Commencement Matters

Sports Capital Programme

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, who will address Senator Ó Domhnaill's matter.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo. It relates to the sports capital allocations and other governmental allocations from the Minister of State's Department, specifically the matter of a bond being held against the allocation of funding made to sporting and other organisations by Fáilte Ireland. I have two examples to share. I raise the first on behalf of Councillor Sorcha O'Neill of Kildare County Council who is in the Public Gallery this afternoon.

In 2002, a capital allocation of €640,000 was given by Fáilte Ireland to Kill International Equestrian Centre, one of the conditions of the funding being that a charge in favour of the State body be placed on the property for a period of at least ten years. That ten-year period expired in 2013 and a release was executed. Shortly thereafter, miraculously, the facility, having benefitted from this significant State investment, was sold at a huge profit. That is not right and should not be allowed to happen. The second instance involves a project in my own county of Donegal where Fáilte Ireland provided funding in the region of €1 million to a development that was sold earlier this year, inside the ten-year bond execution.

I hope the Minister of State will agree to review the existing provisions. Councillor O'Neill informs me that in the case of the lotto grants given by Rehab, the bond condition extends to any point in the future rather than expiring after ten years. The sports capital grant programme and, by extension, the Fáilte Ireland grant programme, was introduced by the then Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Dr. James McDaid, in 1998. It has been hugely successful but, 19 years later, there is a need to review this particular clause. Sporting, charitable organisations and community organisations that draw down funding under the scheme may subsequently find themselves in financial difficulty and having to sell their projects on. The problem, however, is that as a result of the State investment, those projects are worth more money.

In conjunction with reviewing the bond clause, consideration might also be given to providing additional departmental assistance to sporting and community organisations that find themselves in difficulty to find more efficient and effective ways of managing their operations.

Will the Minister of State indicate whether any asset tracking is done by his Department in respect of the number of projects that have received State funding and were subsequently sold for private gain? Is any type of score card kept showing those figures?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill as ucht an t-ábhar seo a ardú inniu. I am currently up to my eyes in sports capital applications and, all going well, will be in a position to begin allocating funding by the end of the week. This year we had 2,320 applications from across the country, the largest number we have ever had, with a total value of €155 million. Initially we had a budget of only €30 million, which would have made it extremely difficult to meet the demand. Fortunately, the Government was able to increase that allocation in the budget to €60 million in total.

That is an additional €30 million. We expect that to break down into €56 million for local projects and €4 million for the regional non-local projects. It is the main vehicle for the Government to assist grassroots sport with capital projects. We also, of course, fund Sport Ireland to the tune of almost €50 million per annum. The sports capital programme is very important. Since the Senator's fellow county man introduced the scheme in 1998, some €911 million has been distributed to clubs throughout the country, and this current round will bring the amount to almost €1 billion. It is a very impressive amount of money.

In answer to the Senator's final question, I am not currently aware of the number of organisations that have been subsequently sold into private hands, but I will seek them out. It is something I would be interested in knowing about, and of course I would share the Senator's concern about protecting the public finances and public money.

Technically, in order to secure the State's investment in facilities aided by sports capital programme grants, a deed of covenant and charge is put in place once accumulated grants to a particular club or organisation exceed a certain threshold. Currently the threshold is set at €300,000. This creates a charge over the property in favour of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport up to the value of the total sports capital programme grants allocated to the club or organisation. The charge comes into effect in the event that the property ceases to be used for the purposes for which the grant was awarded within 15 years. This period can be extended in cases of larger grants. That is something that I think is positive, however the threshold is perhaps something we could look at. The figure of €300,000 is a lot of money, particularly in the current context, where €150,000 is the maximum amount available to any applicant in the local scheme. That is worthy of review, and I will seek such a review to see if there can be a change. However, I do note that the 15-year period is five years longer than the period that is in place with Fáilte Ireland.

Regarding Fáilte Ireland grants, my role and the role of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, does not particularly involve the administration of grants, but rather the setting of general policy. We are not directly involved in setting the terms and conditions for grants allocated by Fáilte Ireland. However, I can confirm that like the charge required under the sports capital programme, Fáilte Ireland requires a legal agreement incorporating a charge over a portion of grant-aided lands. This period is normally ten years, as it was in the case of the example cited by the Senator just now.

For larger capital grants, it is Fáilte Ireland's policy to acquire a charge on the grant-aided property, and Fáilte Ireland's permission is required for any sale while the charge is in place. During the ten-year period of the grant, Fáilte Ireland would only consider agreeing to a sale where the prospective purchaser consents to adhere to the terms and conditions of the original letter of offer for the remaining term of the grant period. The prospective purchaser would also be required to provide appropriate security to Fáilte Ireland during that period. In the event of a breach of the original agreement, Fáilte Ireland would be entitled to seek repayment of the grant.

In the case referred to by the Senator, I am informed by Fáilte Ireland that a deed of discharge was executed by Fáilte Ireland in August 2013 as the grant conditions had been fully complied with. Again, however, I would be very open to reviewing the period of time required, and to ensuring that the thresholds are such that public moneys are protected to the optimum level.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. It is something that is particularly pertinent at the moment, given where we are in the sports capital programme cycle, and it is something that I will certainly pursue further.

Very briefly, Senator.

I want to thank the Minister of State, because he has been very constructive, engaging and open this afternoon. That is the sign of a good Minister of State, and I wish him well in the future.

I agree that there seems to be an anomaly within the Department whereby a 15-year period is specified in the Minister of State's own sports capital programme, but a ten-year period is specified for Fáilte Ireland grants. Something certainly needs to be done immediately to bring them both into line and have 15-year periods for both. I agree that the €300,000 threshold is too high. I will come back to the Minister of State with some suggestions of things he could look at, or have his officials look at, in this area. I would be very happy to work with him in any capacity to progress this issue, because it is an issue which is causing concern in various communities around the country. Go raibh maith agat.

Go raibh maith agat. Would the Minister of State like to make another comment?

I thank the Senator. I would also be open to looking at that 15-year period to see if it does enough to protect public moneys.

The Senator asked about current funding for sports organisations and, in an ideal world, I would love to have a sports current funding round, in which a little bit of finance would be made available to help clubs pay their bills. Perhaps it is something we could do in the future. We are looking at sports policy at the moment and it would cost a lot of money but it is something I would like to see. At the moment, too many volunteers are having to do far too much outside sport to help keep clubs open. We cannot question the benefit of having sports clubs throughout the country.

Disablement Benefit

I wish to raise the need for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to outline the number of former miners who worked in Arigna and in other mines who have availed of disablement benefit due to work-related illness; and whether there are enough resources currently available to expedite existing applications from former miners seeking disablement benefit.

I am glad the Minister could come to the House to take this very important Commencement matter. Disablement benefit has been a very welcome development for many ex-miners. I live a short distance from Arigna, which is in the vicinity of north Roscommon, south Sligo and Leitrim, and many men worked hard in the mines all their lives to provide for their families. Unfortunately, many suffered severe illnesses due to working long hours in the mines. As one can imagine, they had to work in very difficult conditions, resulting in health consequences.

In 2010 the national coal miners' group secured agreement that the Department of Health would extend disablement benefit to former miners suffering from the prescribed occupational disease pneumoconiosis, known as "black lung disease". Since this development seven years ago, which I strongly lobbied for on behalf of miners, hundreds of miners across the country have applied for disablement benefit, not just those who had been employed at Arigna but also those who had worked at Castlecomer, Ballingarry and Rossmore mines.

I am glad to say that, over the last number of years, our office has assisted many ex-miners in their applications for disablement. Unfortunately, there have been some delays in processing applications and more staffing resources were deployed when I highlighted the problem. To date, I understand that more than €1 million has been paid in disablement benefit to former miners nationally, with approximately half of that paid to former Arigna miners. The Minister might confirm these figures and outline how many applicants have availed of disablement benefit to date. Is she satisfied that there are enough resources to expedite the existing applications from former miners seeking disablement benefit? I hope no applicant is currently facing unnecessary delays.

Recognition of the plight of these miners would not have happened without the sterling work of many people, including former Roscommon county councillor Charlie Hopkins and Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, who was the Minister at the time and who became a strong advocate of the national coal miners' group. The miners were hard-working men and many of them suffered greatly. I want to recognise their vital contribution to their local and national economy. The coal mining industry sustained the community of Arigna and all the area, as well as many others down through the centuries. I am heartened that many miners affected by ill-health have availed of disablement benefit as a result.

I thank the Senator for raising this topic, which I know is particularly important to people in his neck of the woods. Any person, including a former miner, who has suffered an occupational injury or prescribed occupational disease, is entitled to apply for disablement benefit under the occupational injuries scheme, which was introduced with effect from 1 May 1967. In order to qualify for a payment under this scheme, applicants must show that they were insurably employed at the time they sustained the injury or disease and that it was caused by their occupation at the time. If these conditions are satisfied, applicants are examined to determine whether and to what extent they have suffered a loss of physical or mental faculty as a result of that injury or disease.

In 2010, the then Minister met with miners’ representatives and it was agreed at that meeting that former miners who suffered from the prescribed occupational disease pneumoconiosis, which is particularly associated with mining, would have their applications expedited.

Applications for disablement benefit should normally be made within three months of the entitlement commencing. However, many of the applications from former miners concern injuries that occurred up to 50 years ago. Given the passage of time and the lack of witnesses in some instances, investigations into the circumstances surrounding these cases can be difficult and time-consuming, with the result that applications typically are taking much longer to process than we would expect. Where application forms are not completed in full or where medical or other evidence has been requested from applicants, it can take some time to process applications. However, I assure the Senator that the Department is committed to ensuring that all benefit claims are processed as expeditiously as possible and that the scheme is continuously monitored and reviewed to ensure that customers are responded to as quickly as possible.

To respond to the Deputy's final request, I advise him that, to date, 565 applications have been received from former coal miners. A total of 209 claims have been awarded, 66 are pending and 290 were refused. Of those 565 applications, 296 were from former Arigna coal miners. A total of 123 of their claims have been awarded, 36 are pending and 137 have been refused.

I thank the Minister for her reply. She will be aware that this was a difficult situation. Compensation was an issue and we were able to get around it. Since 2010, this issue has brought all the coal miners from around the country together. It provided a huge lesson and has been a major eye-opener. Unfortunately, many of the miners have died . The 123 former Arigna coal miners and others throughout the country are very thankful that in some way their contributions were recognised. The amount of money involved is small. I hope the Department will work twice as hard to expedite the applications of those who have claims pending. I thank the Minister for her input. The State forgot about the plight of those involved. However, we were able to find a mechanism by means of which they could be recognised and have their issues resolved.

We will redouble our efforts to ensure that the outstanding and pending claims are expedited as quickly as possible. I commend Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív and other politicians at the time on the work they did in respect of this matter. These men were working in particular conditions - these were not unique and others were working in similar conditions - and we did not quite recognise the damage that was being done to their health. The benefit in question only goes a small way towards recognising the damage that was done to these men. I wish them a happy and a healthy retirement.

Hospital Services

I welcome the Minister of State. In essence, I am asking that the Minister for Health make a statement on the plans by the Dublin Midlands hospital group to downgrade the services at Portlaoise hospital and to publish the five-year plan for the hospital. There is great uncertainty regarding this plan. From today's edition of the Leinster Express, we understand that public meetings are to be held in respect of this issue. These are being organised by the Portlaoise Hospital Action Committee, which has become an enormous force in the midlands. No politician, either locally or nationally, would want to underestimate or undermine a group that wants to articulate the need to retain a hospital of this significance and its importance to the local community. The views of that community need to be taken on board.

I am open to hearing what the Minister of State has to say on this matter. The action committee states that the new model of clinical service delivery for the Dublin Midlands hospital group proposes the removal of the emergency services, maternity services, paediatric services and other services from Portlaoise, which would lead to the hospital being downgraded to category 2. Clearly, the members of the committee have been in contact with the Minister and all their local councillors, Deputies and Senators.

I have received correspondence from people in Portarlington, Mountmellick, Abbeyleix, Mountrath, Graiguecullen and Killeshin on this issue. It is also interesting that the Laois GPs have come together as a formidable group and called for a resolution of this matter.

The Minister of State knows the background to this issue. It is important to note that, over the next few nights, there will be major public gatherings in each of these areas, starting at Mountmellick, Portarlington and Mountrath. It is important the Department comes to the fore in engaging and communicating, as should the authorities in Portlaoise hospital. The people are clearly stating they have not been given a satisfactory reason. It is important communication is ongoing. There is significance in terms of Dublin hospitals and Tullamore, which is a magnificent hospital. Will the Minister of State clarify the Government's intentions for Portlaoise hospital?

I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this important matter. I know he has a strong and passionate interest in health service issues, as well as in the area covered by my portfolio, namely, disabilities.

The Minister for Health has stated previously the most important issue in the consideration of services at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, is that patient safety and outcomes must come first. The Minister for Health is committed to securing and further developing the role of the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, as a constituent hospital in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group.

Reports on Portlaoise hospital in recent years have pointed to the need for restructuring of some services to ensure that patients are treated in the most appropriate setting by specialist staff who can safely meet their needs. Since 2014, the focus has been on supporting the hospital to develop and enhance management capability, implementing changes required to address clinical service deficiencies, and incorporating the hospital into the governance structures in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group. Significant work has been undertaken to strengthen and stabilise current arrangements for services at the hospital to ensure services provided which are not sustainable are discontinued, while those that are sustainable are safety assured and adequately resourced.

The HSE has confirmed the hospital's funding has increased by 28% relative to the 2012 budget and staffing levels have risen by 29% from the 2014 base. Funding of €300,000 has also been provided this year to facilitate the opening of the new medical assessment unit. In addition, governance and management arrangements in Portlaoise hospital have been strengthened, additional clinical staff have been appointed and staff training, hospital culture and communications have improved.

The Dublin Midlands Hospital Group has been working for some time on a draft plan for a new model of clinical service delivery at Portlaoise hospital. A draft plan was submitted to the Department of Health in December 2016. It was reviewed in detail and was the subject of detailed engagement between Department officials and the HSE. Significant additional work was undertaken by the HSE on foot of this engagement resulting in a revised draft plan submitted to the Department in September 2017.

Patient and public requirements are paramount and have underpinned the Department's consideration of the draft plan. The report is currently under detailed consideration in the Department of Health. Once there is an agreed position on the draft plan, it is intended there will be further engagement with all interested parties to ensure the needs of patients, staff, as well as the local and wider community, are addressed. Any future changes to services at Portlaoise hospital would have to take account of existing patient flows and demands in other hospitals, as well as the need to develop particular services at Portlaoise in the context of the overall service configuration in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group.

I thank the Minister of State. I am cognisant that there was a draft plan in 2016. Consultation clearly took place. The draft plan was amended and the HSE came back in 2017 with a further version. That is an indication of ongoing consultation and engagement, which I welcome. It is important to have this plan published soon in line with what the Minister of State has delivered today. It is also important that people know what is happening. Tomorrow night and the night after, hundreds of people will attend public meetings in Portarlington, Mountmellick, Abbeyleix, Mountrath, Graiguecullen and Killeshin. It would be helpful for all involved to have more information and a greater understanding of the plan. There is steam behind this campaign. People will not let up. They are committed to saving their hospital. It is important that details of the plan and the new model be published as soon as possible. I thank the Minister of State for attending.

I will bring the Senator's concerns and message directly back to the Minister, Deputy Harris. No actual agreement has been reached on the plan. People are entitled to know and there will be major engagement. The most important people involved in this are the patients, medical staff and the local and wider community in the Portlaoise area. It is important that we ensure the services we deliver for people are top-class and that they are delivered as near as possible to the local community.

European Security Strategy

I welcome the Minister of State. Will he assure us that Ireland will not sign up to permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, on security and defence at a European level? What are his views on the concerns raised regarding Ireland's neutrality, our triple-lock system and our crucial role in peace-building and arms control if we did sign up? I also ask him to address the position regarding the European defence fund.

I was glad Ireland was not among the countries that recently sent a notification to Federica Mogherini in respect of a new permanent structured co-operation on security and defence but I am concerned that we have seen mixed signals from the Government regarding that agreement. The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee has, for, example, spoken about the hope that Ireland might be able to participate in a way that respects our long-standing practice and policy of neutrality. Our long-standing policy of neutrality is not only something we must respect, it is also something that has earned us respect internationally. Ireland's multilateralism is grounded in our neutrality. It has underpinned Ireland's reputation as an honest broker, its effectiveness within the UN system and its outstanding contribution to peace-building, from the work of a former Minister, the late Frank Aiken, who first drove the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, to the anti-nuclear treaty signed by the current Minister, Deputy Coveney, in September. Permanent structured co-operation on security and defence with nations that are not neutral and have different mandates, interests and military histories is not compatible with our neutrality.

While there may be scope within the EU treaties for such co-operation, those treaties are not our only frame of consideration. We must also consider our State, our legislation and the frame of the UN. It is notable that while the specific needs of NATO members are given some discussion in the PESCO notification, there is no similar discussion of United Nations mandates or missions. The UN, as far as I can see, is only mentioned once. Peacekeeping and peace-building are not mentioned at all in the lengthy notification about PESCO and co-operation on security and defence. This must be a concern to a country which has prided itself on its role in peace-building and peacekeeping and which has always placed that role at the centre of it defence policies.

The answer to the global challenges we face is not, regardless of what may be posited by President Macron, another army.

Areas such as human trafficking and cybercrime, while important, are all areas where co-operation can be facilitated through our civilian policing systems. They are not a justification for PESCO and its attendant military commitments. Signing PESCO would tie Ireland into a relentless long-term spiral of increasing military spending, which would not necessarily go towards much-needed improvements in the terms and conditions of service members, as PESCO also sets out criteria for how that money should be spent.

Does the Minister of State agree that Ireland cannot be part of the proposed European defence fund as multi-country procurement would mean we were accessories to the purchase of weapons which might be used outside a UN mandate? Irish companies that wish to compete for military contracts are free to do so under EU procurement law regardless of whether Ireland signs up to PESCO or not. It is crucial that our national defence policies in no way appear to be involved with or influenced by the commercial interests of private companies. Ireland's historic freedom from military industrial interest has contributed, along with our neutrality, to our very effective and necessary work on disarmament. I had the opportunity to be in Croke Park where the global ban on cluster munitions was negotiated. These are the medals of honour for Ireland and the things we must be proud of.

Mine is not a romantic view. I am very aware of the realities of security and the realities of war and death that shadow any conversation about military co-operation. In any talk of efficiencies, procurement and exercises, we are in the end talking about the circumstances under which Ireland might contribute directly or indirectly to the loss of life. The bar must be high. The triple-lock is not a technicality but an essential safeguard. Rather than being a follower on a slippery slope towards ever deeper militarisation and a possible European army, Ireland must take the chance to be a leader. We can and should act as beacons for a renewed focus on peace-building and constructive diplomacy within Europe and the wider world at a time when Europe has deeply neglected peace-building within and between nations. I ask the Minister of State to make it clear to our European friends that Ireland's neutrality is an asset to Europe. It is no coincidence it was an Irish man, Eamon Gilmore, who was able to so effectively act as EU envoy in the peace negotiations in Columbia.

The Senator has been speaking for five and a half minutes.

Normally the Senator would only be allowed four minutes.

I ask the Minister of State to respond.

I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad on this important issue of permanent structured co-operation, commonly referred to as PESCO. I am happy to inform the House that the Government earlier today approved the formal notification by Ireland of our intention to participate, subject to Dáil Éireann's approval in the near future. PESCO provides a treaty based mechanism whereby EU member states can participate jointly in capability development projects. These capabilities can then be made available for common security and defence policy, CSDP, crisis management and peacekeeping operations. Participation in any particular PESCO project is entirely voluntary. As such, Ireland, along with all other member States, is free to decide for itself whether to opt in to any project on a case-by-case basis. Ireland has been centrally involved in the development of the CSDP from the outset and has been one of the leading contributors to CSDP operations.

Ireland supports the role the EU can play in support of international peace and security with the UN at its core. PESCO is a further initiative in strengthening the Union’s capacity in this regard. It should be noted that all CSDP operations to date have either been mandated or supported by the UN and endorsed in UN Security Council resolutions. This commitment to the UN is restated in the PESCO notification which recalls "the commitment of the European Union and its Member States to the promotion of a rules-based global order with multilateralism as its key principle and the United Nations at its core".

Last September, at the informal meeting of Defence Ministers in Tallinn, I met the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Mr. Jean-Pierre Lacroix. During that meeting he outlined his support for PESCO as potentially providing additional capabilities for UN-mandated operations. PESCO is also a means of enhancing interoperability and, working with EU partners, ensuring that our troops are equipped with the latest and best equipment and training.

A key challenge to the European Union's capacity to mount crisis-management operations has been a lack of essential capabilities and the political will from member states to commit the required capabilities for CSDP operations. PESCO has been designed to address this challenge, enhancing the political commitment of member states to both develop and deliver capabilities in support of CSDP.

Participation in PESCO is provided for in Articles 42.6 and 46, and Protocol 10 of the Treaty on European Union. Participation in PESCO has no implications for Ireland's policy of military neutrality, for the triple-lock or the roles we play in peacekeeping, peace building and arms control. The participation criteria expressly stipulate that PESCO will be implemented in full compliance with the Treaty on European Union and its protocols, respecting the constitutional provisions of the member states. Three other neutral EU member states, Finland, Sweden and Austria, have already committed to join PESCO.

PESCO was comprehensively debated in the context of the Lisbon treaty which was approved by the Irish people when they voted on the treaty in October 2009. The Senator may nod her head but if she goes back, looks at the treaty and listens to the debates,-----

The potential for PESCO is part of the treaty, but it is not a sanctioning of PESCO. That is a separate recommendation.

Sorry, Minister-----

----- she will see that PESCO was comprehensively debated on numerous occasions.

The Minister of State is going over time.

PESCO was specifically referenced in the Lisbon treaty protocol to address the concerns of the Irish people and in Ireland's national declaration. The legislation setting down Ireland's approval process for PESCO was published in advance of that vote and enacted in November 2009.

The Senator also makes reference to the European defence fund. The purpose of the fund is to promote research and innovation and contribute to the strengthening of the European defence technology and industrial base so that it can deliver essential capabilities required for CSDP operations.

The defence fund is divided into two strands or windows which are complementary. The research window involves Commission-funded direct grants for research in innovative defence products and technologies. This is already under way for the period from 2017 to 2020 in the form of the preparatory action on defence research.

Under the capability window, participating member states will pool their financial resources to jointly develop and acquire key defence capabilities. The EU will offer co-financing from the EU budget on the development phase of such projects. Eligible projects developed through the PESCO framework could benefit from additional financing under the European defence fund.

The voluntary nature of participation in the European defence fund is very much a feature of this initiative and fully acknowledges and reaffirms that defence remains a member state prerogative. Ireland would be in full control regarding what type of project it wanted to participate in and with whom. The Senator can be assured that the proposals under the fund fully respect the EU treaties and the Lisbon treaty protocols and pose no challenge to Ireland's traditional policy on military neutrality.

It is a very sad day. In times of far more pressure during the 1940s members of the Minister of State's party and other parties met to discuss the role Ireland would play. I was looking back on those debates from the 1940s, in which one Member said, "This country belongs not to the Government or to any political party: it is the common heritage of Irish men and women of all classes." These comments were made under great international pressure.

The decision the Minister of State is proposing to the Oireachtas will damage not only Ireland's heritage and record, but also our capacity in the future. We have thrown away the opportunity to lead out a new approach that focuses on peace building. The Minister of State invoked the UN and quoted what I note is the only reference to the UN in the PESCO document. However, he has not said whether he agrees that Europe needs to focus on peace building rather than simply security or told us what role he sees for Ireland in championing a peace building approach.

Finally, regarding the European defence fund, how, if we have multi-country procurement, can we be assured that the weapons we co-purchase will only be used in accord with the triple-lock? Perhaps the Minister of State has this strategy in place and can reassure us in that respect. Again, I hope we will have a debate in the Seanad as well as debates in the Dáil on this issue. An opportunity has been missed. Europe is moving in the wrong direction in respect of militarisation and Ireland has joined in that flotilla rather than providing a new, much-needed focus on peace building and diplomacy, which will save our Union and contribute to global peace in very dangerous and hawkish times.

I reiterate to the Senator that this does not place in question Ireland's traditional policy on neutrality. We must bring it to Cabinet, which I did this morning, and I am delighted to say it was passed by Cabinet. In the very near future I will proceed to bring it to the Dáil for full ratification under the triple-lock mechanism.

The Senator mentioned the 1940s. We face a very different Ireland from that of the 1940s, but I very much respect her views, the views of the people in the 1940s and the views of every other Minister and Member of both the Upper and Lower Houses on defence policy. The Senator mentioned peacekeeping. PESCO was welcomed by the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping at the UN peacekeeping conference in Vancouver last week, which I attended on behalf of the Irish Government. There are a huge number of positives in PESCO for peacekeepers, including for members of our own Irish Defence Forces. One of the most important things is to work with like-minded countries, which we do in peacekeeping and common security and defence policy, CSDP, operations. It is very important we are at the core of PESCO yet reflect our own policy on neutrality. This is very much reflected in the final PESCO document where it states categorically its recognition of "the specific character of the security and defence policy of all Member States". This reflects our own policy on neutrality. There is also acknowledgement of the constitutional provisions of member states.

These are two very important lines in the PESCO document, and I directed my officials to ensure our neutrality standing was very much reflected in the final documentation.