Before we start, I remind Deputies we have six minutes per question. There are two minutes for the Minister to answer initially and one minute for supplementary questions and answers from the person asking the question and the Minister.
I will do my best to stick to the time.
I do not want to interfere during Question Time.
Defence Forces Equipment
Seán Ó FearghaílCeist:
1. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence his views on recent comments by the representative association for commissioned officers that the strength of the Defence Forces has been reduced as far as it can go, that the Government cannot expect badly needed weaponry and equipment to be funded by savings from further personnel reductions, that the recent incident in Syria where 36 Irish troops serving with the United Nations were shot at and their armoured vehicles hit by sustained gun fire and a landmine underlined the need for the best equipment possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53119/13]
The question reflects concerns expressed recently at the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, conference about the issue of equipping the Defence Forces and assurances the organisation is seeking that the Defence Forces will not see its numbers further reduced to ensure it has the equipment necessary. This arises against a background of the recent serious incident in Syria.
In recent years the defence budget, in tandem with all other areas of the public service, has had to bear its share of cuts. However, the Government’s agreement in 2012 to my recommendation to stabilise the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel, together with the reorganisation and other reforms, has facilitated the retention of key capability. All elements of defence expenditure were examined for the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure in 2011. In response to these resource constraints, the defence organisation has undertaken further significant reorganisation and reform. These changes will ensure that the Defence Forces organisational structures are configured to maximise required capabilities. The acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces remains a focus for me as Minister for Defence and is a matter that is kept under constant review. The budgetary situation, in the context of the current difficult economic situation, will continue to dictate the level of funding available for new equipment, training and upgrades. Decisions will be made accordingly on a strictly prioritised basis with a view to maintaining the capability of all roles assigned by Government to the Defence Forces.
Deputies will be also aware from recent media coverage of the incident involving Irish UNDOF personnel. On 28 November 2013, an Irish patrol, with five armoured personnel carriers, was escorting Philippino personnel to their post in the UNDOF area of operations when they came under small arms fire. Irish troops returned fire. While the patrol was withdrawing, one armoured personnel carrier was hit by an explosion which damaged its rear right wheel. The cause of the explosion was later determined to be a landmine. The patrol withdrew to a defensive location and later successfully returned to UNDOF headquarters in Camp Faouar. During the incident, one member of the Irish patrol suffered a minor back injury. He was treated in hospital in Israel for precautionary tests and returned to duty in Camp Faouar the following day.
While our troops are deployed to the Golan Heights at a time of increased instability, personnel of the Irish Force Mobile Reserve are fully trained and equipped with appropriate force protection assets to undertake their important duties on behalf of the United Nations and remain fully committed to this task. I remain satisfied that the level of resources available to the Defence Forces, including, training, equipment and up to date technology, enables the Defence Forces to carry out its roles both at home and overseas. From a report received from the UN authorities on the ground and from the information available, there is no indication there was a deliberate targeting of the UN on that occasion, contrary to some reports.
I should add that from a report received from the UN authorities on the ground and from the information available, there is no indication there was a deliberate targeting of the UN on that occasion, contrary to some reports. We welcome these final remarks and we welcome the fact that Irish troops were not targeted. I have accepted the Minister's assertions that he has fixed on the figure of 9,500 personnel. I hope I have not been naïvely supporting the Minister in his assertion that he is determined to maintain these numbers. I was concerned that RACO raised the question about the model used in the past, whereby the sale of barracks was used to fund the equipment of the Defence Forces. Colonel Brian O'Keeffe pointed out during the biennial RACO conference that the force could not continue to cannibalise itself in order to ensure equipment was provided. The organisation's president, Captain Ian Harrington said that some officers based close to the old brigade headquarters in Athlone had based their families in places like Galway and Donegal and found themselves transferred, as a result the Minister's reorganisation, to Dublin. They are suffering real practical and logistical difficulties as a result.
Regarding equipment, it was the policy of the previous Government and the current Government, in the context of the current financial difficulties, that substantial portions of the funding raised from the sale of barracks and other properties held by the Defence Forces were to be utilised in the provision of resources and equipment to the Defence Forces. The Defence Forces' resources and equipment are particularly good and appropriate to meet all of the various operational requirements that arise at home and abroad. Property can be sold to create value but a point will come when that is not the case. It is a matter I will keep under continual review to ensure we have the funding required from all appropriate and relevant sources. It is correct in the current financial climate to use our resources wisely and carefully. Where we can access funding in a manner that does not impose additional expenditure on taxpayers, we should do so. In the past few days, a Defence Forces property was sold and raised €105,000, substantially in excess of the reserve price of €38,000.
We may well accept those points. I refer to the impact on members of the Defence Forces arising out of the reorganisation and, in particular, the difficulties for people originally based in Athlone. If someone lives west of the Shannon and north of a line from Longford to Galway, he or she spends 50% of time commuting, according to RACO. Additionally, the organisation says no serving officers in the early stages of their careers can consider settling in these areas. Ultimately, that will not be good for the personnel. Does the Minister accept these concerns in terms of his reorganisation package?
RACO meets biennially but the Minister was not at the conference. The Minister for Defence not attending the RACO conference is a bit like the Minister for Education and Skills not attending the teachers' conferences. Is there a reason the Minister did not attend? Was he detained in his role as Minister for Justice and Equality?
The Deputy knows the answer to the question. If any issue arises about which I need to engage with RACO, I am available to engage with the organisation.
I have met them on various occasions. On this occasion, the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, attended the conference because it coincided, as the Deputy will be aware, with the publication of the Smithwick report and it was necessary for me to deal with matters relating to that. However, I am fully aware of all the issues of concern to RACO. My officials have engaged with its representatives on various occasions and the Chief of Staff and those working him and his predecessor have done everything to ease the impact on members of the Defence Forces of the reorganisation that is taking place. When there is a reorganisation, it causes disruption and it impacts on the driving times of work of some members.
I thank the Minister.
A small number of members of the Defence Forces feel life has been made a little more difficult for them by the reorganisation but it has also made life easier for a considerable number of members in the context of where they are now located.
Yes, please. We have to stay within the time limits.
The relevant authorities within the Defence Forces are doing everything they can to facilitate members arising out of the reorganisation.
White Paper on Defence
2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence if he will dispel concerns that the proud tradition of positive neutrality of this State will not be undermined as part of the process of developing the White Paper on Defence. [52920/13]
Recently a Red C poll revealed that eight of ten respondents favoured the retention of neutrality, which is a proud tradition. The Minister will be aware of concerns at the beginning of the receipt of submissions on the White Paper on Defence. I would like him to take the opportunity to allay those concerns and to reaffirm the principle of neutrality on behalf of the Irish people.
This is an issue the Deputy returns to obsessively. The Green Paper on Defence, which was published earlier this year, initiated a broad consultative process, as the Deputy will be aware, that will inform the development of the next White Paper on Defence. One of the questions posed in the Green Paper was: "How can our policy of military neutrality be dovetailed with increasing requirements for collective security co-operation?" Our policy of military neutrality was formed in an era when interstate conflict was the key issue of national security for most states. The State’s policy of remaining outside military alliances has remained in place ever since. Thankfully, the threat of intestate war in Europe is substantially diminished.
However, there are new and emerging threats in the defence and security environment. The reality is that the world has evolved to such an extent that no country alone can respond adequately to the threats in the defence and security environment. The range of threats set out in the assessment in the Green Paper is comprehensive. Inevitably, there will be threats and challenges that have not yet been anticipated. It is reasonable to assume that complex, interrelated and transnational security challenges will increase into the future. It is also reasonable to conclude that security challenges will require enhanced collective and comprehensive approach, and that there will be an increasing emphasis on security co-operation.
I believe that continued support for the United Nations will remain a central point of our foreign policy approach and objectives. This includes the protection of human rights and of our overall security policy, including non-membership of military alliances. Support for the UN will also remain central to our overall security policy.
Our Defence Forces are deployed as part of multinational and multi-agency responses for a broad range of security tasks, many of which contribute to the maintenance of international peace and stability. Our policy responses must realistically reflect current and future security challenges and should be able to accommodate the necessary responses, both national and collective, without prejudice to our policy of military neutrality.
First, Ireland is in a strong position to play a positive role in global conflicts through its neutrality. We are proud of the role our peacekeeping forces play in blue helmet operations on an ongoing basis. Second, with regard to conflict resolution, the lessons of our own peace process are being utilised across the world, most recently in Colombia. These lessons had a huge impact and people who came through the peace process assisted on an ongoing basis on the path to peace in that country. Third, we have a proud history in the provision of overseas development aid. We are one of the world leaders in that area. That is our role in the world and we do not need to be involved in military alliances to stake our claim and to do our bit for the world. What are the Minister's thoughts on those three pillars of positive neutrality? Are they sufficient or do we need more?
I welcome the fact that the Deputy's party, Fianna Fáil and others contributed to the Green Paper process by making a submission. I was interested in Sinn Féin's submission in the context of the issue the Deputy has raised. It states, "The Green Paper on Defence states that military neutrality is a policy which was formed in the context of interstate armed conflict". We are agreed on that. The submission further states the Green Paper "is ill-fitted to respond to threats emanating from non-state actors such as terrorists". I know the Deputy's party is soft on terrorism but I am not sure to what extent he can suggest that military neutrality has a role to play in regard to terrorism. Is he suggesting that if terrorists explode a bomb in London or Madrid, we should proclaim our neutrality from the rooftops as some sort of moral standpoint of a higher echelon than those who say, "This is a bad thing, we are opposed to terrorists and we should join together in preventing innocent people being killed by terrorists"?
I thank the Minister.
Sinn Féin in its submission referred to "the need for a human security-based approach", which seems to simply be that if we feed the world, there will be no terrorism.
The Minister is way over his time. I have to ask him to co-operate with the Chair. I will let him back in again.
The Minister is one of the greatest talents I have ever seen at answering a question he has not been asked. He has an incredible talent for going off on a different tangent.
I wanted to assure the Deputy that I had read his submission.
There are three positive pillars of neutrality of which we are deeply proud in this country. We do not need to open Shannon Airport for aircraft to refuel and restock on their way to operations that are not backed by the international community and we do not need to be involved in military alliances.
With regard to combatting the changed threat of terrorism, there is a range of exchanges of intelligence and co-operation through Europol and so on that everybody supports to tackle the threat. However, if Ireland can genuinely get itself back to a truly neutral position in the context of overseas development aid, conflict resolution and the lessons we have learned in our own country, we can play a much stronger role in combating the threat of terrorism than being involved in military alliances with countries that have fuelled it.
I am somewhat puzzled as to what military alliances the Deputy thinks we are engaged in. We are a party to the European Common Security and Defence Policy. That is of importance to this State, as it is to the rest of Europe. If there are issues relating to cybersecurity or terrorism, we have an interest in this State in ensuring difficulties do not arise and in co-operating with other states regarding how we counteract those issues. We are engaged in Partnership for Peace, PfP, with NATO. NATO is like a four-letter word to some Members. PfP is about a group of like-minded nations coming together to provide peackeeping supports and humanitarian relief in regions where there are major difficulties. That does not taint or contaminate our military neutrality. It is about engagement, not isolation. It is about doing what we can to assist people across the world in conflict zones where there are difficulties instead of sticking our heads in the sand and moralising. I go for engagement, not for sticking one's head in the sand, moralising and waving a neutrality flag as if we have a superior moral compass directing us. We should be proud of our engagements internationally and of what our Defence Forces do.
Defence Forces Properties
3. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence if he will cease his efforts to remove former members of the Defence Forces and their families from their homes in the Curragh Camp, some of whom have lived there for decades. [52918/13]
Men, women and children in families who have given loyal service to the State are facing eviction from their homes. My question asks the Minister to accept that this is not appropriate treatment of citizens who have served the State, to stop this course of action and instead to engage in a progressive and more humane solution.
In February 1997, the then Minister for Defence set out policy on married quarters on the basis that they were largely an anachronism and that they should be discontinued in a managed and orderly way. Since then my Department has discontinued the practice of providing such accommodation. In addition, given the age of the housing stock, it has been found that over time the properties require a significant and disproportionate investment in order to ensure compliance with regulations regarding rental properties. In recent years much of the stock has become unsuitable for habitation and has had to be taken out of use. Consequently, there has been a sharp decline in the number of married quarters in use, with only 25 serving personnel currently occupying married quarters in the Curragh.
Where properties are located outside barracks, they are made available for purchase by tenants. For security reasons, properties located within barracks cannot be sold and are removed from the stock of available housing when they become vacant. Personnel are obliged under Defence Forces regulations to vacate married quarters within a specified period of being discharged from the Permanent Defence Force. The term "overholder" is used to describe former members of the Defence Forces and their families who have refused to leave married quarters within 21 days of leaving the Defence Forces. My Department is, in accordance with normal procedure, seeking vacant possession of overheld married quarters.
The issue of overholders continuing to occupy married quarters is not sustainable. As my Department is no longer in a position to subsidise housing for those who are not entitled to them, the Department has had to take necessary action. Each overholder is being dealt with on an individual basis. My Department does not have a role in the provision of housing accommodation for the general public. The securing of alternative housing is a matter for the individuals concerned in the first instance. If individuals are not in a position to secure housing in their own right it may be the case that they qualify for social housing or that they qualify for some level of housing assistance. Officials of my Department have met Kildare County Council officials regarding overholders so they are aware of the position and will advise overholders of procedures and requirements when making applications for social housing.
I am afraid the Minister's reply does not deal with the reality of the issue. The people in question are not anachronisms or overholders but rather men, women and children, some with special needs and other difficulties. These people have attempted to engage in some instances with other State agencies like Kildare County Council and private lenders to secure mortgages but they have been unable to do so because of a deficiency in economic means or their age.
There are a couple of issues with the Minister's reply. It may be Defence Forces policy for people to leave married quarters after they retire from service but that provision has not been implemented. Families have lived in this accommodation for years and in some cases for decades after the serving member retired but no action has been taken. The Minister has stated his Department is not in the business of housing but the State has been taking rent from people like this since 1922; that means the Department has been in the business of housing. It has a duty of care to the people left in that accommodation. No maintenance has been done, as departmental figures would indicate, so there is no cost to the Department. I ask the Minister again to intervene properly rather than evicting these people.
As is the Deputy's usual presentation, she is creating a drama and exaggerating the extent of any difficulties. There are currently 29 married quarters being occupied by overholders in the Curragh camp, with a further 14 overholders in the Dublin area. The duration of overholding - or individuals retaining possession of properties they should not retain, as opposed to the many former members of the Defence Forces who occupied such properties and complied with regulations when vacating them - ranges from 44 years to ten weeks. That does not suggest the Defence Forces have been taking a tyrannical approach in dealing with overholding individuals.
As I indicated in the reply, regulations are in place which have been complied with by the vast majority of members of the Defence Forces who have been provided with accommodation. Upon leaving the Defence Forces or a short time thereafter, the people in question should vacate the accommodation but a small number of people have failed to do so. In dealing with the issue, the Defence Forces have had regard to the specific individual circumstances; as I noted, an individual has been overholding for 44 years. The matter will continue to be dealt with in a considered and appropriate way but we must ensure that people comply with legal obligations where they can do so.
The Minister may think it is dramatic but it is not so for some of the individuals involved. One family has three children, two of whom have serious special needs. That family also has a very ill wife but it has received a letter ordering them to leave the property. Somebody else has lived in a property since 1952 but has been asked to leave. There are other court orders for other cases. I am not being dramatic as this is a shoddy way to treat people who served the State loyally. As I stated to the Minister before, these people have gone to other organisations to seek alternative accommodation but they have been refused. Will the Minister engage with those people and treat them humanely, as this is causing grave difficulty? One person may get a letter or a court order but the person living next door may not; nevertheless, people do not know what day the postman will knock on the door or they will be thrown out. We are talking about isolated elderly people living in derelict dwellings and it is not a suitable way of treating people. The Minister is responsible for the matter and I am asking him to intervene. The information being given to the House is not accurate. Some of these people have sought alternative solutions but have been unsuccessful in their efforts.
As the Deputy should know, the authorities within the defence family have sought to deal with people in an appropriate way in the context of the legal obligations which those individuals have. Is the Deputy suggesting that people who cease being members of the Defence Forces should not comply with legal obligations and vacate a property? It was known that these properties would not be available when a person ceases to be a member of the Defence Forces.
I assure the Deputy that individuals in difficult circumstances have been and will continue to be dealt with in a humane way but the Defence Forces and the State cannot simply hand over these properties to individuals. The people in question do not own these properties, which lie with the State, and they are obliged to vacate this accommodation unless one ignores the reality of the legal position. That would be entirely inappropriate.
Defence Forces Medicinal Products
Seán Ó FearghaílCeist:
4. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence if, with regard to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the Defence Forces sought or conducted a medical risk assessment of lariam; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53120/13]
This relates to the issue of lariam, which is an issue that I and other colleagues have raised before and I am sure we will continue to raise it in the period ahead. We are trying to ascertain if medical risk assessments have been carried in respect of those members of the Defence Forces who have had lariam prescribed to them.
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 does not apply to Defence Forces personnel when they are on active service. Nevertheless, I am informed by the military authorities that risk assessments are carried out for all mission areas. These risk assessments are intended to identify all hazards that might exist in a mission area, including health risks. Suitable control measures are then put in place to minimise identified risks. Where a health risk is identified, the control measures will include preventative medication where appropriate. Where malaria has been identified as a risk, the choice of chemoprophylaxis is dependent on a number of factors, including the type of malaria in the destination, resistance to particular drugs, the profile of the traveller - contra-indications, underlying health conditions, purpose of travel - the duration of travel and adherence issues. The choice of medication is a medical decision made by medical officers in the Defence Forces on the basis of best international practice having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member of the Defence Forces.
As the Deputy knows, the Irish Medicines Board is the statutory authority with responsibility for the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines for use in Ireland. The Defence Forces comply with Irish Medicines Board guidelines on the prescription of medicines, including lariam. I am advised that lariam is one of the most effective medications for protection against the type of malaria prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. It continues to be licensed by the Irish Medicines Board. I am further advised the Defence Forces are fully aware of the range of reported side effects attaching to all anti-malarial medications. Protocols are in place to control the risk of side effects in individuals. Malaria is a serious disease that kills approximately 1 million people per year in sub-Saharan Africa alone. It is a serious threat to any military force operating in the area and lariam must remain in the formulary of medication prescribed by the medical corps for Defence Forces personnel on appropriate overseas missions, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, to ensure that our military personnel can have effective protection from the very serious risk posed by this highly dangerous disease.
On 9 October 2009 and 6 July 2010, the director of administration wrote to express serious concern about this issue of risk assessment.
Specifically he suggested the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 needs to be adhered to and a medical risk assessment needs to be carried out because of genuine concerns about the use of lariam. A similar concern was expressed on 6 July when he wrote to the Defence Forces Medical Corps. The Minister stated risk assessments have been carried out. Will the risk assessments be published and if so when?
In the context of the issue raised by the Deputy I want to be absolutely clear. The Defence Forces follow best international practice in prescribing lariam. Personnel are screened for illness and medical suitability for service overseas. This automatically rules out from overseas service personnel with certain conditions, for example, depression, anxiety, pregnancy and neurodegenerative disorders which, as has been indicated by the Irish Medicines Board, are more likely to precipitate serious adverse reactions to lariam. The medical screening also involves an assessment of the individual's suitability to be prescribed the selected chemoprophylactic anti-malarial agent in line with Irish Medicines Board guidelines. These guidelines are available to anyone who wishes to obtain them. This typically involves a review of the individual's previous experience, if any, with the medication. The individual's medical history is also screened for these conditions which have been identified as precipitating serious side-effects in association with the medication. Each individual screened for G6PD status, which is an enzyme required to metabolise primaquine, an agent used on return to Ireland to clear the liver of any dormant parasites. In the case of lariam, blood tests are carried out to ensure the liver is healthy, as liver disease is an accepted contraindication to the use of lariam. Personnel are screened before and after deployment.
The question is very simple. Will the Minister publish the risk assessments? I have a sense of growing concern about this issue. When I initially raised it I wanted to be reassured by the Minister that everything that should be done was done. We have tabled a series of questions which have elicited very little by way of answer. We asked the Minister the medical experts who advised the Minister and the Department of Defence and their qualifications. We were told this information was legally privileged. Any group which comes together to advise a Department can hardly claim privilege in the circumstances. The medical risk assessment is based on the 2005 Act. Is the Minister claiming this is legally privileged and if so, how can he do so?
The only matter the Deputy knows is legally privileged is the report obtained with regard to lariam in the context of litigation pending before the courts taken against the Department of Defence. My recollection is much of the litigation arises from a time when the Deputy's party was in government and the members of the Defence Forces were serving at that time. It was the Deputy's colleague who was Minister for Defence who explained, as I am explaining in the House, the circumstances in which lariam is prescribed, the assessment necessary of individual personnel prior to the prescribing of lariam and the checks required to be undertaken on their return from duty. The issue of the safety of lariam in the State and the appropriateness of its being prescribed is a matter uniquely within the competence of the Irish Medicines Board. As Minister for Defence I will not second-guess the expertise of the Irish Medicines Board. It would be completely inappropriate for me to do so.
The Minister did not answer the question.
Defence Forces Equipment
5. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Defence the number of drones purchased by the Irish Defence Forces over the past decade; the reason for their purchase; the cost of same; the level of usage these drones have seen; if these tracking devices have been made available to An Garda Síochána as an aid to its intelligence gathering agencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52919/13]
I acknowledge the drones purchased are used to enhance the information gathering capability of the Defence Forces in overseas operations and to protect the Irish troops. I am interested to know whether the Irish Army is in possession of armed drones. The Minister may be aware that in 2008, an Irish Army drone disappeared in Africa following a technical error. Is the Minister aware of any instances of expensive Irish drones going missing since 2008?
The Defence Forces currently operate an unmanned aerial vehicle system, commonly referred to as UAVs or drones. These UAVs, are, in effect, an information gathering asset which have no offensive capability. They do not carry weapons. We do not have any drones which carry weapons in the context of the Defence Forces.
Following a tender competition, an order for two-man portable mini unmanned aerial vehicle systems and associated spare parts and training was originally placed with Aeronautics Defence Systems Limited from Israel, in May 2007. The UAV systems were acquired to enhance the capability of the Defence Forces to carry out surveillance and target acquisition for peace support operations and provide low-cost, low-risk means to increase capabilities and enhance force protection by performing missions which do not demand the use of manned aircraft. The acquired UAVs are at the very low end of the UAV spectrum and there are no weapon issues associated with them. In 2009, a further order for an additional two systems and spare parts and training was placed. The total cost on the UAV project since inception is approximately €3.35 million. The main feature in the additional acquisitions was increased flight endurance and the ability to carry better quality communications equipment.
The UAVs were deployed as part of the EU-led mission to Chad and the Central African Republic in 2008. The UAVs have not been used in overseas missions since April 2010. No further UAV is missing. The UAVs are for the sole use of the Defence Forces and have not been made available to any other agency in the State, including An Garda Síochána. The use of UAVs within the State is governed by the Irish Aviation Authority.
I understand a number of Israeli companies have won orders for defensive equipment in recent years as a result of tender competitions. Will the Minister confirm how much has gone to Israeli companies in recent years? He is aware Israel has violated more UN resolutions than any other country in the world. What is his view of dealing with such a state?
Israel has been the object of more UN resolutions than any other country in the world despite the difficulties in a broad range of other countries. I do not think it is a matter for today's debate. In the context of the tendering process, Israeli companies are entitled to submit tenders under EU rules and regulations, as are other countries and states. It is important we buy the equipment our Defence Forces require at prices appropriate in the context of the tender process. I do not have available at present for the Deputy information as to what equipment has been acquired from Israeli companies as opposed to equipment acquired from a broad range of other companies over the years. I will certainly make inquiries in this context and communicate with the Deputy.
I refer to the word "object" used by the Minister. Israel has violated more UN resolutions, so the Minister should not state they were the object of them.
The EU's new independent military body has indicated it plans to operate throughout Europe spy drones, surveillance satellite and aircraft as part of the new intelligence security agency. Concerns have been raised the EU is creating its own version of the US National Security Agency. What are the Minister's views and the Department's stance on this? How will it impact on the country, if at all?
The EU operates with the assistance of states. I am not aware of any EU agency which is seeking, as an EU agency on its own, to acquire military equipment of any nature or seeking as an EU agency to acquire, purchase and use large numbers of drones. I am puzzled by the Deputy's question. I am not clear to what the Deputy is referring.