Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
In commending the motion to the House, I would like to briefly outline the background to Ireland’s participation in the Austro-German battle group. The ambition of the EU is to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises with the key objective being the continued development of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. The European Union has set itself the objective of being able “to respond with rapid and decisive action, applying a fully coherent approach to the whole spectrum of crisis management operations covered by the Treaty on the European Union”.
A key element is the capability to deploy forces at high readiness, broadly based on what the EU defines as the battle groups concept. The purpose of this concept is to undertake operations known as the Petersberg Tasks, as outlined in the Amsterdam treaty and expanded upon by the Lisbon treaty. These include humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and peacemaking, crisis management by combat forces, joint disarmament operations, conflict prevention and post-conflict stabilisation. These tasks are those that are already undertaken on UN mandated crisis management operations, combining the efforts of civilian and military personnel. They recognise the need for a comprehensive response to crises to prevent conflicts and for co-ordinated action in post-conflict situations to ensure stability. The purpose is to enable the Union to be more effective in contributing to international peace and security in support of the United Nations by putting in place a rapid response capability.
A central tenet of Irish foreign policy is to support the multilateral system of collective security represented by the United Nations. Ireland has worked to uphold the primacy of the Security Council in maintaining international peace and security. This commitment has found expression in Ireland’s long-standing tradition of participation in UN peacekeeping operations. Participation in EU battle groups represents another means for Ireland to express its commitment to the United Nations and its principles.
At its meeting of 19 July 2010, the then Government formally approved the arrangements for Ireland’s participation in the Austro-German Battle Group 2012, agreeing to provide a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to participate in the battle group. The contribution will involve a Recce-ISTAR company, together with staff posts at the operational and force headquarters. Recce is an abbreviation of reconnaissance, while ISTAR is an acronym for intelligence, surveillance, target, acquisition and reconnaissance.
The total number of personnel involved in this battle group will be approximately 175, incorporating the Recce-ISTAR core of the battle group, a command and control function, a combat service support capability and a force protection capability. I must emphasise that this level of resource commitment will only arise should the battle group be deployed and should Ireland agree to participate. The commitment in terms of personnel, other than with a deployment, will be one officer.
The memorandum of understanding is an agreement between all the participants, namely, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, setting out principles in relation to the operation, deployment and management of the Austro-German battle group. There are various sections within the MOU covering areas such as definitions and reference documents; the consultation process; exercise, training, certification and operation of the battle group; financing, logistics, classified information, the status of forces and the issue of claims and liabilities; additional participation by other countries; timelines for coming into effect and termination of the MOU; and dispute resolution.
Most training will take place within the contributing member states’ own borders. However, some level of joint training with other elements will be required. In this regard, Defence Forces personnel will participate in joint training exercises alongside other members of the battle group in preparation for the stand-by period. Exercise European Endeavour 2012, the main Austro-German Battle Group 2012 exercise, will be conducted in May 2012.
It is important to note that each participant retains the right to deploy or not to deploy its forces, irrespective of any EU decision. Equally, each participant retains the sovereign right to withdraw its contingent at any time. The command of each contingent remains under national control, with operational control delegated to the operational commander. As a result, any deployment of the Irish contribution will still be subject to a unanimous European Council decision and then to the triple lock of a UN mandate and Government and Dáil approval. This will remain unaffected by Ireland signing the memorandum of understanding.
In 2007, following the approval of Dáil Éireann, Ireland previously acceded to a similar memorandum of understanding in relation to the Nordic battle group. While no battle group has deployed to date, the concept has yielded many benefits to the Defence Forces by improving interoperability with other member states’ forces. It has also enabled the EU to develop its decision-making processes for rapid deployment on crisis management operations.
Ireland’s active engagement in this area with the EU enhances our capacity to influence the ongoing development and evolution of the rapid response capacity of the EU, in particular reinforcing and acting as a strategic reserve for UN blue hat operations. Active engagement by Ireland across the range of activity under the Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy means that Ireland can help shape this policy in a manner that is consistent with its values and its support of multilateralism and for the United Nations.
In summary, Ireland’s participation supports the development of rapid deployment skills and capabilities within the Defence Forces, together with improved interoperability with like-minded states. It also enhances Ireland’s credibility as a provider of professional and effective military forces for crisis management operations. Finally, it reinforces our standing and capacity to influence the ongoing development of the Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy in support of international peace and security and the United Nations. I therefore commend the motion to the House.
Deputy Dara Calleary: Fianna Fáil will support this motion. While serving as Minister for Defence, both Deputy O’Dea and former Deputy Killeen invested much of their time in this initiative. I am sure Members will join me in extending sympathies to Deputy O’Dea on the death of his mother. The most intensive discussion during the relevant meeting of the Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality was on the use of the term, “battle groups”. It is a highly unfortunate term given the role envisaged for these operations. The danger, with the passage of time, is forgetting the reason such functions were given to the European Union. It was because of its complete ineffectiveness at the time of the difficulties in the Balkans, which possibly was the time of the greatest shame for the European Union project. As time goes on, people forget that shame and forget the various proclamations to the effect this could never happen again. As the Minister has stated, this proposal is subject to the triple lock and, consequently, a decision on any engagement must come before the Cabinet and before this House again. Given this level of protection and given the circumstances within which these operations were envisaged, Fianna Fáil has no difficulty in supporting the motion.
Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: It is only fair to begin by reiterating what Sinn Féin Members have stated previously in this House regarding the proud record of peacekeeping enjoyed by the Defence Forces. As with all deployments of personnel overseas, the triple lock mechanism applies. The last deployment subject to the triple lock mechanism was for a peacekeeping mission to the Lebanon and that deployment was supported by all parties in this House. I make this point lest anyone think there are Members who are opposed to overseas deployments in all circumstances, as this clearly is not the case. However, Sinn Féin has grave concerns regarding the possible deployment of Defence Forces personnel under the battle group arrangements. Sinn Féin considers battle groups to be more about military powers in Europe wishing to push Europe in a certain direction militarily than about any sense of responsibility to peacekeeping.
The term, “battle group” must be addressed. The terminology is important and the Minister already has recognised this fact during the select committee discussion on the motion. I have no doubt that some of our so-called partners in this battle group, such as Germany, for example, and others within the wider European Union seek the formation of a European army. Angela Merkel has repeatedly stated her desire to see the establishment of a European Union-wide army. This is the reason, when I hear terminology such as “battle groups”, I suspect it may be perceived by those who favour the creation of a European Union-wide army to be a first step towards this goal.
Sinn Féin’s other major objection pertains to the cost associated with these battle groups. The stand-by cost of €380,000 may not appear excessive in the context of the overall defence budget. However, it comprises a significant amount at a time when the State is closing Army barracks, reducing personnel numbers and when the financial cost of serving in the Defence Forces is rising due to rising transport costs associated with barracks closures. This is not to mention the additional cost of €10.7 million that would be incurred were we ever obliged to deploy personnel. While I acknowledge Ireland would be able to recoup most of these costs from the European Union, even were it obliged to bear one fifth of the cost, that would mean finding approximately €2 million from the defence budget. Ireland simply could not afford to deploy troops, which begs the question as to the reason we are so fixated on being part of the battle groups. While Sinn Féin would oppose this motion for financial reasons alone, far more importantly we will oppose it because we consider it to threaten the neutrality the State has maintained proudly since its foundation.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: As the present Government and its predecessor have sought to justify Ireland’s participation in these battle groups, they try to present the case as though Ireland is doing something that complies with the military neutrality for which this State stands and that we are merely involving ourselves in what essentially are benign humanitarian undertakings and that there is nothing to worry about. However, as already has been mentioned, the game is given away by the term “battle groups”. The Government can try to put whatever spin it wishes on that but it speaks for itself. Battle groups are battle groups and they are being prepared, trained and equipped for battle. Moreover, over the years, those who have promoted the increasing militarisation of the European Union and the development of what is an embryonic European army have been clear in some of their statements as to what is the real agenda. I believe it was Romano Prodi who spoke of the need to be able to fight the resource wars of the 21st century. It does not get more explicit than that. Even the Minister’s former party leader referred to the new tasks these battle groups would be allowed to undertake and pointed to the fact that peacemaking and crisis management by combat forces constitutes war by another name. If one makes peace using military force, one is making war. All sides in a war claim their intent is peace but pursuing peace through military means is peace on one’s own terms and is another name for war. This is what these battle groups are about and this is what the major promoters of the battle groups envisage as the ultimate intention.
If one considers the European Defence Agency’s vision documents and various position papers over the years, which are all part of the growing military-industrial complex that is being promoted and pushed within the European Union, they also are highly explicit about what it considers to be a role for the European military forces and——
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Funnily enough, only the other week we had a meeting at Liberty Hall, with Syrians involved, talking about how we supported the Syrian uprising against the Assad dictatorship.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The difference is that we are consistent in our support of the democratic and revolutionary forces across the Middle East whereas the Minister is selective. While he claims he supports them in Syria, he is not so quick to support them in Palestine or in Bahrain, and for that matter he is not so quick to say anything about how the generals are crushing the democratic movement in Egypt right now.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The Minister is selective because the real agenda behind his interventions in such situations, as well as the interventions of the European Union and United States, is to pursue their interests and their agenda and not the interest of the people of the aforementioned countries. This is what is of concern to me.
In addition, the financial cost of this measure is extraordinary. The Minister is closing down the barracks of soldiers and their families in the face of significant opposition from those soldiers and their families. He states it is necessary to do this for financial reasons because of the troika and all the rest, but yet we can afford to spend more. When Ireland participated in the Nordic battle group, I understand it cost €850 million and involved 100 soldiers.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Will the Minister inform the House with regard to the equipment the battle group will be using? Will there be tanks involved? If so, will they be used for humanitarian purposes? How much is our involvement with the battle group going to cost? From where will the extra money come? Barracks in this country are being closed and it is now intended to deploy an additional 75 soldiers——
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|Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.||Mulherin, Michelle.|
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|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
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|Stagg, Emmet.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Twomey, Liam.|
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|Adams, Gerry.||Boyd Barrett, Richard.|
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|Daly, Clare.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Ellis, Dessie.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.||Healy-Rae, Michael.|
|Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.||McDonald, Mary Lou.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McLellan, Sandra.||Nulty, Patrick.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Brien, Jonathan.||O’Sullivan, Maureen.|
|Pringle, Thomas.||Tóibín, Peadar.|
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