control structures; the brigade structure; pay and allowances and composition of the Defence Forces; recruitment, retention and career progression; the contribution of the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, including its legislation and Defence Forces regulations governing it; and whether specialists from the RDF should be able to serve overseas.

The programme for Government also provides that the commission be established before the end of this year with a mandate to report within 12 months. I am working with officials in my Department in order to ensure this timeline for the establishment of the commission is more than met.  I hope it will be established by the end of this month is we can.

My immediate priority concerns the commission’s terms of reference. In accordance with a commitment made in the programme for Government, I have consulted widely on the terms of reference and analysis of all of the various submissions received, including one from the Deputy, is still ongoing. In this regard, I expect to finalise draft terms of reference for the commission shortly and to bring proposals to Government for approval in the coming weeks.

On the recommendations of the commission on pay and other issues, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the commission's work but I would point out that the programme for Government states that on completion of the commission's work a permanent pay review body is be established reflecting the unique nature of military service in the context of the public service. It also states that all recommendations by the commission, or the successor body, and their implementation must be consistent with national public sector wage policy.

It is good to hear there is some speed in terms of establishing the commission by the end of this month. Previous reviews have not been acted on.

For example, the review into technicians' pay and grading, which was promised as part of the Croke Park agreement 2010-14, has not yet been published. It is long overdue. Will it be published and if so, when? When will the recommendations of the high-level implementation plan, which covers issues like patrol allowance and living conditions, be implemented? It is very important that we address these kinds of issues, which have been dragging on for years without resolution and have affected morale in our Defence Forces. They have also affected our ability to retain key personnel and skills and have resulted in a loss of capacity and naval ships being at shore for months. When will these issues be addressed?

They are being addressed as we speak. Much of the high-level implementation plan has been and continues to be implemented but it is true that some elements still remain. We are keeping a channel of communication open with the representative bodies within the Defence Forces, that is, PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, to make sure they understand the timelines around implementation. There have been some delays, primarily due to Covid, but I assure the Deputy there is no resistance in the Department to implementing those recommendations in full.

On technical pay, there is a particular issue around allowances for certain technical positions within the Defence Forces across the Air Corps, Naval Service and Army. We are anxious to progress that as soon as we can and it will be raised in the context of the public sector pay talks. There is a lot going on. This morning I had a discussion with the Secretary General of the Department of Defence about progressing the commitments and recommendations within the White Paper on defence that still need to be progressed. There is much happening in this space. I assure the Deputy that we are absolutely committed to moving these things forward.

Again, when will the review into technicians' pay and grading be published? It was part of the Croke Park agreement. Will the matter of personnel in post-1994 contracts being aged out because of arbitrary cut-offs be addressed? We do not know what is going to happen with fisheries and Brexit but will the Minister agree that it is vital we have full operational capacity in our Naval Service in that context? We need that full operational capacity now. These issues must be fully addressed within that timeframe.

The Deputy has shown a real interest in the Naval Service and its capacity, and for good reason. The Naval Service is significantly under strength at the moment. As a result of that, two ships that should be at sea do not have the capacity to go to sea because we do not have the crews to crew them. We are trying to address that. We worked for more than three months with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to put in place a new scheme for the Naval Service, which was essentially a going to sea incentive scheme to get people to commit to going to sea for two of the next four years. I think that scheme will be successful. We are finalising the terms of its implementation with representative bodies at the moment. It effectively gives people who commit to the scheme €10,000, or €5,000 per year that they commit to go to sea, on top of their patrol duty allowance and the extended tax credit for going to sea. That latter proposal came from the Department of Finance and the credit will be increased for next year on the back of what was available this year. We are trying to ensure the recruitment and retention issues in the naval service are addressed in a targeted way.

Search and Rescue Service Provision

Sorca Clarke

Question:

39. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Defence if he will review the decision to remove search and rescue duties from the Air Corps. [36726/20]

In 2003, after 40 years of involvement, the Fianna Fáil Government of the day ended all Air Corps participation in search and rescue services, which were then operating out of Sligo. Since then, the money spent on these search and rescue contracts has been eye-watering to say the least. This year the Department of Transport's budget for these services is €60 million, or just over €5 million per month, and it will spend an estimated €700 million over the term of the contract. This money would have been much better spent on investment in our Air Corps as the entity the State relies on for maintaining the service.

At the outset, let me clarify that no decision has yet been taken to change any aspect of the current delivery model of search and rescue, SAR, aviation services in Ireland's SAR domain. There is currently a project ongoing under the remit of the Department of Transport to consider, develop and bring to fruition a new marine search and rescue aviation contract for future service provision.

The current contract for the SAR helicopter service is between the Department of Transport and a civil helicopter operator, CHC Ireland DAC. The contract commenced on 1 July 2012 for a period of ten years, with an option to extend for a further three. The existing contract was extended earlier this year for one year to 2023 to facilitate the lengthy procurement process and ensure compliance with the public spending code.

A next generation SAR aviation steering group has been set up under the auspices of the Department of Transport and is led by the Irish Coast Guard to manage the procurement of the next SAR aviation service. Personnel from the Department of Defence and members of the Air Corps are key stakeholder members of the steering group progressing this contract and have played an active role in the group’s discussions since its inception a number of months ago.

The defence organisation is supportive of the Department of Transport’s programme to put in place the next generation SAR contract. A strategic assessment and preliminary appraisal document in line with the public spending code was agreed by the steering group and brought to the Government for information in July. The preliminary appraisal included an appraisal of various service delivery options, including one in which the State assumed full responsibility for the service, either through the Air Corps or through a dedicated Irish Coast Guard aviation branch. Both were ruled out for various reasons.

I agree with the strategic assessment and preliminary appraisal and I do not see the Air Corps taking full responsibility for SAR services in Ireland’s search and rescue domain. However, I would like to explore further the option of the Air Corps providing some element of the SAR aviation service, given its historical role in this area.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Having said that, I am well aware of the challenges the Air Corps experienced in the past in providing this service and any exploration of its providing some element of the service would need to take into account its existing roles and the current challenges in delivering those roles. I confirm that I have asked my officials to engage further with the Department of Transport, which has responsibility for the SAR contract, to explore the option of the Air Corps providing some element of the next generation SAR aviation service while at the same time ensuring the service meets domestic and international obligations for search and rescue and represents value for money for the State.

It is important that we get this right for everyone. There is considerable State funding at play here and the provision of a life-saving service is the ultimate aim. For taxpayers, the community and service providers, it is important that a full and realistic consideration is made of all the viable options available to the State. I am happy that this is the approach currently being taken.

The Minister referred to the strategic assessment and preliminary appraisal document and that both State-run options were ruled out for a variety of reasons. The Minister's written response expands on those reasons, citing "the risks to the state and questions around potential affordability and deliverability". In that context, and in the context of the money due to be spent next year, how can the Minister not see that his statement flies in the face of any commitment to the Defence Forces, particularly given that he said moments ago that the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces was due to be established by the end of the month? Is he saying the Defence Forces are too expensive or that they are not worthy of investment? Is it that they are not properly equipped to carry out this kind of work? When this decision was first made, the differential between the private operators' wages and Air Corps wages was between €10,000 and €20,000, and not in favour of the Air Corps.

With respect, this has nothing to do with wages. It is to do with ensuring we have the capacity to save lives at sea when people get into trouble. I have had the benefit of the experience and the expertise of the current SAR contract. I would like to see the Air Corps and the Defence Forces playing as significant a role as they can in any future SAR arrangement or contract. There is Department of Defence and Air Corps expertise on the steering group and it is looking at what is possible. My objective is for us to be as ambitious as we can be as regards Defence Forces involvement but we must be also realistic about what is possible in the timelines available. First and foremost, we have to make sure the service is good because we have a very long coastline and dangerous sea conditions at different times of year. We need to be absolutely sure we are providing a first-class service. I would like the Air Corps to be as involved as it possibly can be and the process of trying to incorporate that interest in future planning is now under way.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to having as much Air Corps involvement as possible. I will go back to the Minister's statement on the strategic assessment, particularly as regards the risks to the State. Around six private aircraft companies are expected to bid for the upcoming contract, of which two have fixed-wing aircraft based in Britain.

At least one of those is also contracted to do clandestine work for the British Ministry of Defence which in itself raises intelligence concerns. Such a decision would mean that the Irish Defence Forces would cease to have any control over the data or the intelligence gathered over this country as the aircraft would be departing from and returning to Britain. There is also the added lack of clarity of what impact Brexit would have on these agreements.

I draw the Minister's attention to the concerns raised by military officers - the Minister spoke of his own experience with the current search and air rescue contract. The helicopters are designated to be wheels up within 15 minutes during daylight and 45 minutes during night time. What possible implications could a contractor based out of Britain have on those timelines?

With respect Deputy, we are not going to be the ones assessing those who tender for this contract. A group of experts will do that. They will ensure that the service provision we need from this contract is as comprehensively met as possible. That will be the tender that wins this.

I would like to see some form of carve-out with the overall provision of this service that can allow the Air Corps to do an awful lot more than it does today, as well as to invest in the training and the equipment that can allow it to do that. My interest, as Minister for Defence, is to ensure we are building capacity in the Air Corps, as well as responding to the service demands of a search and rescue contract that we have some time now to prepare for after 2022 and 2023.

We are not going to be supporting any service provision that does not have the capacity for quick response times. We certainly will not be compromising any intelligence data. With respect, I do not think the issues the Deputy raised are of real concern.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Bríd Smith

Question:

40. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Defence if he will accede to the request from an organisation (details supplied) to allow it to affiliate to a body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37149/20]

I and others have continually raised the question of PDFORRA and its affiliation to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, over the past number of years. The reason we support the campaign for PDFORRA to affiliate and to receive full recognition is not that we believe the ICTU is a panacea for all of the issues but that at least it would allow a systemic way in which Defence Forces personnel could have their issues raised and advanced. They are the lowest paid in the public services. They have been haemorrhaging members because of that low pay. The Defence Forces have an inability to retain personnel, have dreadful conditions of accommodation and a systemic underfunding of their key roles. Will the Minister address the matter?

Under the Defence Acts 1954-2015, the Permanent Defence Force representative associations are prohibited from being associated with or affiliated with any trade unions or any other body without the consent of the Minister. To compensate for these limitations, there are a range of statutory redress mechanisms available to serving members of the Permanent Defence Force, including redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces Ombudsman and a conciliation and arbitration scheme.

In 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, found that Ireland was in violation of the European Social Charter in respect of the right to organise, that is to affiliate to certain organisations, and the right to negotiate collective agreements. It found that Ireland was not in violation of the charter in respect of the prohibition of the right of military personnel to strike. The European Committee of Social Rights, in arriving at its decision, took into account a statement made in the complaint which claimed that ICTU had stated “PDFORRA could be affiliated to the ICTU with whatever conditions the Government deemed necessary”.

The basis for the complaint pre-dates a number of significant Government initiatives. On collective bargaining, the Permanent Defence Force representative associations were represented alongside other public service unions and associations in the negotiations, which led to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, which were held under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission.

An independent review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force was completed in 2018. One of the recommendations from that review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with ICTU to explore the practicality of a Permanent Defence Force representative association forming association-affiliation with ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service.

Defence management, both civil and military, have engaged in discussions with the Permanent Defence Force representative associations and ICTU regarding the practicalities of a Defence Forces representative association forming association-affiliation with ICTU. PDFORRA subsequently initiated legal proceedings on this matter in June 2020. As this matter is now subject to litigation, I am somewhat limited in what I can say but I will try to answer the Deputy's questions.

The Minister more or less just read back to me a reply to a parliamentary question I tabled in October. I really did not need that answer because, no matter what the Minister said, whatever moves have been made in the past 12 months have not addressed the situation of low pay, poor conditions and appalling accommodation in the Defence Forces. Frankly, it is insulting and does not address the systemic issues in all grades.

If the Minister really wants to signal that he is doing something on this, then his minimum starting point should be to signal that he will consider PDFORRA's affiliation to ICTU. I do not believe it is a panacea for everything.

I noted in a debate last week that we are awaiting a report on the Blackrock Island R116 accident. At least one element of concern in this regard was the systemic underfunding by the State of the air sea rescue mission. The decision now to privatise the search and rescue mission really shows what former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said in a blunt, casual way, namely, that we all know we do not have enough pilots or air traffic controllers to staff the Air Corps properly. This can lead to the deaths of personnel and puts huge stress on them. It must be dealt with urgently.

It is important when we take questions in Parliament to deal with facts. If one looks at what has happened over the past 12 months with the Air Corps, we have seen significant increases in the numbers of pilots. We did have a significant shortage. A scheme was introduced to retain pilots and it has worked. We have seen people rejoining the Air Corps which has been a huge assistance in terms of the pressures we had 12 months ago as regards not having enough pilots. We are now trying to do the same in the Naval Service.

To claim that the Government and policy does not respond to pressures in the Defence Forces because we do not have affiliation with ICTU just is not true. I am listening to representative bodies in the Defence Forces all the time. We are working with them to try to put schemes in place. We increased the budget significantly for next year. We are setting up a commission to look specifically at the future of the Defence Forces. We have committed to set up a pay and conditions body specifically for the Defence Forces. No other sector in society has a specific pay body just for it.

I ask for Members' co-operation with the times.

At the PDFORRA conference this year, it announced it was lodging a complaint with the European Committee of Social Rights. This has led to the legal action about which the Minister spoke. The European Committee of Social Rights found that the Government was in breach of Articles 5 and 6.2 of the European Social Charter. PDFORRA has repeatedly said that the reason it wants to affiliate to ICTU is not to put pickets on barracks or withdraw their services from the roof of the Houses of the Oireachtas; it is because it wants to be in the public sector pay talks. The reason for that is because it is the lowest paid section of the public sector.

In a recent article in The Journal, Tom Clonan stated:

The Defence Forces have reached the point where they are unable to service their mission to protect the state of Ireland, its territorial waters and airspace.

This abject state of affairs is a direct consequence of the cuts imposed on defence spending in Ireland [and of those being the lowest paid sector in the public service].

This is not being addressed.

Is Deputy Bríd Smith advocating for increased defence spending? Is that what she is calling for? I think Tom Clonan would certainly like to see us do that.

I have always advocated to give soldiers, the Navy and the Air Corps more pay.

Any increases in pay have to be in the context of public sector pay negotiations. The Deputy knows that.

Then let PDFORRA be at the ICTU table.

Representative bodies in the Defence Forces will be part of public sector pay talks. They are just like they were in the last round. There was a time when they were not and that was wrong. That has subsequently been addressed.

My job is to make sure their case is heard and they have a platform to make that case as part of the public sector pay talks. I do not have a closed mind on the question of affiliation to ICTU.

I want to do what is right for the Defence Forces. At the moment I am most convinced by the argument for setting up a specific body concerned with Defence Forces pay and conditions. Serving in the Defence Forces is a unique type of national service. In my view a specific body is needed to look at that unique service and how it is rewarded. As I say, I do not have a closed mind on any of this stuff.

European Defence Capabilities

Joan Collins

Question:

41. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding the European peace facility; the role Ireland and the Defence Forces will play in relation to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36856/20]

Will the Minister make a statement on the European peace facility and elaborate on the role the Irish State and the Defence Forces will play in relation to it? The European peace facility was first proposed in 2018. It is a very significant proposal because it ventures into uncharted territory. For the first time in history it would allow the EU to provide external action support for the procurement of military equipment, including lethal weapons.

I thank the Deputy for asking this question. I am glad to have the opportunity to put a statement on the record on this matter. The European peace facility, EPF, which was first proposed in 2018 by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is designed to provide the EU with an off-budget financing mechanism of up to €5 billion to finance a range of EU common security and defence policy, CSDP, actions with military or defence implications for the period of the next multi-annual financial framework from 2021 to 2027.

The EPF will unite and expand the scope of two existing mechanisms, the Athena funding mechanism, which handles the financing of common costs relating to EU military operations under the CSDP, and the African peace facility, which primarily supports African Union actions.  The EPF will expand the geographical scope of the African peace facility and also include a mechanism for funding assistance measures in support of capacity-building for peace and security.  This will cover both non-sensitive measures and sensitive measures, incorporating the equipment to which the Deputy has referred. Discussions are ongoing at EU level to finalise the provisions of the EPF, but negotiations are close to finalisation and it is expected that it will be operational in 2021.  Officials are closely engaged in the process in order to ensure the outcome reflects Ireland's interests and Government policy, including our policy of neutrality.

With regard to the role Ireland and the Defence Forces will play in the EPF, Ireland is an active participant in both civilian and military CSDP missions and operations. Our Defence Forces currently participate in three EU military operations: Operation Irini, the European Union training mission in Mali and Operation Althea.  Ireland's participation in the EPF does not impact on the Defence Forces' role in these operations.  Under the EPF, Ireland will continue to contribute to the costs of these missions and the other three military CSDP operations. Decisions on any EU military operations overseas and generally in the area of the CSDP require unanimity at the Council of the European Union.  Ireland retains a veto in this regard, along with all other member states.

People know that I am absolutely opposed to this facility. The EPF is a new off-budget multi-billion euro fund of European citizens' money, which is set to replace two previous programmes, the African peace facility and the neighbourhood, development and international co-operation instrument. The African peace facility supports the African Union and the African Regional Economic Communities with peace and security aims. It is prohibited from providing financial resources for military equipment, arms or military training. The new EPF does just the opposite. For the first time, it explicitly permits the provision of weapons to partner countries via EU funds. Under this proposal, arms companies will receive yet more gifts of European public money in return for militarising Africa, which will only fuel conflicts in a continuing feedback loop. In essence, the EPF is a proposal for the EU to export war to the majority world. European militaries will then be in a position to get in on the act. The EPF also enables the rapid deployment of EU military missions abroad.

I am very familiar with the concerns the Deputy has just outlined. That is why this deal has not yet been done. It is still under negotiation. I want to reassure the Deputy that in working to finalise an initiative that we can support, Ireland aims to ensure that countries like ours, which do not want to fund the provision of weapons or arms, are not asked to do so. I wish to reassure the Deputy and others who may be listening that we have been very involved in the negotiations shaping this proposal. It is really about efficiently funding EU activity in various parts of the world. Different countries have different views on whether funding arms should be part of that. Ireland's view is very clear: we do not believe that countries that do not want to fund arms should be asked to do so. That is a principle we will insist upon when this facility is finalised.

I hear what the Minister is saying. He knows the concerns people have because for the last two years peace advocacy groups, corporate watchdogs and NGOs have implored the EU to call a halt to the EPF and to avoid investing in militarised approaches that are prone to failure and risk. The European External Action Service has doubled down by insisting that hard power has to complement soft power and that our security is not free. That is a very disturbing phrase. Researchers have pointed out that it echoes the US slogan "Freedom is not free". As a country, we should insist on allowing countries that do not support militarisation through Europe's so-called security and peace funding to go their own way. Will the Minister go so far as to avoid entering this deal if that condition is not met? Once we start paying into it, we will be supporting it.

The security of countries is not free. In response to a previous question, we talked about what it costs to fund efficient Defence Forces. It is expensive. I would contend that we need to increase funding in many areas and that is what we are doing under the White Paper. The EPF is about creating a more efficient mechanism to fund EU activities in other parts of the world where we are trying to bring about peaceful resolution to conflict and build capacity through training, etc. For example, the EU makes a significant financial contribution to African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia, without which that country could have collapsed. These are serious missions aimed at trying to allow states to survive, prosper, grow and stabilise. They are complex, messy and difficult at times. I believe we will support the EPF when it is finalised. We are trying to ensure that various countries' different perspectives on what should be funded will be reflected in the design and function of the mechanism. In other words, countries that are not comfortable with funding certain things should not be forced to do so.