Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (5)

John Gormley


3 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence the agendas for the various meetings of EU Defence Ministers and of EU defence directors during Ireland's EU Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3374/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (16 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The EU policy area of primary concern to my Department is the development of the military aspects of the European security and defence policy, ESDP. The mandate for the incoming Presidency, which was agreed at the European Council held in Brussels in December, invited the Irish Presidency to continue work on developing the European security and defence policy within the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC. The Government's priorities in this regard are outlined in the programme of the Irish Presidency of the European Union, which is fully consistent with the multi-annual strategic programme of the EU Council for 2004-2006 and the operational programme for the Council for 2004, which were drawn up jointly by the Irish and Dutch Presidencies.

My Department is progressing work in this regard at EU level using the established practice of meetings up to and including ministerial level. This will include an informal meeting of Defence Ministers of EU member states and accession countries which is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 5 and 6 April 2004, while EU Defence Ministers will also meet in Brussels on 17 May within the framework of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC.

Informal meetings at official level will also be held as and when required. The first such meeting of EU defence policy directors, which was held on 23 January, was a useful forum for senior officials from the defence ministries of the member states and acceding states to discuss the most important priorities of our work programme. Discussions took place on the development of the EU's capabilities to carry out Petersberg Tasks operations, that is, peace support, crisis management and humanitarian operations; progress regarding the creation in the course of 2004 of an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development as agreed by the European Council held at Thessaloniki in June 2003; developing and defining a 2010 headline goal; the development of an EU rapid response capability with an emphasis on supporting the United Nations in crisis management; and relations between the EU and NATO with specific regard to the capabilities development and operational planning.

An informal meeting of senior officials with responsibility for capabilities development and armaments procurement will be held in Dublin later this month to discuss more specifically the arrangements for the creation of the intergovernmental agency for defence capabilities development.

Given the developmental nature of the European security and defence policy and in line with established practice, agendas are normally finalised in the weeks leading up to the respective meetings. I will seek to ensure that discussions at ministerial meetings which I chair are focused on the priority issues related to progressing the Irish Presidency's work programme.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I note in his reply that he omitted to mention conferences on conflict prevention which are listed in the detailed calendar as supplied by his Department. Can the Minister confirm that these conferences will take place on 31 March 2004 and 1-4 April 2004? Does he agree with me that the best way to engage in conflict prevention is by supporting an arms trade treaty as put forward by Oxfam and Amnesty International? What is the position of the Minister and his Department on an arms trade treaty? Will representatives of Oxfam, Amnesty International and NATO be invited to those conferences?

I believe there was a meeting of the EU defence directors in Thurles, in the Minister's own neck of the woods.

I received this information from the detailed calendar.

The meeting took place in Dublin.

Will the Minister explain the term "defence director" and inform the House on the identity and role of the Irish defence director? I note the Minister has not mentioned the 36 meetings of the political and security committee which was instituted under Article 1.5 of the Treaty of Nice. He mentioned in his reply the co-operation between the European rapid reaction force and NATO. Will the Minister agree that the PSC is not compatible with Irish neutrality in its terms and co-operation with NATO?

I have rejected this contention from Deputy Gormley on many occasions. It is unfortunate there is not more time to discuss this matter. I have just returned from a visit of a few days to Liberia. If the Deputy is ever under any illusions about the necessity for a rapid reaction force to allow communities with resources to devise a way to intervene and prevent the conflicts and wars, Liberia is one stark example of that necessity. A few weeks after the arrival of the Irish troops the people were out with their little stalls.

I have no problem with that. I supported it.

The Deputy cannot have it both ways. He is trying to convince the public that there is militarisation and another agenda while the Government has emphasised many times that the agenda is peace, the Petersberg Tasks and making efforts to intervene earlier in countries like Liberia.

I am fond of pets, dogs in particular, but there are people in the Deputy's constituency who spend more in a year on their pets than these poor people have altogether. As far as armaments are concerned, the Government has made its position clear. Ireland has been a member of the United Nations for more than 50 years and worked towards these goals. We realise that the countries with a vested interest in selling armaments create significant problems in poor countries.

I specifically asked about the Irish Government's position on the arms trade treaty and the conference on conflict prevention.

We do not have any more time. We must move on to Question No. 5.

I ask the Minister to give just one answer.

A short answer, please.

I have indicated to Deputy Gormley many times that we have no problem with that but the Deputy wants to scare the people into a certain belief that does not stand up. I apologise to the Chair. The Deputy and I provoke one another.

I try not to.

I wish the Deputy would try a little harder.

Question No. 4 answered with Question No. 2.