Thursday, 29 May 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Ireland has sought to play a positive and constructive role in the evolution of the European Security and Defence Policy. This inclusive project has been conceived and elaborated with the engagement of all member states, including Ireland, which will continue to participate actively in its ongoing development. With other EU member states, especially the other neutral and non-aligned countries, Ireland has helped to influence the overall parameters within which the European Security and Defence Policy operates by placing an emphasis on the primary role of the UN Security Council for the maintenance of peace and security. This emphasis has been reflected in the conclusions of successive European Council meetings. Conflict prevention has also been at the core of the Union's approach and Ireland has worked to ensure that this important dimension of European Security and Defence Policy is given prominence. I wish to see the continued development of the EU's role in the area of conflict prevention.
In the military capabilities area, the EU headline goal known as the Rapid Reaction Force provides that the Union should have between 50,000 and 60,000 persons available by the end of this year to undertake the full range of Petersberg Tasks. Ireland is playing a constructive role in contributing to the realisation of this goal. Up to 850 members of the Defence Forces have been committed from within the existing UN standby arrangements system to the pool of capabilities that has been created. Any decision to participate in an individual operation will be a sovereign decision for Ireland. In line with national legislation, such a decision would require a decision of the Government, the approval of the House and UN authorisation for the mission.
Progress is also being made in the civilian area. The Union's civilian crisis management capabilities continue to be developed across the four priority areas addressed at the Feira European Council: policing, the rule of law, civilian administration and civil protection. Concrete targets in each of the four areas have been exceeded through the voluntary commitments of member states and progress continues to be achieved in both conceptual and qualitative aspects. Ireland has worked to encourage a balanced development between the military and non-military aspects of crisis management. It is contributing actively to the development of the Union's civilian crisis management capabilities. Gardaí drawn from the pool of personnel available for international police missions abroad are serving with the EU police mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. At last December's European Council in Copenhagen, the Union indicated its willingness to lead a follow-on force to the existing SFOR operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Additional Information.Subject to UN authorisation, Ireland hopes to send personnel to the proposed EU-led operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina that may commence in the second half of 2004. Ireland and its EU partners must address the challenge of ensuring that the Union makes an effective contribution for a stable Europe and a more secure and just world. To this end, we will continue to work to influence the development of European Security and Defence Policy in close co-operation with the other Departments involved. I look forward to seeing further progress being made, including during Ireland's Presidency of the EU in first six months of next year.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Does the Minister agree the handling of Ireland's membership of the Partnership for Peace has caused a lack of confidence among the people? They feel they are not being told the truth about European Security and Defence Policy matters. Being up front with the people from the beginning is the only way to ensure they are properly informed when a referendum takes place following the current negotiations on the Convention on the Future of Europe and to ensure that the referendum is capable of being carried. Does the Minister agree that the fact that we cannot contribute to an EU peacekeeping mission in Macedonia is a rather desperate situation for Ireland to be in? Does he agree that a European common defence is being proposed for the first time? The Amsterdam, Maastricht and Nice treaties said that it may happen, but the current draft treaty says that it will happen. Can the Minister tell the House if he favours Ireland joining such an EU defence entity or staying outside of it?
Mr. Cowen: On the question of Ireland's participation in the Macedonia mission, it is obvious that the Government can only work within the legislative framework that is available to it. In the Seville declaration, the Government made a political declaration for the purposes of satisfying the people on its position.
Given Ireland's foreign policy traditions, it is important that people understand that the negotiating strategy of successive Irish Governments has been to maintain the sovereign decision-making rights, in respect of future participation in this area, of the Government and the Parliament. Other developments, such as those relating to UN mandates, endorsements and authorisations, could not, perhaps, have been anticipated in the legislation of the 1950s. We have had the Brahimi report since then and we are very much consonant with UN developments. We have to make sure that our legislative framework reflects developments in the UN area. There is no question of ambivalence or ambiguity here. It is a question of being consonant with our foreign policy traditions and recognising the developments that have taken place in respect of UN authorising and mandating.
I agree that we should ensure that we do not close off opportunities for Irish participation in areas which are totally consistent with our peacekeeping and peace enforcement tradition, such as in East Timor, on the continent of Europe or elsewhere. These issues must be approached rationally and on the basis of what is consistent with UN positions. If a review of our Defence Acts is required to ensure that we are consonant with recent developments, that is something we should approach in an obvious, pro-active and enthusiastic way. The Government and I are open, at all times, to ensuring that we do not close off opportunities for Ireland to participate in peacekeeping missions which are consistent with our traditions. We will make sure that that domestic legislative framework is up to date in respect of how the UN approaches these questions.
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