We will now move on to statements on Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, to the House and invite him to make his opening statement.
Permanent Structured Cooperation: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to once again address the Seanad on the important issue of Permanent Structured Cooperation, commonly referred to as PESCO. At the outset it is important to note that debate on this topic has to be seen in the context of the current international security environment and the ever-changing, complex and intertwined nature of threats to citizens, individual states and to international peace and security. There is no doubt but that the European Union and its immediate and wider neighbourhood faces new and ever more complex challenges. These threats to international peace and security are multidimensional and transnational in nature. No country or member state acting on its own can address such challenges; it requires collective co-operation.
The EU global strategy on foreign and security policy, published in June 2016, sets the context and provides a guiding framework for the Union’s external action under the common foreign and security policy. The strategy identifies key security challenges facing the European Union within its neighbourhood and beyond and commits to a global order based on international law with the United Nations at its centre. Within the provisions of the Union’s common security and defence policy, CSDP, the strategy commits the Union to taking greater responsibility for its own security and to enhancing its capacity to contribute to international peace and security in accordance with the charter of the United Nations.
In accordance with the charter of the United Nations, actions to give effect to strategy are now being progressed through the EU's comprehensive approach to crisis management. This brings together all the instruments available to the Union, including civilian crisis management, diplomatic, political, financial, developmental and trade instruments, including in the areas of security, defence and the rule of law.
Ireland has been centrally involved in the development of common security and defence policy, 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. 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.
As the Members of this House are aware, Permanent Structured Cooperation, 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 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.
Participation in PESCO, which is provided for in the Treaty of the European Union, Articles 42.6, 46 and Protocol 10, was introduced under the Lisbon treaty and was voted on by the Irish citizens. PESCO was specifically mentioned 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. PESCO is seen as the primary initiative in demonstrating EU ambition in advancing the agenda on CSDP. In this regard, the establishment of PESCO is seen at EU level as a political demonstration of unity, inclusivity and continuing ambition to provide global leadership, in the face of Brexit and the increased security threats in the European neighbourhood and beyond.
PESCO will operate in a similar manner to the European Defence Agency, EDA, but it is a formalised and treaty-based structure. Just like the EDA, it will allow countries to come together to develop capabilities that will be of use to their own militaries. Examples of EDA projects that we are already involved in are force protection, chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear, CBRN, protection, counter improvised explosive device, IED, training and maritime surveillance. PESCO will be used to jointly develop further capabilities with enhanced commitments in terms of investment and, crucially, deployability on CSDP operations
As I noted earlier, participation in any PESCO project is entirely voluntary and it is a matter for each member state to decide for itself whether or not to participate on a case-by-case basis. While much further work is required before Ireland can decide which PESCO projects we may wish to participate in, examples of the types of projects we are currently looking at include: upgrade of maritime surveillance systems; development of unmanned underwater vehicles for protection of harbours and maritime systems; a centre of excellence for EU military training missions, cyber threats; and incident response information sharing platforms. As the work on elaborating the details of these project proposals and potential participants remains at an early stage I regret that I cannot yet be specific about what projects Ireland may participate in at this juncture. I would like to reassure this House that we will only join projects to develop a capability that will enhance our interoperability and assist with equipping our troops. It is vital that our troops are equipped with the latest and best equipment and training for peacekeeping, conflict prevention or the strengthening of international security. This is in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and in accordance with the provisions of the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.
Participation in PESCO has no implications for Ireland's policy of military neutrality, for the triple-lock or the roles we play in peace building and support to international peace and security. 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. Four other non-aligned EU member states, Finland, Sweden, Cyprus and Austria have also committed to join PESCO. The notification states that it does not prejudice the security and defence policy of the member states; that the member states remain sovereign; and that the commitments will be implemented fully in accordance with the treaty, its protocols and the constitutional provisions of the member states. As such the budgetary process and role of Dáil Éireann, remain untouched.
PESCO also has nothing to do with the creation of a European army. Nothing in the treaties provides for the creation of an EU army. PESCO simply involves member states making more binding commitments to each other to jointly develop military crisis management capabilities for use in support of CSDP operations. Ireland, as a strong proponent of the important role the EU can play in supporting international peace and security and the UN, wishes to remain fully engaged in all CSDP processes, as it has done to date. Fully participating in these developments ensures that we have a voice and that we can influence the evolution of these initiatives, including PESCO. It is important that Ireland has once again demonstrated that we will move forward together and at the same time as our EU partners, including in the security and defence domain. This protects our interests within the union. PESCO is one such key initiative in this regard.
Participation in PESCO will also allow our Defence Forces to gain access to latest thinking and technology on capabilities of interest to them. This will help enhance their capabilities for peacekeeping operations. When Ireland deploys the Defence Forces overseas, they are never deployed alone, we always work in close co-operation with other countries. PESCO is a means of enhancing interoperability with project partners and ensuring that our troops are equipped with the latest and best equipment and training, enabling them to be even more effective at peacekeeping for which they are quite rightly renowned and respected.
Now more than ever, with Brexit and emerging and increasing security challenges in our neighbourhood and beyond, it is important that the Union can demonstrate unity and cohesiveness. Ireland has a responsibility to play its full part. To that end, in seeking the support of our EU colleagues on our priorities, it is important that we continue to act in step with them in shared areas of concern, including on security and defence initiatives such as PESCO.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on PESCO. Fianna Fáil supports the Defence Forces and State in joining and engaging with PESCO. This is not a question of creating a European army or undermining our neutrality - indeed we look forward to working within PESCO with other neutral countries, Finland, Sweden and Austria. It concerns deepening our co-operation with other states with which we are already part of a Union, working together, building co-operation, sharing knowledge and ideas, pooling resources, generating better economies of scale, providing better training for members of the Defence Forces and, ultimately, ensuring peace and stability across the European Union to protect its citizens.
We might be a small island on the edge of Europe but we face the same type of threats as our nearest neighbour, the UK, and our larger neighbour across the Atlantic. Cyberterrorism is something which this country has experienced. Over 5,000 cyberattack attempts were discovered in one hospital forcing the HSE to shut down all external access to its information technology, IT, network. Our health system is already on its knees without cyberterrorism. Knowledge is not power but the sharing of knowledge is power and PESCO offers us the opportunity to learn from and impart knowledge on our peacekeeping missions. We have an international reputation as a peacekeeping nation and we have a lot to offer in that respect.
The effects of joining PESCO are many and positive. It reinforces the fact that we are fully committed to the European Union and its ideals and values. We engaged in all aspects of the process and ensured the Irish voice and concerns were heard, as reflected in the draft.
It is about generating better economies of scale, providing better training for members of our Defence Forces and, ultimately, ensuring peace and stability across the European Union for citizens in order to protect them.
We might be a small island on the edge of Europe but we too face the same type of threats as our nearest neighbours in the UK and our larger neighbours across the Atlantic. Cyberterror is something this country has experienced with over 5,000 cyberattack attempts discovered in one hospital, forcing the HSE to shut down all external access to its information technology network. Our health system is already on its knees without cyberterror.
Knowledge is not power, but the sharing of knowledge is power and PESCO offers us the opportunity to learn from and impart knowledge on our peacekeeping missions. We have an international reputation as a peacekeeping nation and we have much to offer in that respect.
The effects of joining PESCO are many and positive. Joining would reinforce the fact that we are fully committed to European Union and its ideals and values. We engaged in all aspects of the process and that ensured Irish concerns were heard and reflected in the draft. In the context of Brexit and a post-Brexit scenario it is vital that, as a member state fully committed to the European Union, we show our support for the Union and all of its values. This includes our commitment to the common security and defence policy, which we have had a major role in developing.
We will gain much from joining PESCO. Our members of the Defence Forces will be better trained and equipped and will have more knowledge. They will ultimately be safer when they go on overseas missions to represent our country.
There are many times when politicians laud the members of the Defence Forces for their fantastic work and humanitarian actions overseas, including their peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions. It is important to note that joining PESCO is very much supported by the Defence Forces. It is important to send the message to members of the Defence Forces that we support them in the work they do. That is something we have not been doing that lately. We are proud of the work they do and we want to work with them to ensure they have access to the best information, knowledge and training.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House today and setting out such a clear message on where we are going with PESCO. There has been much talk about the Government trying to ram through Ireland's participation in some kind of European army. It is important to put the record straight.
First and foremost, let us discuss Ireland and its neutrality. We are a militarily non-aligned country and nothing in this agreement is going to change that. How neutral we are has always been a question. For example, on 6 June 1944, the Irish weather forecast service provided a weather report for the Allies to invade Europe. Overflights by Mayo, Sligo and Donegal were commonplace during the Second World War. Today, the RAF covers our skies because we cannot do it ourselves. There is nothing wrong with this. This is all good straightforward intelligent stuff, but it is important to be honest about it.
People are talking and accusing the Minister of State of dragging us into some sort of EU army. The Minister and I both know that is bunkum. An army needs intelligence. There is no independent intelligence unit in Europe that gathers analyses and executes the results of intelligence gathering. There is no intention to form a European army. There never has been an intention to form a European army as far as PESCO is concerned.
Some countries in Europe may come together and form military alliances, and they are perfectly entitled to do that. As a militarily non-aligned country, Ireland will stay out of that. If there was to be any change to that, I know that the Minister of State knows that he would have to put that to the people by way of referendum in order to change the status of Ireland. There is no question whatsoever of us moving into some sort of European army.
We talk about neutrality as if it was some Holy Grail. If we were really neutral, like Finland or Austria for example, then we would spend vast amounts of money in developing military resources to protect our neutrality, but we do not. We are a peaceful country and, for the most part, we operate in peacekeeping roles. We operate in European missions. It is important that the people know that when Irish troops are involved in European missions, the ultimate buck stops with the Minister of State. The commander in the field is answerable to the Minister of State and to the Government of the day. We do not send our troops into wars or war zones and put them at risk with European missions. Command and control and the control of our units overseas on European missions rest with the Government. The Government has the final say. General Ger Aherne spoke on "RTÉ News at One" on Sunday and pointed out that the troops he was involved with in Mogadishu came from 16 different countries. Two of the countries were third countries non-aligned to Europe. The rest were involved in the European Union. We opted in and we opted out of that particular mission.
The Minister of State set out four points on PESCO, relating to maritime issues, the development of unmanned underwater vehicle protection, a centre of excellence for EU military training and cyberthreats. Who, in God's name, could find fault with any of those? We have seen what a cyberthreat did to the UK National Health Service. In one weekend that attack ground the entire country to a halt. What is wrong with us becoming involved in such things?
I imagine people are still going to try to turn this into some sort of grand European army. Be that as it may, the Minister of State has set out in clear terms precisely what we are attempting to get ourselves in to. No firm decision has been made on the specifics at this stage. I know that when the time comes and the Minister of State, with the aid of his officials and senior military officers, has picked out the specific items he will come back to the House and explain what we have decided to opt in to and why.
Irish soldiers walk around the place with Austrian rifles. We used to use French armoured cars. What is wrong with coming together with our colleagues in Europe to have the funds to buy the best equipment in the world? What is wrong with Institute of Technology, Carlow developing bullet-proof vests? I saw the project when I was down there some time ago. What is wrong with that? There is nothing wrong with it.
I am glad to see that the Minister of State is looking favourably on a military school of excellence, especially when we are putting people overseas in peril. I welcome what the Minster of State has done today. I am 100% supportive of what he is at and I wish him well with it. I look forward to him coming back and letting us know what specifics he has chosen.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. On Monday, the European Council agreed a pact called PESCO that will allow member states to co-operate in developing military capabilities, invest in shared projects and enhance their respective armed forces. I believe this is an important development, as defence is the ultimate guarantee of our freedom. I value that freedom and I believe it is worth defending.
The threats to Europe and to Ireland are changing and we must be willing to put in place measures to meet challenges such as terrorism, cybercrime and the trafficking of drugs and people. There has been some negative and ill-informed commentary about the establishment of PESCO. Some of it has emanated from quarters where, I believe, people would be happier to see the breakup of the European Union.
Involvement in PESCO does not take away our neutrality. Ireland remains a neutral country, as does Austria, Finland and Sweden, all of which are neutral and members of PESCO. We are not obliged to become involved in any of the projects being considered. However, activities such as a pan-European medical unit or reaching common standards across the Union for military radio communication seem to me to make sense.
One of my concerns has always been to ensure that the members of the Defence Forces are properly trained and resourced. The Minister of State has said the same in his comments today. Who could find fault with that? Back in the late 1950s some people opposed Ireland's involvement in any UN mission. They argued that it was the thin end of the wedge and that it would compromise our neutrality.
Less than two weeks ago I stood with the Minister of State, Senator Craughwell and the brave men of A Company, the 35th Infantry Battalion, who finally got the recognition they so richly deserved following their service in the Congo in 1961. They represented this country proudly like so many who have served with the UN since. Over the years, Irish men and women have served on UN peacekeeping missions in places such as Central America, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia and East Timor, to name but a few.
Irish Defence Forces personnel have been involved in European Union missions in Chad and even closer to home in Kosovo and Bosnia. On these occasions they have served with distinction and have enhanced the reputation of Ireland abroad. None of these operations has threatened our neutrality or dragged us into a war as some of the naysayers predicted. However, people will always be found who define themselves only by what they are against. We must be clear about what we are for. I am proud to be Irish and I define my patriotism in terms of my love for my country, unlike those whose nationalism is based on their hatred for others. I am proud to be European. I believe supporting the European Union enhances Ireland's international reputation, unlike those who have campaigned from the beginning against European integration. They have taken the same position on Europe as Nigel Farage and the right wing of the Tory Party, very unlikely fellow travellers indeed.
What is the Senator talking about?
For as long as I can remember, I have been a proud supporter of the Defence Forces. My grandfather was a sergeant major in Custume Barracks in Athlone. When I was growing up, our kitchen overlooked the parade ground in Custume Barracks. I was proud of Óglaigh na hÉireann when it defended our freedom down the years against those who sought to undermine this State. I was proud of the members of the Naval Service who intercepted the Marita Ann, laden with arms and ammunition to be used against Irish men and women. Likewise, I am in favour of Irish men and women playing a role in defending Europe from terrorism, gun-running, cybercrime and hacking and in helping to prevent the trafficking of drugs and people. In doing so, they are enhancing our freedom, both as a nation and as part of a Union.
Last week with almost zero public debate, Ireland was signed up to PESCO. Among the most ludicrous arguments, some of which we have heard here, in favour of doing so was that we needed to drag our neutrality through the mud in order to support the EU and its values. Since when did increasing national defence budgets, creating new military capabilities, fuelling the arms industry, and compromising respect for human rights become core values of the European Union?
PESCO, the €5.5 billion European defence fund and the action plan on military mobility are just three initiatives of the past six months to shore up and strengthen a European military union. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, for coming to the House to debate this issue and I commend Senator Higgins and others who proposed this debate during Order of Business last week. It is no secret that many federalists in the European Parliament idolise the notion of a common defence policy and a single European army. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, refers to PESCO as the sleeping beauty of Lisbon and is on record, in 2015, reflecting on his own desires for a federal defence force. Today the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted in favour of two reports calling for greater European militarisation. Those are the annual reports on common foreign and security policy, CFSP, and common security and defence policy, CSDP. The European Parliament has endorsed increased EU military spending and further European defence integration. The wording in these two reports is clearly laying the groundwork for an EU defence union and the creation of a European army. These two reports were fully supported by the three MEPs from the Minister of State's party. They voted in favour of the creation of EU military units as part of PESCO, spending 2% of our GDP on defence and for the free moment of military equipment and troops within the EU.
When Sinn Féin campaigned on both Lisbon treaties, Lisbon I and II, and referenced more military spending and a harmonisation of defence policy, many commentators batted away our perspective as illegitimate and simply eurosceptic. We have heard that here today. Many of those who were significant proponents of this treaty were dishonest. As we know, the people were forced to vote again on the basis that they would have protection and that Ireland would be excluded from any EU common defence programme. Yet in 2017, we are now discussing exactly that.
The long-standing national policy of neutrality is not simply an idealistic notion of which we wish to aspire. Neutrality, as enshrined in our Constitution, is one that rejects a colonial war-thirst held by many of our European counterparts. Neutrality recognises our historical and current occupation by one of these counterparts and discards their colonialism as nothing more than just that. Ireland has felt the scourge of colonialism and we do not wish to be complicit in it.
The PESCO agreement mentions the aim of a potential deployment of an EU battle group as well as agreements on increasing cybersecurity, and relaxing restrictions on moving military equipment and personnel across EU borders. Many of our European counterparts engaged, not so long ago, in illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that killed civilians in their hundreds of thousands, leaving those regions destabilised and vulnerable. Many of them are currently involved in disastrous expeditions in Libya, Syria and Yemen. I am proud that this State is not involved in those invasions. I am not proud that our State harbours and shelters the US forces going on to commit war crimes in the Middle East and PESCO further commits us to enable the Western superpowers to continue that occupational imperialism.
PESCO also commits countries to regularly increase defence budgets in real terms” as well as devoting 20% of defence spending to procurement and 2% on research and technology. Sinn Féin believes in increasing the State investment in our Defence Forces, as Senator Daly has mentioned. However, not in the way of procurement of arms and research and technology when there are citizens affected by a homeless crisis, are on trolleys and so on.
Article 29.4.9 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states: “The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence". Has the Attorney General spoken with the Minister of State about that?
I want to begin by addressing some of the misapprehensions that have been suggested today. The first is that those who have concerns about or are opposed to PESCO are in some senses less committed to Europe or anti-Europe. I am extraordinarily pro-Europe. I have campaigned for Europe. I work with European NGOs. Right across Europe there is concern and it is partly my European citizenship that also drives me. That needs to be resoundingly rejected. Also, I would like to address a significant error that has been put forward a number of times that somehow in the vote for Lisbon, and it was in the Minister of State's speech, participation in PESCO was provided for and introduced under the Lisbon treaty. The Irish people did not vote on participation in PESCO. Let us be clear. In the debate on the Lisbon treaty, PESCO was referenced not as something that was being agreed to but that the legislation would set out Ireland's right to either approve or reject PESCO. That is what was promised and what was debated. I have endless quotes from members of the Minister of State's party as well as members of Fianna Fáil who spoke at length about how we would not be moving towards permanent co-operation without due process. I am sure if it had been said at the time of the Lisbon treaty that we would approve this in a week, that there would be a paucity of debate and that the Seanad would only get to talk about it after the fact, I am sure the people would have been very disappointed. Let us be very clear about this as a matter of respect for the population and for the many who voted for the Lisbon treaty.
They did not vote for PESCO. They voted for Ireland to maintain a separate and autonomous decision-making process around participation in anything such as PESCO.
I wish to address claims made by members of Fianna Fáil outside this Chamber earlier this week. They suggested that not joining PESCO would show that we were less committed to working with other member states to ensure security and peace across the European Union and that suggestion was made again in here today. Let us be very clear, Ireland does work with other countries. We work with other countries through the United Nations and have a very proud record of doing so. In fact, Ireland has lost more UN peacekeepers in Lebanon than any other country. I do not think there is a monopoly on pride in our UN peacekeeping, but given the centrality of UN peacekeeping to our role, is it not shocking that the PESCO notification makes no reference to UN peacekeeping, to peace or to peace building and the UN is mentioned only once in this document? This is a core concern.
We have spoken already about intelligence and research and development. The European Commission has been very clear that research and development will be taking place in the context of procurement in terms of the European defence fund. The commission has said that "development and acquisition of defence capabilities are inherently linked" and that "Member States have committed to jointly finance further development [and to] ... procure the final product". We are talking about procurement of military equipment, essentially. In any talk about efficiencies or value for money, we are, in the end, talking about the circumstances under which Ireland might contribute, directly or indirectly, to the loss of life. The bar should be set very high.
I have a number of direct questions for the Minister of State. First, will all joint procurement contracts be subject to the triple lock? Will we be able to see the contracts or will commercial sensitivity be invoked? What do we know about how the military equipment, which we may jointly purchase, will be used by countries that have different mandates, histories and interests? Will it always be within a UN mandate? The answer to the last question is "probably not" because Germany, for example, has many troops with NATO missions in Afghanistan. Will these weapons be used against former or current colonies, for example, as we saw in the Falklands, or tested, as we saw in French Polynesia? Will the weapons be used within Europe? We hear that militarisation is the key to unity and cohesiveness but I beg to differ on that. Austrian armed personnel carriers and troops were sent to the Brenner Pass crossing with Italy recently and Austria came dangerously close to electing a fascist leader, as did France. In that context, how can we account for the future use of our jointly procured weaponry or military equipment? The crux of the matter is the question of what we are defending. Are we defending life or are we defending interests? Crucially, are we ultimately going to see these weapons used against the most vulnerable of people, migrants who are fleeing wars driven by a militarisation agenda? Mr. Donald Tusk seems to think that such a danger exists because he has said that the migration crisis has made us aware, with full force, of the need to build effective control of our external borders. Will we see some of these weapons used as we saw in the past when arms were used against refugees who were marched out of Croatia into Serbia, when a six year old child died? Where will accountability lie? I would like the Minister of State to answer those questions.
Finally, if we had walked into that meeting on 11 December without signing up to PESCO, we would have been just as much proud members of the European Union and would have been able to contribute to what Europe needs, which is peace building and acting as a bridge. We would have maintained true faith with our UN, European and international role. An opportunity has been lost. I look forward to debating this issue further with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, who needs to answer on the wider question of how this fits with our foreign policy and peace building role.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I apologise for being late but I was watching the debate on the monitor in my office with great interest. I welcome the opportunity to debate PESCO, the permanent structure co-operation arrangement. I commend my colleague, Senator Higgins, on pressing for this debate which is coming rather late, given that the Dáil voted last week by 75 votes to 42 in favour of Ireland joining PESCO. The Labour Party in the Dáil opposed that proposal along with other colleagues on the Opposition benches. Our party leader, Deputy Howlin, said that he could not see why there was such a rush to sign up to the proposals this side of Christmas. He pointed out that we could choose to postpone our signing up until after the event and that we must have a proper debate, with experts invited in and cross-examined. He also pointed out that if the defeat of the first Lisbon treaty referendum has taught us anything, it is that proper debate on such measures is needed. We need to be clearer about what is going on.
In his statement today, the Minister of State said that he regrets that he cannot yet be specific about what projects Ireland may participate in at this juncture. Therefore, it is very hard for us to be sure that participation in PESCO will, as he suggested, have no implications for our policy of military neutrality, for the triple lock or for the roles we play in peace building and support for international peace and security. Having looked at the documents on PESCO, I was, like Senator Higgins, struck by the absence of references to United Nations peacekeeping initiatives. It is worth taking a moment, as others have done, to recognise and pay tribute to the immensely important contribution that our Defence Forces have played in UN operations. Senator McFadden and others have spoken about the fact that we are all so proud of the work they have done overseas in peacekeeping for the United Nations. During the recent "Late Late Toy Show", one of the most moving moments involved a UN peacekeeper coming home, having spent some months away from his family and children in Mali. Undoubtedly, the Defence Forces play an immense role in peacekeeping. It is also undoubted that conditions for members of our Defence Forces must be improved and Senator Craughwell has been a powerful advocate in that regard.
I do not wish, in my contribution today, in any way to take away from the role of the Defence Forces but rather to pay tribute to them. I argue that their role in UN peacekeeping is entirely compatible with a speech opposing PESCO. I also echo the words of my colleague, Deputy Brendan Ryan, in the Dáil who pointed out that joining PESCO could fundamentally alter Ireland's sovereign defence policy and history of neutrality for decades to come. He also argued that it is too important a matter to rush through a vote, as the Government was attempting to do against a false deadline. I reiterate those points and also point out, on the basis of reading the document on PESCO, that there is much in it that is of great concern to those of us who wish to see Ireland's proud history of neutrality and participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations strengthened and who do not wish to see any undermining of our neutrality.
If one looks at the documents on PESCO, one sees it described as an "ambitious, binding and inclusive European legal framework" for investments in security and defence. Its aim is to enhance the defence capabilities of EU member states. Annex I on the principles of PESCO points out that it will also benefit NATO, which is a matter of real concern to a neutral state such Ireland that is in no way allied to NATO. The enhanced defence capabilities of EU member states within PESCO will, we are told, "strengthen the European pillar within the alliance", that is, within NATO, and respond to repeated demands for stronger transatlantic burden sharing. I am reading, by the way, from the Notification on PESCO to the Council and to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security. That text will set alarm bells ringing for anyone who is concerned about where the Irish Defence Forces might be sent in any PESCO aligned operation and how PESCO will work alongside those EU states that are also members of NATO.
I am also concerned that in the same document, in Annex II, there is a list of ambitious and more binding common commitments in the five areas set out by Article 2 of Protocol No. 10. Participating member states must subscribe to specific commitments, including regularly increasing defence budgets in real terms to reach agreed objectives. There is a real concern that we would be required to expend resources on particular items of defence expenditure as part of the PESCO programme. People have very valid concerns about PESCO for many reasons. There is a concern about a drip, drip undermining of our neutrality through our signing up to documents such as this. I do not think it is scaremongering or falsely alarmist to say that we need more time to debate this and to consider the possible implications of membership of PESCO for Ireland to make sure that we are not, in some way, undermining our very proud tradition of neutrality.
I concur with most of my colleagues that there really has been a lack of proper debate on the signing up to PESCO. It was almost forced on us last week. Senator McFadden said that we are opposed to peace and Europe in our statements but, in fact, I am for peace and justice, and I am all for Europe. I want to be very clear about this.
The Green Party campaigned in favour of the Lisbon treaty in 2009 on the basis that structured co-operation on defence issues as laid out in the treaty would be a matter for national opt-in. That was the entire purpose of creating enhanced and structured co-operation in the treaty, that countries that wanted to could forge ahead in areas they wanted, leaving other members to opt out. What particularly concerns me is that the Minister of State said we can decide on a case-by-case basis. This is very open-ended and ambiguous, and causes me great fear. Look at what happened in the past week with pushing through this signing up to PESCO and the lack of debate. Now we will be told on a case-by-case basis that we will partake in all types of potential possibilities that will push against neutrality.
Considering the constitutional and political constraints, it is safe to say most of the Irish electorate would not have considered it likely that future Irish Governments would join up to any such scheme that seems so opposed to our tradition of neutrality. They could now be forgiven for feeling betrayed, particularly at the speed this decision has been made, and with such little consultation. The Government said this decision had to be made before the meeting of EU Defence Ministers on 11 December. Did it not know this in advance? Had it mislaid the agenda for the meeting? I imagine our hard working Brussels-based civil servants would have been quick to highlight an issue of this level of importance. Why did this decision have to be taken at such speed and without proper debate and consultation?
In his defence of our signing up last week, the Taoiseach stressed the need for Europe to take over its own defence from an America that seems increasingly unreliable as a strategic partner. This is a convincing argument on the face of it, but if we are to worry about the efficiency of our defence spending we need to assess where our resources are most effective. We are not a big country. We are certainly wealthy on a per person basis, but our size makes us small in the world of defence spending. Where we are significant and where our currency matters most is as diplomatic and neutral arbiter, an independent voice that can speak to others from a European perspective without being compromised by involvement in binding defence alliances.
What we are speaking about, namely, participation in common defence procurement, some shared command and control and joint military training, sounds just like a defence alliance to me. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, acknowledged as much this week when he tweeted that he welcomed the steps taken by member states to lay the foundations of a European defence union. We are at risk of frittering away our greatest asset, which is our ability to engage at European, UN and peacekeeping levels as an independent, neutral and fair diplomatic presence.
There is a very mixed record of shared defence procurement in Europe to date. We all might remember the ill-fated Eurofighter Typhoon, a project with huge costs and time overruns, which saw the French Government's withdrawal before completion. I have been sceptical of the tendencies that shape anything as large as the national defence procurement systems we see today. Like an aircraft carrier, they are slow to change, deadly when one gets in their way and incredibly expensive.
This has been rushed and there has not been proper debate. It will fly back in the face of the Minister of State because the public is not satisfied with this decision.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am very concerned about this issue and I completely agree with the concerns raised here today, particularly by Senator Higgins. I firmly believe in Ireland's neutrality, and state in the strongest possible terms that I do not want to see Ireland participating in military schemes such as PESCO. I have listened to the Minister of State, but this scheme calls for permanent structured co-operation in the areas of security and defence with other EU member states. Many of these states are not neutral, and have very different military interests and histories from Ireland's.
We are told we can opt in and opt out, but I cannot see how this respects our constitutional provision on neutrality. There are commitments to spend a bigger share of our budget, the money that pays for hospitals, education and housing, on defence. It has been greeted by other EU leaders as a step towards a European defence union.
Signing up to 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 nor towards purchasing the best quality equipment available in the open market. These could have been done in this year's budget at a fraction of the cost of joining PESCO.
Another concern about joint procurement is that Ireland's historic freedom from military industrial interest has contributed, along with our neutrality, to our very effective and necessary work on disarmament, from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to the global ban on cluster munitions. These are medals of honour for Ireland and what we should be proud of.
This issue has been rushed through the Houses and it has not had the level of public debate needed for something as important. If we had that debate, I believe the Irish people would be clear, as they were during the debate on the Lisbon treaty, that they do not want to participate in military schemes such as this. They understand the value of our neutrality and stand against militarisation. They know Ireland has made an enormous contribution to peacebuilding around the world, most recently in the area of nuclear non-proliferation, and that our neutrality is vital to this.
We hear constantly about a crisis of migration, and I am worried that this is the backdrop here. The real crisis is desperate people drowning in the Mediterranean. With growing instability around the world, I do not think the answer is increased militarism. Now, more than ever, Ireland must be clear on its commitment to peace and neutrality.
I thank all Members for their contributions and I will try to answer all the questions. I welcome the opportunity once again to reaffirm Ireland's strong support for the development of a common security and defence policy and the EU's capacity to respond to international crises in support of the UN. Senator Bacik spoke about the soldier on "The Late Late Show". As a matter of fact, he was participating in a common security and defence policy mission in Mali, in which PESCO will play are very important role. I have no doubt the mission in which he is participating will be of huge benefit to him and his colleagues, not only from Ireland but from all member states.
Just as we have since the common security and defence policy was established, we will continue to participate in all aspects of it. Ireland has been one of the leading contributors to common security and defence policy operations deployed under UN mandates or with the support of the UN. Ireland cannot ignore or consider itself immune to the ever-changing, complex and intertwined nature of threats to individual states and to international peace and security. We cannot simply ignore the horrific attacks close to home, in places such as London, Manchester, Paris and Berlin and further afield, in places such as Beirut and Mogadishu. We must not lose sight of the fact our citizens are living in, working in or are visiting these places every day of every week of every year, and our ongoing responsibility to help protect and support them, wherever they may be in the world.
No country acting alone can address these challenges and Ireland has a responsibility to show flexibility and deliver the support and modernisation needed to respond to the complex and changing environment at home and overseas. While defence and security in the EU is generally seen as a collective and shared responsibility, it is accepted that each sovereign state has the right to choose its own defence policy, which in Ireland's case is one of military neutrality. However, the adoption of such a policy is not a policy of isolation, but of freedom to participate and contribute to international peace and security in accordance with nationally determined values and principles.
A key challenge to the EU's capacity to mount crisis management operations remains a lack of essential capabilities and the political will from member states to commit the required capabilities for common security and defence policy, CSDP, operations. PESCO has been designed to address this challenge, enhancing the political commitment of member states to develop and deliver capabilities in support of CSDP. In this regard, I reaffirm and remain fully satisfied that Ireland's participation in PESCO will contribute to the enhancement of capabilities for UN-mandated missions engaged in peacekeeping, conflict prevention or the strengthening of international security in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. PESCO's importance was welcomed at the UN peacekeeping conference in Vancouver.
I have heard the concerns expressed by many Senators and a number of key points are worth repeating. Participation in any PESCO project is entirely voluntary and a matter for each member state to decide on a case-by-case basis. PESCO is a further initiative in strengthening the capacity of the Union and member states to support international peace and security. PESCO is also a means of enhancing interoperability and, working with EU partners, ensuring that our Defence Forces are equipped with the latest and best equipment and training.
PESCO's participation criteria expressly stipulate that PESCO will be undertaken in full compliance with the Treaty on European Union and the associated protocols, and will respect member states' constitutional provisions. Participation in PESCO, which is entirely voluntary, has no implications for Ireland's policy of military neutrality, the triple lock or the crucial roles we play in crisis management and peacekeeping operations. It is important that I read a piece of the final document: "Participating Member States will meet their binding commitments, confirming that the establishment and implementation of Permanent Structured Cooperation will be undertaken in full compliance with the provisions of the TEU and the protocols attached thereto and respecting constitutional provisions of the member States." That includes Ireland and is something that we got stitched into the final document.
PESCO was specifically referenced in the Lisbon treaty protocol to address the concerns of the Irish people. Ireland's declaration and the legislation setting down Ireland's approval process for PESCO was published in advance of the vote and, in the case of the latter, enacted in November 2009. If the Senator checks the legislation-----
The legislation was-----
-----she will see that this was binding and a matter for Ireland and its Parliament. That is why I have brought this matter to the Government-----
-----agreed at that time.
Senator, allow the Minister of State to reply.
PESCO has nothing to do with the creation of an EU army. Some have mentioned the views of President Juncker and the European Parliament on the future of EU defence policy. I assure this House, as I assured the Lower House and committee members last week, that PESCO has nothing to do with the creation of a European army. As stated in the Lisbon treaty's protocols, that treaty does not provide for the creation of a European army. Nothing that President Juncker says can change that. If we are to have a European army, it will be a matter for the Senator and every other citizen in this country to decide. It will not be a matter for me. It would have to go to a referendum.
The world in which we live is a different place compared with ten or even five years ago. Every Senator has to recognise that. The threats that we face today are different than those faced five, ten, 15 or 20 years ago. Now that PESCO has been formally launched, it is crucial that Ireland moves forward in tandem with our fellow EU member states and plays its part in helping address the complex challenges facing the Union and its citizens.
I welcome this debate. One of the Senators who contributed asked whether we had sought legal advice on Ireland's participation in PESCO. We sought it from the Attorney General. It was found that there was no legal impediment to Ireland participating once Government approval and a Dáil resolution were obtained in accordance with section 1 of the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.
People also asked why we had to join before Monday, 11 December. The reason is clear - we would become a part of the decision-making process. Had we not joined on Monday, Ireland would not be a decision maker, as only those who have signed up before 11 December can make decisions.
PESCO has been around for some time. I answered written and oral questions on this matter and discussed it in the Oireachtas as far back as June and July 2016. I answered oral questions on it in May, July and November 2017. I have spoken about it in Topical Issue debates in the Dáil and in a Commencement debate in this House with Senator Higgins. The Taoiseach spoke about it during statements on European Council meetings on 8 March, 21 March, 18 October and 25 October. He has answered oral questions in the Dáil. The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee, has discussed PESCO a number of times at committee level and during statements on European Council meetings. In early November, there was an article in The Irish Times on PESCO specifically.
This decision was approved at the European Council meeting on 13 October. It was brought to the Cabinet on 13 November. The Government decision was made on 21 November. This matter was on the Dáil Order Paper on 22 and 23 November. As such, to say that this fell out of the sky and the Senator only heard of it last week is a total nonsense.
Yet last week-----
Had you been following what happened at the European Council-----
I am sorry, but I must make a correction.
Let the Minister of State finish.
Had Members taken an interest in what has been happening in the past 18 months at Council meetings of defence and foreign Ministers,-----
Last week, the Minister of State said that no Member had raised it with him.
-----you would have seen exactly what was on the agenda. But, no, you did not see that, so you blame the Government for trying to rush this motion through the Dáil last week, which is an untruth. Some Members kicked up a kerfuffle in the Dáil last week.
This is outrageous.
I spent an hour and a half before a committee last Wednesday evening. None of them was interested in coming down to the committee room and asking direct questions of me.
The Minister of State has acknowledged that I raised it with him.
But, no, it was good enough-----
I am sorry, but this is misleading and unfair.
Through the Chair, colleagues, please.
Through the Chair, it was good enough-----
It has been directly-----
Excuse me but, through the Chair,-----
Please, the Senator has had her chance.
Excuse me. I have had statements very clearly directed to me that are inaccurate,-----
-----to grandstand in the Dáil last week.
-----so I need to have them corrected.
It was not good enough for them to come to the committee.
One moment, please.
Excuse me, but I have had statements addressed directly to me. The Minister of State has been staring straight at me and saying, "You did not." Let me be clear - I did raise this issue. I raised it well in advance. I raised it by way of a Commencement matter. The problem is that it was not brought to the Dáil Business Committee until the week in which it was pushed to a vote.
The Senator has made her point.
Please do not attempt to distract attention from that error.
I also ask the Minister of State to, please, address his remarks through the Chair.
I did address the Senator directly. Perhaps she wants me to repeat it again. I did say you actually raised this issue. Perhaps you did not listen to me on the first occasion, but I will repeat it again for you. You raised this issue in the Commencement debate on 21 November.
Will the Minister of State, please, address his remarks through the Chair?
I came and answered questions and absolutely had no problem whatsoever in doing so. It has been stated the issue was not on the agenda for the Business Committee. I was the Chief Whip for five years. As I am no longer the Chief Whip, I do not run the business of Seanad Éireann or Dáil Éireann. If the Senator wants to take up the matter, I suggest she go and ask the members of the Business Committee or the Chief Whip about it. There was absolutely no hidden agenda whatsoever since 13 November when the Council made the decision and other nations signed up to participate in PESCO. The Government made a decision on 21 November and the matter was on the Dáil Order Paper on 22 and 23 November. To say it fell out of the sky in the past week and a half and that Senators did not know what was going on is a total untruth.
I very much welcome the debate and have no issue whatsoever in appearing before the Dáil, Seanad Éireann or committees for a debate on defence matters. This is a very important issue which does not affect just me; it also affects every citizen of the country. We live in a democracy and last week the House voted for Ireland to become a full member of PESCO. Each and every citizen will respect democracy as exercised through the Dáil by the people.
Excuse me, but I had one very direct question which was not answered.
I am sorry, but the debate is over.
Will procurement contracts be subject to the triple lock mechanism?
As I said, the debate is over.
I asked only one question in my contribution.
The debate is over.
The Senator may take up the issue with the Minister of State outside the Chamber.
I note that the Minister of State did not answer the very simple question I put to him as to whether joint procurement contracts would be subject to the triple lock mechanism. I am sure he will have to answer parliamentary questions on the subject. It was the single question I put to him. As it has been not been answered, we can perhaps assume that they will not.
The Minister of State has an opportunity to reply, if he so wishes.
I will answer any question asked in the Dáil. We have had a good debate in this House.
It is a pity the question was not answered here.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.