Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea): I thank the Members for agreeing to debate this Bill at short notice. It is a short Bill, designed to amend and update the defence Acts regarding the despatch of members of the Permanent Defence Force on overseas duties. The despatch of members of the Defence Forces overseas is a concrete expression of Ireland’s foreign policy objectives and, in particular, our support for the UN and for multilateral arrangements for the preservation of international peace and security, and Ireland’s commitment to meet our international obligations in that regard.
This Bill provides for amendments to the definition of “International United Nations Force”, together with provisions for overseas training and exercises by the Permanent Defence Force, humanitarian operations and a number of avoidance of doubt provisions concerning existing duties undertaken by the Defence Forces outside the State.
The Defence (Amendment)(No. 2) Act 1960 and the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993 provided for the despatch of members of the Permanent Defence Force outside the State as part of an international United Nations force. However, members of the Permanent Defence Force have also been despatched for other reasons, such as carrying out official duties, undergoing training, representing the Defence Forces at sporting events, etc. This Bill will provide for such deployments, with the approval and under the authority of the Government and the Minister for Defence.
The Bill also provides that members of the Permanent Defence Force may be despatched overseas to undertake military exercises, which represents a change in the standard training regime for the Defence Forces. For the first time the Government will have the authority to despatch members of the Defence Forces to undertake humanitarian tasks in response to a disaster or emergency.
Section 1 provides a definition of “international organisation” and, in conjunction with section 3(1), covers the assignment of personnel of the Permanent Defence Force to appointments in specified international organisations, such as the UN, the EU and OSCE and other regional organisations involved in UN peacekeeping operations such as NATO and the African Union. The Bill will formalise arrangements in respect of existing military representatives in the UN, the EU and the OSCE. It will also allow for existing appointments in the PfP liaison office in NATO where members of the Permanent Defence Force are currently deployed in Ireland’s representative office.
Section 1 also amends the definition of “International United Nations Force”, as provided for in the 1960 and 1993 Acts, to reflect the changes in the organisation and structure of forces deployed on peace support operations under a UN mandate and, in particular, the use of regional organisations to provide forces for peace support operations. The definition also reflects the variations in the language used in UN Security Council resolutions, such that the Permanent Defence Force will not be precluded from participating in a UN peace support operation solely on the basis of specific language used in a resolution. Currently, members of the Permanent Defence Force may only participate in missions established or authorised by the UN Security Council. The terms in the definition — for example, the inclusion of the terms “endorsed” and “supported”— correspond with language which has generally been used in previous UN Security Council resolutions.
Section 2 applies the new definition of “International United Nations Force” to certain provisions of the 1960 Act, in particular, the authority to despatch contingents of the Permanent Defence Force on overseas operations subject to UN authorisation and the approval of Dáil Éireann, as appropriate. It also applies the new definition to technical provisions in the 1960 Act concerning transfers, service, courts martial and the registration of births and deaths.
Section 3 provides for the despatch of members or contingents of the Permanent Defence Force on a range of assignments overseas including carrying out representational duties, filling staff postings, going on training courses, ceremonial duties, visits, meetings, sporting events, fact-finding missions, etc., outside the State, as they have always done. Some of these duties have been part of the Permanent Defence Force since the foundation of the State.
Two provisions in section 3 require specific mention. Participation in exercises will include field exercises and is an extension of the existing training regime, and deployment on humanitarian tasks. It is important to the ongoing training of the Defence Forces that they can undertake training overseas and learn from best practice in other countries. This training is essential to the development and maintenance of high standards in the military and our existing peace support operations, where we work alongside many other armies. We cannot continue with the current situation where our first joint training is when we are on the ground in a live and potentially dangerous environment. In certain situations, we will need to engage in joint training with other countries with whom we will be deployed in multinational forces on peace support operations, blue hat or otherwise, so we can operate from the outset as an effective and cohesive force.
As a matter of course, there is no UN Security Council resolution for humanitarian operations in response to disasters since they do not generally represent a threat to international peace and security. It is vital that the Government can respond to legitimate and urgent requests for humanitarian relief by affected states in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, including being able to provide resources and equipment which may only be available from military means, such as temporary accommodation, tents, water treatment plant, generators, lifting equipment and other capabilities. Under the current arrangements, the Government has no authority in this area and Defence Forces personnel must volunteer for service with a civil undertaking, such as an NGO, in the same manner as any ordinary citizen, whereupon the NGO would then deploy them to the disaster area. The provision in this Bill provides the requisite authority for the Government to despatch members or contingents of the Permanent Defence Force on humanitarian operations.
Section 4 provides that all existing serving members of the Permanent Defence Force will be liable for service overseas on UN operations and for duties provided for in section 3 of the Bill. The 1960 and 1993 Defence Acts provided that only persons enlisting after the date of enactment of those Acts could be required to serve as part of an international United Nations force. The provision in the 1960 Act is now obsolete as there are no such serving personnel in the Permanent Defence Force. The right of personnel who enlisted prior to the enactment of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993 not to be detailed to serve on operations other than those operations which are of a police character, which was the provision in the 1960 Act, is retained in this Bill. However, such a saver will not apply with regard to the duties provided for in section 3, which I consider to be part and parcel of the existing duties of members of the Permanent Defence Force or, in the case of humanitarian operations, more akin to the provisions of the 1960 Act, for which all serving members are already liable.
Sections 5 to 7, inclusive, are technical amendments to extend provisions of the principal Act, the Defence Act 1954, to personnel despatched for service outside the State for any of the purposes outlined in section 3 of this Bill. The purpose of the provision in section 8 is to allow a force to be assembled and embarked prior to its deployment in theatre as part of an international United Nations force. In rapid response situations, including battle groups, where speed of deployment is of the essence, it will probably be necessary to have equipment containerised and despatched, together with personnel, while the UN Security Council resolution is being finalised. In addition, members or contingents of the Permanent Defence Force may have to assemble in the framework nation for the battle group, with their equipment, ready for despatch, in advance of the formal adoption of the UN resolution.
This provision is designed to cater for this eventuality and will be subject to the prior approval of the Government. However, the Defence Forces could not, and will not, deploy operationally before the formal adoption of the requisite Security Council resolution and the approval of Dáil Éireann. In the event that either was not forthcoming, the Defence Forces would be withdrawn forthwith.
Sections 9 and 10 provide for some technical and drafting amendments to the 1960 Act, generally to reflect the provisions of section 3 of this Bill. Section 11 provides that this Bill will confer no authority on the State to become a member of an international organisation. Membership of international organisations is a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and is subject to the relevant constitutional provisions, including Government authority.
Section 12 provides for the repeal of certain obsolete provisions in the 1954 and 1960 Acts and repeals, in full, the 1993 Act. The 1993 Act simply provided for an amendment to the definition of “International United Nations Force” contained in the 1960 Act. With the further amendment of the definition in this Bill, the 1993 Act, with one proviso, no longer serves any purpose. Its repeal is, therefore, necessary. The proviso I mentioned relates to section 13, which provides for an annual report to Dáil Éireann. This was a new provision introduced in the 1993 Act. With the repeal of the 1993 Act, it is necessary to re-enact the provision in this Bill. Sections 14 and 15 are standard provisions and are self-explanatory.
I hope I have explained the requirement for this legislation and why it needs to be enacted as a matter of urgency. It is important to the ongoing training of the Defence Forces that they can undertake training overseas and learn from best practice in other countries. From a force protection perspective, particularly in multinational operations and rapid response battle group type operations, this international training requirement also extends to field exercises. It is also important that we can respond rapidly in humanitarian situations where time is of the essence and where military assets can play a significant and important role in support of civilian assets in the early stages of the disaster response.
In crisis situations, rapid response by military forces can prevent dangerous situations from becoming catastrophes. No Member of the Oireachtas would wish to see Ireland failing to play its part, as and when the need arises, in this regard. Finally, we need to put beyond doubt the authority to deploy personnel in the various other circumstances set out in section 3, duties which have for decades formed part of the standard operations and duties expected of members of the Permanent Defence Force.
Before concluding, I will update the Seanad on the current position on battle groups. It is probably no harm to explain what is meant by the term “battle groups”, as I believe it can be misleading. It is a standard technical military term to describe a coherent military force package capable of standalone operations, with full transport and logistics support capabilities to carry out its tasks, comprising approximately 1,500 personnel. It is defined, in short, as “the minimum militarily effective, credible, rapidly deployable, coherent force package capable of stand-alone operations, or for the initial phase of larger operations”. What is actually meant by battle groups, in this respect, is a core of troops which could respond quickly to a crisis situation.
There are ongoing contacts with the Swedish authorities regarding Ireland’s possible participation in the Nordic battle group, which is planned to be on standby during the first semester of 2008. Officials from my Department are in discussions with their Swedish colleagues about a memorandum of understanding, MOU, between participants in the Nordic battle group. The MOU has been signed by Sweden, Finland, Norway and Estonia, the current members of the Nordic battle group. I expect these discussions to be completed shortly, whereupon discussions on the specific contribution from the Defence Forces can then commence.
Irrespective of our participation in the Nordic battle group in 2008, possible participation in future battle groups with other EU partners is also under active consideration. In this regard, I propose to progress discussions with other member states over the coming months, in particular, with Finland and Austria, with whom my officials have had some initial informal exploratory discussions.
Participation by the Defence Forces in EU battle groups raises no policy issues in terms of Ireland’s commitment and approach to the maintenance of international peace and security, which is, and will remain, grounded in the framework of the UN Charter. There is no conflict between Ireland’s participation in regional arrangements, including EU battle groups, which are supported by the UN, and our traditional policy of military neutrality. If anything, participation in EU battle groups is a concrete expression of our support for multilateralism, for the UN and for UN peacekeeping generally.
Participation in any EU operation remains a national sovereign decision and our current policy on the “triple lock” will not be compromised by participating in battle groups. The Bill clearly provides that UN authorisation is required in respect of any peace support operation. Potential partners have been informed of this and are aware that this is the basis on which we will participate and that this will not change.
It is important to set the battle group concept in its proper context. The Government sees battle groups playing their substantive role as an effective and mobile military force which has the capability to respond rapidly to emerging crises in support of the United Nations. The development of the battle group concept and Ireland’s participation is strongly supported by the United Nations, which clearly appreciates the benefits of having such a capability available to it.
In his speech at McKee Barracks last year, and in his address to the Forum on Europe in 2004, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, specifically stressed how important strengthened EU capacities, in particular rapid deployment capabilities, are to the UN. In addition, in March 2005, in his major report on UN reform, entitled In Larger Freedom, Kofi Annan called on the international community to support the efforts by the European Union, the African Union and others to establish standby capacities as part of an interlocking system of peacekeeping capacities.
Despite the ongoing efforts of the UN and other international organisations involved in conflict resolution, the threat to international peace and security unfortunately remains and the continuing need for peacekeepers has never been greater. With the increasing demands around the world for peacekeepers, the UN has turned to regional organisations, including the European Union, the African Union and NATO, among others, to support its activities in the area of crisis management operations. In this regard, Ireland has contributed peacekeepers to many of these missions in furtherance of its commitment to the UN and to UN peacekeeping in particular.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Operation Artemis in the Congo, Ireland has participated in UN-authorised missions led by the European Union. In Kosovo and Afghanistan, Ireland participates in UN-authorised missions led by NATO and we are currently providing personnel to an EU-led supporting mission to the African Union-led UN mission in Darfur in Sudan. In addition, the Government recently authorised the despatch of up to ten members of the Defence Forces for service with the EU military operation in support of MONUC, the UN mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ireland’s participation in such EU military operations, which are undertaken within the framework of the EU’s European security and defence policy, is a continuation of our long and honourable tradition of support for multilateral arrangements in the maintenance of international peace and security. ESDP is an integral part of the common foreign and security policy, which encompasses the EU’s international obligations on the maintenance of international peace and security. Military capabilities are but one element among a wide range of instruments the EU can deploy in this regard, which include economic, political and administrative instruments and the rule of law.
I have reiterated on many occasions that our participation in peace support operations would continue to require UN authorisation. Participation in battle groups will not diminish this requirement in any way. The triple lock of UN, Government and Dáil Éireann approval in accordance with the provisions in the 1960 Act will remain in place. Participation in a battle group imposes no obligations on international or multilateral defence. Participation by our troops in individual missions will be decided by our own national decision-making process on a case-by-case basis. Any decision to participate in any mission, irrespective of our commitment or participation in a battle group, will be a national, sovereign decision.
Some Members are of the view that this legislation is being proposed solely to enable members of the Permanent Defence Force to participate in EU battle groups. While that of itself would be no bad thing, I reassure the House that this is not the case. As I have outlined above, when elaborating on the provisions of the Bill, the requirement for this amending legislation arises irrespective of our participation in battle groups. I commend the Bill to the Seanad and look forward to a constructive discussion.
Mr. B. Hayes: I welcome the Minister to the House. It is rare that legislation from the Department of Defence comes before the House; it is not the most prodigious Department in terms of legislation so when it comes we have a particular responsibility to give it a fair hearing.
This and all other legislation on the Defence Forces deals with a group of people whose voice is largely unheard. The Permanent Defence Force has made a great contribution to the security of this State and in our wider international obligations, at EU or UN level. We should record that because Defence Forces personnel follow debates in this and the other House, and listen to Question Time. Privately people speak to us about the importance of recognising the role of the Defence Forces in the international work they undertake on all our behalf. It is important that we do that when Bills of this nature come to the House.
This legislation is needed because of a question mark over the legality of sending Irish troops abroad for business other than international peacekeeping as set out in the 1960 legislation. That issue arose at a recent working group within the Departments of the Taoiseach and Defence which is looking at Ireland’s role in future battle groups.
At one level any legal doubt about our ability in Irish law to commit troops to action is serious. I looked at the 1960 and the 1993 Acts and I found nothing in them that would allow one to conclude there was anything illegal in such missions but the Minister wants to be sure beyond doubt that when we commit troops to functions as part of our international obligations, the commitment must be absolutely legal and watertight.
Extending the definition beyond international peacekeeping force is wise and that is the principal purpose of the legislation, to make it clear that there is provision in Irish law for the Government and the Dáil to commit troops to various functions. It is worth saying that many of those functions relate to our participation in Partnership for Peace, which my party wholeheartedly supported, within the EU and the United Nations. It is right to do this today and spend some time on it.
There was a question in the other House about missions established by the UN Security Council as against missions authorised by it. If a mission is established by the UN, then it is responsible for its implementation but a mission authorised by the UN could have another organisation responsible for implementation, albeit in the context of a Security Council resolution. We could return to that tomorrow.
I went to Sarajevo not long after the end of the first war when SFOR troops were committed. We were not involved in the original phase, although we were to participate subsequently. I spoke to an American general who was responsible for leading the troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I asked him the most important thing Irish troops could bring to bear in such a situation. He said there were three things — we speak English, have no historical imperial baggage and a huge historical knowledge of peacekeeping all the way back to the 1960s. That stuck with me. Irish troops on peacekeeping missions have built up a body of knowledge the international community appreciates and we should not underestimate this.
The Minister said the necessity for this legislation arose from the advice of the Attorney General to clarify the 1960 and 1993 Acts. It is not the practice of any Government to publish advice from the Attorney General but there might be an argument for it here on the basis that all actions where troops are committed ultimately require a resolution of the Dáil; this involves not just the Government but all Members. It may be sensible to publish the advice on this occasion because I suspect the Minister is telling us the same as what the Attorney General stated in his legal opinion to the Government and the interdepartmental group.
When we passed the Maastricht referendum, there were clear obligations on the Irish people to commit troops for humanitarian aid and disaster relief. It was a specific provision independent of the European currency. The passage of that referendum had a much more important effect than any law that goes through these Houses. The sovereign will of the Irish people determined that we support the Maastricht agreement and there was a sovereign jurisdiction in the passage of that referendum to allow the Government to commit troops independently of the Dáil or anyone else on the basis that the people had supported it.
I welcome the Minister’s reference to Kofi Annan’s comments. I recall the speech Kofi Annan made at the forum when he spoke about the importance of being able to rapidly deploy troops under a UN mandate to a particular theatre. That is important in the context of the triple lock debate. The Minister will be aware that the Government and my party have fundamentally different views on this issue and we will come back to that tomorrow by way of an amendment. At least it shows there are points of difference between Government and Opposition from time to time. The Minister will be well aware of a position paper my party published in 2003 on the issue of the triple lock. If one is logical in quoting what Kofi Annan said, one cannot possibly commit troops on a rapid reaction basis when one is waiting for a UN Security Council resolution.
I understand the logic of the triple lock is based on the Government deciding, the Dáil deciding and the UN Security Council deciding. As the Minister well knows, in the case of Macedonia, where the UN could not decide because of internal politics between two of its members, we could not commit troops on that occasion in our own backyard in Europe. We were left in a cul de sac because of our position on the triple lock. We need a debate on this. I welcomed the position my party outlined in 2003 but this Bill affords us another opportunity to put my party’s position, which is sincerely held and which the vast majority of the Irish people would understand and appreciate in the context of a wider debate on this important issue.
We are sovereign. It is a matter for the Government and the Dáil — one might argue it is a matter for the Dáil and the Seanad — how we commit troops. Internal political disputes, which invariably arise at UN Security Council level, should not determine where or if we commit troops. That is a violation of the sovereignty we hold in this Parliament through the Irish people under the Constitution. The Chinese do not have a right to veto whether the Irish can commit troops in any theatre or cause of international affairs.
I would further point out that my party is not suggesting for a moment that we would commit troops in a scenario where the action would be against the principles and policy of the United Nations, but there is a well known example, the Macedonia one I mentioned earlier, where it happened that we as a sovereign people could not determine our own future because other people in an arena in New York were determining that future for us. That is a fundamental violation of our sovereignty. It is wrong. We need to modernise. The Minister correctly spoke in his speech about the necessity to commit troops rapidly, but how can he possibly do that if the decision is being taken in another forum by other politicians who, for their own local consumption, are making those decisions up as they go along? We will return to the matter tomorrow in respect of an amendment which my party intends to table. It is a fundamental point that we need to debate, not only in this House but throughout the country, because the Irish people need to understand the limitations of our role in the international community due to this ludicrous policy. This policy is dated and out of touch with the new obligations on the European Union and on the world in responding to such crises.
This debate also affords me an opportunity of putting on record our thanks, not only to the members of the Defence Forces who serve overseas, but also to their families. I am aware that as of May this year there are 422 Defence Forces personnel with the United Nations mission in Liberia, 213 Defence Forces personnel with the NATO-led international security presence in Kosovo and 80 personnel with the EU-led operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As the Minister stated, the Defence Forces have served in Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Some Members here tonight have, I understand, served in that capacity as well. The Defence Forces have also served in the Republic of Congo and in the Ivory Coast. Ireland’s Defence Forces have a solid historical and current commitment to international order and this House should put on the record its thanks to the personnel involved for the security issues which come with that because many of these are difficult missions where people put their lives on the line. I also want to put on record our thanks to their families for allowing them to leave home and family for lengthy periods because that is difficult too.
The EU response to the disintegration of Yugoslavia was the worst time for Europe since the rise of the Third Reich. As Europeans, I am with Lemass more than anyone else on this when he said that if we create it, we have an obligation to defend it. We must learn the lessons of our inability to respond in Yugoslavia and of why, while European leaders were talking and arguing about what needed to be done, we left it to the Americans to do it. A more mature and developed European Union has the capacity to do this and to respond, particularly in our own region of the world, to all kinds of difficulties that emerge from time to time. If we do not do so, we abdicate our responsibility and give in to those who are bully-boys and who do not understand the international norms, notions of peace, democracy and human rights, which we are trying to foster in the world. I look forward to the debate on the Bill tomorrow.
Mr. Moylan: I welcome the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, and his officials to the House. It is not often that defence legislation comes before us but this is important legislation. I appreciated the Minister’s comprehensive speech.
Ireland has a proud legacy of peacekeeping. Indeed, our troops have performed duty on 58 UN peace support operations worldwide. Our commitment to peacekeeping has taken our Defence Forces from the Congo to Kosovo and from the Lebanon to Liberia. Our reputation in the field is second to none. We, as a prosperous and successful small nation, have a particular role to play in helping other small nations.
Over the past two decades we have witnessed some of the most vile and bloody atrocities in mankind’s history. I am of course referring to those scenes of carnage in Rwanda and Darfur. Those horrendous scenes cannot have failed to move all those who saw them on their television screens. Indeed, most of us were appalled by the brutal news coverage, and wondered how the international community could stand by and do nothing. This failure to act was not the fault of the United Nations as an institution. It was the collective failure of civilised nations to act speedily and effectively in defence of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
The time has come for the European Union, in advancing the aims of the United Nations and the UN Charter, to play its part in responding speedily to emerging crises across the globe. This can be done by providing humanitarian relief and, where required, military support for the maintenance of international peace and security.
From 2007 onwards, the EU will maintain two such units, on stand-by at all times, for deployment within five to ten days. As the Minister stated earlier, each battle group will be on stand-by for six months.
During his visit to Ireland in October 2004, UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, spoke forcefully of his desire to see regional organisations like the EU helping the UN to respond rapidly to crisis situations. Our neutrality and record of 48 years of UN service in some of the most dangerous trouble spots means we can make a unique and important contribution.
The term “battle group” is an unfortunate one. It has connotations that some may exploit to raise baseless fears. It is the underlying concept on which we should focus, not the word itself, which is a military term. The term refers to a battalion-sized unit of approximately 1,500 troops ready to go into a situation at short notice. These will enable the EU, at the behest of the UN, to move rapidly into areas where conflicts are developing and prevent them from escalating into catastrophes. Our neutrality and record of 48 years of UN service in the world’s most dangerous trouble spots means Ireland can make a unique and important contribution.
Despite what Opposition parties may say, the desire to enter talks on joining a battle group was not taken lightly. The issues, involving legal, operational and policy matters, were complex. The Government needed to be certain that participation would not undermine our neutrality or raise constitutional issues. It is clear, especially as the concept has developed, that no such concerns arise. Our participation in battle group peace support operations will require UN authorisation. As the Minister stated, the triple lock of UN, Government and Dáil approval will continue, despite Fine Gael’s desire to dispense with it. EU battle groups do not constitute a “European army” in any shape, make or form. Joining such a group does not herald conscription or the militarisation of the Union. Participation will involve Ireland sending troops abroad to train with its battle group partners. It will not involve troops coming to Ireland to train or exercise.
Mr. Moylan: Participation by our troops in individual missions will be agreed through our national decision-making process on a case-by-case basis. A UN mandate will be a prerequisite for participation in a battle group peace support operation, as is currently the case. Battle groups are another vehicle within which Ireland can continue to play a role and contribute to effective action in support of international peace and security. They are a further way of expressing our commitment to the UN and its principles.
The UN is asking the State to continue to make the expert commitment of its Defence Forces available, including through EU battle groups. A failure to do so would mean a departure from the traditional policy of full support for the UN. Such battle groups are an additional way to contribute to peace support and the international rule of law and they are not a replacement for the traditional large scale “blue-hat” missions such as those in Liberia and the Lebanon. They are the logical extension of such missions.
The Defence Forces have never been better trained, equipped or motivated. A total of 850 personnel are available for UN service overseas and, as of 2 June, approximately 680 troops were serving abroad. The largest deployments are in Liberia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Smaller numbers of troops serve as liaisons and observers on a range of missions in Israel, the Congo and Sudan. With most tours of duty lasting six months, almost 1,500 troops will serve abroad this year. Furthermore, our Defence Forces have never been better resourced. Spending has increased from €566 million in 1995 to €957 million this year. Furthermore, an unprecedented and sustained investment programme in new facilities has been undertaken since 1997 while almost €200 million has been spent on new buildings and more than €320 million has been invested in new equipment. Some time ago, the Minister and his predecessor came in for a great deal of flak for selling off surplus land and buildings. However, they decided to re-invest the money in the Defence Forces. It was a wise decision as it allowed the Government to modernise Defence Forces equipment.
I refer to the performance of the Defence Forces at the Easter Rising ceremony at the GPO. They made all of us proud of their professionalism. Section 8 provides that approval for Security Council resolutions must be provided by the Government and the Dáil. However, traditionally, the Seanad was required to give similar approval. Will the Minister clarify this issue when he replies? I compliment the Minister and the Defence Forces, especially members who have served overseas. Senator Minihan is a former member and he served with great distinction abroad on behalf of the State. Many people have made a contribution in their own small way, particularly as members of the FCA. I was a member of the FCA for five years and I enjoyed it immensely. We received good training under the guidance and care of a number of outstanding and professional Army officers. I commend the legislation to the House and I wish the Minister well in his brief.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister and his officials. As Senators Brian Hayes and Moylan stated, defence legislation does not come before the House very often. I did not understand the intention to hold a military parade to commemorate the 1916 Rising but it highlighted the regard in which the Defence Forces are held and I congratulate them on that basis. I was also a member of the FCA and I have great memories of the training I received.
I welcome the Bill as a committed supporter of the continuing role of our Defence Forces in contributing to world peace and stability through international peacekeeping operations. I have two reasons for my support. The first is the good it does for the benefit of mankind in general. One of the greatest achievements of the United Nations has been its peacekeeping operations, even though they have not always been successful or without controversy. I pay tribute to the former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who created this concept in the 1950s.
Ireland has made many friends worldwide through its contribution to peacekeeping operations in many troubled areas. These activities reflect exactly the image we want to put across of this country — that we are peace loving people who can be friends with anybody. Senator Moylan referred to 48 years of UN service. I recall going to Baldonnell airport in 1961 with my then fiancé to watch the first Irish troops depart for the Congo. We had such regard for those troops because they were acting on an international basis and they raised the status of the Army, which has remained high since.
The other reason I support peacekeeping operations is more local and selfish. Foreign involvement is very good for the Defence Forces. The State must have an Army but the prospect of it being required to defend us against an external attack is minuscule. While this is good, it provides a problem of motivation and morale for those of our citizens who choose to make a career in the Defence Forces. Without foreign involvement, there is a danger they will begin to regard themselves as being akin to a spare wheel on a car that never gets used. This is why this issue is so important.
I spoke about the mission to the Congo earlier. I was chairman of An Post in 1986 or 1987, when it issued a stamp in commemoration of that departure for the Congo. At the time, or possibly on an earlier occasion, my father-in-law, Ned Prendergast, told me the story of how he was the officer who took over the Curragh in 1922 and who raised the flag. He had some difficulty in this regard because the British had cut down the flagpole before leaving the Curragh. At the time, he was rather annoyed, but he subsequently learned that it is traditional to so do when an army leaves a base. Senator Minihan might be able to explain. Hence, there was a delay in that regard.
I recall that my son and I asked him whether it was a big decision as to which side to join in the Civil War. We asked him why he had joined the Free State Army. He replied that it had not been a big decision, and that Mick Collins had simply telephoned him, asking him to give him a hand. It is good to ensure that such little pieces of history are remembered, as well as the respect for the Army that has been present since then.
Ireland’s foreign involvements provide the Defence Forces with an additional reason for their existence. In one sense, it is more important than its primary purpose, because in this case, it is actually used. This provides the Defence Forces with an opportunity to raise their professional standards and to use their training and skills in a real-life, live situation. I am certain that entirely restricting the Defence Forces to national duties, would have prevented them from recruiting many of the fine people who serve in their ranks today.
Although I did not hear the Minister’s contribution, I was interested to hear Senator Moylan’s reference to the Minister’s comments on foreign troops training in Ireland. I heard Senator Brian Hayes ask why this was the case. Is there a ban on such a practice? Is there a reason they do not do so? I know the Garda is highly regarded as a source of training for other forces who come to Ireland to train. Perhaps there is a reason and the Minister may be able to provide an answer.
Despite what is stated in the explanatory memorandum, the real reason for this Bill concerns the issue of Irish participation in the proposed EU battle groups. It is intended to establish beyond any doubt a legal basis for Ireland’s participation in those groups. As such, I have no general problem with it, provided Members can believe the repeated assurances by the Government on the nature of these groups and on Ireland’s participation in them.
If Members can rely on those assurances, they have no cause for concern. Senator Moylan has already noted that the unfortunate phrase, “battle groups”, is a military term. The Government has assured the House that any missions which include Irish participation will be used exclusively for peacekeeping and humanitarian purposes. While the present Minister has given this assurance, I am concerned that a different Minister or Government in the future may have a different view.
The Government also assures Members that the so-called triple lock will still apply. In other words, any proposed action will require the approval of the United Nations, the Government and the Dáil. I understand the last provision, as speed is of the essence in such matters. Senator Brian Hayes made a strong case, which I had heard him make previously, for the reconsideration of the triple lock. In particular, the case of Macedonia demonstrated that if someone in Manhattan was able to prevent Ireland from carrying out work which was required in Europe, it is time to reconsider the triple lock. Senator Brian Hayes made a strong case in this regard.
Furthermore, the Minister stated that any involvement will be considered strictly on a case-by-case basis. Ireland’s membership will not involve giving anyone outside the country a blank cheque as to how and when the Defence Forces will be used overseas. While I do not want to question the sincerity of such assurances, I must confess to a reservation regarding this issue. In the context of the Forum on Europe, I recall listening and doing some reading ahead of time in this regard. This was at the time when Kofi Annan addressed the forum, as well as when the Minister was present. My concern arises because of the striking difference between the manner in which battle groups are talked about in Ireland and the manner in which they are discussed in other parts of Europe which lack Ireland’s sensitivities regarding military neutrality.
Undoubtedly, many people across Europe seek something which goes well beyond an involvement in peacekeeping and humanitarian activities. Many powerful people in Europe today envisage the future of the European Union as a fully-fledged military power, with all available tools to throw its weight around as it pleases in international disputes that arise anywhere in the world. Those who take this view believe that for as long as the EU lacks military capability, it is merely playing at the business of being an effective influence in world affairs. For such people, battle groups are the thin end of the wedge. They envisage their evolution, perhaps very quickly, into a fully-fledged military force that will not be restricted to peacekeeping and humanitarian activities, but which will be capable of doing anything a military force is equipped to do. In other words, they will be capable of waging war.
For example, I will remind the House of a frightening statement made in March 2005 by the Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. When asked to respond to the frequently made claim that the EU’s battle groups would never go to war, Mr. Scheffer stated, “I don’t believe that’s true. Why is the EU creating battlegroups? It is not just to rebuild a country. The battle groups are not for rebuilding schools.” The Secretary General also stated his belief that the EU was developing into a military power. He stated, “[To] keep the peace, combat may be necessary. If the EU creates battlegroups and NATO a rapid-reaction force, we shouldn’t think the EU is for soft power and NATO for tough power.”
This kind of statement puts the Government’s assurances into their proper context. It illustrates clearly why Ireland must be eternally vigilant that the foreign involvements of its Defence Forces do not become a slippery slope that, willy-nilly, brings it to an unintended and undesirable point.
The provisions of the Bill give reasonably adequate safeguards to ensure that such a situation will not suddenly be sprung on Ireland. I take the Minister’s word for it, as well as that of the draftsman who prepared the legislation. Surely however, common sense dictates that Members must be careful to exercise constraint and unremitting vigilance on this critical matter. I welcome the legislation and the Minister’s comments. While I believe it to be well thought-out, I wish to ensure that care will be taken and that the Bill will not be rushed through without being given serious consideration.
Mr. Minihan: I also welcome the Minister and his officials to the House. The opportunity to speak on this topic is a particularly welcome one. It is said that things come in threes and as far as this issue is concerned, they certainly do for me. It is almost three years to the day, 25 June 2003, since I first raised in this House the specific concerns which I still have today. In addition, the Bill has three main provisions. Finally, I refer to the so-called triple lock mechanism. I wish to deal with each issue in turn.
When I spoke in this House three years ago, it was in the context of a debate on Ireland’s much-discussed neutrality. I maintained then, and still do, that “neutrality” is probably the second most abused or misused word extant. The most abused word is “republicanism”. While neutrality is defined by the international community as “non-participation in armed conflicts among States”, a legal definition based on the 1907 Hague Convention, in reality that legal definition is a much different concept from what a viable policy of neutrality actually is and I will elaborate on why. No one would argue with the formal definition. Nor would anyone argue, I suspect, that Ireland should cease to practice non-participation in armed conflicts among states.
We have a highly regarded and rare position in the international community as a nation with a sound, reasonable, suitably restrained and mature approach to conflict resolution and peace promotion around the globe. That position should not be taken for granted, undermined or threatened in any way. However, I do not believe that action by Irish Defence Forces in a humanitarian mission or in response to an emergency would be considered a breach of our neutrality, or that Ireland should be prevented from undertaking such action.
Our reputation as peacekeepers and honest brokers is renowned cross the world. As a former UN peacekeeper who participated in three peacekeeping missions in the Lebanon, I know at first-hand the value of our reputation. I also know that our neutral status is welcomed by host countries. Ireland was always the country they wanted because of our reputation. What made Ireland good at peacekeeping was our traditional, non-aligned military stance. That is of great value to us, yet we have a humanitarian role to play, which is my first point. We have international responsibilities we must face up to. We also have a duty to use our valuable and respected position in a way that eases conflict and suffering in other, more troubled parts of the world.
My second point relates to the provisions of today’s Bill. As I stated, it has three primary provisions. The first of these is that it allows for Defence Forces personnel to travel abroad to train and participate in field exercises. From my military experience and knowledge I know the value of such action. While no exercise can absolutely prepare any soldier for the pressures and demands of a real-life conflict, our forces deserve the opportunity to be as prepared as possible to deal with the kinds of scenarios to which Ireland’s respected reputation will lead them.
I will make an analogy with the Irish soccer team, the players on which all play with different clubs. Do we suggest they should come together and play an international without training together? It does not make sense. One cannot work for the first time in a United Nations operational environment with countries such as Finland, Sweden, Ghana and Senegal without having had the experience of training. In that regard we should acknowledge the tremendous international reputation of the UN school in our military college. Participating countries throughout the world vie for places in that school to learn from our experience as UN peacekeepers.
The second provision of the Bill is that it contains the type of wording more closely suited to the formulation of words employed by the UN Security Council in its resolutions, specifically those resolutions passed to endorse peace support operations. The term “battle groups” was mentioned during this debate. It is a military term and many military terms exist such as “assault”, “kill” and “assault pioneers”. Unfortunately, because of our neutral status, people have abused that terminology and misconstrued its actual intention.
While the law as it stands provides for Ireland’s participation in missions “established” or “authorised” by the United Nations, it is less clear when it comes to missions which are “endorsed” or “supported” by the Security Council. Given the gravity of the action to be taken in these cases, clarity must be pursued vigorously and I welcome this element of the Bill.
I understand the Labour Party was of the opinion that this Bill will not allow participation in all of the peacekeeping missions in which the Defence Forces currently serve. However, it seems the consistent advice of the Attorney General has been, and remains, contrary to that opinion. Furthermore, I understand the Minister has given explicit reassurance on this matter.
The third provision of the Bill before the House is that it allows for Defence Forces personnel to participate in certain humanitarian operations, for example where a natural or man-made disaster occurs. As I stated earlier, I doubt anyone would consider Irish soldiers helping the peoples affected by the tsunami in south-east Asia as action contrary to our so-called neutrality. Until now, these soldiers had to be seconded to non-governmental organisations.
Regrettably, my third and final point is the same as that which I raised in this House three years ago this week. The Minister, on publication of this Bill, stated Ireland’s participation in peace support operations will continue to require UN authorisation. The basis for participation in missions undertaken by the EU is grounded in the legitimacy conveyed by the UN Security Council. This will not change and the triple lock of UN, Government and Dáil approval will remain in place.
What this Bill will do, from what I can ascertain, is provide for Defence Forces personnel to be despatched overseas to be prepared and ready for missions, which have received the approval of our Government. However, a UN Security Council resolution must still be passed before action on the mission can start. In other words, the UN veto, for want of a better phrase, remains. I stated clearly three years ago, as I had previously, my discontent with this scenario. The triple lock mechanism does not serve the Irish people in the way I believe they seek, and it does not serve Ireland well.
I ask the House to recall the situation in Macedonia, referred to by previous speakers. Under UN Resolution 1371, it was decided to send a UN mission there. The resolution was vetoed in the Security Council by China and, as a result of our triple lock mechanism, we were ineligible to participate in the EU-sponsored mission. Even though we had troops already there, we had to withdraw. That is a flaw and a problem.
The three provisions of the Bill I outlined do much to be welcomed. However, it does not get us over this fundamental problem. I repeat my call on the Government to examine this and see whether an amendment to the Defence Acts can be tabled to correct this situation. I fully accept we fixed ourselves in with the Nice treaty. It will be a long time before I will be able to influence a change of the Security Council in the UN and create a situation where the majority will rule. The veto stands and change requires UN organisation and change. In Ireland, we should be careful about exactly what our people mean about our troops participating overseas. By bringing forward the triple lock mechanism, the Irish people did not for one moment intend that Irish troops could not participate because China, for some reason of vested interest, decided to exercise its veto at the Security Council.
Mr. Minihan: I welcome this Bill for what it includes, allowing for participation in field exercises, more appropriate wording to reflect common practice and participation in certain humanitarian missions. However, I am disappointed with what it does not include, which is an amendment to reflect what I believe is the view of the Irish people, that specific nations should not unilaterally be able to hold Ireland back from helping people in dire need in another part of the world in a peace support operation, a role for which Ireland is renowned. Ireland has a duty to use that reputation to its utmost, for the benefit of people far worse off than us.
Ireland, in her troubled past, asked what the international community could do for us. To paraphrase a US President, we should also ask what we can do for the international community. What we can do is use the reputation, talents and skills that pertain almost uniquely to us to help people in distress. The triple lock mechanism as it currently operates is a hindrance to so doing.
I congratulate the Defence Forces on the tremendous role they play, on being ambassadors for this country on the international stage and on how they enhance the country’s reputation. I acknowledge the presence of a former chief of staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Tadgh O’Neill, in the Visitors Gallery.
Ms Tuffy: Towards the end of his speech, the Minister stated the requirement for this amending legislation arises irrespective of our participation in battle groups. In this regard, he is basically accepting a point raised by the Labour Party. Former Labour Party spokesman on defence, Deputy Sherlock, pointed out in the Dáil and in correspondence to the Minister that the Defence Acts as they stand may not permit Irish participation in certain UN peacekeeping operations. Deputy Costello also referred to this. The Labour Party believed there was a need for certainty in this area and to amend the legislation accordingly. That is basically what this Bill is doing.
Section 1 states an international United Nations force means “an international force or body established, mandated, authorised, endorsed, supported, approved or otherwise sanctioned by a resolution of the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations”. The legislation is being changed to cover the point raised by the Labour Party. The Minister stated during Question Time on 22 June that existing legislation allows participation in all the current peacekeeping missions. I hope this is the case. He also stated, “It is better to counter the argument before it is raised even though I do not believe it would succeed”. The fact is that he would not be doing so unless an issue of sufficient gravity were raised. He is not introducing the measure just to counter an argument, there must be a valid reason and I do not believe the Minister would do something just because the Labour Party suggested it. He would have to accept the point the party makes.
On 22 June, the Minister also said, “We are including the necessary provision so nobody will ever have the slightest doubt about the matter in the future”. Furthermore, he stated the advice of the Attorney General was that there was “no formal basis in the Defence Acts for the despatch of Permanent Defence Force personnel on such duties”. The point is that the legislation is being introduced to provide absolutely certainty on a formal basis.
Senator Minihan stated the Labour Party has raised an issue about current missions. The party was asking whether this legislation would have retrospective effect and the Minister stated it would not in his response. The Labour Party contends that there could be a problem and this is why it raised the issue and why the Minister is dealing with it.
The Labour Party proposes a couple of amendments to the Bill. I will not discuss them in detail as Senator Ryan will be dealing with them on my behalf tomorrow. We question the need for subsection 4(2) and section 8. Section 11 states, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as thereby authorising the State to become a member of an international organisation of which it is not already a member”. Why is this section needed? Perhaps the Minister will explain when he is responding.
Mr. Leyden: I welcome the Minister and thank him and his officials for introducing the Bill in this House in the first instance. He has received great support within the Defence Forces since his appointment and has been perceived as very approachable by the representative organisations.
I declare an interest because I am nominated by the Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations. Two groups that come under its remit are RACO and PDFORRA and I must bear in mind their views on this issue. The Minister has probably had detailed discussions with them on the Bill.
The international standing of the Defence Forces, particularly in respect of humanitarian aid and security provision in very difficult areas, is second to none. The force has sacrificed many lives in the course of its peacekeeping duties and we should be very proud of its achievement. I regret very much that there has been loss of life but the fact is that the personnel who died sacrificed their lives in the interest of this country and those they were trying to assist in a peacemaking capacity. I have met troops who were serving in other capacities, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere, as part of missions under OSCE and on secondment duties in respect of monitoring elections. Their training and ability is as good as, if not better than, that of any other troops in the world.
The Bill is enabling legislation. The Attorney General raised certain matters with the Minister and perhaps the Minister will clarify the position on retrospection. The Bill cannot be retrospective or endorse any events that will have taken place prior to its enactment in early July. There are approximately 10,500 troops in the Defence Forces at present. Does the Minister envisage that this Bill will give rise to his making a request to the Government for additional troops to ensure a larger presence on the international stage, particularly in regard to humanitarian issues? We should have faster deployment to certain regions, including northern Kenya, for instance, where there is a serious drought.
We have provided over €10 million for northern Kenya, which I visited with UN personnel. However, we have not deployed any troops to distribute the food in the region and we rely on others to do so. It is in this kind of circumstance that the Minister could ensure a quick response on the part of the Government. The Bill will allow a rapid response to crises throughout the world instead of depending on secondment to other organisations. This is very important.
Does the implementation of the legislation require further consultation with the representative bodies of the Defence Forces? The Bill broadens the scope pertaining to the deployment of troops abroad for training but troops may not have applied to be members of the Defence Forces with such training in mind. If 200 men or women have to train in Germany for a particular task, this will not be one of the duties they believed they would be doing when they joined the Army. I refer in particular to listed men and women. It would be worthwhile to have detailed discussions with the representative bodies to brief them on this Bill and to outline the effect it will have on the current status of the listed troops. Will the Bill have retrospective effect? Chapters 6 and 7, on UN missions, are the applicable chapters of the mandate documentation in this regard.
Section 8 refers to approval by the Dáil, which was mentioned by our spokesperson. Would “the Oireachtas” not be a more appropriate reference? This House would have a great interest in the involvement of the Defence Forces abroad. Making that change might require some extra effort but the Bill must be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. In the circumstances, therefore, I ask the Minister to consider amending the section to read that the Bill would be passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas, Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, or that Members of Seanad Éireann would be informed by some mechanism because they have a major interest in this area. Senator Minihan, who served as a senior officer in the Defence Forces, has a great deal of knowledge of this field and it would be helpful that such a Bill would come before this House before the deployment of troops.
The missions abroad, particularly those in Liberia and Kosovo, and smaller missions in Jerusalem and Cyprus, will continue. Other troubled areas in the world will also require the presence of Irish troops. In that regard we are fortunate in having standard bearers for this country because their presence in foreign missions is courageous on their part, and on the part of their families who are prepared to be deprived of them for that length of time.
Coming from an area near Custume Barracks in Athlone, I know that many of the troops are living in County Roscommon and I know many who have served abroad with great distinction. From attending the Arbour Hill ceremonies I am aware of the number of plaques on the walls of that beautiful church commemorating the men who sacrificed their lives in the course of representing this country.
Our troops are great ambassadors for Ireland. Since he took up his portfolio, the Minister has been very active in visiting our troops. That is very much appreciated by them. That is also the case as far as the President is concerned. The exercise has always been to meet the troops on the ground.
Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea): I thank all the Senators who spoke for their constructive contributions to the debate and the interest they have taken in the Bill. I look forward to a similarly constructive debate in the other House. I thank Senators also for their kind remarks regarding the work our Defence Forces undertake overseas. Wherever they are, our troops serve with professionalism, dedication, courage and unselfish humanity. Their commitment to service and loyalty to the traditions of the Defence Forces contribute extensively to the high regard in which Ireland is held in the international community.
Ireland’s support for the United Nations has been unwavering since we joined in December 1955. The most visible and tangible expression of our membership of the United Nations and our support for its principles has been the participation by Irish Defence Forces in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Since our first UN peacekeeping mission in 1958, our troops have performed over 54,000 tours of duty on 58 UN peace support operations worldwide. This legislation is designed to further our engagement in international peace support and humanitarian operations.
I wish to refer to the points Senators made during the course of the debate. I agree with Senator Brian Hayes. Perusal of the 1960 Act and the 1993 Act gives no one any reason to doubt that what Governments have been doing effectively since the mid-1950s, in sending people abroad on representational duties, ceremonial duties, etc., is perfectly legal. In 1958, for example, when Ireland first deployed observers to Cyprus, there was no legislation in place. It was only when the first peacekeeping mission was sent abroad in 1960 that legislation was passed to provide a statutory procedure for sending troops abroad in those circumstances. That does not mean we cannot legally send them abroad in the absence of that legislation. Equally, it does not mean we cannot legally send people on the other type of missions — ceremonial duties, seminars, desk-top exercises, etc. — in the absence of the other legislation.
It was possible that somebody would come into court with an argument that the legislation is in place and is supposed to cover everything, but if something is not covered by the legislation, it is not possible. This Bill is intended to head off such an argument. I do not believe such an argument would succeed and the advice of the Attorney General is that it would not succeed. This provision is designed to remove any doubt in this regard.
Irish defence legislation states that a mission must be established by the United Nations. As the Senator is aware, the United Nations is farming out a good deal of work to regional organisations such as the European Union, the African Union, etc. It gets the African Union, the EU or some regional organisation to organise the mission. In other words, it authorises it to be done.
I have been asked to publish the Attorney General’s advice on the matter. I will have to get permission from the Attorney General to do so. It is not usual to publish his advice but I can tell the Senator that the Attorney General who gave that advice when the matter first arose was none other than Dermot Gleeson, who was the Attorney General in the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. He is an excellent lawyer and any advice I would get in that regard from Dermot Gleeson I would take very seriously.
Senator Brian Hayes also stated that we will be unable to commit troops rapidly if we are to be tied up by a UN Security Council resolution. Senator Minihan had similar doubts. I understand Senator Hayes has tabled an amendment to remove that provision and we will discuss it in more detail tomorrow, but I disagree with the Senator.
I can inform the Senator that we have been discussing participation in the Nordic battle group, particularly with Sweden, which is the framework nation. Even though it does not have a legal requirement for a UN resolution, it does not see any impediment to Ireland participating in the Nordic battle group, despite the fact that Irish law states we can only do so after a United Nations resolution. However, we will go into that in more detail tomorrow.
I agree with what the Senator said about Macedonia. Any one of the five members of the Security Council can stop a Security Council resolution; each one of them has a veto. The Chinese vetoed the operation in Macedonia and therefore countries such as Ireland which needed a United Nations Security Council resolution, could not participate.
Essentially, the way the United Nations does its business is a matter for itself. It is set up in such a way that any one of the five permanent members can effectively impose a veto on a Security Council resolution. It is arguable that if it was to be done by majority decision, President Bush would probably have got a resolution to allow him to go into Iraq. Be that as it may, that is the procedure. It might be said that we will not get involved in any foreign military adventures without the sanction of the United Nations. That is Government policy. In that we are in tune with the will of the majority of the people. Perhaps we are not, but I firmly believe we are.
Senators Moylan and Leyden asked why reference to Seanad Éireann was not included in the Bill. As Senator Quinn said, the 1960 legislation referred to Dáil Éireann. It is Dáil Éireann which supplies the troops under the 1960 legislation. It is just a matter of speed. I take the Senator’s suggestion, which is a good one, that at a very minimum there should be some mechanism for informing Seanad Éireann.
Mr. B. Hayes: My understanding is that the Government is not accountable to this House. It is Dáil Éireann that approves the nomination of the Taoiseach. Given that the Government makes the decision, the logic is that the Dáil must sanction any decision of the Government. Under the Constitution, therefore, the Government does not have to come into this House at all. There is no provision in that regard.
Mr. O’Dea: Senator Quinn asked why foreign troops cannot train here. The advice of the Attorney General is that this is precluded by Article 15 of the Constitution, which prohibits the raising of foreign armies and any other type of activities on Irish soil. That constitutional article was drafted for an entirely different reason, but it has this unintended consequence, now. Ultimately, it will not matter because Ireland will never be a framework nation for a multinational battle group. The framework nation, generally speaking, will be that making the largest contribution. In the Nordic battle group, this will be Sweden. The usual practice, I understand, is that training will take place on the soil of the framework nation.
Senator Quinn asked whether battle groups would be used only for peaceful purposes. That is the intention. I take his point as regards what the Secretary General of NATO is reported to have said on building up a military capability, etc. If one looks at the Helsinki 2010 headline goal, the ambition will be to have two battle groups on standby simultaneously, for each six-month period. Our two battle groups will consist of a grand total of 3,000 troops, which hardly constitutes an enormous military force or a European army. Each will be configured as a ground force of 1,500 specially armed troops and in some cases may need air support, and in very exceptional circumstances, marine support. Senator Quinn has said we must be very careful in view of opinions being expressed like this by senior people, public figures such as the Secretary General of NATO.
At the same time the Senator expressed doubt as to whether we should have the requirement of a United Nations resolution. It seems to me that the two opinions contradict each other. I believe the protection of a UN resolution is probably one of our greatest securities against allowing battle groups — or anything that may develop from battle groups — from degenerating into some type of military force. That certainly will not be our intention.
Let us assume we are part of the Nordic battle group. This will be on standby for a six-month period, say, once every three years. If it is necessary for the EU to deploy a battle group during that six-month period, the very fact that we are a part of the battle group on standby does not necessarily mean we will be involved in that operation. It will be a case-by-case process, to be decided on by the Government in each case.
Senator Tuffy asked about section 8. It allows troops to be sent overseas, equipment to be containerised and prepared for deployment, etc. Before a UN resolution takes place, this is simply part of the rapid response. It is done in the interests of speed and efficiency. If the UN resolution is not forthcoming or if somebody vetoes it, we will just have to bring our troops and equipment back. Senator Tuffy also asked about the need for section 11. Under the existing legislation, we are allowed to send representatives to international organisations such as the African Union, etc. However, there is a constitutional provision which sets out the procedures for the State becoming part of any international organisation. I am simply saying that we are not trying to unilaterally change that by anything that is in the Bill, just because we are providing a mechanism for representation on these international organisations.
Senator Leyden asked whether I thought it might be necessary to talk to the Government about getting additional troops. We have a standing army of 10,500, as he said. The maximum commitment abroad at any time is about 800 troops. That is much bigger than it seems. It is about 10% of the non-officer section of the Army. It does not just involve 800 people being abroad, if all deployed at one time, with people training, getting ready, etc. We shall see how matters go, but there are no plans at present for such a request and the Government has no intention in that regard at the moment.
Senator Leyden also made the point that training on field exercises abroad, whether as a prelude to a peace support operation or to involvement in a battle group, will involve things the Defence Forces have not been doing up to now. He asked whether it might be appropriate to talk to PDFORRA and RACO, the representative organisations about that. We are in constant touch with PDFORRA and RACO. We have and will continue to discuss all those matters with them.
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