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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 24 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 1

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Ukraine War

John Brady

Question:

74. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the latest situation in Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15350/22]

Today marks the one month anniversary of the illegal and brutal invasion and occupation of Ukraine by Russia. Will the Minister outline the current situation and our response to the humanitarian crisis that, unfortunately, is unfolding? Will he also outline what actions we are taking to push for a peaceful resolution to the horrific, barbaric war being inflicted on the Ukrainian people?

Before I answer that question, I wish to take a few moments to recognise the service of Mr. Jim Kelly, who has just been mentioned by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. Jim was a massively important member of the Department of Foreign Affairs team. He was an ambassador and was central to our team in the UN Security Council since we joined that council. He passed away very unexpectedly last weekend. On behalf of the Government and of this House, I wish to recognise an extraordinary career of service to Irish foreign policy and the role he continued to play, as a father figure in many ways, for many of the younger people in the Department and particularly for the team in New York, where our team has performed in an extraordinary way in the face of so many challenges since we joined the UN Security Council. Jim was central to all that. I wish to express my condolences to his wife, Anne, his two daughters, Orla and Ciara, his extended family and his colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The House is happy to support the Minister taking that time and, in particular, the sentiments expressed to his wife, Anne, on the loss she is experiencing at this time, and to his family. Thank you for taking the time to express the thoughts of the Government and the Members.

I appreciate that flexibility, a Chathaoirligh.

On the important question asked by Deputy Brady, since the illegal, unprovoked and unjustified further invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces on 24 February, Ireland has stood in unwavering solidarity with the people and Government of Ukraine. Ireland’s response to the invasion has included engagement with EU partners and at the UN, development of sanctions against Russia; bilateral contact with the representatives of Ukraine and of Russia in Ireland and the provision of humanitarian aid for Ukraine. Ireland’s efforts at the UN, EU, the International Criminal Court, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, and across all multilateral institutions are aimed at bringing this madness of war to an end, ensuring accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and meeting the humanitarian needs of the vast number of people caught in the conflict.

My Department is carefully monitoring the progression of direct talks between Ukraine and Russia. Ireland stands ready to support initiatives which can deliver peace, in line with international law and which respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. The Government is providing €20 million in humanitarian aid as well as medical supplies. Those funds are already being disbursed through partners in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

At EU level, member states agreed a €500 million package of direct military assistance for Ukraine. On Monday, EU foreign ministers signalled their political approval for an additional €500 million in military support, which was approved last night. Ireland’s total share of that overall fund will be €22 million and will go towards non-lethal elements in that package. EU sanctions were adopted on six occasions which, together, are the most extensive sanctions in EU history. The aim is to incentivise President Putin to find a political solution to the conflict he has created, and to reduce funding and equipment available to Russia to continue its military campaign.

Finally, Ireland fully supports Ukraine's application for EU membership. EU leaders acted swiftly in inviting the European Commission to submit its opinion on Ukraine's application to become a member and will strengthen the bonds and deepen the EU-Ukraine partnership.

Before we continue, Standing Orders dictate the time for Priority Questions. There are six and a half minutes each, and that includes the introduction and ministerial reply. I must stick to that to ensure that everybody gets in. I call Deputy Brady.

I wish to be associated with the Minister's comments about Mr. Jim Kelly. My party leader, Deputy McDonald, earlier this week expressed our condolences to Mr. Kelly's family and his colleagues, including our team in the UN.

I welcome the actions taken by the Government in the response to Ukraine, although we could and should be stronger in many areas. On 5 March, Russia categorised Ireland as being an unfriendly country, along with a number of other countries. What assessment has been carried out and what threat does that pose to Ireland and our security?

Also, does the Minister agree with the comments of the Lithuanian foreign minister when he categorised the actions being taken by Russia as war crimes? Lithuania has moved to expel a number of diplomats, along with Bulgaria, Latvia and Estonia where diplomats have been expelled. Is now the time to stop dragging our feet and follow the example of four other European countries and expel Russian diplomats from Ireland?

I thank the Deputy for his questions and for his support of the approach the Government has taken so far. With regard to Ireland being categorised as an unfriendly country, all of the EU has been categorised as being unfriendly towards Russia. That is a term it has used previously, and then it takes action on the back of that. Any actions of the back of that statement a number of weeks ago have not happened yet, but we can expect it will act at some point in time. For example, last year when there was tension between the Czech Republic and Russia, the Czech Republic was named an unfriendly country and Russia took actions on the back of that. We do not know what will happen in that regard. To be honest, there are bigger issues with regard to what is happening in Ukraine right now than what an unfriendly country means for Ireland. We are very much part of the collective effort within the EU to respond in as comprehensive manner as possible to end this war and to ensure we maintain and increase the deterrent for the continuation of the war, which is what the focus of sanctions has been.

I will refer back to the final question, if I can, as I do not have time to answer it.

I would be interested to hear what our response is to the four other European countries that have moved to expel the diplomats, so I will listen with interest in that regard. The other major fallout of this grotesque and illegal war is the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding. Last week, the Ukrainian ambassador appeared before the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs and she cited the experience in Poland with an Irish company. She alleged Ryanair is ratcheting up prices to profiteer on the back of refugees fleeing from war and persecution. Has the Minister or the Department looked at the charge or allegation that was made by the Ukrainian ambassador? She also welcomed a suggestion from me that Ireland, the Department and the Minister should charter flights to help deal with the refugees who are piling up in their millions in Poland, Moldova, Romania and other countries.

I travelled to Poland last week to meet my counterparts there and to meet refugees. I visited the largest Ukrainian refugee hub in Poland where there were approximately 7,000 people, predominantly women and children and quite a number of elderly people. The scale of human misery and the responsibility for the EU collectively to respond to it are enormous. As the Deputy knows, Ireland will play its part in this. There are many routes to get to Ireland. Geographically we are quite far away from Ukraine by European standards. Certainly there are flight options. Of course there are ferry options and people are using them. With regard to Ryanair I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, about this. My understanding is that he was to speak to Ryanair this week on concerns about the prices being charged for certain flights. I can only assume this has happened.

I asked a question about diplomats

We will come back to Ukraine again and I will answer the question then.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Noel Grealish

Question:

75. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the actions that have been taken and the progress that has been made to regularise the status of the undocumented Irish in the United States of America since President Biden took office in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15760/22]

Deputy Naughten will be taking this question.

I want to use my 30 seconds to recognise the passing of the late ambassador, Jim Kelly, who acted on behalf of the State and our people in an exemplary manner during a career that straddled both sides of the Atlantic in the EU and UN, providing him with a unique perspective. He acted as a role model not only for our own missions but many other missions also. I extend my condolences to his wife Anne and his daughters Orla and Ciara, and to the Minister and Jim's colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I thank the Deputy. He was an incredibly popular person in the Department.

Addressing the difficult situation of undocumented Irish emigrants in the United States and working to secure legal pathways for Irish people seeking to live and work in the US continues to be a key priority for the Government, as it has been for many years. The need to address the challenge of establishing migration pathways, especially for the undocumented Irish, is of critical importance and has been raised by senior members of the Government at every opportunity. The issue was raised during our high-level political engagements over the St. Patrick's Day period across the US, not least in the bilateral exchange between the Taoiseach and President Biden on 17 March. I suspect it was also raised by my colleague, the Minister for State, Deputy Brophy. Irish political representatives will continue to build and maintain close relations with key members of the US Congress and high-level political contacts across the spectrum in the US, as we seek opportunities to deepen and strengthen our bilateral relations with President Biden's Administration.

I am pleased to see that immigration issues, including possible pathways to citizenship for the undocumented, are a priority for President Biden, as demonstrated by his proposed US Citizenship Act of 2021. The Government is actively supporting the efforts being made by his Administration, as well as efforts being made by the US Congress on a bipartisan basis, in the pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform, which still remains a very divisive issue politically in the US as the Deputy knows. Our embassy in Washington meets regularly with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate across the political spectrum. We are actively engaged with the Administration and Congress on finding innovative solutions and migration pathways to address the challenges faced by the undocumented.

In addition to seeking more options for the undocumented, the Government has continued its active support of a new E3 visa scheme that would facilitate legal immigration pathways to potentially thousands of Irish each year. The bipartisan reintroduction of the E3 visa Bill in Washington last week, that had previously been voted down by a small number in the Senate in 2018 and 2020, was a welcome development.

It is estimated that every parish in Ireland has an average 20 undocumented Irish citizens in the US. In reality there are far more from every parish along the western seaboard and in the west of Ireland. We have a unique opportunity with President Biden and his cabinet, which has more members from the west of Ireland than the Irish Cabinet. We need to use these connections. Many Irish citizens have made the United States their home. They have family, children and good jobs there. They are good citizens contributing to the United States. We need to have a clear legal pathway to regularise the status of our Irish citizens in the United States. The E3 visa is part of this overall mechanism. The progress made on this recently is very positive. I urge the Minister to redouble the efforts to ensure this particular measure passes through Congress and ensure it can get an expeditious passage.

Everybody in the House wants the same outcome, which is to find a way of regularising the lives of Irish people living in the US in the shadows. For many years they have lived and worked there and paid taxes there. In many cases they have married and have families growing up in the US. Often they are unable to come home for family funerals or for normal interaction with family and friends because they would not be able to get back into the US. It is a trapped way of living that consecutive Governments have been trying to address for many years. I do not know how many times I have been to Washington on this issue but it is quite a number. We have real friends in Washington who are trying to help us on this. This is not straightforward. Even to get the E3 visa proposal across the line is far from straightforward. We will continue to work not only with our friends in Congress but our friends in Australia to try to ensure there is a fast way to get this done.

The Minister is correct. It is not just about focusing on the executive branch of government in the United States. The House of Representatives and the Senate are very important in this. The previous Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, appointed the former Deputy John Deasy as a special envoy to the US Congress to work on the issue of the undocumented. He worked very closely with the Minister. He worked very closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and our mission in Washington to prioritise the passage of the E3 visa Bill. Should we look at appointing a special envoy specifically for this role again? This person would engage on Capitol Hill with the Senate and the House of Representatives to help progress the legislation. It will require a very co-ordinated and strategic approach. Would it be better to have a politician on the ground liaising on it?

What we have done here at home strengthens our argument in terms of what we are asking of the US and what the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has done in terms of regularising the status of thousands of people in Ireland looking to have their status recognised. It is a very progressive example of how to do this.

Perhaps a special envoy would help. I would say that our embassy in Washington is all over this. It is constantly briefing key people. We have very strong advocates and supporters in the Friends of Ireland group and people outside of it. The Biden Administration is also supportive. We are not short of political support. There are impediments, some of which are outside of the control of people in Washington, with regard to the nature of the E3 visa and its links to Australia. We are working on it, that is all I can say, with regard to trying to build an understanding in Australia also. That is part of what we need to do.

Human Rights

John Brady

Question:

76. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s response to a report by an organisation (details supplied) into the crime of apartheid by Israel; the actions that he is prepared to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15351/22]

In February, Amnesty International published its report, Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity. This follows a number of publications from other human rights organisations, such as Human Rights Watch, Al-Haq and B'Tselem. There is also support from organisations such as Trócaire, Concern, Christian Aid and virtually every other NGO in Ireland and internationally. Will the Minister now accept the compelling evidence presented by this report and others that Israel is an apartheid state?

Amnesty International is a respected NGO and I value the role it and other civil society organisations play on these issues. The assertions in the report echo those we have seen in a number of recent similar reports. These reports undoubtedly raise difficult questions for the Israeli Administration.

Ireland’s position on these matters is, and will continue to be, based on international law, including international human rights law and Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention as the occupying power in the occupied Palestinian territory, and on the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.

Ireland’s priority is not to focus on language for the sake of it but to try to find a way to change reality on the ground. Therefore, Ireland has been consistently forthright in expressing concern regarding the unequal treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Ireland will continue to raise regularly our concerns regarding discriminatory practices towards the Palestinian people directly with the Israeli authorities, including during visits to the region, as well as at EU and UN level. I have visited the region on five occasions and have raised these issues bilaterally with my Israeli counterparts during those visits.

Ireland has also been proactive in consistently highlighting these issues, including demolitions and settlement expansion, at the UN Security Council during our current term. Ireland has maintained a strong approach at monthly meetings on the situation in the Middle East, most recently at the council meeting on 22 March, and has raised particular issues of concern, including the designation of Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations and housing plans by Israel in East Jerusalem.

We will continue to study the recommendations and conclusions of the Amnesty International report and will use it to influence the approach that we take towards trying to protect and encourage a peace process that can deliver a two-state solution, which is ultimately our priority.

It is not a matter of using language for the sake of using language. Words have meaning and meaning must lead to action. The reports that have been published are also echoed by a recent report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, Michael Lynk. To use his language, "Israel has imposed on Palestine an apartheid reality in a post-apartheid world." He goes on to say that "this system of alien rule has been established with the intent to maintain the domination of one racial-national-ethnic group over another", which is apartheid. International law is not an à la carte menu to pick and choose from. We have to stand up for international law no matter where in the world. We must call out breaches of that law and hold the perpetrators to account. Language is everything. Will the Minister use the word "apartheid" to describe the actions of Israel?

I have not used the word "apartheid" and I have explained why. We have had a detailed debate on this issue and this report in this House. The Deputy was part of that discussion. The position I outlined then is the same as I have outlined today. Our approach is about bringing about change on the ground, helping Palestinians and holding the Israeli Administration to account for the decisions it takes. We have to build international consensus around that. That is what I am focused on trying to do. The Deputy seems to want Ireland to move into a space where we will be effectively on our own and to use language no other country in the world is using. He seems to think that this will start a domino effect and will change things. If I thought that was the case, I would be looking at it seriously. However, I believe the way to do this is to try to build consensus within the EU and the UN and to try to build groupings of countries that can genuinely put pressure on to force change on issues such as the settlements, forced evictions and settler violence which are undermining and eroding the basis for a peace process. That is what we have been trying to do.

The Minister has also said that to use the word "apartheid" to describe these actions would not be helpful. I am not sure who he believes it would not be helpful to because it certainly would be helpful to Palestinians who have been calling out this apartheid regime for decades. I am not sure how many more decades the Minister is prepared to sit and wait before taking on the illegal actions of Israel. This report and numerous others have called for action. The use of the word "apartheid" is one but there are others that need to be taken not just by the UN Security Council, but also by this State. These include boycotting goods illegally imported from the occupied territories, undertaking arms embargoes and a whole suite of others. However, the Minister is prepared to sit by and allow breaches of international law to go unchecked.

Yet again, the Deputy has outlined a whole series of actions he says we should implement but that we cannot. We do not sell arms to Israel, so how can we stop? The Deputy is calling for an arms embargo. Ireland cannot impose an arms embargo on Israel but he calls for one anyway because it makes for a good sound bite. He wants to impose trade restrictions on Israel. Ireland cannot do that. A number of Attorney Generals have now confirmed that to me and I have confirmed that to the Deputy but he cannot accept that because it makes for a good sound bite and he wishes to say it anyway.

There are many legal opinions to the contrary.

We are focused on what we actually can do to try to bring about change, to support Palestinians and to try to support the progress of a peace process that has gone backwards in recent years. We are doing this through diplomatic engagement, visits and constant vocal objections to what we see as breaches of international law. We use every international forum to do that. That is what we will continue to do.

Passport Services

Richard O'Donoghue

Question:

77. Deputy Richard O'Donoghue asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Deputies can fast-track problem passports in certain circumstances (details supplied). [15468/22]

I offer my condolences to our ambassador, Jim Kelly's wife, Anne, and daughters, Orla and Ciara. I commend the Department of Foreign Affairs on the work it is doing in Ukraine. My question relates to fast-tracking problem passport applications. There are genuine circumstances in which non-standard applications are facing long delays, which are causing stress and anxiety.

I thank the Deputy for the question because it is useful to put this information on the record. There are a number of channels available to Deputies to flag issues that their constituents are having with passport applications. The main issue creating pressure at the moment is the sheer volume of applications. It is off the charts when compared with anything else we have experienced in recent years. There have been record numbers of applications for three months in a row now, that is to say, we have had the highest number of applications ever. There were 137,000 applications in January, over 150,000 in February and there will certainly be more than 100,000 in March. In no previous year did we receive more than 100,000 applications in a month. That is what is driving the pressure. For the most part, the service is actually working reasonably well. In most cases, people applying for straightforward adult passport renewals are getting their passports back within 48 hours. Obviously, it is different for more complicated cases.

We need to have a system that allows our Oireachtas Members to intervene when necessary. In response to the high volume of applications being submitted to the Passport Office, a temporary phone line was established in October of last year to respond to Members' queries on urgent passport cases. That was supposed to be in place temporarily until the end of the year but it is obviously still continuing. This phoneline responded to more than 2,700 queries in 2021 and has already handled more than 3,600 queries to date in 2022. In addition to this, the Passport Office responds to a high volume of written parliamentary questions from Deputies regarding specific applications.

In each case raised by a Deputy, the Passport Office reviews the application in question. However, applications can only be expedited in cases of genuine emergency such as a need for urgent medical treatment overseas or the death of a family member abroad. Such applications are expedited through the travel emergency service. In cases where the estimated issue date has passed and the application is fully complete, the passport service will prioritise the application to ensure that no further delay is experienced.

My office is dealing with a great many passport-related queries every week and is finding it more and more frustrating. I acknowledge that the online system works well for straightforward renewals. It is with the type of application I deal with that there are issues. The urgent passport number will only tell us what we already know. If you apply for a passport in an emergency, the passport cannot be intercepted. When we get to the point at which we can get a passport, we are given a number and told it will be out within two days.

The problem is that somebody may need an emergency passport and may need to collect it now. The difficulty we, as politicians, are having is that the phone lines to the Passport Office are constantly busy. I understand what the Minister has said about the number of applications. Can we fast-track this so that a politician can actually contact a certain number and get a response?

My request would be to at least change the music that is played when on hold, given that people from my office have spent so much time listening to it. I am sorry for interrupting.

The Acting Chairman might suggest some music.

Absolutely. I would be happy to do that.

We are always open to suggestions to improve the experience. There have been very high volumes this week. I understand that the wait time on phones has been longer than normal. We will respond to that by increasing resources accordingly. That line is up and running; it was never there before. People effectively had to look online to see the status of their passport application. We put in place a specific Oireachtas service that only Oireachtas offices can call into, but it is busy.

Many of the applications are stuck in the system because there is a problem with the paperwork. We need to solve this because the communications between the Passport Office and applicants needs to improve so that we get a more consistent approach to passport applications. Of the applications that have been in the system for more than a month, 37%, or 38,000, require the applicants to provide further information. Those are often the applications that come to a Deputy's office and so on. We need to ensure the integrity of the system. We cannot just fast-track applications because that is what people want. We need to ensure we guard against fraud and ensure that we have the paperwork intact.

Passport express is very misleading because it takes two months. Why market it as an express service? When additional information is required, why does an applicant need to go back to day one? The express system takes two months. If further clarification is needed, the applicant must go back to day one and has another two months to wait. The time runs on. It is supposed to be an express system. If the express service is going to take two months, can the application be dealt with in the two months without starting the application all over again at day one. I understand about the massive number of passport applications going through. More resources may be needed to address these issues.

We now have more than 770 staff in the Passport Office compared with 450 last summer. Within the next six weeks or so that number should be up to 900. That effectively means a doubling of staff in the Passport Office over the past six or eight months.

I agree with the Deputy on the turnaround times. Passport express is a bit of a misnomer. It is not an express service. It is a much slower, paper-based service through the post. That is certainly an outdated marketing term now. We are looking to move away from the terminology of passport express and to replace it with something like passport in the post or whatever. Ultimately, we want to get to the point where everybody applies online. By the way, over 90% are already online. We need to get to 100%. It is a much cleaner, more transparent, safer and faster system.

Up until a few weeks ago it was taking 40 working days for first-time applications through passport online. It is now down to 35 and falling. The Deputy said that a mistake on an application can start the clock all over again. We have also corrected that issue. If someone's forms were not completed correctly and they need to send in new forms, they do not start an eight-week period at that point; they will get it turned around within three weeks of that correction. We are responding to the constructive criticism we are getting from Deputies.

I allowed the Minister a bit more time to reply because Deputy O'Donoghue did not use up all his time.

Military Neutrality

Thomas Pringle

Question:

78. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way that Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality was expressed at the recent European Council meeting; the verification methods that have been or will be used to ensure that the proportion of aid from Ireland to Ukraine is humanitarian in nature; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15761/22]

I wish to ask about the way our traditional policy of military neutrality is expressed at European Council meetings. How can we ensure finance we send as aid to Ukraine is used for non-military purposes?

This is also a useful question to respond to on the record. Ireland’s policy of military neutrality has long been an important strand of our independent foreign policy. As practised by successive Governments, the policy means that Ireland does not participate in military alliances or mutual defence arrangements. While militarily neutral, Ireland has always been politically active, promoting peace and development through the UN, the EU, and our bilateral initiatives. This approach has also informed our active engagement in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP. In this context, Ireland has been engaging in a number of recent discussions on CSDP, including on the EU’s Strategic Compass, an important strategy document on the future of CSDP. Throughout these discussions, I have been clear that Ireland’s approach remains guided by our policy of military neutrality and our long-standing contribution to crisis management and peacekeeping. This policy is well known and respected by our fellow member states.

As part of our commitment to enhancing the EU’s ability to promote international peace and security, Ireland also participates in the European peace facility, EPF, an off-budget instrument established last year, which can be used to fund CSDP actions. On 28 February 2022, in the wake of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, the EU agreed an EPF package of €500 million in military assistance for Ukraine to help Ukrainians defend themselves. This consisted of a €450 million allocation for lethal equipment - weapons - as well as an additional €50 million in funding for non-lethal equipment. On 21 March, EU foreign ministers reached political agreement on a further €500 million package of EPF assistance.

Ireland's support, in line with the programme for Government commitment, will only be spent on the non-lethal elements of both packages. Our total share will be valued at approximately €22 million, which includes the provision by Ireland of 10 tonnes of ready-to-eat meals and 200 units of body armour for the Ukrainian military.

I thank the Minister for his response. In recent weeks we have heard mention of being politically active and militarily neutral. I am only aware of it having come up recently. Nobody has ever said we should not be politically active. Nobody has ever said we should not be putting our views across in any situation. The question is about military neutrality. That is always been the question and has always been the concern. Some of the Minister's recent statements about the EU developments have also been of concern. He said there is a good chance that we will be involved in the rapid reaction forces that are being discussed at the moment. He has mentioned that some people are uncomfortable with the triple lock because the UN Security Council mandates could be blocked by Russia or China. I wonder who those people are because I have not heard anybody talk about being uncomfortable with the triple lock. The triple lock is a very worthwhile process. That is the only security we have in terms of our neutrality at this stage.

I stand over all those things. People have questioned the triple lock for years on the basis of not being comfortable with a country in the UN Security Council being able to veto a decision Ireland might want to make to send troops to some part of the world. On balance - I have advocated for this - I think the triple lock is a good thing. I can completely understand why people would question it in terms of Ireland's ability to decide where in the world our own soldiers may go.

Who questioned it?

Many people have questioned the wisdom of it. I can give the Deputy details on it if he wants.

In the context of my comments on Ireland potentially participating in a rapid reaction force, that is simply a development of what already exists. Irish personnel have been training for years in what are called battle groups, the most recent one led by Germany, which ensures interoperability, common standards and the sharing of training facilities and equipment. This is so that if Ireland does decide to send peacekeepers to other parts of the world with other EU countries, we know we are interoperable and we can work with each other.

We are involved in a lot of EU missions in different parts of the world, from training missions in Mali to humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean, and many others. It is not a new concept, this idea that we would work in partnership with other EU countries to promote peace and to make peace interventions in different parts of the world.

In regard to working with countries in other parts of the world, would that include the Naval Service being involved in the EU naval presence in the Indian Ocean? In terms of interoperability, it would be interesting to know whether that is envisaged as well. The Minister might expand in the context of how we ensure the EP, budget at EU level is for non-military use?

There are no plans to send any Irish naval vessels abroad for now. We have challenges in the Naval Service at the moment in terms of recruitment and retention. We have work to do to get our personnel strength up to where it needs to be so we have the flexibility to be able to send a vessel from our naval fleet perhaps to another part of the world, should it be justified to do so, should it be consistent with a UN mandate and should it have the approval of this House and the Government. That is just like we did when we sent a ship to the Mediterranean which, at the time when we did it, did not require a triple lock because it was a humanitarian intervention, as it happens, but I think it was strongly supported by everybody in this House, given the work they were doing.

On the EPF, we were very involved in shaping that to ensure there were two separate funds, one that could be used for lethal weapons and the other that would not be. It was on the basis of having that distinction in the EPF that Ireland supported it. Ireland, Austria and Malta were the three countries which ensured that and we will, of course, make sure that the system for how that money is spent has integrity.

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