That Dáil Éireann approves Ireland’s participation in the European Defence Agency Project - Maritime Surveillance (MARSUR) Networking - Operational Support and Development (MARSUR III) pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.
I appreciate the opportunity to present the motion to the House following discussion at the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on 30 March. In commending the motion to the House, I will briefly outline the function of the European Defence Agency, EDA, and the background to the programme 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 European Defence Agency. Ireland has participated in a number of EDA projects since it commenced our participation in the agency in 2005 in the areas of force protection; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear; counter-improvised explosive devices, C-IED, training; military search training; cyber ranges; a joint procurement project for satellite communications; and indeed the previous projects related to maritime surveillance. As Deputies will be aware, all projects related to the EDA are voluntary and countries decide to buy into them if they want to, but certainly are not forced to.
The proposal put forward by me today is to seek approval for Ireland to participate in the follow-on EDA project relating to maritime surveillance, MARSUR, networking, operational support and development, MARSUR III. This is the third iteration of the MARSUR projects. To give some background on what the MARSUR project is, the main objective of the EDA MARSUR programme is to further develop a recognised maritime picture, RMP, exchange network among member states. An RMP is a picture or map that shows all vessels and activities that are present in a particular maritime area. It links to national and international data and information on vessels, the marine environment, infrastructure, etc., that have been compiled from various monitoring and surveillance systems.
The MARSUR project continues to enhance, upgrade and develop the capability for participating member states to share different levels of classified information across the network. The MARSUR projects have assisted member states, including Ireland, to combat drug trafficking, smuggling, illegal immigration and migration and international terrorism. Better exchange of information plays an important part in protecting maritime trade, the maritime environment and natural resources. This sharing of information, which is stipulated through the EDA MARSUR projects, also contributes to safety at sea. MARSUR III is an excellent example of where member states can come together, work with each other, and deliver a capability that can match the emerging threats in maritime surveillance.
Participation in this project will also allow the Naval Service to consult and compare best practice with other member states in developing the RMP and analysing it. Without the MARSUR III technical support, the systems in the Naval Service will be negatively impacted, and the expertise and technological advances that have been achieved to date will quickly become redundant. The MARSUR III project will last for six years with the possibility of extending for a further two. I will seek approval for Ireland's participation in the project for the life of the project, including any extension. The cost of participation is €50,000 per year for the life of the project. There are 15 other members states preparing to join the MARSUR III project, which is another indication of its value and importance. These include Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyrus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. It is a real mixture of countries, including quite a number of other neutral states.
As the State's principal sea-going agency, the Naval Service provides a unique sea-going capability. The Naval Service is tasked with providing a fishery protection service, general maritime patrolling and surveillance, and is ready to respond to, for example, an aid to the civil power request, a pollution incident, or search and rescue and recovery missions. The search and rescue and recovery mission is particularly pertinent given the recent support that the Naval Service has provided to the crew of the Ellie Adhamh. Having access to both national and international data on maritime surveillance through the EDA MARSUR projects is essential for the Naval Service to continue to discharge this important role.
The system has also supported the Naval Service in discharging its role in the Mediterranean Sea in association with other member states. Participation in this project will, therefore, enhance the capability of our Defence Forces to undertake the roles assigned to them by Government, both at home and overseas. I thank the members of the select committee from all parties for their engagement in the debate last month. As I said before the committee, Ireland's participation in this project in no way undermines our military neutrality. Ireland's participation in this project is about strengthening our Defence Forces' capabilities. I hope we had a good opportunity to give people the reassurance they needed at the committee.
The programme for Government and the White Paper on Defence are very clear on this issue. Our participation in projects like EDA MARSUR makes a lot of sense with regard to capacity building and support for our Defence Forces in the future. I commend the motion to the House.