Other Questions

Defence Forces Operations

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

33. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the involvement of members of the Defence Forces, including members of the Naval Service, in the training of the Libyan coastguard in conjunction with the European Union’s Operation Sophia; the details of the training; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44038/17]

Clare Daly

Ceist:

50. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the participation of the Defence Forces in Operation Sophia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43974/17]

Operation Pontus, the search and rescue mission, was established as a humanitarian mission with the primary focus being on saving lives. Wonderful work was done and almost 16,000 lives were saved in the Mediterranean. The recent Dáil motion to bring Operation Pontus within the remit of Operation Sophia was a terrible development. The day before the motion was considered, a House of Lords inquiry in the United Kingdom concluded that Operation Sophia had failed in its mandate to disrupt the business people who were smuggling in the Mediterranean and had resulted in more deaths at sea of refugees and migrants. We raised this issue before the vote, but nevertheless so many in the Chamber voted in favour of the motion. How can we stand over it, given that we were doing such good work before?

I am surprised that the Deputy read a House of Lords report. I did not think he would be into it.

We would fit in well.

I understand. I did not think reports from the House of Lords had reached Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford.

It was in Bree.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 50 together.

The EU Common Security and Defence Policy naval operation EUNAVFOR MED (Operation Sophia), against human smugglers and traffickers, is one element of a comprehensive approach to addressing the migration crisis in the South Central Mediterranean. Operation Sophia was launched in June 2015 as part of the EU’s broader action to provide a comprehensive response to the global migration and refugee crisis and to encourage a democratic, stable and prosperous Libya. It specifically seeks to counter human trafficking and smuggling in the Southern Central Mediterranean by taking action against the criminal networks and disrupting the smugglers business model. The mission is also providing capacity building and training to the Libyan Coastguard and Navy and contributing to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution No. 2292. UNSCR No. 2292 imposes an arms embargo on Libya in an effort to prevent the flow of illicit arms and related material into that country.

The deployment of Irish Naval vessels to the Mediterranean over the last three years to engage in humanitarian search and rescue tasks has been an important element in Ireland's response to the migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Overall, 17,509 migrants have been rescued since Irish Naval Service vessels were first deployed in the Mediterranean in May 2015 as part of Operation Pontus.

In July 2017, I secured Government and Dáil approval for the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to serve as part of Operation Sophia. On 6 October last, LÉ Niamh and crew departed Haulbowline to join the EU naval mission and the naval vessel arrives in the area of operation this week. The specific tasks assigned to naval vessels by the Operation Sophia Force Commander will depend on the operational requirements in the Mediterranean area at any given time. As LÉ Niamh has only arrived in the region, it has not yet been tasked with any operational task. In accordance with the mandate for the mission, the Naval Service could be involved in surveillance and intelligence gathering operations, search and rescue operations and disposal of migrant boats and Force Protection Operations. A number of national caveats have been formally declared by Ireland and accepted by EU naval mission headquarters. In this regard, Ireland will only participate in those aspects of Operation Sophia which are authorised in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions.

The training being provided to the Libyan navy and coastguard as part of Operation Sophia aims to improve the security of Libyan territorial waters, to enhance the capability of the Libyan navy and coastguard in law enforcement at sea and to improve their ability to perform search and rescue activities to save lives in Libyan territorial waters. Up to September 2017, a total of 136 Libyan personnel have completed training, comprising mainly basic training delivered at sea by Italy.

Operation Sophia has so far contributed to the apprehension of 117 suspected smugglers and traffickers, removed approximately 480 boats from criminal organisations availability, contributed to 268 Safety Of Life at Sea events and most importantly, saved the lives of over 40,000 migrants.

As this is the first time that a Naval Service ship will be deployed in a Common Security and Defence Policy Operation, I would like to take this opportunity to wish the Naval Service well on what is a new and challenging role for them.

The International Organisation for Migration claims that it has rescued thousands of refugees this year. The Minister has claimed this as well. It is not true. Rescue ends with people being in a safe place. This process is pulling people back to a place of violence and human rights violations from which they have fled. It is horrendous that Ireland would play a part in this. Recently, in an open letter to EU leaders, Dr. Joanne Liu from Médecins Sans Frontière, said that, "The detention of migrants and refugees in Libya is rotten to the core. It must be named for what it is - a thriving enterprise of kidnapping, torture and extortion". She says that, "The reduced numbers of people leaving Libyan shores has been lauded by some as a success in preventing loss of life at sea and smashing smugglers' networks". Nothing could be further from the truth. This is totally disingenuous. She continues: "At best it is pure hypocrisy, and at worst a cynical complicity in the organised business of reducing human beings to merchandise".

This is not what we were doing before. Sending people back to Libya is like sending them to their death. This is not rescuing people any more. We are sending them back to die.

Some 56 Irish men and women have been sent on the LÉ Niamh to take part in Operation Sophia, along with the disgraced Libyan coastguard. This coastguard's purpose is really to wage war on refugees trying to get to Europe. Let us be clear about this. It is not correct to call the Libyan coastguard by that name. Much of it is made up of militias which have appointed themselves to patrol the seas. They have created their own crests, dreamt up their own military ranks and called themselves the Libyan coastguard before setting off for the Mediterranean. Working with militias dressed up as coastguards to push back migrants to rape and torture in Libya, the fact of which is well known, is something that we have a problem with. There are strong documented suspicions that the so-called coastguard is itself bound up in the business operations of traffickers and smugglers that Operation Sophia has, we are told, been set up to combat. One could not make this stuff up. The Defence Forces of Ireland, a neutral country, is participating in such an alliance. This will come back to haunt us.

Operation Sofia, like Operation Pontus, allows us to bring migrants to the coast of Italy. We have the authorisation and permission of the Italian authorities to bring any migrants picked up in Operation Sophia there. This is a UN mandated mission. The Naval Service has yet to be given full operation tasks involving the rescuing of people. People have been brought safely to port or transferred to another vessel from where they would be taken to a safe port. The ports of embarkment for migrants rescued by Operation Sophia are in Sicily. Operation Sophia specifically seeks to counter human trafficking and smuggling in the southern and central Mediterranean by taking action against the criminal networks and disrupting the smugglers' business model. By improving maritime security, Operation Sophia is actively contributing to the EU and international efforts for the return of stability in Libya. The EU strategic review of Operation Sophia, published earlier this year, has determined that despite the complexity of the situation existing common security and defence policy activity is starting to deliver some tangible results and remains a visible and prominent symbol of the EU political intent towards Libya and the region. Operation Sophia has so far contributed to the apprehension of 117 suspected smugglers and traffickers, removed approximately 400 boats from criminal organisations, contributed to almost 270 safety of life at sea events and rescued over 40,000 migrants to date. According to the International Organisation for Migration, the statistics to 21 September show that 16,566 have been rescued in the Libyan waters in 2017 alone. I do not want migrants to be leaving the Libyan coast. Thousands of these people are being drowned because they are leaving the coastline of Libya, with no one in charge of their welfare.

No one wants to see these people drown, but we do not want them to return to Libya either to be punished or killed. Operation Sophia does involve returning these people to Libya. The EU is boasting about the fact that the numbers crossing the Mediterranean are shrinking. The Minister said that Operation Sophia can bring these migrants to Italy. That is true, but unfortunately huge numbers of migrants are being returned. Why did Médecins Sans Frontière stop working on Operation Sophia? It has washed its hands of it because of what is happening. It is ashamed.

The Minister said that this is a UN mandated mission. He is correct, but shame on the UN for mandating this. This is not what should be happening. Europe is putting its energies into building barriers to prevent people from coming in. We have caused the destruction and supported bombing campaigns by the Americans and others. Over 60 million people have been displaced worldwide. Only a fraction of these get to mainland Europe. We are now preventing them from crossing, sending them back to Libya, and we think we are doing good work.

It is horrific.

It is very well known that returning migrants to Libya is condemning them to indefinite detention in what are essentially concentration camps, torture, rape and human trafficking. The International Criminal Court began gathering evidence in May regarding the treatment of migrants in Libya and the violent attacks on them and the NGOs working to rescue them in this region involving the very people we have now aligned ourselves with - the misnamed Libyan coastguard. In the words of human rights specialist Nora Mackard, "the European Union and the German government are of course aware of the situation in Libya […] by providing support they are also responsible and make themselves liable." This opens up at least the possibility that by participating in Operation Sophia, Ireland might find itself part of a future investigation by the International Criminal Court or somebody else into criminal breaches of international law by the Libyan coastguard. We have travelled a very long way from the founding days of our neutrality.

I respect both Deputies' views but I do not accept them. There is no issue with that. I disagree with some of their points. I see and hear at first hand from members of the Irish Naval Service who tell me of thousands of men, women and children losing their lives because they are being disembarked on the Libyan coastline in unsafe vessels which go out maybe a couple of miles and sink and there is nobody there to rescue and assist the people. That is totally wrong. We are stopping the smuggling of migrants by apprehending some of the people who are bringing in unsafe vessels to the Libyan coastline. This is a fully UN-mandated mission. We have participated in CSDP operations over a long number of years. This received Government and Dáil approval under the triple lock. Libyan coastguard training is a positive move towards capacity building by the EU mission. It is the fastest way to reduce irregular migrant flows and intercept smugglers' inside territorial waters. I believe this operation is working and we have made the right decision. It is one of the reasons I brought the memorandum to Government. I believe this is the correct course of action.

Question No. 34 replied to Written Answers

Defence Forces Personnel

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

35. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has considered the reintroduction of the fixed period promotion and service commitment scheme which were successful initiatives up to their withdrawal by his Department in 2013.; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44023/17]

Given the major shortfalls emerging in the Defence Forces at certain grades, will the Minister of State consider the reintroduction of at least one mechanism that worked in the past, namely, the fixed period promotion and service commitment scheme, which was done away with by the Department in 2013?

Fixed period promotion in the Permanent Defence Force was a promotion which took place after a fixed period of time. It was part of the terms and conditions of specialist service officers such as engineers and doctors. The whole notion of fixed period promotions as an expectation or a right continuing for specialist personnel did not sit comfortably with, and was not in keeping with the principles, of merit-based promotion, which was one of the terms of the public service agreement 2010-2014. While experience matters in terms of specialist posts, time served is not necessarily the best indicator of suitability for promotion. Fixed period promotion did not recognise individual contribution or the extent and nature of the work that an individual had done.

In September 2015, the Department of Defence reached agreement with the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, which provided that the policy of fixed period promotion would no longer apply for future officers inducted as special service officers. However, they will be eligible to compete in merit-based promotion competitions. Negotiations are ongoing with PDFORRA regarding the retention of fixed period promotion for new entrant instrumentalists in the Defence Forces School of Music.

The service commitment scheme for pilot officers of the Air Corps was withdrawn in 2013. The recommendations of the working group on pilot retention, which reported in 2015, are being progressed by a joint civil military working group. The working group's report contained a number of recommendations ranging from increasing recruitment levels to examining the current terms and conditions of pilots. Work on the implementation of the group's recommendations is currently ongoing by both civil and military staff of the defence organisation.

A range of recruitment methods are being used, including direct entry competitions for specialist positions, and the scope to further expand direct entry is being considered. I have also directed civil and military colleagues to develop terms and conditions to allow former members of the Defence Forces with sought-after skills to return to service.

It should be noted that the Department of Defence, in conjunction with the Defence Forces, raised recruitment and retention issues as part of the submission to the Public Service Pay Commission. This is specifically referenced by the commission in paragraph 6.13 of the report.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Section 3 of the public service stability agreement 2018-2020 provides that the Public Service Pay Commission be requested to complete a comprehensive examination of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in those sectors and employment streams identified in the report of the Public Sector Pay Commission. In this context, the Department of Defence will be making a submission to the commission when the commission commences this phase of its work. 

Yesterday, my colleague, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, updated Government on the next phase of work by the Commission. Following this update, the Government endorsed the terms of reference for the next phase of the Commission’s work. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, will shortly be meeting with the Commission to discuss this next exercise.

I understand what happened in the past but given the crisis at certain levels and in certain sections of the Defence Forces in terms of officers, particularly in certain key areas, surely the Minister of State will look again at reintroducing a system that worked and may help stop the flow of officers into the private sector through being either head hunted or believing there is no future for them in the Defence Forces. It does not sit comfortably with me or the public that key areas like the air traffic service are at breaking point. In fact, there are indications that a number of other captains in the air traffic service are due to leave and one is on maternity leave leading to a further shortfall which cannot be dealt with by people who have only just completed training given that additional training of four to five years required, which would mean that the shortfall is going to get bigger. Surely anything that might help plug that gap in our services should be addressed or at least looked at.

Section 3 of the public service stability agreement 2018-2020 provides that the Public Service Pay Commission be requested to complete a comprehensive examination of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in those sectors and employment streams identified in the report of the Public Sector Pay Commission. I would be the first to admit that there are a number of areas within the Defence Forces where there are major pinch points. The Deputy spoke about fixed term promotions. I can understand why they are there and why they are not suitable for the organisation. I am content that the Public Service Pay Commission and the public service stability agreement 2018-2020 will look at the areas of retention. The Deputy is right when he says that pilots and air traffic controllers constitute an issue for the Defence Forces as it does for many airlines. We have seen that in the public domain and the media over the past while. If I was to pick out pilots, I can assure the Deputy that there would be absolute war in other areas of the public service. It would be a case of us being asked, "Why pick out one area?". Therefore, it is up to the Public Service Pay Commission to look at the broad area across the board.

It will be too late by the time the Public Service Pay Commission or anybody else produces a report into this and the report is considered to address serious shortfalls we have seen in terms of the ability of the Air Corps to carry out its duties. It is not just the Air Corps. Does the Minister of State not accept that the Defence Forces are totally different to the vast majority of the public service given that the compulsory retirement age in the Defence Forces is completely out of sync with the rest of the public service and that, therefore, the Minister of State needs to look at them separately and have different ways of addressing shortfalls? In this instance, I am suggesting that this might be one of them.

It might not be the solution to all problems of retention but it might be something that would help.

I have committed to reviewing all contracts and I have put a civil and administrative committee together to look at direct entry and re-entry into the organisation. Quite a number of people, including officers, from a range of areas who left the organisation now want to re-enter it. Those willing to return include those in explosive ordnance disposal and pilots. In common with other militaries, we must be mature enough to accept direct entry. The Naval Service does it, and does so very successfully, and I see no reason we should not examine it for the Army and Air Corps. There are issues in respect of direct entry and, more importantly, those who re-enter, such as whether they should return at the same level at which they exited. These are areas we must examine and, hopefully, the matter will be brought to conclusion shortly in talks between the civil and military personnel.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

36. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans on aligning the Defence Forces industrial relations with that of the initial findings of the Garda Síochána working group which was recently approved by Cabinet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44021/17]

This question relates to the Minister of State's position on the findings of the senior Garda management report on industrial relations and whether it has implications in regard to the Defence Forces. If the proposals of Garda senior management were adopted by the Defence Forces, does he believe it would be contrary to the European court decision regarding the right to representation?

The conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, provides a formal mechanism for the PDF representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to engage with the official side. Having regard to commitments made under pay agreements, members of the Permanent Defence Force can make representations in relation to their pay and conditions of service through their representative bodies. Where agreement is not reached it is open to both official and representative sides to refer the matter to an adjudicator or an arbitration board to settle the matter. Permanent Defence Force personnel have achieved significant benefits down the years through this process.

When appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for defence, the Permanent Defence Force representative associations brought to my attention, the fact that the current conciliation and arbitration scheme requires some refining so that it can remain fit for purpose for the entire defence organisation.

The conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force has been in existence since the early 1990s and I agree that it is timely to review the scheme.

In this regard, I announced my intention previously to review the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the permanent Defence Force. The review will start by the end of 2017 and will be guided by an independent chairperson. Officials in the Department of Defence are finalising the terms of reference for that review and I hope to be in a position to circulate this document to the representative associations shortly.

The report of the working group on industrial relations structures for An Garda Síochána will be considered in the course of the review of the arrangements for the Permanent Defence Force

I have raised the issue before and I will not labour it but what is the fear of the Defence Forces organisations having full representational rights and being given the full ability to discuss pay and conditions in talks with their employer, even if it without the right to strike? Both the representative organisations which I met during the recent months are not looking for full trade union status or the right to strike. They seek the ability to fully represent their members and, when there are pay talks, to fully discuss the pay and conditions under which their members survive. They believe that recent European court decisions have confirmed that they should have this right and they will ensure that this decision will soon be reflected in this State. Rather than continuing to prevent their representation, will the Minister of State examine that court decision and implement it in the cases of RACO and PDFORRA?

PDFORRA and RACO both participated in the recent negotiations on the extension of the Lansdowne Road agreement which were facilitated by the Workplace Relations Commission. Both RACO and PDFORRA were invited to negotiations which were held under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission and were given the full esteem accorded to the non-ICTU associations. The Defence Force representative associations attended and participated at all plenary sessions which were attended by the public sector trade unions, representative associations and management. Senior officials from my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Defence Forces association had their own meetings which were chaired by officials from the WRC. The issues raised by the Defence Forces representative associations were considered in tandem with those raised by other public sector representative associations.

The Deputy also asked why they are not members. That is something that PDFORRA, in particular, has requested on a number of occasions, specifically in 2002, 2009, 2012 and 2014.

Personnel are the Defence Forces' critical resource. If we are to consider a request for associate membership of ICTU, we must examine the potential conflicts and divided loyalties that could arise where the Government decided to deploy Defence Forces in a situation of industrial unrest.

The Minister of State said that they were accorded the same rights of participation as other trade unions, but that was not the case. Does the Minister of State agree that many of the issues they raised were ignored while side deals were being made with other unions at those pay talks? RACO and PDFORRA continue to seek full rights and access at all levels that a trade union organisation would have in any future pay talks, which includes side talks and side deals on terms and conditions.

Following the interaction of members of both associations at the pay talks, I will meet both associations tomorrow. If we do not discuss the matter tomorrow, I will ask for their thoughts and for feedback on the interaction during their first time at pay talks.

On what is happening internally, the conciliation and arbitration process works, although it requires review. That is why I have initiated what I hope will be a very comprehensive review, chaired by an independent chairperson who will be given terms of reference and the teeth to establish how exactly the current conciliation and arbitration process, which has been in place for many years, can be improved. I have listened carefully to all representative associations over the past 12 to 16 months and following that, I announced the review at the PDFORRA conference in Cavan two weeks ago. PDFORRA was happy that I listened to its concerns over the past 12 to 16 months. It is an appropriate time to review the process and see how we might best improve it.

Military Neutrality

Clare Daly

Ceist:

37. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views regarding the nomination of a person (details supplied) as chair of the European Union Military Committee, in particular the way in which this nomination fits with Ireland's stated military neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43973/17]

This question is similar to my earlier one but such is the bounce of the ball in the Priority Question lottery. It relates to the nomination of the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces to the position of chair of the European Union Military Committee. When the nomination was announced, the Minister of State told us proudly that Ireland is one of the strongest contributors to common security and defence policy operations and that the nomination provides a positive and valuable profile for Ireland in the area of security and defence within the EU. Ireland is a neutral country. Raising our profile in the EU for security and defence is neither positive nor valuable.

I would like the Minister of State to critique how he can justify that in the context of our stated neutrality.

As I indicated in my earlier reply, following last month's approval by the Government, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces, was formally nominated on behalf of the Irish Government for election to the position of chair of the European Union Military Committee, EUMC. The position of chair of the EUMC will become vacant in November 2018 and Ireland's nominee, Vice Admiral Mellett, will line up for election alongside candidates from other member states.

As the Deputy will be aware, the EUMC is the highest military body within the EU and was established by a Council decision of 22 January 2001. It is composed of the chiefs of defence of member states who, on a day to day basis, are represented in Brussels by the military representatives from the Permanent Representations of the member states.

The EUMC operates as a consensus based collective, with the chair bringing together the views of member states and representing these to the European External Action Service, the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, and other relevant institutions, including the European Defence Agency, EDA.

The EUMC provides the Political and Security Committee, which comprises ambassadors from all 28 member states, who deal with all issues relating to the EU common foreign and security policy, CFSP, and the common security and defence policy, CSDP, with advice and recommendations on all military matters, including on all aspects of the planning and operation of the EU's CSDP operations. It also provides advice on EU military capability requirements to undertake CSDP operations and on military capability development requirements within the framework of the European Defence Agency.

Chairmanship of the EUMC has no implications for Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. Ireland already participates fully in the work of the committee through our military representative in Brussels and all meetings of EU chiefs of defence. The Deputy may wish to note that both Finland, from 2001 to 2004, and Sweden, from 2009 to 2012, have already held the position of chair of the EUMC as neutral countries.

Ireland is one of the strongest contributors to CSDP operations and remains committed to all aspects of CSDP and to the role CSDP can play in UN mandated peacekeeping operations. It is the case that the UN has continually stressed the important role the EU can and does play in support of international peace and security. Should Vice Admiral Mellett be successful, it would help to reinforce the existing strategic relationship between the EU and the UN.

Every time a decision is made that compromises our neutrality we are told it does not compromise our neutrality, and we are getting increasingly concerned about the Government's approach to neutrality being especially cavalier. When we raise concerns, as we did earlier, about the Irish Defence Forces being sent off to join the military offensive in Operation Sophia, we were told not to worry about it. When we raise again and again the use of Shannon Airport by US military troops we are told they are not involved in anything and they are just passing through on their holidays. When we raise concerns about this, we are told Sweden and Finland had it before and not to be worrying about it as they were previous chairs, and this is just about raising Ireland's profile, as if it was like Limerick bidding for the European City of Culture. It is not good enough, particularly given the imminent exit by Britain from the EU. As the Minister of State knows, France and Germany in particular have been the main drivers of a deeper European Defence Agency, with Britain preferring to line up with the Americans. In the absence of Britain, that drive towards militarism is likely to increase further and deepen, and Ireland will be fully absorbed into the EU military machine at that stage. The nomination explicitly ties us closer to the reality of EU militarisation, and membership of military alliances is not compatible with neutrality.

Before I allow the Minister of State back in, Deputies Wallace and Ó Snodaigh have indicated. I will allow both of them in, but I ask them to keep their comments as short as they can because it is Deputy Daly's question.

We allow a civilian airport on this island to be used as a US military base, from where it goes on to cause destruction in other regions. There is a humanitarian disaster taking place in Yemen at present, and arms going through Shannon are being used there. They are going to the Saudis, backed by the US and Britain. We cannot call ourselves neutral while we allow this to happen. I do not know how the Minister of State can do that and how he can say we are neutral when we allow this to happen. As Deputy Daly said, the militarisation of the EU is very worrying and we should have as little as possible to do with it. We have nothing to gain from it. We should not have anything to offer it. We should be neutral and have nothing to do with people who want to solve decisions with bombs, guns and whatever.

I agree with both Deputies who have spoken on this. If the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, is appointed or succeeds in his nomination, does he resign his commission? If not, will he still be bound by departmental guidelines, policies and instructions? We were told before the summer that the pressure for us to move a motion signing up to Operation Sophia came from within the Defence Forces. Is the award of a nomination his reward for succeeding in moving Ireland against its own neutral policy?

The Minister of State has one minute because I want to go back to Deputy Daly.

At a time when the world has become a more unstable and insecure place, Ireland remains fully supportive of the efforts of EU member states within the treaty provisions to contribute to the Union's capacity to respond to all the challenges in the security environment, including through the EU's common security and defence policy. The position of the chair of the EUMC, as I have previously outlined, is a key role in the EU institutions, bringing together the views of all member states and representing these to the European External Action Service, the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission. It does not bring into question our policy on neutrality. I believe this is a good move for Ireland, and I hope Vice Admiral Mellett is successful in his nomination to become EUMC chair.

Deputies Wallace and Daly have raised the issue of Shannon Airport, and I indicated previously this is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In September, the Minister of State sent the LE Samuel Beckett to one of the world's biggest arms fairs. Along with it, he sent a delegation of departmental officials to browse the stands of the arms manufacturers. There was, correctly, an outcry at the time. I do not know whether the Minister of State is blind to, or arrogantly ignoring the fact the vast majority of Irish citizens are fully behind our policy of neutrality and are increasingly becoming more alive to the Government's efforts to undermine it. The Taoiseach received an email this morning, to which we were copied in, from a citizen I do not know. She wrote to the Taoiseach stating she is very worried at the slow but definite movement of Ireland into the heart of the EU military structure. This is exactly what is happening. We do not have the military capacity to become a military power. All we are doing is exposing Irish people while not protecting them, by trying to play that game for some prestige or some unknown reason. We cannot abandon this policy. What is particularly offensive is the idea we are doing it without any real and serious dialogue in here.

I should have answered Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question. The chief steps down as Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces. He remains as an officer in the Irish Defence Forces but no longer Chief of Staff if he is successful.

Is he still answerable?

He is still an Irish officer of the Defence Forces.

There were further questions on us sending our Naval Service ship to the tradeshow in Britain. This is a decision I made. Babcock, the builder of our three naval vessels, asked me if I would consider it. I did so.

I also made a decision to send members to the trade show because we are in the business of buying equipment. It is like buying any equipment, be it a car or otherwise. Of course one is going to go to a trade shows to see what the best equipment is and what represents the best value for a country such as Ireland.

I thank the Minister of State and the Deputies for contributing to the debate over the past hour and 30 minutes. It was a pleasure to chair it. I wish the Members well.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.