Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (63)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

63. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on the future relationship of Ireland with a restructured Partnership for Peace under the auspices of NATO; the way in which this could reconcile with our position of neutrality and a focus on Ireland's involvement in peacekeeping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53010/19]

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Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Defence)

Ireland's relations with NATO are set within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace. The primary aim of Ireland's Partnership for Peace participation is to enhance the Defence Forces' interoperability with other professional military forces for the purpose of engaging in UN-authorised peacekeeping and peace-support operations led by the UN, EU or NATO.

Over the past 20 years, participation in Partnership for Peace has been fundamental to Ireland being able to keep abreast of developments in areas such as training, humanitarian aspects of peacekeeping and interoperability and it enhances the ability of our peacekeepers to work alongside those of our partners. It also enables us to share our own peacekeeping skills with a wide range of countries. Ireland's involvement has delivered significant improvements for our Defence Forces in terms of capability development and operational capacity. This has enabled us to make a positive impact, particularly in undertaking more demanding international crisis-management operations.

As a result of NATO's recent reorganisation of its partnership structures, the responsibility for partners in Partnership for Peace is being transferred from the defence policy and planning division to a newly formed directorate within an operations division. This new directorate is called the Defence Institution and Capacity Building Directorate.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It will involve all partnership programmes transferring to the new directorate and that includes the planning and review process, the defence and related security capacity-building initiative, Building Integrity, the Defence Education Enhancement Programme, the professional development programme, and the military career transition programme. It becomes, in effect, a one-stop-shop for partner countries like Ireland.

One of the purposes behind the consolidation of these programmes in a single staff structure is to ensure greater coherence and co-ordination between the programmes and to ensure that the programmes are better aligned with the agreed objectives of the individual partnership relationships.

Ireland's future relationship under our Partnership for Peace role with NATO will continue as originally established, which enables Ireland to tailor its participation to reflect our national priorities and adopt activities and goals on an independent and self-selecting basis. It remains fully consistent with Ireland's policy of military neutrality, which is characterised by non-participation in military alliances.

I am satisfied that Ireland will continue to benefit as we move to the new partnership directorate. I look forward to the opportunities that this will bring to further enhance capability development and modernise our defence forces.

We have discussed this matter before. There are very real and valid concerns, however, regarding the erosion of our neutrality. Any alignment with NATO intensifies those concerns further. Issues arose in respect of Shannon. Any NATO-led initiative raises alarm bells. The restructured model and potential change in ethos under the more centralised programme is concerning. Capacity-building in the context of NATO historically very strongly suggests further militarisation. I have been hearing at European meetings I have been attending that there is an increase in NATO participation and loyalty to NATO.

I have stated on numerous occasions that I defend our traditional policy on military neutrality, even when it comes to Partnership for Peace, in which I am a very strong believer. I mean no disrespect to anyone in this House in saying that I have had the opportunity to go overseas to visit our troops, be they in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon or in the Golan Heights. I see Partnership for Peace and interoperability working for real with my own two eyes when I see countries working alongside Ireland. We joined Partnership for Peace in 1994 for a specific reason, that is, to reach out to new democracies. It is one reason Partnership for Peace was originally launched in January 1994.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.