Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ceisteanna (35, 47, 58)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

35. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the details of the proposed participation of Defence Forces members in the German-led EU battle group; the rationale for same; the expected number of Defence Force participants in the battle group; if Army Rangers will be deployed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10382/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

47. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the detail of the proposed Defence Forces participation in the German-led EU battle group in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10386/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

58. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the implications of the decision to approve participation in the German-led EU battle group. [10202/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Ceist ar Defence)

Again, we are facing the prospect of Irish troops taking part in an EU battle group. It has been reported that the Army Rangers will be taking part in their first overseas deployment since the peacekeeping mission in Chad in 2008. Will the Minister of State outline the range of military equipment that our forces will be using? How does he consider that such training and activity is compliant with Ireland's role as a neutral country?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 47 and 58 together.

EU battle groups are designed to give the EU a rapid response capability which can be deployed in support of crisis management or humanitarian operations under the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy and in support of UN-mandated missions. Battle groups are designed to have the capacity to deploy within five to ten days of a Council decision and to be deployed for 30 days, extendible to 120 days. The UN strongly supports the development of EU battle groups as a capability that could be made available in support of UN-mandated missions. It supports the development of rapid deployment skills and capabilities in the Defence Forces, together with improved interoperability with like-minded states. Ireland's participation in EU battle groups supports Defence Forces capability development and interoperability and demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to the development of EU crisis management capabilities.

Ireland's continuing active engagement in EU battle groups enhances our capacity to influence the ongoing development and evolution of the EU's rapid response capacity. I refer particularly to the role battle groups can play in reinforcing UN operations. Participation in EU battle groups supports Ireland’s international security and defence policy and enhances our bilateral relations with other contributing member states. Ireland has participated in EU battle groups on a number of occasions, commencing with the Nordic battle group in 2008. Ireland participated in the German battle group in 2012 and 2016. On 6 February last, the Government approved Ireland's participation in the German-led EU battle group 2020, which will be on standby for the second six months of 2020.

The proposed Defence Forces contribution to the German battle group will involve a special operations task group. The group will comprise a special operations forces platoon - Army ranger wing, engineer specialist search capability, explosive ordnance disposal, EOD, capability, and a security platoon together with staff posts at both the operational and force headquarters. The exact numbers and composition of Ireland's participation remains to be finalised and is a matter of ongoing discussion with battle group partners. The total number of Defence Forces personnel expected to be involved will be approximately 148, which has yet to be decided upon. However, this level of resource commitment will only arise should the battle group be called on to undertake an operation and should Ireland agree to participate. The battle group will also involve Ireland’s participation in a joint field exercise-manoeuvre training of all the German battle group elements, which is planned to take place in Germany in early 2020.

The Government decision to participate in the 2020 battle group does not presume any future decision on deploying the Defence Forces on an actual battle group operation. Ireland's participation in an actual battle group operation would, as always, be subject to the usual triple lock requirements of a UN mandate and Government and Dáil approval, as appropriate, in accordance with the Defence Forces Acts. Ireland continues to retain the absolute right to determine for itself, on a case-by-case basis, whether it will participate in any particular battle group operation.

Discussions are ongoing on the battle group memorandum of understanding, MOU, which is an agreement between the participants comprising the battle group, namely, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland, Croatia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This sets out principles regarding the operation, deployment and management of the German-led battle group. While the advice to me is that Dáil approval of the MOU is not required, in the interest of transparency, I have decided to proceed on the basis of a voluntary invocation of the procedure under Article 29 of the Constitution and to seek the approval of Dáil Éireann for the MOU once it is finalised.

The Deputies who tabled questions in this grouping will have one minute each. I call Deputy Wallace.

Many Members of the Dáil have been raising the issue of Ireland's participation in EU battle groups for a while now and how our involvement is in accordance with our stated principles of neutrality but the Government's response is to always hide behind intentionally opaque language. Last month, we even had the Taoiseach translating the term "battle group" into the French term "force tactique" and saying that would be a better term to use, presumably because even the term "battle" is too much of an indicator of the purpose of these groups.

When the Government talks of any military matters, it is always in terms of peace, security, stability, crisis management and the progress of our forces in the area. While that skewing of the language of war carries on, the arms industry tightens its grip on policymakers in Europe and we trundle on towards the objective of an EU military. Will the Minister of State clarify exactly the type of crisis for which we are preparing? Our involvement in battle groups has seen our troops being trained in the use of armoured personnel carriers armed with 13 mm cannons, grenade launchers and other such advanced weaponry. What application does the Minister of State see for such training in the future?

I am very much supportive of our participation in battle groups. It is worth noting that we participated in Nordic-led battle groups in 2008, 2011 and 2015. We participated with the UK in 2016 and, to date, no battle group has ever been deployed in a military operation. It is worth noting these matters when people start to scaremonger and say the flood gates will open, we are heading into battle and this is an EU army. It is not any of those things. It is about being prepared to deploy our troops on UN-mandated missions in which we will be involved in peacekeeping, peace enforcement, conflict prevention and in providing assistance to humanitarian operations. That is what the Irish Defence Forces do and what we are committed to doing. It is what we have always done and will continue to do.

Will the Minister of State confirm to the House if eight to ten persons will be involved? That is what has been reported. I understand that Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia and the Netherlands are also involved. Will the Minister of State confirm to the House if that is his information?

I thank the Deputy for her co-operation in keeping to the time. I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Just because the Nordic battle group or the UK battle group were not deployed does not mean that the German battle group will not be deployed. It is appropriate it is called a battle group given the history, the way this was starkly outlined recently in a European Commission document on the permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, and the way it was also quite starkly outlined by Jacques Delors that the intention of those who are at the helm of the EU project is an EU army. Therefore, the term "battle group" is quite appropriate. Will the Minister of State confirm what exactly are the tasks that fall under the peace enforcement task, to which Deputy Chambers referred, that this battle group may take upon itself in the near future?

I also thank the Deputy for his co-operation in keeping to the time.

(Interruptions).

The Deputy has the right to vote Tá or Níl when that proposal would come to the Dáil.

Each Deputy has a final minute starting with Deputy Wallace.

That vote does not give me any comfort given that the two largest parties in the State are both of a hawkish nature. The Minister of State is saying that the term "battle group" is unfitting. That reminds me a little of PESCO. The Government pretends when it comes to this but the Europeans do not pretend in the same way. They are a bit more open about it. They do not call it a battle group for nothing. If the truth be told, we may end up in a battle situation. The Minister of State cannot guarantee that is not possible. The Europeans admit that. In the same way, PESCO is a far more serious animal than our State wants to acknowledge.

To keep up with our gung-ho allies, Ireland will have to spend more on military technology. Our defence budget is going to increase and it will not be spent on the wages of the Defence Forces. As for the idea that being involved in a battle group is good for our Defence Forces and prepares them for peacekeeping missions, our Defence Forces already have a very high reputation in peacekeeping without ever going near a battle group. That argument does not hold water.

We do not think that Ireland should have anything to do with the military affairs of European countries which like to promote the arms industry.

It has become a self-sustaining industry. The Minister of State knows that the global military spend this year will be the highest since the start of the Cold War. It is madness.

Deputy Wallace has said that the Dáil vote would not give him any comfort. What would not give me any comfort is sending our troops out on peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions without having been properly trained or without the experience they need. That is why it is important to participate in battle groups and to engage with other like-minded member states. To give an example of where this has worked very effectively, we worked with the Finns in the Nordic battle group. We then went on to partner with them in Chad and Lebanon. We trained with another member state and another country, worked together and went on to serve on a peacekeeping mission. This is a very clear example of the benefit of working within an EU battle group.

We have a triple lock in place. There are no absolutes in this life. We have very clear checks and balances. If ever a battle group is to be deployed, the Dáil must vote first. We will have our say in this House as the democratically elected representatives of this country. That gives me great comfort because it is how our country is run and has always been run. To date, we have only ever participated in UN-mandated missions and the UN fully supports these battle groups.

I do not underestimate the ability of the Irish Defence Forces to train their own troops. They have done so for many years and that training has stood the test of being on UN duties around the world. The honourable tradition of the Defence Forces' deployment on those duties is being undermined by the actions of this Government and the previous one in aligning themselves with EU battle groups and the proposals that I believe go towards an EU army, as I have outlined in the past. Does the Minister of State not accept that the title of "battle group" was not unfortunate but was quite deliberate, given what I said earlier about the Commission and those who are at the helm of the EU? They are not daisy pickers. It is a battle group in terms of the idea and the tasks. I ask the Minister of State what tasks exactly are involved such that a battle group can be sent. It is not just about peacekeeping. There is peace enforcement, taking sides, going into battle with an opponent if it is not willing to accept the diktats of the EU.

The possible missions in which we can participate include crisis management, humanitarian missions and issues surrounding that. Before we actually participate in such a mission, it has to come under the triple lock. It will come back here for Deputy Ó Snodaigh, every other party and every other Member of this House to vote on. That is only right and proper. Deputy Wallace spoke about the two largest parties voting in favour of this. That is democracy. If he had a party of about 100 members who thought like himself, then we would be voting differently. That is the way it is. We have to respect the democracy of the Chamber and the people who participate in an election to return Members here.

People say that members of the Irish Defence Forces can train themselves. Members of the Defence Forces on the ground who are actually participating in UNSO, UNDOF and UNIFIL, whether in Mali or any other mission, will say that the experience they got from participating in the Nordic or German-led battle group or whatever was really beneficial as they were able to work with like-minded nations when they went out on UN peacekeeping duties.