Defence Forces: Motion.

Thursday, 25 November 2004

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 593 No. 3

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Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Mr. Kitt): Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  I move:

I thank the House and the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for the expeditious manner in which they have dealt with this matter. It is important that our national decision procedures with regard to these matters work efficiently and effectively. In an increasingly violent world where conflict can so quickly arise and get out of hand, it is important that we make the necessary decisions about providing troops in support of peacekeeping operations. The manner in which the House has dealt with this matter shows how these necessarily speedy decisions can be made.

We had a very helpful and constructive debate in committee yesterday. I thank the committee members for their kind remarks with regard to the Defence Forces, which have made us so proud of the way in which they have approached their role as ambassadors for peace throughout the world. As a consequence of the manner in which they have conducted themselves, working in difficult and dangerous circumstances, they have brought great honour and goodwill to Ireland.

I witnessed this at first hand during my visit to Liberia in March of this year and Chairman Bryant of the national transitional Government of Liberia mentioned it when he called on me earlier this week to express his appreciation for Ireland’s contribution to peace in Liberia. He specifically paid tribute to the professionalism, humanity and kindness of the Irish soldiers serving in the UN mission in Liberia, UNMIL. He remarked how the local people come out to greet the Irish soldiers when they see them on patrol, waving to the soldiers, cheering them and warmly welcoming their presence and the important work they do. [826]Such are the reports we receive in respect of our Defence Forces, wherever they serve. They are not just professional international peacekeepers, but humanitarians and goodwill ambassadors, welcomed wherever they go. It is undoubtedly a tribute to our Defence Forces that we have come to expect no less.

I will outline to the House the reason for the motion and the need for its speedy adoption, and provide some information on the EUFOR mission. Under the Defence Acts, the deployment of a contingent of the Defence Forces on an overseas mission requires prior UN authorisation, Government approval and the approval of Dáil Éireann. This is the triple lock system. The Government expected that the necessary Security Council resolution would be passed by the end of October. However, for various reasons, this did not happen. One reason was the need to finalise certain technical issues with regard to the continuing role of NATO on this mission vis-à-vis the role of the EU. In addition, NATO assets are being deployed in support of the EU operation and certain issues in this regard had to be finalised before the Security Council could finalise its formal resolution. These issues were resolved last Friday and the Security Council then moved expeditiously to formally adopt Resolution 1575, which was passed unanimously on Monday last, 22 November.

The delay in finalising the resolution at the Security Council has imposed significant time constraints on Ireland in completing its national decision-making procedures. The EU is due to take over the mission on 2 December and our troops have to be deployed, in theatre, prior to the commencement date. Members will appreciate that it would have been inappropriate to bring a motion before the Dáil in the absence of the final Security Council resolution authorising the establishment of EUFOR.

On 9 November 2004, the Government authorised the Minister for Defence to, inter alia, arrange for the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for a period of one year for service with EUFOR, the EU-led mission in Bosnia Herzegovina, to be established under the authority of the UN as the legal successor to the NATO-led stabilisation force, SFOR. The Minister was also authorised to move a resolution in Dáil Éireann approving the despatch of this contingent. Under the terms of [827]the Security Council resolution, EUFOR is the legal successor to the SFOR mission in Bosnia Herzegovina, which was established in 1996 under a previous resolution. Members of the Defence Forces have served with SFOR since 1997 with the approval of the Government and Dáil Éireann. Since then, the Security Council has authorised the continuation of SFOR for successive periods and the Government has approved continued Irish participation.

At the Copenhagen European Council in December 2002, the Heads of State of the EU indicated a willingness to lead a military operation in Bosnia Herzegovina as a follow-on mission to SFOR. The Government subsequently agreed that, subject to completion of national decision-making procedures and the appropriate UN mandate, the Defence Forces would participate in a substantive manner in the planned EU-led follow-on mission. Similar to SFOR, EUFOR will be a chapter VII mission, that is, it is entitled to use force to implement its mandate and to protect itself and the international civil presence.

The role of EUFOR will be to assist the parties, to implement the Dayton peace accord and to contribute to the continued development of the secure environment necessary for the consolidation and stabilisation of peace in the region. In undertaking this important work, EUFOR will co-operate and work with the other agencies principally involved in the region. This co-operation covers a wide range of activities, including maintaining security and preventing a resumption of violence, supporting counter-terrorism and the fight against organised crime, facilitating freedom of movement for the local population and assisting the return of refugees.

The basis of Ireland’s participation in international peacekeeping is firmly grounded in the UN. Ireland is, and always has been, a strong and committed supporter of co-operative multilateral arrangements for collective security through the development of international organisations, particularly the United Nations. In this regard, Ireland has recognised and defended the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. The UN has recognised the advantages presented by the existence of regional organisations to which it can assign a mission. This is one of the major developments in the changing environment of UN peacekeeping. This increasing reliance of the UN on regional action for crisis management has, in part, contributed to the impetus towards development of the European Security and Defence Policy which focuses on crisis management and humanitarian operations, the so-called Petersberg Tasks.

The EU and the UN are natural partners in the field of peacekeeping and crisis management. The EU now has the capacity to mount peacekeeping operations. It has engaged in two military operations so far, in Macedonia and the Democratic [828]Republic of the Congo. Operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which the Defence Forces played an active part, is an example of the potential inherent in this development, where the EU provided a force, under a Security Council resolution, with France as the framework nation. Similar developments are occurring between the UN and other regional organisations. In the case of Liberia, the initial deployment of troops was from ECOWAS, a local regional organisation and in the case of Kosovo, it was NATO. As Deputies will be aware, when Kofi Annan visited Ireland recently, he welcomed the developments in ESDP and especially the development of EU rapid response elements which could be deployed at short notice in support of UN peacekeeping operations.

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Ireland is a strong supporter of a substantive involvement by the EU in crisis management missions within the framework of ESDP. Irish participation in ESDP operations is fully in keeping with Ireland’s commitment to the UN and our policy of military neutrality. Our activities in the ESDP and the UN are complementary and mutually reinforcing, and all decisions on Irish participation in these missions are taken on a case by case basis and are subject to the triple lock approach. Against this background, the Government is fully supportive of the participation of the Defence Forces in a substantive manner in the EUFOR mission.

Twelve members of the Permanent Defence Force currently serve in SFOR. These personnel will transfer to EUFOR upon the takeover of the mission by the EU. It is proposed to deploy an additional 42 personnel to EUFOR as part of a Finnish-led multinational task force. This will bring Ireland’s total deployment in the mission to 54. As is the case in all missions, a small number of additional personnel may be deployed from time to time to fill other roles within the overall mission. Within the Finnish-led task force, Ireland will provide personnel for the headquarters, the military police unit, joint military affairs verification teams and a national support element. An officer will also serve at the operational headquarters in SHAPE.

Ireland is the framework nation for the military police unit and for the joint military affairs verification teams, that is, it provides the central headquarters role in relation to these elements within the task force headquarters. Subject to Dáil approval, deployment to EUFOR will take place next week with a view to commencing operations on the takeover of the mission by the EU on 2 December. Initial deployment would be for one year, with the possible extension thereafter, subject to renewal of the UN mandate and a satisfactory review of the mission.

The Government attaches great importance to the overall health, welfare and security of all our troops who serve on overseas missions. While no absolute guarantees can be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions, it is my [829]policy and that of the Government to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately trained and equipped to carry out this mission. All possible precautions are taken to ensure the safety of our troops. Standard operating procedures are reviewed as necessary.

Troops selected for overseas service undergo a rigorous programme of training designed to help them carry out their peacekeeping mission and to provide for their protection. Due to the equipment modernisation programmes that have taken place in the Defence Forces over the past few years, Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment. This equipment enables them to carry out the mission assigned, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission.

The security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently assessed as stable, primarily due to the strong international community presence in the country. The attitude of the political parties and of the general public in Bosnia and Herzegovina to an increased EU presence ranges from neutral to positive. The phase during the handover to EUFOR could be used by some elements, who are adept at using any opportunity to cause trouble, to increase their activities. Disaffected parts of the population may also use this period to express discontent with their socio-economic situation. Thus far, however, there have been no concrete indications that any such activities are planned.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been relatively calm for some time now. It is a very different mission to that which we are undertaking, for example, in Liberia. The level of protection provided to the force is commensurate with its assignment. In this regard, personnel will be deployed with personal protection weapons and with the body protection kit, which is appropriate to the environment in which they are operating.

Ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and we continually review both personal equipment and force assets to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles. The situation will be no different on this mission and any additional resources or force protection assets required will be deployed as needed.

Similar to SFOR, all troop contributors to EUFOR are responsible for their own costs. It is estimated that the additional costs to the Defence Vote arising from participation in EUFOR will amount to €3,458,456.

This is a very important mission for the EU and for Ireland. It is a mission undertaken under UN authorisation and is the largest EU mission yet deployed. Ireland’s contribution to this mission is a clear manifestation of the importance the Government attaches to the development of EU capabilities in the area of crisis management and peacekeeping in support of the UN.

I commend the individual soldiers, who have served and continue to serve on overseas mis[830]sions, together with their families and loved ones. Without their loyal and continuing support, Ireland’s strong tradition of service overseas, under the auspices of the United Nations, would not be possible. This committed and dedicated service in overseas missions reflects well not only on the Defence Forces but on the nation as a whole and contributes to the excellent reputation which Ireland holds among peacekeepers throughout the world. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  I wish to share time with Deputy Coveney.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  That is agreed.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  Fine Gael supports this resolution. However, one concern I have about it is that it has happened in such a rushed manner. When I inquired yesterday at a committee as to why Government approval was given to participation on 9 November yet the UN resolution was not passed until 22 November although it had been expected in October, one of the explanations put forward by the Minister was that there was a difficulty about the sharing of NATO assets. I note the Minister of Sate said that part of the delay had to do with the need to finalise certain technical issues in relation to the continuing role of NATO on this mission vis-à-vis the role of the EU. I will table a parliamentary question to ascertain exactly what those difficulties were because I would not like to think that wrangling between some permanent members of the Security Council had once again jeopardised what we believe to be correct foreign policy.

From the time the stabilisation force was deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, its mandate was to implement the military aspects of the peace agreement, commonly known as the Dayton Agreement. SFOR’s role was to contribute to a secure environment that would lead us to lasting peace in the region.

I welcome the fact the European Union will shortly assume responsibility for this mission, which will now be called the EUFOR mission. It has been common practice for the UN since the publication of the Brahimi report in 2000 that it would subcontract many of its missions to regional forces, be it the African Union or the European Union. That is a welcome development and it has been done for practical and pragmatic reasons. It gives rise to a better trained force, one that can be more quickly deployed and one that can operate more effectively and efficiently.

This is the largest EU mission yet deployed. SFOR has stabilised the region and provided the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina with a safe and secure living environment. EUFOR will continue to undertake this vital role. Somewhere in the region of 80% of the troops currently participating there will continue to participate under the new mandate. There must be no return to the appalling violence and consequent loss of human [831]life that was so widespread in the region in the 1990s when in a three year period somewhere in the region of 200,000 people were slaughtered under what is commonly known as ethnic cleansing.

We should not forget that when this force was deployed in 1995 more than 60,000 troops were sent to the region. Matters have stabilised so much that now the number of troops there are in the region of 7,000. Ireland has been involved in this force from 1997, when Irish troops were deployed to serve as part of the military police company in Sarajevo. In January 2003, the military police contingent withdrew from SFOR but the Defence Forces have continued to staff a number of posts in Sarajevo headquarters.

The SFOR mission was NATO-led, operating with the authorisation of the United Nations. The new security realities mean that we are starting to realise that European states should be doing more to address such crisis situations, such as those which arose in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo. However, the SFOR mission was thrown into crisis in 2002 when the United States vetoed a resolution at the United Nations to renew the mandate of the force. This was due to the refusal of the United States administration to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over its defence personnel. Although this matter had no material relevance to the situation in Bosnia, the United States took advantage of the vote at the United Nations to highlight its displeasure with the ICC.

This US action threatened not only the Bosnian mission but all UN peacekeeping operations, and was deeply criticised by the Secretary General of the UN. The matter was subsequently resolved following the reaching of a compromise agreement at the Security Council. However, this scenario, as with the situation that has pertained regarding the peace force in Macedonia, brought into sharp relief the difficulties that can arise when UN resolutions are sought, even for the most straightforward and obviously deserving of cases.

Ireland, under our triple lock system, is giving the countries of the UN Security Council a veto over the time and place that we can deploy members of our Defence Forces. If the US had vetoed the resolution on SFOR forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ireland would have had to leave the country immediately despite the fact that we are happy to participate and currently have troops on the ground there. Similarly, Ireland does not have a presence in Macedonia as China vetoed the renewal of the UN resolution, due to the fact that Macedonia had recognised Taiwan. Ireland was one of the 14 countries which had to leave. The remaining 13 countries were able to remain.

Put simply, allowing other countries to exercise a veto over our Defence Forces is deeply unwise, grossly unsatisfactory and should not be the case for a sovereign nation. We should have a mature [832]confidence in our foreign policy and be able to make a decision to participate based on the merits of each case. We should not be held to ransom by other countries.

I respect divergence of view. Nevertheless, there is an inherent contradiction in those sections of Irish society which, while quick to condemn American foreign policy on many issues are here allowing the United States to dictate our foreign policy by accepting the US veto at the United Nations. I do not say we should embrace every conflict and send troops left, right and centre. Fine Gael strongly believes that our decision to participate should be based on the merits of each case. The decision should be made in Ireland by our Government and Oireachtas, subject to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

These difficulties will arise again in the context of the development of EU battle groups. I welcome the Government’s commitment to EU battle groups. Ireland should consider co-operating in such groups with all EU countries and should not limit our co-operation to countries such as Sweden and Finland. If a lack of human and financial resources prevents us from supplying a full battle group we should consider providing a technical element, such as signals or transport as back-up to one of the other contingents. We should not rule out supporting any contingent. Recent newspaper reports have referred to the trauma of co-operating with the British army. Irish troops have served with British troops in Cyprus in the UNFICYP mission. On at least two occasions, Irish officers commanded that force, which consisted of 300 or 400 soldiers.

The Minister for Defence should take the opportunity to re-examine the triple-lock mechanism, which limits Irish involvement in overseas missions. I welcome the Tánaiste’s comments in reply to Deputy Kenny yesterday. She said:

I hope those comments will lead to a more open, frank and honest debate on this issue.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. I spoke on the same issue last week in the European Parliament in Strasbourg when the Parliament approved the ALTHEA mission, as EUFOR is called there. The transition takes place on 2 December.

There is confusion about the need to keep the triple-lock system if we are to be consistent with the UN and what it is trying to do. There is no stronger supporter than me of the UN as a means of dealing with multnational issues. Nevertheless, the Irish Government and people should decide where Irish troops go and what they do. We [833]should not be reliant on approval by China, Russia, the United States, Britain or France to send our troops to parts of the world where they may be needed and when there may be a political conflict of interest. If, God forbid, civil war were to break out in the Ukraine following the disgraceful presidential election campaign in that country, we would not be able to send troops there because Russia would probably veto a peacekeeping mission at the UN Security Council. Ireland would not be able to participate in a decision that would be taken by Ireland and by the European Union in such a hypothetical situation.

It is nonsense to suggest that to remain consistent with UN values we must keep the triple-lock system in place. We are mature enough to make that decision in our own right at this stage. The Government needs to take this debate forward. It will certainly get support from the largest Opposition party in the House in doing so.

I welcome the ALTHEA mission. It is the largest example so far of European Union willingness to take on responsibility for military peacekeeping operations in different parts of the world. We need to do more of this. We owe it to the world to do this because we are wealthy enough to be able to do it. Relying on US troops for international missions of complexity is no longer good enough.

This is why I welcome the fact that the Government, at a recent Council meeting, gave its support to the concept of battle groups. The triple-lock system and the concept of the European Union being able to debate where it should send battle groups will give rise to conflicts. Battle groups will consist of 1,500 troops. It is proposed to set up 13 battle groups in Europe by the year 2010 and I hope Ireland will participate in one of those. We cannot provide a battle group because we can send only 750 or 800 troops abroad at any time.

I encourage the Government to continue working with other countries towards increasing co-operation. This will improve Irish effectiveness from a peacekeeping point of view. It is unfortunate that battle groups are so called. It is a shame they are not called peacekeeping groups because battle groups suggest going to war, which is not their function. I hope the Minister will consider carefully what I have had to say.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Yesterday, the Labour Party expressed its concern at the speed with which this issue was being dealt with. We stated that a more thorough debate than originally scheduled was appropriate. In this respect, we welcome the opportunity to discuss the despatch of Irish troops for service with EUFOR in Bosnia Herzegovina.

I am concerned about a number of issues, particularly the maintenance of the triple-lock procedure and the wording of the motion we are being asked to approve. Critics of the triple-lock mechanism often complain that its nature — the need for a UN [834]mandate, a Government decision and Dáil approval — means that the process of deciding what missions Irish troops are involved in is cumbersome, unwieldy and time consuming. However, given that the Security Council only yesterday adopted the resolution on EUFOR taking over the stabilising role in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that Dáil approval is already being debated, the triple-lock procedure is justified.

If there is a problem it is not with the triple-lock procedure but with the manner in which the United Nations Security Council functions. The Labour Party has long argued for Security Council reform. The council is now less representative than it has been at any stage in its history as its membership has not increased since 1965, even though total UN membership has grown by 60%. Only 15 out of 185 UN members have Security Council membership. If the Security Council is to continue to have legitimacy, its composition must be made more globally representative. The veto power of the big five permanent members should be eliminated and substituted with a blocking minority provision to protect the rights of smaller countries. There should be a rebalancing of the permanent membership on a regional basis, but with the intention of eliminating the right to permanent membership altogether.

Meanwhile, however, we must accept the decisions arrived at by the Security Council as the ultimate decision-making body for global security.

While I would prefer more time to debate the implications of the Security Council resolution mandating EUFOR, as well as the consequences for peacekeeping in the Balkans and our troops’ involvement and activities in Bosnia, I recognise that a speedy decision is desirable. Therefore, the Labour Party is content to give its assent to the motion before the House.

This procedure proves that the triple lock mechanism works. It is not unwieldy and can be implemented quickly. Ireland is a neutral country but, as we all know, neutrality has many different guises. We therefore believe that our neutrality should be defined in the Constitution. Inserting the triple lock mechanism in the Constitution would ensure that Irish troops take part only in UN-mandated missions and that the triple lock procedure is guaranteed. This is a subject to which we will be returning in the context of the debate on the EU constitution.

I have some concerns about the wording of the motion. My colleague, Deputy Sherlock, outlined these in committee yesterday and I would like to know if the Minister has had an opportunity to address them. The Defence Act explicitly states that Irish involvement in any international United Nations force, such as EUFOR, must be established “by the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations”. However, the motion states that EUFOR has been established “under the authority of UN Security Council Resolution No. 1574”.

[835]There is a subtle but important anomaly here. There is a distinction between activities “established under the authority of the UN Security Council” and those “established by the Security Council”. Our Constitution recognises the distinction between both types of activity. For example, in Article 28.2 of the Constitution both terms are used to state: “The executive power of the State shall, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, be exercised by or on the authority of the Government.” Put simply, the motion before us is at variance with the terms of the Defence Act. This situation has arisen because the section of the Defence Act referred to was drafted at a time when the United Nations did not sub-contract peacekeeping missions to other international bodies such as the EU or NATO. The previous Minister for Defence was aware of this situation but did not agree with our argument. I would like the new Minister, therefore, to give this issue his consideration as it could cause problems for him in future.

I wish to be associated with the remarks of the Minister and other colleagues in thanking members of the Defence Forces for their wonderful work as ambassadors for Ireland on overseas missions. They have served the nation well in various parts of the world. They have undertaken important peacekeeping initiatives and the good name of Ireland has always benefited from their endeavours abroad. We all appreciate their work. Sadly, there have been fatalities during overseas service since 1960 when such foreign missions began. However, we also have wonderful memories of past missions undertaken by the Defence Forces. I wish all the members of the new task force a successful mission and a safe return home.

Will the Minister ensure that all necessary logistical means to link members of the mission with their families, especially approaching Christmas, will be made available by the Army? Our troops overseas have been our greatest ambassadors over the past 40 years.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  EUFOR is the largest EU security and defence policy mission to date. Our participation will cost the State approximately €3.5 million a year, none of which will be refunded, in contrast to the partial refund we received for previous UN deployments.

Sinn Féin agrees there is a need for the international community to play a positive and constructive role in ending the conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina and to assist the transition to a post-conflict society. We accept the ongoing need for a peacekeeping mission there and would show no reluctance towards the deployment of Irish Defence Forces on such a mission if it were UN-led. However, NATO should not have been the force leading IFOR and SFOR in the first place and the EU should not be leading the EU military force mission, EUFOR, now.

I acknowledge that the involvement of these military alliances represents a failure of the UN [836]system. However, by rights, the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia Herzegovina should be a UN force, with the full participation of EU member states, each in its own right, under UN leadership.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is the Deputy sharing his time with other Members?

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I apologise. I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Gormley.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  The shift from a NATO-led mission to an EU-led one is scarcely an improvement. Sinn Féin would prefer to see a situation where the UN is reformed, strengthened and given the support it deserves so that the so-called outsourcing of peacekeeping operations to regional military alliances, such as the EU rapid reaction force and NATO, will end. The UN was created to render such regional military alliances obsolete. The fact that the UN is now so often prevented from taking up its rightful role represents an unacceptable situation about which many in the international community, including the Government and others in the House, have grown complacent.

The progressive marginalisation of the UN has surely fed the resurgent unilateralism in the case of Iraq. I want to take this opportunity to put on record Sinn Féin’s opposition to the Government’s commitment of Irish troops to EU battle groups. This EU proto-army will not require a UN mandate and would bring Irish troops under the command of another EU state. Not all EU countries are participating and the Government should not pledge Irish troops in this way. Sinn Féin is critical of this deployment but, in recognition of the genuine need for international involvement in Bosnia Herzegovina and the UN mandate for EUFOR, we have decided not to block the motion on this occasion.

Mr. F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important motion which seeks the approval by Dáil Éireann of the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with EUFOR in Bosnia Herzegovina. Before going into the details of the issue of sending our soldiers into a conflict zone and thereby risking their lives, this is an appropriate time to challenge those who seem to have a problem with our positive and constructive neutrality position and who want to undermine that position and move us into military alliances. We must be vigilant and on the ball as many of us have witnessed the constant undermining of our neutral position. We must also face the reality that there are people in this House who openly want us to join NATO and other military alliances. At least we know where they stand. There are more sinister elements that [837]pretend otherwise but want to get us gradually sucked into assisting certain military powers.

I welcome and support the triple lock mechanism which requires prior UN authorisation, Government approval and the approval of Dáil Éireann. However, I have concerns when I hear Ministers say on the one hand that the Government’s position is fully in keeping with Ireland’s commitment to the United Nations and our policy of military neutrality while at the same time stating that Ireland is a strong supporter of a substantive involvement in EU crisis management missions. I am concerned about the possible contradictions therein, as well as the Government’s “blind eye” attitude to the United States use of Shannon to send its troops on their way to the killing fields of Iraq.

As we debate this important overseas mission, let me set the record straight on my position on neutrality. I wish to clarify the issue for those who say we have no policy or that somehow we are sitting on the fence regarding international issues, including conflicts. That is rubbish. I want to show the House where I stand so that people can then judge. I have five core principles. It is within the OSCE and a reformed United Nations, not the EU, that Ireland should pursue its security concerns. Ireland should pursue a positive neutrality and an independent foreign policy and not join or form an association with any military alliance such as the WEU or NATO. Ireland should seek to promote European and international security through a policy of disarmament and demilitarisation and should, therefore, oppose the militarisation of the EU. Ireland should refuse to co-operate with or condone in any way policies or military groupings which maintain nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction. Irish troops should only serve abroad as peacekeepers under the auspices of the United Nations. A red light goes on in my head when I hear people like the former President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, say, as he did on 13 February 2001: “Are we all clear that we want to build something that can aspire to be a world power?”

I use the opportunity of this debate to thank and commend our troops who have served the United Nations for many years. Many have given their lives in the cause of peace and conflict resolution and I pay tribute to them. The missions have always been for peace and humanitarian reasons, never offensive, imperial or abusive. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  The Green Party previously supported SFOR in Bosnia, which was NATO-led and had a UN mandate. The decision made at the NATO summit in June to replace SFOR with an EU force has been hailed by member states of both NATO and the EU. It is seen by many as an opportunity for the EU to bolster its credibility as a security actor in Europe and on the world stage. Of course it also suits the US, which can now declare that at least one of its long-term military [838]deployments is successfully completed. Notwithstanding these obviously geopolitical motives, it is obvious that Bosnia requires a further period of stabilisation. Our preference of course would be for a UN force to carry out these duties. However, listening to Kofi Annan’s recent speech in Dublin Castle, it is clear he is now at the beck and call of the most powerful regional blocs and an exclusively UN force would appear to be a thing of the past.

For this mission to be successful it is vital that we listen carefully to the Government in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Last July the Foreign Minister, Mladen Ivanic, called for the country’s international administrators to be withdrawn within two years. He said the time had come to close the office of the high representative, the international body that had supervised and run the Bosnian Government since 1995. He would like to see Bosnia and Herzegovina as a normal country with its own institutions, without a high representative, but with a special representative of the European Union. EUFOR now has an opportunity to make this happen. Obviously this would be with a view to EU membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina some time between 2009 and 2012. Before this can happen, wartime suspects such as Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic must be apprehended and handed over.

This mission is not without risk, as the Government has acknowledged. The hand-over could be used by extreme elements to exploit discontent. I wish our Defence Forces the very best. They have performed outstandingly as part of other UN contingents and I have no doubt they will do the country proud once more. We enjoy an excellent and well-deserved reputation as peacekeepers.

I, like many of my colleagues on this side of the House, want to retain the triple lock mechanism. I agree with Deputy Wall who has stated we must reform the UN and not embark on a unilateral course as has been suggested by some of the Fine Gael speakers today, which would be ill advised. Ukraine has been used as an example. If we decided to go in and sort out Ukraine, we would embark on a war with Russia. That is why the triple lock mechanism is in place — it makes total sense. The UN is by no means a perfect organisation and it must be reformed. However, it forms the basis of international law. If we abandon international law we will behave like the US, which we do not want to do. Those of us speaking in favour of retention of the triple lock mechanism should be listened to. I agree it should be inserted in the Constitution.

I was glad to hear what Deputy Wall had to say. Last week in Dublin Castle some of his colleagues, particularly Tony Browne, suggested that we should abandon the triple lock mechanism.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  He is a man of vision.

[839]Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  He might want to join Fine Gael. The motion is worthy of support and I commend it.

Question put and agreed to.

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