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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Jun 2003

Vol. 173 No. 13

Military Neutrality: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

– considering that the Convention on the Future of Europe will shortly be finishing its work on the drafting of a new constitutional treaty for Europe;

– noting that the published draft articles of this new constitutional treaty refer specifically to the creation of a common defence for the European Union which will be reflected in the new constitutional treaty;

– acknowledging that unless Ireland engages in the debate on future EU security and defence, then the rules for any new arrangement will be made with regard to the concerns of other countries but not of Ireland;

– recognising that Ireland should not only be a member of the emerging EU security and defence architecture but should be one of the architects helping to design the new arrangements, and

– accepting that there is nothing inherently moral in Ireland assuming a neutral position on every issue, irrespective of the unique circumstances of each case,

calls upon the Government to:

– facilitate an open and honest debate on the future of Ireland's neutrality in the context of the emerging EU security and defence arrangements;

– accept that currently the people of Ireland are the least protected citizens of any EU member state, and that they would derive considerable benefit from Ireland's participation in EU security and defence co-operation;

– admit that unless the Government acts now, Ireland will face a "take it or leave it" situation with regard to the new security and defence arrangement which will have been devised by other member states, and on their terms, and

– agree that by doing nothing the demise of Ireland's neutrality will come about on the least favourable terms for Ireland.

The motion is an invitation for all of us to grow up politically and recognise that the new Ireland in the new Europe must play a leading role in the development of the European Union.

We must accept the fact that neutrality, as we have known it, is no longer a necessary mark of Irish independence. Since the early decades of the 20th century, much of the philosophy behind Irish neutrality was based on a desire to mark our independence from Britain. This was both understandable and justifiable in the 1930s and 1940s, perhaps even in the 1950s, but it is absolutely unnecessary in Europe today where Ireland has truly come of age.

The motion is about generating debate and I look forward to hearing what the other political parties have to say about it. Fine Gael is calling on Government and Opposition parties to open a mature, wide-ranging and honest debate on the future of neutrality in the context of a new and confident Ireland at the heart of a growing European Union. The old certainties no longer exist and what was appropriate for the emerging Republic of Ireland in the middle of the last century may not be the best way forward for our modern, confident state.

Two of the so-called foundation stones of neutrality, its political and moral strengths, are no longer solid arguments in the quickly shifting sands of international politics. Even if our political neutrality did exist – it is difficult to argue that we were genuinely neutral during the Second World War – it was as much about being anti-British at worst or at best not wishing to line up on the same side as the British. We have moved on from that type of mentality and are in no way inferior to our neighbours in the United Kingdom. Through our membership of the single currency, we are playing a dynamic role in the European Union – perhaps a more significant role than Britain. We should, therefore, design our military and defence alliances, not on the basis of what Britain might do but on what we wish to do.

The other so-called foundation block comprising the morality and righteousness of neutrality has never impressed me. One cannot preach at any great length from the high moral ground about the principles of a neutrality policy. As the motion states, there is nothing inherently moral about adopting a neutral stance on every issue, irrespective of the circumstances. There are too many international issues where countries, regions or ethnic minorities have come under threat for us as a country which emerged from generations of domination to shut our eyes to these difficulties and say we cannot do anything to help because we are neutral. This neutrality of high moral principles is more akin to moral cowardice.

It is absolutely clear that, as a small country, we cannot resolve international or regional conflicts but as part of the fastest growing political union in the world, the European Union, we can certainly play a role and have a meaningful input to any defence decisions or initiatives taken by the Union. In the new millennium it is fundamentally untenable for us to be part of the European family, yet unwilling to defend and protect the institutions and ethos of that family. Virtually all the economic and social progress made in this country since 1973 has stemmed from the European Union and we have played a full role in those evolving European policies. We must now consider our responsibility in playing a part in the security of the European family.

As the European Union expands under the enlargement process which the House has discussed on a number of occasions in recent months and as the new European treaty emerges, there will be much discussion about a common defence policy for the European Union. This will almost certainly be reflected to some degree in the treaty. Unless we are willing to engage in this debate and help set the ground rules for EU security and defence co-operation, we will have to accept that new arrangements will be made and that every country's concerns, except those of Ireland, will be taken into account. Will we, therefore, shout from the sidelines or become part of the team and help set the pace of change? Ireland must not only be a key player in the emerging jigsaw of European security and defence but we should also be part of the design team putting the plan in place.

There are currently three choices facing us: first, we can remain as we are, in theory, militarily unaligned; second, we can become part of an EU common defence arrangement; or, third, we can branch out very far and decide to join NATO. We cannot sit back and do nothing, however, because if we do not contribute to the debate, we will be sidelined when the policy to be unveiled addresses the concerns of all European states, excluding Ireland's. Whether we like it, European defence co-operation is up for discussion and there is a clear momentum towards some type of common arrangement. It is up to us to get involved in the discussion now, otherwise a common European position will be adopted and we will be left to take it or leave it. A small number argue that we should remain on the sidelines but that type of cop-out policy will result in the end of our neutrality probably on the least favourable terms for Ireland and with the ground rules being written by others. We should not take that approach.

In the aftermath of the recent war in Iraq, there has been much debate about the international military balance and the apparent desire of the United States, the only remaining world superpower, to become some sort of world policeman. On a number of occasions this House has debated the Iraqi crisis and the issues arising from it and, presumably, will continue to do so. One clear issue arising from that debate, however, was that the European Union was not united on Iraq and, when push came to shove, was in no position to offer any type of leadership. Had there been European unity on Iraq it may well have averted the crisis but instead we had the so-called old Europe versus new Europe internal debate. I suspect that in years to come other Iraqi-style situations will face the European Union but unless we can make genuine progress on building strong and unanimous European security and defence co-operation, it will be sidelined again. If we succeed in building such co-operation, however, it can provide a necessary political counterbalance to Washington, as well as playing a constructive role in conflict resolution and confidence building worldwide.

Fine Gael is advocating an EU defence policy based on five key principles: first, any EU defence entity must adhere strongly to the fundamental principles of the United Nations; second, a commitment to the vigorous pursuit of the goal of universal nuclear and biological disarmament, and to a solemn undertaking by the European defence union, acting as a entity, not to use nuclear or biological weapons; third, a commitment to mutual defence and support among all EU member states based on the Article V protocol opt-in arrangements for states that do not want to make this an automatic provision – in effect, this would mean that Ireland would decide, on a case by case basis, whether to come to the defence of another member state if attacked and would not be automatically obliged to do so; fourth, a commitment, as a priority, to the provision of resources for peacekeeping and peace-making operations and to the Petersberg tasks; and, fifth, respect for the right of other member states to be involved in other military alliances, if they so wish.

This proposal could win strong support across the European Union and would have a good prospect of being agreed and implemented. If we have no approach, we will, unfortunately, be confined to options promoted by others. Fine Gael believes putting the issues clearly before the people with a provision for biannual debates on European security and defence policies and related issues would best serve the interests of the people.

It is time to stop making security and defence policy by stealth and, instead, do so in an open, constructive and integrated fashion. Fine Gael believes the first duty of the Government is to provide for the defence and security of people in Ireland and in Europe and we present these proposals as part of an honest attempt to put forward suggestions, which are derived from our consideration of what we believe to be the national interest. I hope the proposals will help to initiate an informed and rational debate on these crucial matters.

I look forward to the response of the Minister of State and the contributions of other speakers. The sacred cow of neutrality has confined us very much in our thinking on European and international development for too long. We must move on and the motion is a balanced and careful step in the correct direction.

I second the motion. I thank Senator Bradford for putting the position, outlined by our party a month ago, in such a succinct way. I am glad that we are debating the issue because many colleagues have sought such a debate for a number of months and it is right and proper that it should take place.

Seán Lemass was one of Ireland's greatest politicians. He emerged quickly from the independence movement as a modern, progressive leader who was prepared to change. Together with T. K. Whitaker, he fundamentally changed economic policy as Taoiseach and Minister for Finance. One of his abiding truisms from the 1950s was that if we are part of Europe, we must defend Europe.

That is important, particularly for the Fianna Fáil party, which has a problem with neutrality historically. The party's problem is not based on policy in terms of the global sense of neutrality, but on the hangover from Ireland's antagonistic relationship with Britain, its nearest neighbour, during the earlier part of the last century. That is understandable because, following Independence, the relationship with Britain was difficult because of Northern Ireland. We have moved on from that because the Northern issue, constitutionally at least, has been resolved. Both sovereign peoples accept the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. The hangover from that relationship, as Senator Bradford stated, resonates with Fianna Fáil's position on neutrality. There are interesting signs of movements afoot within the party in this regard.

Movement on neutrality will not come from Fianna Fáil because of the party's pragmatism and sense of doing the right thing for this generation by redefining what we mean when we say that we want to be part of a new European security and defence structure. Problems will be caused by the left because it has been utterly dishonest on the issue of neutrality. I refer to the recent debacle on the war on Iraq. If the European Council had taken a position on Iraq, through qualified majority voting or a simple majority, it would not have been agreed by Spain or Great Britain, although it would have been agreed by France, Germany and other countries that were hostile to the US action.

The left in Ireland and in other European countries has traditionally failed to recognise that European security and defence policy will not be driven ultimately by US and British concerns. While that axis must be recognised, this policy must be driven by EU member states that have a different perspective on the world. The left in Ireland needs to grow up on this issue, as it has flouted reasoned argument for too long. Members of the social democratic party in Europe cannot understand the position taken by the left in Ireland on this matter. I refer, in particular, to the small parties such as the Green Party, the Socialist Party, Sinn Féin and others. They must confront this issue.

As a small independent country within the Union, Ireland must adapt its distinctive contribution to world affairs since the foundation of the State to whatever new structure emerges as a result of European security and defence arrangements. It is inevitable in the next five years that a new structure will be put in place. Given the developments that took place following the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties, together with the new arrangements that will emerge from the Convention on the Future of Europe, it is inevitable that Europe will build its own capacity for the international policeman status that, unfortunately, it has had to look to the US to provide during the past ten years.

Yugoslavia is an obvious example. A total of 90% of the original S4 troops who were deployed there were American. Europe sat on the sidelines and looked on at the tragedy while 750,000 people were killed and 1.5 million displaced as a result of the activities of Serbian troops throughout Yugoslavia. Europe stood idly by and it is to our eternal shame that war occurred and this State and every other member state refused to take its responsibility seriously, thus, ensuring the US Government did so instead. As Europeans, we must confront this.

There was also a ridiculous peacekeeping operation in Macedonia. Under the triple-lock arrangements, Ireland accepted such operations must have a UN mandate and be approved by the Government and the Oireachtas. As a result our troops could not be deployed in Macedonia because there was no formal UN resolution following difficulties with the Chinese in agreeing such a resolution. Ireland must get real on this issue. I have learned from my limited experience of foreign travel that Ireland is regarded as an honest broker and as a country that has deployed considerable numbers of troops at flashpoints throughout the world, such as the Congo and the Lebanon.

Ireland is respected and we must keep this to the forefront of our minds when we debate the new European defence structure. That structure will not result in one state violently attacking another state, but it will take on the challenges of international terrorism. Europe is still exposed to that threat and, in that context, Ireland is particularly exposed because there are significant American interests here. We have no defence structure to address that threat should terrorists decide to attack those interests.

The kernel of the document published by Deputy Gay Mitchell is that if a protocol is not negotiated now by Ireland on its own terms as a small, independent country within the Union, we will not be able to join in the future and that is why this debate is important. A significant number of people want to participate in the debate and they are prepared to define what it means and to work with our European partners in developing a structure for defence and foreign policy of which Europe can be proud.

The motion will lead to a much needed debate in Ireland. A referendum will be required if change is desired, but I am confident that we would win it by including a provision that Ireland would not support a mutual defence clause. I look forward to the contributions of colleagues.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann," and substitute the following:

"considering that the Convention on the Future of Europe will shortly be finishing its work on the drafting of a new EU Treaty;

acknowledging that the Government has engaged fully with the work of the Convention, including on security and defence matters;

acknowledging that, as set out in the published draft articles of the new EU Treaty, a decision to move at some stage in the future to a common defence would still continue to be for decision by the European Council acting unanimously and in accordance with member states' respective constitutional requirements;

noting that, as proposed by the Government and as approved by the Irish people in a referendum on the Nice Treaty held in October 2002, the Constitution provides that Ireland may not join an EU common defence and that, as a consequence, further amendment of the Constitution, ratified by the people in a referendum, would be necessary before it could do so;

noting that the published draft articles of the new EU Treaty provide, pending the establishment of an EU common defence, for closer co-operation on mutual defence among those member states that wish to do so;

noting the Government's clear position that it will not commit Ireland to a mutual defence arrangement without the consent of the people in a referendum;

acknowledging that the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, which include provisions for the framing of a common foreign and security policy, have been approved by the Irish people in successive referenda;

recognising that, since its inception, Ireland has played a full and active role in the overall shaping and development of European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), based on the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty and as elaborated in the Conclusions of successive European Councils as far back as Cologne in June 1999;

noting that Irish participation in ESDP is in full conformity with Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality

calls upon the Government to:

work closely with fellow EU member states to encourage the development of ESDP in the service of international peace and stability in full conformity with the United Nations Charter, particularly in the context of Ireland's forthcoming EU Presidency;

continue to take full account of the changing security environmnt at both European and global levels and of the new international challenges now arising;

continue to highlight the importance of a balanced development of the military and civilian aspects of ESDP, the active promotion of the conflict prevention dimension, while prioritising the importance of EU-UN aspects;

remain fully involved in the security and defence aspects of discussions both at the Convention on the Future of Europe and in the framework of the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference;

continue also to facilitate debate on these issues in a broader context, including in the Oireachtas, the National Forum on Europe and elsewhere."

I join others in welcoming the Minister of State to the House. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this very important issue and to reiterate some points I have already made in the House and at the forum on Europe. While I agree with aspects of what Senators have said, I cannot agree with all of it.

I was interested to read the remarks of the Fine Gael Leader, Deputy Kenny, at the Dublin Members forum on Beyond Neutrality in Dublin last night. Deputy Kenny said Fine Gael would not regret the end of Irish neutrality. He continued:

For Fine Gael this entire issue is one of balancing rights with responsibilities. The Government's abject avoidance of responsibility and its absolute aversion to productive controversy means it is up to Fine Gael to refashion the political dynamic here.

That is absolute nonsense. This Fianna Fáil Government has been hugely productive within the European Convention. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for Europe, Deputy Roche, have worked tirelessly over the last couple of years. Deputy Roche has been universally praised for his innovative approach and the huge amount of policy papers he has submitted on the new treaty.

Our Government's commitment to Irish neutrality was clear when it signed the Seville declaration in June 2002. Ireland would participate only in humanitarian and crisis management operations that are authorised by the United Nations, in accordance with Irish law and approved by Dáil Éireann. Anything else would require a constitutional referendum.

The success of the European Union over the last number of decades has been hard and bravely won. Since its foundation the Union has been prepared to take brave steps into uncharted territory and it seems the current international order dictates that now is the time for the EU to take another brave step along this road of integration. Without doubt, a new international landscape is emerging at the beginning of the 21st century. A seismic shift in international relations caused by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War has led to a situation where the United States is now the sole superpower, with self confidence commensurate with that status. Russia is refashioning itself and redefining its global role and China's integration with the international economy has also been a powerful catalyst for change.

The disintegration of the bi-polar environment into a multi-polar world has not led to the predicted happy-ever-after era. Rather it has opened a Pandora's box of potential territorialist disputes and border squabbles which continually challenge the competence of international organisations. Furthermore attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States have served as a reminder that national and international security cannot be taken for granted, even by the world's most powerful superpower.

With this in mind, it has gradually become apparent that the EU must begin to forge an appropriate common European security and defence policy in order to deal with the challenges of this new international environment. In all member states of the European Union, therefore, a discussion is under way on the development of this policy and on how national security policies can best meet the challenges of the changing European and global security environment. Ireland is no different and I am delighted to air my views in this regard.

As a neutral member state Ireland can play a fundamental role in the forging of the EU's common foreign and security policy. However, we do not need to go down the Enda Kenny and Gay Mitchell road of cheap headlines and political opportunism. We can make a difference in a number of ways on our own. Now is an ideal time for the neutral and non-aligned states of the European Union to co-operate with one another and to attempt to collaborate on policies in this area of security and defence. We in Ireland must realise that this is not a 14 against one scenario since Sweden, Finland and Austria are our natural allies.

Co-operation on security and defence related issues beween Finland and Sweden has certainly intensified over the last decade and they have been very successful in this regard. Their foreign and defence Ministers have published common articles containing policy initiatives and the countries have tried to co-ordinate their actions in the entire field of security. The importance of acting together has always been emphasised and in this way Finland and Sweden have been very successful in achieving their goals at a European level. Perhaps the most distinguished achievement – and Senator Bradford mentioned this – was the inclusion of the Petersberg Tasks in the scope of the Amsterdam treaty. I am certain that Ireland can also be this pragmatic and can use such co-operation to our advantage.

It has been argued that throughout our membership Ireland's role as an initiator within the EU has, at times, been weak. While I do not agree with this in the main, I believe it holds some validity when dealing with security issues. As an EU member state there has been a distinct impression of Ireland as a spectator of the common foreign and security policy rather than as a participant in the project of giving the EU a security and defence dimension. Ireland has not always shared the responsibility for developing it and, therefore, has found it difficult to make it work in a way which is consistent with both the EU's and Ireland's political goals and values.

Ireland now has the opportunity to be more proactive in this area. We should attempt to customise the security policy of the Union rather than having to react to certain policies we see as threatening neutrality. Now is the time for Ireland to become much more assertive, to abandon traditional reservations and to demand policies that simultaneously meet our needs and the needs of the European security environment, bearing in mind our neutrality. Other neutrals have done this. The Finns have had considerable success in developing the EU's policy towards Russia. Ireland can enjoy the same level of success.

We all share an interest in seeing Europe playing an active and principled role on the global stage. Although Ireland may have had a distinctive foreign policy approach in many areas, this does not prevent us from having a fundamental identity of interest with our European partners and it does not mean we can shirk our responsibilities in helping to frame this policy. Neutrality has always been a guiding principle of this State's foreign policy and can once again guide Ireland and the European Union as we go forward together. For this reason I am convinced that Ireland, as a neutral member state, has a pivotal role to play in the EU's common foreign and security policy.

As the Minister of State with responsibility for Europe has just joined us, I pay tribute to his excellent work in his Department since he took office last year. He leaves Ireland in very good state as the work of the EU Convention comes to a close with the intergovernmental conference ahead. We can all go forward with confidence, knowing that our position is being represented by such a capable and talented Minister.

There is little difference between what Members on all sides of House are saying on this subject. There is a difference in the Fine Gael position on neutrality at the end.

This country has never been neutral. It may have been politically neutral but it has never been neutral. We should look closely at where we stand on issues. We should recognise the fact that there is a moral, military and political neutrality. Whereas we may not have been politically involved, it is not true to say we were ever neutral. Decent Irish people went to fight in the 15th international brigade, with the support of many of us who favour Irish neutrality, Mr. de Valera went to the German embassy to sign the book of condolences on the death of Hitler and access to the Shannon stopover was granted for planes going to Iraq. We have never been neutral, although we may not have been militarily involved.

No one should be allowed to discuss neutrality until they have defined it. I have had great difficulty doing so myself and that is why I cannot come to a conclusion on the question. I do not know any neutral country. It is not true to say Sweden is a neutral country. It has sold arms to both sides of every war I can remember and has got fat on the proceeds. That is hardly neutrality. Switzerland is not a neutral country. It flogs and launders money from every corrupt regime in the world.

Utterly unacceptable things are going on in the world at the moment. The first war against Iraq was properly decided upon by the United Nations but it was run by the United States. The war was not fought by a UN army. The current war against Iraq is absolutely illegal and we must say so.

Having said that, we must look at what is happening in the world today. One of the issues that threatens my view on neutrality is what happened in Kosovo. I think of the European Union standing back while ordinary undefended people were being killed and brutalised and none of us did anything about it. In fairness to the United States, of which I am a constant critic, it did go in to try to protect the unprotected people of Kosovo.

We must have a policy which allows us to take some action in such situations. What is even worse is that in recent times our so-called neutrality policy did not allow Irish forces to take part in peacekeeping duties in Macedonia, an issue raised previously by Senator Minihan. We must address these issues. Anyone discussing them, coming to a conclusion and defining a policy better have an answer to all of them. We hear about the views of the different political parties but I would like people to be brave enough to say what is a fair policy on neutrality, one which is morally and politically acceptable. However, no one has done this.

I have said on many occasions on radio, television and in this House that we should be guided by the United Nations in which I believe firmly. However, I do not believe in the current UN system because it includes every corrupt regime in the world. They are all there, bar one or two. Who is to say the people concerned are more trustworthy than our colleagues in Europe? That is a question I want someone to answer. I do not trust NATO, the Western European Armaments Group nor those who have a vote within the United Nations. In its policy statement the United Nations is now handing over much of its responsibility to the regions. It is regionalising its approach as Kofi Annan has said time and again. What will our position be if the United Nations states, "Okay, as regards Europe, we want our affiliates from the continent of Europe to make those decisions?" What will we do in that case?

I recognise that I have raised many issues and would be the first to admit that I do not know the answers. However, I know that our current policy is inadequate to deal with the issues occurring in the world today. I recognise that both the motion and the amendment call for a continuing debate on the issue of neutrality, which I support. I would like to hear people giving honest views on the matter.

On the efforts of various Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Dick Spring, in producing the last White Paper on foreign policy, made a serious attempt to discuss the issue of neutrality with a modern approach. The current Minister for Foreign Affairs has had a very thoughtful approach to the issue. He has made some thoughtful contributions on a number of occasions for which he did not get much publicity on what we mean by being neutral, what it means to us and where we stand.

If we begin with the parable of the good Samaritan and who we walk past, is neutrality a state of passivity or an active state? Does neutrality mean that we can watch wrong being done and not take part? Does it mean that we have a moral responsibility to defend the weak? What does it mean in communist, socialist or Christian terms, or just plain common sense? Where do we find ourselves in defining neutrality? Where is our framework of reference? What objectives are we trying to achieve? How do we see ourselves contributing to the globe? This is the island of saints and scholars which sent people all over the world at various times in our history. How do we do it today? What is our motivation? What is the dynamism we create as a country and where does it lead us?

There are huge issues and I do not know who we can trust. We must at some stage face the question. We can all sing the mantra: what happens if good people stay silent and do nothing, when they come for them, the others, and all the rest and there is nobody left to look after anybody? We have all been through it many times – we were neutral. We can be proudly neutral about the fact that while Hitler was exterminating millions in Europe and Pol Pot was exterminating millions in his country and so on, we were neutral. Where is the sense of national pride in this? What should we have done? I know that I am more comfortable celebrating the activities and contribution of the 15th International Brigade and its commitment to go to Spain to fight what it considered an evil and a wrong. I am more comfortable dealing with that issue than any other aspect of neutrality, which is important.

How do we deal with wrong in the world? It comes down to the United Nations. If the United Nations includes groups we cannot accept such as decision-makers who do not give freedom and civil rights in their own country, we should not entrust to them our position on neutrality and our involvement in the globe? That is the question we must answer.

I wish to share my time with Senator Norris. He requested that I give him the last minute of my time.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I support the amendment to the motion. Some fundamental and valid questions have been raised by Senator O'Toole. I do not claim to have the answers but would make one suggestion. Given the questions he raised, it appears that he has lost faith in the structures in place. I would be one of the first to concede that there are serious faults in them. During recent events in Iraq, when criticisms were thrown back and forth across the floor of the House, one of the strongest points I made was that if the United Nations was functioning to the highest level of efficiency, some of the problems about which we were concerned would not have arisen.

Notwithstanding that fact, and acknowledging that within the United Nations, just as within the European Union, there are regimes whose behaviour in terms of armaments and dealings leave a lot to be desired, we must have some point of reference. The only point of reference for me, one to which the Government still adheres, is the United Nations, imperfect as it might be. Many of these imperfections have been acknowledged during the years by successive Governments. We would all like it to rapidly evolve to a state of far greater perfection and effectiveness in terms of monitoring world order, its mandate when established. If one was to use any yardstick as to its success to date, it must be that since World War II, we have not had a world war. I tend to use this as a valid yardstick when determining how effective or otherwise it has been in terms of world order. It is true that we have come to the brink on many occasions but, at the end of the day, since World War II, with the United Nations in place, there has been a tremendous degree of consultation and discussion between nations which has enabled the world to move forward without another world war.

The strategy set out by Fine Gael is wrong, it is in a sense stating we should cast off neutrality. Notwithstanding my sympathy for some of Senator O'Toole's views when he posed the question as to what is neutrality and how we should define it, what is proposed in the motion, if one will excuse the pun, in a sense gives hostages to fortune. That is not what we should be doing in such a sensitive area. The proposal is seriously misguided and would prove extremely costly to the State at this time. The terms of the Government's amendment set down clearly Ireland's position on neutrality in the European Union, ambiguous as that might seem to be. It acknowledges the clear wishes of the people, as well as their clear understanding of the Government's position on the issue.

Our military neutrality is always a popular subject for the media, a few of whose scribes may, like Fine Gael, according to its leader and its party spokesman, Deputy Mitchell, regard our neutrality as a sham. I want to inform Fine Gael that we do not regard our present position as a sham and the Irish people have endorsed our position in the referendum on the Nice treaty.

Before I deal with some of the implications of the motion, I want to pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and the other delegates and alternates to the Convention on the Future of Europe, for their work and commitment leading up to the adoption of the draft constitutional treaty by the 105 members of the Convention on 13 June last. There is widespread agreement that in terms of the overall package Ireland did quite well. This is acknowledged even by the main Opposition parties. Credit must go to the Minister of State for the leadership he showed in Ireland's involvement in many of the amendments which were incorporated in the final draft.

Equally I want to comment on the initiatives the Minister of State took in encouraging and promoting cohesion, if that word is allowed, among the smaller states, both members and applicants. The Minister of State's initiatives there played no small part in ensuring and maintaining a proper balance between the rights and concerns of the smaller states and the larger powers within the EU. That is an important testimony to the commitment he has given and the success of that commitment. I want to celebrate that this evening.

Many points have been made by the Opposition in the motion before the House. Many ideas have been suggested and many imaginative and creative ways have been put forward as to how Ireland could adopt a new role in terms of security of the EU. I want to bring to the attention of the House some facts regarding developments which have taken place over the past 18 months during the discussions at the Convention and decisions which have been taken, not only in Parliament but indeed by the Irish people themselves.

Discussions, for example, at the European Convention, as set out in the draft articles of the new EU treaty, mean that any proposals to change the current stance on the defence issue will continue to be for decision by the Heads of Government acting unanimously. Since the referendum on the Nice treaty in October 2002, the Constitution provides that Ireland may not join an EU common defence, and that, as a consequence, further amendment of the Constitution, ratified by the people in a referendum, would be necessary before it could do so. God knows we have had enough referenda in recent times, and enough confusion, controversy and divisiveness about referenda, without foisting another one on the people immediately, which is what we would have to do if we were to seek to participate in a leading way at EU level, without constitutional restriction.

It is important that we do not go out to flatter or to deceive. If we did, against a background of the existing constitutional requirement, we would simply be deceiving. We would be giving the impression to our European partners that we, as a Government, had the mandate from the people to take a leading role in discussions on any structures. My view is that we, as a party or a Government, either decide to cast off neutrality and go out with an open agenda, which seems to be envisaged by the motion, or on the other hand seek to lead the discussions with the big powers in the EU. Either way there is quite a considerable element of naivety about it and I do not see the merits.

We, on this side of the House, are not at all impressed by the approach taken by Fine Gael, which they have now adopted as party policy, to regard our neutrality as a sham. We have no problem in talking about neutrality. We have no problem in putting before the Irish people our views on neutrality and, as I said, that has been endorsed in the last referendum on the Nice treaty.

I am very grateful to Senator Fitzgerald for sharing his time. I must be at the transport committee in a few minutes and that is why I asked to speak at this point.

I believe in neutrality. It is possible to give certain definitions of it – the refusal to commit in advance to any military political bloc – and we are right to maintain this.

With regard to Shannon, as my colleague, Senator O'Toole, has just whispered in my ear, it is laughable in one sense to hear Fine Gael defending Shannon where they were against it and the Government doing the reverse. This is extraordinary.

I am not sure that we are threatened. In the Fine Gael motion, they state that we are the least protected citizens. What are they protecting us from? I do not feel under any great threat. Pol Pot was raised. What precisely did we intend to do about Pol Pot? That situation was precipitated ultimately by our good friends, the Americans.

My native land is being torn in flitters. Over 4 million people have died there. I am talking about where I was born, the Belgian Congo. It would not do any good for the Irish Army to declare war on Kabila or the rest of them. What we could do, and what we have not done, is intervene through the European Union to target those Belgian, French and British companies which are involved in a criminal exploitation of that land, and that would help to stop it.

Therefore I am not in favour of any great war, but I want the opportunity to say this. We have been told lies and more lies, and at least this debate will flush out into the open what people mean by neutrality. For example, we were told repeatedly during the Nice, Amsterdam and Maastrict debates that signing these treaties would not compromise neutrality. This was the policy of every Government involved, yet now they are reversing their view and stating that there is nothing left of our neutrality, it is a charade and we have already given it away by signing these instrument. That is what some of us were saying at the time, that it was the incremental giving away of our neutrality. Governments consistently told us this was not the case and now they are coming round and stating that there is no neutrality left because we gave it away. I ask them to stop promising us referenda—

Fine Gael are saying it.

—on the subject of neutrality and not giving it to us. I look forward to further discussions on this question of neutrality, but there is not much point in our getting involved.

I would like to see the United Nations supported. What worries and concerns me is that the draining away of energy and resources and military capacity from the United Nations into these private armies, like the new European army, will destroy the United Nations. I put that in the context of the wonderful programme broadcast by RTE last night on the late Seán Lester, who was so instrumental in the League of Nations and managed to hang on in Geneva until the end of the war. They did manage to continue certain ideas and paved the way for the United Nations, but what happened to the League of Nations, and the way in which it was weakened, could very easily happened again to the United Nations, particularly because the malign intent of countries like the United States of America. It is up to all the small nations to band together to prevent that happening.

I understand exactly what Senator O'Toole is saying when he talks about the huge range of countries involved, some of which are very repressive. The United Nations is an imperfect institution, but it is all we have and it is a hell of a lot better than the multinationals and the gangsters of European capitalism. I would put my trust in the United Nations before any European Rapid Reaction Force which might be walked into what a French Prime Minister, with disarming and uncharacteristic honesty, called the resource wars of the next century. Why should Irish people be killed in such wars, fighting for multinational corporations? I certainly will oppose that as long as I am in this House.

It is useful that we are having the debate. It is something that we have been skirting around for many years. Fine Gael has done us some service in being perhaps more honest than they or others have been in the past in saying bluntly that they are in favour of ditching neutrality or what we have come to think of as neutrality. For the life of me, I do not really see any huge difference between the view being put forward in the Fianna Fáil amendment and that put forward in the Fine Gael motion. Both of them are effectively saying the same thing. The difference is purely in terms of language. Fianna Fáil still genuflects in the direction of neutrality and Fine Gael says it is no longer in favour of it, but in fact the ultimate position in which both parties find themselves is more or less the same.

I must be straight-up about this and say that my own party is not a million miles away from that thinking either. There are some in my party who would not like to hear me say that, but it is the truth. Let me state the official line before I go any further. It is true that the party continues to support neutrality. As the Minister knows, we were party to discussions prior to the second referendum on the Nice treaty, which agreed the wording that effectively placed a constitutional bar on joining a mutual defence pact or any military alliance. We were happy with that. I endorse the notion that the people should decide whether we should ultimately take that extra step to commit ourselves to membership of an alliance, which would require us to automatically come to the defence of a partner state in the European Union which was the subject of aggression. Perhaps the debate we are having this evening will foreshadow a bigger one to come.

Senator O'Toole asked what is neutrality. I agree with him that we have not been neutral for many years. The only time when it could truly be said that we were neutral was during the Second World War. Like others, with the benefit of 60 years' hindsight, I see very little of which to be proud in not having participated in the fight against fascism then. It may be a bit rich to criticise those who made a decision that appeared to them to be right at the time, but it is difficult for those of our generation to be proud of that decision from the perspective of moral or political principle.

What does neutrality mean now? If we are to judge from the events of the past three or four months, it basically means that we are pro-American, that we are on the Atlanticist side of the argument, that with a nod and wink we will give logistical support to international adventurism on the part of the United States and that, if needs be, we will go along with the creation of a European foreign defence policy in coming years. There is clearly an argument in Europe between those who hold the views and values of "old Europe" and those who hold views and values of the "new Europe", as characterised by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. In my opinion, we are on the wrong side of that argument.

The argument in this regard would have been greatly advanced if we had not been on the United Nations Security Council up to December of last year. It would have been interesting to see what role the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, would have taken in that context. Would we have taken the view of countries such as Chile and Mexico which let the United States know that, while they remain its friends, they did not support its adventurism? I do not believe we would have done so and certainly not as vocally as they did. I suspect that we would not have done so privately either. We might have put in very clear perspective for ourselves precisely what Irish neutrality means. It is quite clear what it means to the Pentagon; we were, and are probably still, considered to be a tacit member of the coalition of the willing. The US clearly saw us as being on its side and no doubt had some reason for thinking that. It is not difficult for us to use our imagination to work out why that is the case.

Where do we go from here? The fundamental problem with our neutrality is that it is not underpinned in any serious way with a political set of values. In past decades, those of us on the left looked to underpin it in that way. However, we were out of synch with the vast majority of Irish people. We saw ourselves as being genuinely politically neutral between the Eastern Bloc and the United States. In truth, most Irish people did not see us that way, nor did the two biggest parties represented in this House.

Even that perspective had to change after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Most social democratic and socialist parties in Europe have had to seriously reconsider their approach to foreign policy and also to security and military policy. Most of us have, or are about to, come around to the view that we need to be part of some sort of security arrangement in Europe, which, at the very minimum, makes it possible to ensure that the horrors of Kosovo, Srebrenica, Gorazde, etc., do not recur on the mainland of Europe.

We should acknowledge that the drift is clearly in that direction and that the debate should take place. There are certain aspects about which we must be clear. It would not be possible for those of us on the left to accept that a European security policy would be underpinned by a nuclear deterrent. We could not accept that it would effectively be the European arm of NATO. We would require that any European foreign and defence policy should, in effect, be a counterweight to what is decided by the State Department or the Pentagon in Washington and not merely a reflection on the European continent of that policy. None of those things is currently happening.

At the start of this debate, Senator Brian Hayes said that, had there been a qualified majority vote on the European policy on Iraq, it would have come down on the French and German side. That is not clear at all and is certainly not clear in the context of a 25-member European Union. In that context, it would probably come down on the other side. Before we go down that road, we want the political values defined. We want to know in advance that Europe will act as a counterweight, reflecting our own democratic values and history, and will not be an offshoot of the Pentagon.

This debate is rendered somewhat unreal by our unwillingness to grasp the aspect of military capacity, which does not seem to have occurred to us. We are not in a position to do anything and are of no use to anybody. While the House or any other forum can debate as much as they like whether we should be part of some aggressive action that might take place anywhere in the world, we do not have the military capacity to do so in any event. If we were to apply to join NATO tomorrow, it would not want us. We would be told to invest in our Defence Forces and our military capacity and come back in ten or 15 years' time.

Even in the current context, we should debate whether we need to invest more in the Defence Forces. We should do so with a clear decision in advance as to where we are going. In a sense, we must decide what is our niche and what we are good at. We will never be able to provide thousands of troops and significant amounts of armaments with a view to engaging in offensive or even defensive combat anywhere. The evidence suggests that we have the sort of good interpersonal skills that are required for peacekeeping and peace enforcement. I am not the first person to say this and I believe it forms part of the White Paper on Defence. If we are to go down the road of mutual defence and greater engagement with this issue, we must invest further in a capacity that will allow us to do what we seem to be good at, namely, peacekeeping and peace enforcement.

I am happy with the Petersberg Tasks as currently defined. I know there is some debate about expanding them with which I would not have any great difficulty. However, we should bed down the Petersberg Tasks and the Rapid Reaction Force and see how it goes. It is premature to talk about several stages beyond that as does Fine Gael. We need to be able to crawl before we can even aspire to walk.

I join previous speakers in welcoming the Minister of State. I congratulate him on his recent work in representing this country proudly on the European stage.

I support the call for a broad debate on neutrality. However, that is not the debate we are having tonight, which merely questions whether we should be militarily aligned. I agree with Senator O'Toole that this country is not, and never has been, neutral. "Neutrality" is probably the second most abused word – the most abused word is "republicanism". People have all sorts of definitions of those words. It is defined by the international community as "a non-participation in armed conflicts among states". That legal definition is based on the 1907 Hague Convention. In reality, the legal definition of neutrality is totally different to having a policy of neutrality. The legal definition lays down the international law, whereas policy is something that a Government can adopt. Even though a legal definition exists, it does not apply under UN sanctions or UN actions where the international community decides to take action against states. It would be difficult to get a group of people to agree what exactly they mean by neutrality.

Our neutrality has served us well. Previous speakers highlighted the reasons for our neutral position as a result of the Second World War and the decision we took then. People have differing opinions as to why that arose, but there was an historical reason.

Some say that we have opted out of our international obligations, but that is not the case. We have a proud tradition of playing our part on the international stage, from our missionaries to our NGOs and peacekeepers. As a former peacekeeper, I can say that our neutral status is something that was welcomed by the host countries which invited us in. Ireland was always the country they wanted. We are good at peacekeeping because of our traditional, non-aligned military role. We have a humanitarian role to play, but that does not mean that we should not face up to our international responsibilities and those we must face in Europe. We should participate in negotiations with regard to EU defence, but we should do so in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Government is proceeding in that way. We must have a say and face up to responsibilities. We can do so by committing forces deal with humanitarian needs, crisis management and peacekeeping.

The triple-lock mechanism is an issue which I have highlighted in the House previously, particularly with regard to the situation in Macedonia, to which, under UN Resolution 1371, it was decided to send a UN mission. The resolution was vetoed in the Security Council by China and, as a result of our triple-lock mechanism, we were ineligible to participate in the EU-sponsored mission. That is a difficulty and I ask the Government to table an amendment to the Defence Act to correct that situation. By bringing forward the triple-lock mechanism, the Irish people did not for one moment intend that Irish troops could not participate in a humanitarian mission because China, for some reason of vested interest, decided to exercise its veto at the Security Council.

I support the Government amendment to the motion. It clearly states the views of the 1937 Constitution, of recent referenda and of the recent EU treaties such as Maastrict, Amsterdam and Nice. It does not mean that I do not support a healthy and informed debate on neutrality. We must shake this monkey off our back. We must introduce a clear definition and perhaps we need an Irish interpretation of neutrality. However, we need something that we can put before the international community and say that we will play our part in international affairs.

We have played our part very effectively, unlike some of the superpowers. I cite the example of Beirut in 1983 when Irish troops were serving in Lebanon. We were there from 1978, but in 1983 the multinational force comprised of the British, Americans, Italians and French decided to come in and do it their way. In May 1984, 241 US marines were killed and they withdrew from Beirut. The UN decided to return and the Irish were the first to do so. We worked under the UN, which is the way we do our business, and we stayed there until we proudly brought peace to Lebanon. The Irish paid with their lives. We have nothing of which to be ashamed in terms of the position we adopt or in our interpretation of neutrality. We play our part and we should continue to do so. I acknowledge that there is plenty of room for debate on this issue.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, to the House. He is a forward thinker and I hope he will give a positive response to the Fine Gael motion. Fianna Fáil has not lost its hypocrisy when it has people such as Senators MacSharry and Fitzgerald among its ranks. They are still referring to the image of the maidens and the crossroads, as portrayed by de Valera in bygone days. I hope that there are other members of the party who will move the European initiative forward.

I welcome and support the drafting of a new constitutional treaty for Europe, a process which is now reaching a conclusion. The issue that we are discussing this evening is the creation of a common defence for the European Union. It is imperative that we recognise that Ireland should not only be part of the security and defence structure, but should be actively involved in its construction. Unless the Government is 100% committed to positive action in this regard, Ireland will be left in a no-choice situation, whereby we will be forced to either tag along with decisions made by other member states or be left in isolation. At present, our citizens are the least protected of any country within the Union and clinging to our neutrality on every issue, regardless of the circumstances, is tantamount to political suicide. Constitutionally and legally, Irish neutrality is one of Ireland's best known myths. It has, perhaps, been taken out of the realm of legend by common usage, but, nonetheless, it has absolutely no firm basis in reality.

As indicated by the Government's stance in respect of US aircraft refuelling at Shannon during the recent conflict in Iraq, semantics appeared to play a large, if suspect, part in its interpretation of the word "neutrality". One could argue that the Government reinvented the word to suit its own ends. It is not a word or concept that allows for expansion or contraction at will.

We should move forward and end the farce of our "convenience store" brand of neutrality, which is cheap – as words are – available when needed and without much substance. It has served us well in the past, but it is time to move forward and align ourselves with the EU for mutual defence. In that way, the decision will be ours and the demise of our neutrality will be of our design and will not be forced on us in unfavourable terms. Therein lies the crux of the matter; we have a choice, but it must be a real choice. We will not be forced to abandon our neutral status but if we choose to remain militarily unaligned, we will be forced to accept the consequences.

The draft constitution represents the outcome of 16 months of intensive work and negotiation between the EU institutions, national governments and parliaments. It particularly focuses on important protections for smaller member states. Articles 40.3, 40.6 and 40.7 indicate that Ireland will have to increase its defence spending considerably and could join a common defence without a referendum. Within the context of this country, neutrality has no legal or constitutional basis. We may not be a neutral country in the strictest sense of the word, but we are certainly a non-aligned one.

No attempt has been made in the history of the State to define and rationalise the concept of our neutrality. It has been associated with a number of perceived values, such as an absolute vision of sovereignty, anti-Britishness linked to the original line of partition, anti-imperialism and nuclear fears. We must consider the circumstances under which we would be willing to advance beyond our own perceived neutrality to take part in a European Union defence entity.

Ireland is not immune to terrorist attacks and there is no logical reason to suppose terrorist groups will not strike here. It is time to look forward, not only to our own defence but also to the defence of Europe as a whole. Our goal should be to assist and to be assisted within the European Union, which is on the brink of setting up a mutual defence arrangement which Ireland should join and help to shape its structure. No EU member state has the financial or military resources to resist the threat of global terrorism alone, as Senator Bradford said. Any common defence policy should adhere to UN principles, commit to nuclear and biological disarmament, mutual defence and support, the provision of peacekeeping and peacemaking operations and respect the right of member states to be involved in other military alliances.

The European Union is taking responsibility for peacekeeping in Bosnia from NATO next year. It will be the most ambitious crisis management operation ever undertaken by the Union. For the first time it will apply a full spectrum of resources in support of peaceful transformation, development assistance, trade, institution building and support for the administration of justice and peacekeeping. This is a positive step towards a cohesive European policy on peacekeeping, defence and security.

Faced with the Government's policy of inaction, Fine Gael has adopted a position on the issue of defence. It is looking ahead for our citizens, whose ultimate protection is our concern. The Government may choose to adopt a "head in the sand" approach to this matter, as it has on many issues, particularly since last year's election. It is important that this House should have this debate as Ireland approaches its Presidency of the European Union. We must take an active role in important decisions on defence and security. I hope the Minister of State who has demonstrated a forward-thinking approach to other issues such as the Treaty of Nice will see merit in Fine Gael's motion.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the subject of neutrality and, more generally, Ireland's involvement in security and defence policy issues. The Government welcomes a transparent and open debate in this area, not least in view of issues brought to the fore by the Convention on the Future of Europe. I welcome the contribution to the debate on neutrality made by the Fine Gael policy document as it is time we had an open and transparent debate on the subject. The debate should be well-bedded and removed from hysteria. Fine Gael's recent policy document, Beyond Neutrality, represents a thoughtful contribution to the discussion on Ireland's involvement in the development of EU security and defence policy. It contains some clear points of difference from the Government approach to this area, on which I will elaborate later, but is very welcome nonetheless.

I imagine that there is a national consensus in relation to most of the five principles identified in the document. I am in full agreement with the first principle enunciated in it, that of adherence to the fundamental principles of the United Nations Security Council. Ireland's commitment to collective security has traditionally been pursued and will continue to be pursued through the United Nations. Ireland has traditionally been a believer in the concept of collective security and regards the United Nations as the centre of the system of collective security. It attaches particular importance to the role of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security. I agree with Senators who have pointed out that the council is far from perfect. Senator Minihan has made the point that China has recently made extraordinary use of its veto and in the process placed an imposition on Ireland's participation in peacekeeping operations, in another part of Europe, which are supported by the United Nations. This illustrates one of the problems of putting one's eggs in the same basket, in effect.

The Government is fully committed to the vigorous pursuit of the goal of universal nuclear and biological disarmament, also mentioned in the Fine Gael document. I imagine that there is widespread public support for this long-standing objective which has been pursued by successive Governments. I expect that there is also widespread support for the document's reiteration of a commitment to peacekeeping and the Petersberg tasks, as well as respect for the right of other member states to join NATO. We could all adhere to such principles.

Contrary to Fine Gael's assertion, the Government has been highly conscious of the changing security environment at European and global level and the new challenges arising. It has not shied away from debate on these matters in the Oireachtas or elsewhere and looks forward to further discussions.

The document also contains an exhortation that Ireland should not only be a member of the emerging EU security and defence architecture but that it should also be one of the architects helping to design the new arrangements. My response to this observation is to state that we have been a part of the design team. Ireland's contribution to the architecture of European security and defence policy has been significant, as our EU partners can testify. The policy is not a new idea, as it appeared in its first inception in the late 1990s. Ireland has sought to play an active role in shaping and developing the policy. Ireland has had some success in its efforts to promote a balanced development between the civilian and military dimensions of the policy. It has also sought to prioritise the Union's approach to conflict prevention, an area to which the Government will continue to attach particular importance in the lead-up to and during its EU Presidency in the first six months of 2004.

The Government's approach to this area has been informed by its opinion that military neutrality, on its own, is not enough to maintain conditions of peace and security. Ireland should be engaged as a member of the international community. Senator O'Toole has pointed out that it is hard to define how anybody can be genuinely neutral. I have said in this House that nobody could be neutral in the face of what happened at Srebrenica. How could one possibly stand back and allow it to happen? The fact that it took place was one of the great shames of Europe at the end of the 20th century. Ireland, notably through the United Nations but increasingly through regional organisations such as the European Union, has sought to play a proactive role in preventing and managing conflicts and keeping peace. The major parties have contributed to the evolution of this role which certain people in this country wish to continuously misrepresent.

EU Heads of State and Government welcomed the recommendations submitted by Mr. Javier Solana for an overall EU strategy in the field of foreign and security policy at the European Council in Thessaloníki last week. I commend Mr. Solana's document to the House as a thoughtful review of how the European Union should progress in this area. It clearly states the Union should face up to its responsibilities in guaranteeing a secure Europe and better world. Ireland should and will contribute vigorously to the pursuit of the report's objectives. It is interesting that two speakers from other parties in the other House today deliberately tried to misrepresent the contents of the report, which is not an honest way to approach the debate. As I have said, it is one of the most thoughtful documents on security and defence, as well as Europe's moral responsibilities, that one could read. We will have an opportunity to discuss it in detail on another day.

A central aspect of the Fine Gael motion, dealing with the security and defence proposals considered at the Convention on the Future of Europe, misses the point. I do not accept the motion's contention that unless the Government acts now, Ireland will be faced with a "take it or leave it" choice with regard to the arrangements. This argument overstates the reality to a substantial extent. The Government's position has been clearly stated in this as in every area of the Convention. It has been reflected in the proposed amendments to the treaty articles, which I brought forward on behalf of the Government.

A key issue is the approaches that will be taken on mutual defence and the question of an eventual EU common defence. It is clear that this is potentially a highly controversial area. The Fine Gael document identifies important questions in relation to any such arrangement; namely, the automaticity of any such commitment and the extent to which individual members of a mutual defence commitment retain discretion over their participation. This aspect of the document is interesting. There is, for example, a difference in this regard between the mutual defence commitments contained in the Western European Union and NATO treaties, with the latter allowing greater discretion to the participants.

Let us be absolutely clear about the existing treaty provisions. There is already provision in the existing treaty for a possible European Union common defence. However, a decision for a common defence would be a matter for the European Council, acting unanimously, and for member states, acting in accordance with their constitutional requirements. This is a point which we made on many occasions during the negotiations for the Nice treaty. In that regard, I was distressed by the rather unusual logic that was applied by Senator Norris in his colourful but inaccurate contribution. The possibility of a common defence has been agreed on three successive occasions, in the ratification by the Irish people of the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties, but the arrangements are clearly circumscribed, as I have indicated.

In respect of common defence, the draft treaty articles propose that this should be a more explicit objective of the envisaged common foreign and defence policy. However, the important safeguards are retained. What is also explicit is that a decision to move at some stage in the future to a common defence would still continue to be a matter for the European Council, acting unanimously and in accordance with member states' constitutional requirements. I emphasise that point because I do not want this debate to be misrepresented to suggest that we are somehow abandoning protections. I reiterate that, in accordance with the amendment to the Constitution, approved by the people in a referendum in October of last year, Ireland cannot adopt a common defence where that common defence would include the State.

The Convention also proposed closer co-operation on mutual defence, which would effectively amount to an interim mutual defence arrangement. It is clearly stated that this would be both optional and on an interim basis – this point is missed in the Fine Gael paper – pending a decision at some stage in the future to establish a common defence. The intention is that participants would be listed in an annexe to the constitutional treaty. The proposal to include a defence arrangement of this kind within the Union, but only for those member states who wish to participate, is clearly not the same as establishing a full EU common defence.

This proposal has provoked a substantial amount of opposition within the Convention. Reservations have been expressed, not only by neutral and non-aligned countries, including Ireland, but also by some EU partners which see their security and defence requirements being best and most satisfactorily met through their membership of NATO. However, a decision to move at some stage in the future to a common defence would still continue to be a matter for the European Council, acting unanimously and in accordance with member states' constitutional requirements.

Ireland's position is well protected. Should the existing provision on common defence be amended or added to in any way, the Government would obviously have to take this into account in framing the proposal it puts to the people, in line with the substance and spirit of the recent constitutional amendment. As of now, I do not know whether the current treaty negotiations will give rise to a proposal for an EU mutual defence arrangement, either full or partial. I suspect that this will be one of the most contentious areas in the Intergovernmental Conference. If they do, however, we will have to discuss the issue. The Government will come forward with its ideas and the thinking of the Fine Gael Party will offer a useful contribution to the debate.

I conclude by again stating the Government's firm view that, against the background of the developments outlined, Ireland's policy of military neutrality remains viable in the context of the new security challenges the world faces. Ireland's policy of military neutrality, embodied by non-membership of military alliances, remains fully relevant in circumstances where the emerging challenges have moved from traditional defence towards crisis management.

Senator Minihan made the point that our policy of military neutrality has given us a particular status. It is a respected position and we should think long and hard before trading it away. In saying this, I am not in any way diminishing the attempt by the Fine Gael Party to provoke an open debate, which, as I said, I welcome.

If I may, I would like to make one or two comments about some of the contributions. I agree with Senator O'Toole that it is difficult to achieve absolute neutrality in a literal sense. We live in a complex world where the fact that we get on with our business means that compromises are inevitable. He made a somewhat slighting reference to Mr. de Valera visiting the German legation at the end of the Second World War. That was, in fact, a gesture of neutrality. Over the years, it has been perversely misrepresented by people who should, and do, know better. If we wanted to be truly neutral, in the absolutist sense he was discussing, we would have to try and be blind on issues.

The Senator also stated that we should be guided by the United Nations, but he went on to point out that there are problems with that organisation. He is correct in that regard. However, neutrality, as we have defined it, is a practical place to be. We have served the world better by being a small, neutral, non-aligned state and by not having a commitment to any of the military adventures entered into by the Western European Union, NATO or any other military alliance. We have put ourselves in a better position to serve the world in a way in which Irish citizens' want us to serve it. The Solana document refers to an entirely new approach to creating a world of peace and harmony. I contend that we may be better placed to serve that objective from our position of traditional military neutrality.

Senator Norris put a most interesting spin on the question of neutrality. One could say he was in a right Joycean twist before he ended. While I commend his colourful language, his contribution was less than accurate.

I do not understand the point Senator McDowell tried to make. If he wishes to honestly and objectively appraise the record of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, while he was on the Security Council – a record which was very well recognised – he will admit that the Minister played an incredibly important role in framing an UN resolution that was infinitely more successful than the position in which we found ourselves earlier this year.

Ireland's neutrality, as has been said, is important. It is not alone important to us, but it is also important in terms of our role in the world. It may well be that the concept of neutrality has served its purpose, but I do not agree with that assessment. It is something of which we should be proud. In saying that, I do not wish to denigrate anyone who takes a different view. I have discussed the matter with Deputy John Bruton, in particular, who is behind the genesis of the Fine Gael paper. I fully respect and understand the objective in terms of contributing to a real debate on neutrality. Perhaps it is a good idea that we should have such a debate. However, I commend the Government amendment to the motion to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. The Convention on the Future of Europe is an extremely complex undertaking. The main issues in the constitutional treaty will be defence and the section dealing with the social economy, as opposed to a neo-liberal model masked under proposals for labour market flexibilities. The Government, in the Intergovernmental Conference, may well roll back on some of the gains that have been made in that respect and this is an issue on which we should concentrate.

There is value in debating what we mean by neutrality, but this is not the way to go about it. Our position on neutrality is well known and well respected throughout the European Union. I cannot see any reason that we should give it away now. There has not been any request or demand that we do so. The question should be asked as to why we might want to give it away. In my view, it is preferable to maintain our positive neutrality, much in the spirit of Connolly and of others down through the years who made the case against war and militarism and that is more necessary now than it ever was in the past.

Construing security in terms of military strength is dangerously narrow. Eliminating poverty, exclusion and gross inequalities is the most positive version of security. Contributing to the idea of a new cold war helps militarism and also deflects from the task of eliminating poverty and development. Last year, the US defence budget was $396.1 billion. For $28 billion, one could provide basis primary education for every child on the planet. For the same amount, one could supply clean drinking water for everyone on the planet.

The European Union spends seven times more than the United States on development aid. Is it now suggested that it should go down the same road and suffer the same consequences? Also, should Ireland's neutrality be dragged down the same path, suffering the consequences experienced by the United States? Retaining neutrality does not exclude Ireland from any decisions of the European Union on a common policy position or in relation to security and defence. Those of us in favour of positive neutrality do not advocate any strategy of avoidance as regards taking a position on the great issues of the day – far from it. It encourages us to take a moral position, the war in Iraq being a good example of a situation in which the Seanad can discuss and contrast views and ideas as between political parties.

We can support a call for an open, transparent and accountable debate but will not contribute to the creation of a culture of fear or the bringing into existence of notional enemies. For example, some would argue that we could welcome dialogue with Islam. It is untrue to say we are presented with a take it or leave it situation. Ultimately, it is the people who will decide on a new constitution and the Intergovernmental Conference process will determine what is put to them. The problem is not Irish neutrality: the issue is to define it and spell out, courageously, a clear and accountable foreign policy which will take many interests into account but it must be a morally based policy which does not place economic interests above all other interests.

This motion distracts from the real issues. Undoubtedly, it is helpful in calling for a debate but it seeks to have that debate structured on a very narrow basis. It also misses some of the more fundamental points on which we will be called upon to make decisions. Having regard to issues of aid, trade, debt and world poverty, there is a disgraceful distortion of world resources into armaments at a time when over two billion people living on this planet survive on less than two dollars per day and over one billion people live on less than one dollar a day. It is on such issues that people will judge political parties in terms of where they stand.

I know this issue is extremely complex. In recent months it has been a great thorn in the philosophies of many individual politicians and some of the more traditional political parties in this country.

Old and new Labour.

While I respect everybody's point of view in this regard, this is not the way to go about it.

With the agreement of the House, I wish to share time with Senator Ó Murchú.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him again on his work in the Convention on the Future of Europe, especially in relation to the matter we are discussing. On my reading of the text of the Convention, it is very satisfactory from Ireland's point of view and takes account of our interests. However, we have to await developments in the Intergovernmental Conference.

Perhaps the Fine Gael Party is asking us to endorse its recent policy document. It should be complimented on producing a thoughtful policy document, although I do not agree with it. The case is not made, it goes beyond what is necessary and, in some respects, is based on false premises, some of which are laid out in the motion before the House.

There are frequent calls for a debate on neutrality, although there are few subjects which have been more thoroughly debated over the past 20 years, not only in relation to European treaties but also events such as Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. The subject has been very thoroughly discussed. I am not a fundamentalist on neutrality. I do not favour the type of position which would isolate us from all our friends on both sides of the Atlantic and make it impossible for us to be full members of the European Union.

There is agreement by all parties in the House that, in this area as in others, we wish to play our full part. However, as I see it, the difference is that we, on this side, wish to build on a tradition of neutrality, of which we are proud. I sometimes get the impression from some Fine Gael speakers that they are not particularly proud of that tradition. Senator Bannon spoke of the demise of neutrality and alignment in a mutual defence pact. I am not at all sure that any full blown proposal for a mutual defence pact will materialise – it has been predicted for 20 years and has not happened. There are other reasons, apart from our concerns, for that being the case. The analysis is wrong in suggesting there is more pressure to achieve a mutual defence position, for which only certain member states are pressing.

The notion that we are the least protected citizens in the European Union is, frankly, rubbish. Some of our protection is based on geography while some comes from our politics and diplomacy. I do not accept that we are more vulnerable to attack – even terrorist attack – than most other European states. If anything, the opposite is true. I approve of what the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, has been doing in the field of defence, using assets to update equipment for peacekeeping and so on. I do not accept that we need to increase our defence expenditure, in absolute terms, when we have so many other pressing needs.

As the Minister of State has pointed out, we have been involved in shaping EU policy for over 20 years, as we continue to do today. The emphasis on Petersberg tasks, humanitarian tasks, peacekeeping, a limited element of peace enforcement and use of all the instruments of policy – economic and so on – is very much in line with our philosophy, of which we should be proud. The notion that we are, somehow, isolated and that others want to move in a different direction completely misreads the picture. On a political point, any party with which Fine Gael would wish to be in government does not seem to take this line. Nevertheless, I welcome this debate.

We need to take what is positive in this country's tradition and build on it. There is no absolute neutrality. However, it does not follow that if we are not perfectly neutral, we are not neutral at all – that is a fallacy. Neutrality is not necessarily the same in any two countries. Swiss neutrality is not the same as Finnish neutrality which, in turn, differs from Swedish neutrality, either historically or in present day terms. There are different forms. One could become too legalistic about this. We should be proud of our neutral tradition, bring it into the debate on European common security and foreign policy and help in shaping values in that regard. We should not decide, at this point, that we have to abandon that tradition and just get into bed, uncritically, with other countries which have very different traditions.

I thank Senator Mansergh for sharing time with me. I compliment Fine Gael on tabling this motion for debate, which I regard as politically very courageous on its part. Some might regard it as foolhardy but that is not how I see it. This is an issue which, in the long term, will ultimately impact on the lives of our people, particularly the younger generation. I would greatly prefer to have it discussed in the Houses of the Oireachtas than in some small, unrepresentative, unelected, undemocratic, clandestine world body, where the big boys meet in secret and play with our lives, without any mandate from the people of the countries whose lives are at stake. I need not go any further in that regard – people are aware that such bodies exist. It greatly worries me that they are able to exist without any censure from people in general or even the media, although in recent times a censure is beginning to develop with regard to such assemblies and gatherings. Accordingly, this debate should be particularly open.

It might appear a rather hackneyed dictum to speak in terms of the pen and the sword. In fairness, equating the sword with military capacity, our sword is very short and not very sharp. Equating the pen with moral influence, we are very strong. In that context, we can make a far greater impact.

I recall the Falklands war and the independent stance taken by the then Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey. Given the clamour that ensued for 48 hours afterwards, we expected the world to fall on top of Ireland and that we would be severely punished for not taking a stand with Britain and its allies in the Falklands war. I regarded the stand taken by the then Taoiseach – I said it at the time in my oration at the Liam Lynch commemoration in Fermoy – as one of the greatest indications of our sovereignty for more than 50 years.

I know what people will say if we discuss this issue because I recall canvassing during the Nice referendum and talking to young mothers and members of Fianna Fáil and other parties who said that they did not want to commit the lives of their sons and daughters if we decided to give up our neutrality. Nothing has changed since then. The Iraqi war, which was illegal, immoral and unjust, has created an atmosphere that will not enable neutrality to be diluted. It is an insult to the intelligence of the people to suggest that they do not know what is neutrality. They know in their hearts what is neutrality. It is not being anti-British or selfish; it is a stand which represents independence and sovereignty and which is based on justice. While I welcome the debate, I hope our neutrality will not be sidelined, either through confusing the issue or otherwise.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this enlightening debate. It seems that neutrality is back on track again. Our neutrality was shown to be non-existent during the recent Iraqi war. That is probably the reason we are here tonight contributing to this debate.

Deputy Gay Mitchell must be complimented on his forward thinking. He took a political risk. I recall my first radio interview following my election to the House. I was asked by the allegedly non-biased radio interviewer what it was like to be elected to the Seanad as a member of an unpopular party. I said that 500,000 people had voted for the party in the general election and that it took political risks and unpopular decisions. Perhaps that is to the party's detriment, but times are changing. Fine Gael looks ahead because it is proactive. It does not run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. It took serious decisions in the past which cost people their political careers. I do not make any apologies for this document. It shows forward thinking and illustrates the fact that the party is not afraid to take political risks. Deputy Gay Mitchell must be commended in that regard.

We, as a party, do not take an à la carte view of the European Union and its decisions. We have been instrumental in terms of our input at European level on many issues, including security, justice, humanitarian, economic and social issues. We have always been proactive. As a member of the Christian Democrats in Europe, we have been extremely forward in our thinking. However, the landscape has changed in Europe and throughout the world.

We are often told by educationalists that we should act locally and think globally. Neutrality served its purpose when we were a self-determined nation and we looked inward. However, we now look outward because we are part of Europe. We must forget the scaremongering and the spin. The spin which will be put on this argument by those on the left is that Fine Gael wants a federal state and that we are sending our sons and daughters to be killed in the trenches. However, we are not interested in spin. This is about a constitutional treaty, not about forming a federal Europe. We are talking about mutual, not military, alliances to safeguard our citizens and to help the countries or citizens which are in danger from dictators.

This debate is about the concerns of EU citizens and the building and maintenance of trust. Enhanced co-operation is the core objective in terms of protecting EU citizens. This debate allows us to put forward our views and our policies. However, we have not written in stone what might happen four or five years from now. Neutrality does not exist and it did not exist during the US involvement in the Iraqi war. We talked about looking for a UN mandate, not a mandate from the US. However, that did not happen. We allowed Shannon to be used as a stopover, therefore, we are not neutral. The UN, which is the watchdog of military alliances, is involved in this policy.

I welcome the Minister of State's comments which suggested he was looking at the bigger picture. There will always be disagreements over policies put forward by parties because people will not be happy with certain aspects of them. I congratulate the Minister of State for acknowledging the role played by Deputy John Bruton and Deputy Gay Mitchell in European affairs. This debate is not over.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this important debate. I am proud that Fine Gael has led this debate, which is long overdue.

When I was young, I believed in Ireland's neutrality. I believed that my father, my brother, my boyfriend and subsequently my sons should not go to war because I did not want to lose them. I was selfish about it, as were many other women. We are protective of our sons, husbands and brothers. However, I saw what happened in the Balkans when mothers and fathers lost their sons and daughters in acts of genocide. We sat on our comfortable seats and said it was terrible. We wanted to know why someone would not try to sort it out. I watched as we allowed American aeroplanes loaded with troops and arms to land at Shannon on their way to an illegal war in Iraq, which was started because that country apparently had weapons of mass destruction. We know now and knew then that it did not have weapons of mass destruction. They were never found, yet the Government allowed the war to happen.

Where is our neutrality? What is it? It is not what I thought it was. I have grown up. I am not prepared to stand by and watch others suffer any longer. I do not want to watch my neighbours suffer while I sit in my comfortable chair and hope somebody will do something about it. That is totally selfish.

Ireland has grown up. It can stand up with the best of them in Europe but we cannot stand side by side with our neighbours when they are in trouble. There is a move in Europe to do something about this and we must be part of it. We cannot step aside and give all sorts of reasons for being neutral. We have heard several Members on the other side of the House, not just today, saying we are not neutral. It is a black and white issue. A country is either neutral or it is not.

It is not like that.

It is black and white. It is like asking somebody whether he or she is a virgin. One must be one or the other. That is the way neutrality must be dealt with. This country must wake up and deal with it. I believe in the principles of the United Nations – that must be foremost. We must continue doing as we are in terms of peacekeeping and humanitarian work and in the Petersberg tasks. It is good, however, to open up a debate such as this. The people need to discuss this. They need to hear the debate and be involved in it and we must hear their decision. It is time Ireland took its place in Europe, stood by its neighbours and stopped sitting on the fence.

I suppose it would be wrong for youngish bachelors in the House to respond to Senator Terry's question about virginity.

I thank everybody who has contributed to this very interesting debate. On all sides of the House there was an acknowledgement that in bringing forward this motion for discussion the Fine Gael Party was being courageous. More importantly, however, we are doing a public service because the issue of Irish neutrality in the context of a changing Europe needs to be addressed in a serious fashion. If we were here until Christmas or Christmas twelve months, we would not reach a conclusion on the question of what is Irish neutrality. We heard a dictionary definition from Senator Minihan and were then offered variations of that theme. Senator Mansergh has made the point that our neutrality is something that can be defined and of which we should be justifiably proud. Senator O'Toole asked what Irish neutrality was and whether it existed – unfortunately, I cannot answer that question to any substantive degree.

I must remark on the very positive contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and the Government's amendment, which acknowledges the possibility of "a decision to move at some stage in the future to a common defence", which "would still continue to be for decision by the European Council acting unanimously". These are the politics of the situation. What it means is that we will have to face this issue in the not too distant future. With this motion, the Fine Gael Party is trying to force the pace and put the matter under discussion. By asking hard questions within the House we are trying to persuade the public to answer them. Can we be a full part of the new, expanded European Union if we are not prepared to play a role in the defence of that Union, its politics and ethos? That is the fundamental issue to be addressed.

We have discussed tonight and on many previous occasions our superb historical record in relation to peacekeeping and what somebody else described as a limited degree of peace enforcement. That stands as something of which we can be proud. However, we must recognise that the world is changing. We must recognise the need for Europe to speak as strongly as possible with one voice. Some spoke about the debates we had on Iraq. One of the big issues during that debate was that Europe was not standing together and could not speak with one voice. Until there is the possibility of a common European defence policy, we will not be speaking with that one voice. We must play a key role in the creation of that policy.

Our neutrality has perhaps served us well during the years, whether it was political or military neutrality. However, we are now in a different era. This is a mature, confident, outgoing country which does not play second fiddle to anybody. We should not be prisoners of our past. In deciding to move ahead and take a different road we are not in any way condemning those who have gone before us. It is simply a recognition that things have changed, that the European Union is expanding, that we want to play a full, key role in the new Europe and that participating in the area of defence is an integral part of being a full team player. The people will respond to this challenge if we show the necessary political leadership.

If the man from Mars mentioned earlier came to the House tonight and read our motion and the Government's amendment to it, he would have to read them again before he would see any substantial difference between the two. There is recognition across a broad political spectrum – Senator McDowell's contribution shows that it is not a simple right-left divide – that in changing times, changing politics and a changing world, we must look at things anew. The Fine Gael motion is promoting and encouraging debate and asking all of us to face the new reality and recognise that new policies will have to be designed for the security and defence of a new Europe. Ireland cannot sit on the sidelines. It must be a full part of the team.

Amendment put.

Bohan, Eddie.Brady, Cyprian.Brennan, Michael.Callanan, Peter.Cox, Margaret.Dardis, John.Dooley, Timmy.Fitzgerald, Liam.Glynn, Camillus.Hanafin, John.

Kenneally, Brendan.Kett, Tony.Kitt, Michael P.Leyden, Terry.Lydon, Donal J.MacSharry, Marc.Mansergh, Martin.Minihan, John.Morrissey, Tom. Moylan, Pat.


O'Brien, Francis.O'Rourke, Mary.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Scanlon, Eamon.

Walsh, Kate.White, Mary M.Wilson, Diarmuid.


Bannon, James.Bradford, Paul.Browne, Fergal.Burke, Paddy.Burke, Ulick.Coonan, Noel.Cummins, Maurice.

Feighan, Frank.Finucane, Michael.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.McHugh, Joe.Terry, Sheila.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators Bradford and Ulick Burke.
Amendment declared carried.

I wish my abstention to be recorded, a Chathaoirligh, because there was a political act that was quite deliberate. In the finest interests of neutrality—

We know the Senator did not vote.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.