Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (13)

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

12 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence if he intends to improve Ireland's military capacity as required under the new European constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3378/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The European and international aspects of defence policy were considered in great detail in the drafting of the Government's White Paper on defence, which was published in February 2000. The roles of the Defence Forces as decided by the Government include the participation in multinational peace support, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations in support of the United Nations and under a UN mandate, including regional security missions authorised by the UN.

Ireland and the EU both recognised that primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security rests with the United Nations. The EU is currently seeking to enhance and build on existing co-operation with the UN, as can be seen in the recent joint declaration on co-operation in crisis management signed by the EU and the UN in September 2003.

The draft EU constitution has yet to be agreed and remains under discussion among member states. In that regard, Article 40.1 of the draft constitution states that the common security and defence policy shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on assets civil and military. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The performance of those tasks shall be undertaken using the capabilities provided by the member states.

The development by the EU of a capability to carry out Petersberg Task operations, such as humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace support operations in support of the United Nations, is fully in accord with Ireland's policy regarding participation in overseas missions. To that end, the EU has made great progress in developing the security and defence policy in a relatively short period of time.

We have already seen some tangible results of the EU's operational capability, through the EU police mission, or EUPM, and the military mission "Operation Concordia", both of which have been supporting the EU's stabilisation and association agreement with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. We have seen the French-led EU deployment of "Operation Artemis" in support of UN Mandate 1484 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the police mission in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia known as PROXIMA. All those operations have, even in the short time for which they have been operational, supported peace and stability in their areas of operation.

The Government is committed to the future participation of the Defence Forces in Petersberg task-type operations in accordance with the provisions of the White Paper on Defence and our national decision-making procedures. In that regard, national sovereignty remains the underlying principle regarding participation in the European security and defence policy. Ireland will only participate in operations authorised by the UN as comprehended by the appropriate legislation, that is, the Defence Act 1954, the Defence (Amendment) No. 2 Act 1960, and the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993, where there is Government approval, and where the number of armed troops exceeds 12, a resolution of the Dáil.

Article 40.3 of the draft constitution states that "Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities". That proposal is fully in accordance with the objectives of the White Paper on defence, the major objective of which is to ensure that Ireland has a world-class military organisation. Much has already been achieved by the Defence Forces under the White Paper process regarding improving efficiencies, cost effectiveness and modernising capabilities. The Government is committed to the continuation of that process.

Our policy recognises the primacy of the UN in the area of international security. The proposals contained in the draft constitution have no implications for Ireland's participation in UN peace support operations such as our current deployment to UNMIL in Liberia.