Thursday, 7 November 2019

Questions (4)

Maureen O'Sullivan


4. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the relationship between Ireland and the Future Combat Air System, FCAS, and the European defence union. [45509/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Defence)

I wish to ask the Minister of State about the relationship between Ireland and the Future Combat Air System, FCAS, and the European defence union.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Ireland does not have any relationship with the FCAS programme, which I understand is a programme operating outside the EU. Ireland does have a relationship with other EU member states in regard to the development of defence capabilities within the treaties as part of the European Defence Agency, EDA, and permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, which we signed up to recently. The EDA is focused on assisting member states in improving defence capabilities through European co-operation. The EDA affords EU member states the opportunity to keep track of best practice in modern technology in the development of capabilities, and supports greater efficiency and competition in the European defence equipment market. The primary reason for Ireland's participation is to support the development of Defence Forces capabilities for peacekeeping and international crisis management operations.

Ireland is involved in a number of EDA projects, including maritime surveillance, cyber, counter-IED, satellite communications and military search. Participation in all of these projects was approved by Dáil Éireann. Ireland is also involved in the EDA Smart Blue Water Camps project. This is a water management project that aims to address environmental concerns with regard to water usage on military bases.

Ireland is participating in two PESCO projects, namely, the European Union Training Mission Competence Centre and the upgrade of maritime surveillance. These projects relate to the ongoing development of Defence Forces capabilities for peace support and crisis management operations.

The establishment of PESCO represents a further development in EU co-operation in support of international peace and security under the Common Security and Defence Policy. Under PESCO, member states come together in different groups to develop and make available additional capabilities and enablers for peacekeeping and crisis management operations. Joint projects should also drive down the costs of developing and procuring capabilities.

Within the EU, it is accepted that defence and security comprise a national competence and that any decisions, including any deepening of EU co-operation, require unanimity. Through our participation in initiatives such as the EDA and PESCO, Ireland continues to have a strong and equal voice on defence issues within the EU institutions.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. Ireland is not involved in the project. It is signed by Germany, France and Spain. It will be the largest arms project in Europe. I am asking my question in the context of some very disturbing speeches by the new President of the European Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen. She stated, "For us it is important that over time it becomes a real common European fighter jet system”. She also said, "It was not for nothing that we launched the European Defence Union and the European Defence Fund." Moreover, she stated, "We will have to develop a common European attitude, since we will harmonise our armed forces together in the European Defence Union", and, "I am firmly convinced that we will have an army of Europeans in the foreseeable future”. This is all in the context of a growing European militarisation agenda. Ireland's neutrality is being undermined. It is very much under threat. In the middle of all the speeches, we do not hear Ireland saying it is not part of this because it is committed to neutrality.

The Irish Government has never interpreted neutrality as meaning Ireland stands aside from international engagement. Rather, it is based on participation and strengthening our ability to make an effective contribution to the promotion of global peace, security and development. Whether through the United Nations, the EU or its own bilateral actions, Ireland acts in an objective, even-handed way in accordance with international norms and the rule of law in international relations and is seen as both an impartial and effective actor in its international relations and in its support of international peace and security.

At every given opportunity, including at European Council meetings, I have continually highlighted Ireland's policy on neutrality. I have spoken to the Deputy about this at committee level. It is important that we highlight Ireland's policy on neutrality. Every country is different. Ireland changed the PESCO criteria to suit its traditional neutrality policy.

The reality is that there are genuine fears that the EU wishes to become a major military power. The air combat system has very significant funding. I saw a figure of €8 billion initially, but it could rise to €100 billion by 2040. I have had the opportunity, through the committee, to attend some of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy meetings. At the most recent one, in Helsinki in September, the final statement mentioned that EU defence co-operation should continue to be co-ordinated with NATO and to create synergies for both the EU and NATO. We are in a very alarming time, with increased militarisation and the push for the EU to be a major military power. The Minister of State says he is making statements, but they need to be very strong. Any statements coming out of these committees should refer to neutrality.

It is up to member states, including Ireland, to decide, in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements and the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon, whether to adopt a common defence policy. Any decision to move to common defence will require a unanimous decision of the European Council in the first instance, as provided for in the EU treaties. It would then be a matter for member states, including Ireland, to decide, in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements and the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon, whether to adopt a common defence policy.

Ireland remains constitutionally debarred from participation in any such EU common defence in light of the constitutional provisions in the Lisbon treaty protocols, which provide significant protection. Any decision to participate in a defence arrangement would require a decision of the people in a referendum. The protections provided in the protocols to the Lisbon treaty clearly state that Ireland must have a referendum and that the citizens of Ireland would decide the issue. The matter would not be decided by the Government.

People make statements for different reasons. That does not mean we agree with their statements.