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.