Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (52)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

37 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on recent comments concerning a collective EU defence and Irish neutrality by the Irish EU Commissioner, David Byrne; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4254/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Commissioner David Byrne, in a speech on 9 December to the Institute of European Affairs in Brussels, expressed the view that "some member states, including Ireland, are more squeamish than others about assuming collective defence or security roles".

Let me be clear. Ireland is a ready participant in European security and defence policy, to the extent that this is consistent with our traditional policy of military neutrality. As Commissioner Byrne also highlighted in his speech, modern day neutrality is not about sitting on one's hands, relying on others to help out. Together with the other neutral and non-aligned member states, Ireland has sought to play a positive and constructive role in the evolution of ESDP. We are contributing a number of gardaí to the EU police mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a number of Defence Forces personnel also participated in the EU military stabilisation force in the Democratic Republic of Congo last summer. We also participated actively in the negotiations on the security and defence provisions of the draft EU constitutional treaty and our contribution has helped shape the text which has now emerged.

In the context of negotiations on the mutual defence clause in the draft EU Treaty, Article 40.7, Ireland sought to retain the right to take our own sovereign decision on whether to provide assistance to another member state in the event of an armed attack on its territory. The safeguard clause in the current text makes clear that mutual defence obligations would be without prejudice to Ireland's security and defence policy. Effectively, this means Ireland would retain the right to take its own sovereign decision on whether to provide assistance in the event that a member state is the subject of an attack, in keeping with our constitutional and legal requirements.

In relation to an EU common defence, Ireland's position is clear. In keeping with the amendment to the Constitution of October 2002, Ireland cannot participate in an EU common defence unless the people so decide in a referendum.