I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 122 together.
A major challenge for the EU is to ensure that it is able to respond rapidly and flexibly to crises overseas. In this context, the Union is taking forward the development of both civilian and military capabilities.
On the military side, the battle groups-rapid response elements concept has been under development in the European Union for some time. From the outset of the establishment of the European security and defence policy, ESDP, in 1999, it has been envisaged that to carry out the full range of so called Petersberg Tasks, the EU's crisis management capabilities would need to include rapid response elements, available and deployable at very high readiness.
At the military capabilities commitment conference in November 2004, member states committed up to 13 battle group formations which will be on standby for a six month period to deploy to crises within a 15-day period. These formations have the potential to play a significant role in support of the UN, including through deploying at the request of the UN as a "bridging force", that is, deploying quickly to a crisis for a relatively short period, while a larger and longer term UN peacekeeping force is established.
After consideration by the Government, Ireland indicated at the military capabilities commitment conference in November 2004 that we were prepared to enter into consultations with partners with a view to potential participation. I have already had political consultations on this issue with both my Swedish and Finnish counterparts.
An interdepartmental group, which includes representatives of my Department, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the Office of the Attorney General, has been established to examine the policy, legislative and operational issues arising from possible participation. Clearly, an important component of this analysis will be the need to consider whether and how participation in EU rapid response elements could be accommodated to the legal requirement for UN authorisation of any mission in which Irish Defence Force contingents would deploy. I believe the consultation process and the report of the interdepartmental group will enable the Government to make a fully informed decision on Ireland's participation in rapid response elements.
As regards co-operation between my Department and the Department of Defence, there is long-standing and close co-operation between officials of both Departments on the full range of issues relating to international security and defence policy, including Ireland's participation in Partnership for Peace.