Tuesday, 7 May 2013
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 79 and 84 together.
The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy forms an integral part of the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. In the area of Common Security and Defence Policy, the role of the Presidency is now limited to supporting the High Representative and the European External Action Service in this regard. However, that said, this arrangement provides Ireland with an opportunity to influence the Common Security and Defence Policy agenda. T he EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy forms an integral part of the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. In the area of Common Security and Defence Policy, the role of the Presidency is now limited to supporting the High Representative and the European External Action Service in this regard. However, that said, this arrangement provides Ireland with an opportunity to influence the Common Security and Defence Policy agenda.
Following on from an initiative by Ireland, the EU adopted an Action Plan on EU/UN co-operation. This action plan provides the contextual backdrop to the adoption as part of Ireland’s Presidency of the European Council 2013, the enhancement of EU/UN Relations, in particular, through EU engagement and participation in UN Peacekeeping.
I, and my Department, hosted a very successful and well attended seminar in Dublin Castle on this subject. Speakers from the EU, NATO, the UN and, for the first time, the African Union, as well as academia gave informative presentations to over 120 delegates who attended from all over Europe.
This seminar informed the follow up discussion at the Informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers who recognised the primacy of the UN in the maintenance of international peace and security and the requirement for the EU to work hand in hand with the UN. Attendance by the UN at the Informal meeting of EU Ministers for Defence, represented by the Under Secretary General at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, has cemented this priority into the thinking of the EU.
Evidence of the deepening of co-operation between the European Union and the United Nations has resulted in the re-establishment of an EU/UN steering board which now meets on a regular basis. The most recent meeting took place two weeks ago. Furthermore at that meeting the UN undertook to provide the EU with a list of capabilities it requires to undertake international peacekeeping operations so as to ascertain how the EU may assist. As such we now have a concrete process for cultivating closer co-operation between the EU and the UN, partly as a result of this being made a priority of our Presidency.
In summary, this priority has and will continue to provide impetus to the Union as a whole to the enhancement of co-operation between the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and the United Nations.
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 and 102 together.
To this end, my Department has commenced work on the review and has had discussions with the Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross on the proposed legislative proposals, which in the main relate to codification of the various legal instruments in effect since 1939. I am advised that the Red Cross have indicated to my officials that they are satisfied in principle with the Department’s proposals. For the purposes of clarity, the Deputy may wish to note that it is not intended to alter the existing corporate governance arrangements of the Society. I anticipate subject to Government approval that a Red Cross (Amendment) Bill will be published during the lifetime of this Government.
107. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Defence if he will outline to Dáil Éireann, in respect of this year's overseas travel for Saint Patrick's Day, the benefit of this trip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21129/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 82, 93, 106 and 107 together.
My visit to Lebanon afforded me an opportunity to see, at first hand, the dedication and professionalism of military personnel and the tremendous work done overseas by the Irish Defence Forces personnel serving as part of a joint Irish/Finnish battalion with the United Nations Interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in south Lebanon. I conveyed to the troops our deep appreciation for the outstanding manner in which they continue to perform their duties on overseas service.
The visit to the troops was part of a comprehensive St Patrick’s Day programme in the Middle East. During my visit to the Irish/Finnish battalion’s area of operations, I received briefings on the current situation in the region and met with the UNIFIL Force Commander, General Paolo Serra of Italy. I also laid a wreath at the Memorial in Tibnin to the forty-seven members of the Defence Forces who died in Lebanon in the cause of peace.
When in Lebanon I also met with the Lebanese Minister for Defence, Mr. Fayez Ghosn and we discussed the current security and political situation and the challenges being faced by Lebanon and how their efforts can be supported by Ireland and the international community. I also discussed with him the current conflict in Syria and the refugee crisis, and in particular the number of Syrian refugees in the Lebanon and the supports required by Lebanon from the EU.
On 12 March 2013, I visited the Golan Heights and I met with Irish Defence Forces personnel who are serving with the UN Truce Supervision Organisation as unarmed Military Observers in support of UNDOF, the UN monitoring force on the Golan Heights. I also met Major General Iqbal Singh Singha from India, the Head of Mission and Force Commander UNDOF. I was briefed on security issues in that area, especially the growing risks flowing from instability in Syria and the impact of the refugee crisis in the region.
In Israel, I engaged in trade promotion activities, attended a business breakfast organised by the IDA and the Embassy. I also attended the Israel launch of the Ireland-Israel Business Network.The IDA and the Ireland Israel Business Network are following up on contacts made.I attended the 45th anniversary celebration of the Ireland Israel Friendship League where I met with many of the Irish diaspora in Israel. I also attended Saint Patrick’s Day events held in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv. In the course of my visit I also attended an Ireland/Israel seminar on road safety where the experiences of the relevant authorities in both States were shared and options for continued engagement in improving road safety were explored. I received a briefing on ongoing developments in the use of unmanned aerial systems for security surveillance purposes. The Defence Forces already use such systems in peacekeeping operations.
In relation to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I received briefings and had a number of discussions on the overall political situation, with a number of politicians including both the outgoing and incoming Ministers for Justice in Israel, Yaakov Neeman and Tzipi Livni respectively. Tzipi Livni has been appointed by the Israeli Prime Minister as the lead negotiator with the Palestinians to advance the peace process.
While visiting Ramallah in the West Bank, I met with Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official and negotiator, with the Minister for Justice of the Palestinian Authority, Mr Ali Muhanna and with NGOs and UN agencies operating on the ground. I reiterated at every opportunity the Irish Government’s strong and consistent support for a two State solution resulting in a sovereign State of Palestine existing peacefully alongside a secure Israel and Ireland’s support for the recommencement of discussions in respect of the peace process.
I was also briefed by Mr Kenneth Deane Head of mission of EUPOL COPPS, the EU’s police training mission with the Palestinian police, which Ireland has strongly supported. Throughout my visit to the Middle East, I also promoted economic cooperation, high-tech research and innovation, bilateral trade links and tourism.
316. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the degree to which further overseas, EU or UN associated troop deployments are likely to emerge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21557/13]
318. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the number and location of Army, Navy and Air Corps personnel deployed overseas on foot of EU or UN deployment missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21559/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 316 and 318 together.
Full details of all personnel currently serving overseas are listed in the tabular statement attached. Of the 439 personnel serving overseas, 427 are Army, 2 are Naval Service and 10 are Air Corps personnel.
The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 357 personnel, including the Deputy Force Commander; the EU Training Mission (EUTM) Somalia with 10 personnel, including the Mission Commander; the EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) with 8 personnel; the EUFOR mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina with 7 personnel; the NATO-led international security presence (KFOR) in Kosovo with 12 personnel; and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan with 7 personnel. Ireland also contributes 23 observers and staff to various United Nations and OSCE missions and 15 other personnel to staff appointments at UN, EU and OSCE headquarters.
As regards future deployments of Defence Forces personnel overseas, Ireland receives requests, from time to time, in relation to participation in various missions and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. When considering any particular request, the existence of realistic objectives and a clear mandate, which has the potential to contribute to a political solution, consideration of how the mission relates to the priorities of Irish foreign policy and the degree of risk involved are amongst the factors considered.
Last month, Ireland received requests from the UN to deploy a small number of additional observers to the UN Truce Supervision Organisation in the Middle East to the Headquarters of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Syria. These requests are currently receiving consideration and a decision will be made shortly.
No other formal request has been received from the UN for Defence Forces participation in additional missions. However, the UN regularly advises member States of deficiencies in existing or new missions. In this regard, my Department is also currently considering whether there is the potential for the Defence Forces to contribute to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
86. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Defence the rules regarding the participation of Defence Forces personnel in extracurricular sporting activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21313/13]
92. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Defence the rules in place with regard to the participation of Defence Forces personnel in extracurricular sporting activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21294/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 86 and 92 together.
As such, participation by members of the Defence Forces in sporting activities at local, regional and higher level competition is encouraged and where possible is facilitated having regard to, for example, the taking of annual leave. The level of participation in extracurricular sporting activities is governed by the exigencies of the service and no distinction is made in favour of any particular sporting discipline. In the recent past, many members of the Defence Forces, both male and female, have brought great honour to the Organisation, through their success, at the highest level in, for example, Gaelic games, boxing and League of Ireland soccer and this is to be welcomed.
Participation in sports and sporting activity forms an integral part of reaching and maintaining the Defence Forces desired fitness profile. As part of an overall structured training programme, a programme of sporting activities is available for members of the Defence Forces to participate in. This is managed and overseen by the Defence Forces Athletic Association.
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 88 and 95 together.
The 107th Infantry Battalion, comprising some 332 personnel, will complete its deployment with UNIFIL later this month when it will be replaced by personnel of the 108th Infantry Battalion. The Irish Battalion has been working alongside a contingent of 170 personnel of the Finnish Armed Forces as part of a joint Irish/Finnish Battalion since 1 June 2012.A further 16 Irish personnel are deployed to the Force Headquarters in Naquora and 8 personnel at the UNIFIL Sector West headquarters in Shama.
The Irish/Finnish Battalion conducts operational tasks on a daily basis, which include the provision of security, vehicle and foot patrols, checkpoints, establishing and occupying temporary observation posts and liaison/engagement with local leaders.Joint operations are conducted with units of the Lebanese Armed Forces deployed in the UNIFIL area of operations. Irish and Finnish troops also occupy two forward static UN posts on the Blue Line.
The security situation in the area in which the Irish/Finnish Battalion operates remains calm but increasingly unstable due to domestic and international factors largely stemming from the spillover effects of the Syrian crisis. The Battalion implements Force Protection measures appropriate to the prevailing operational and security developments in the region.
Ireland currently holds command of the joint Irish Finnish Battalion.Finland, in accordance with agreements entered into on the deployment of the joint battalion, will assume command of the joint battalion in November 2013.At that stage, the Irish contribution to the Finnish/Irish Battalion will reduce from 332 to approximately 181 Defence Forces personnel. The joint Irish/Finnish battalion currently consists of a total of 503 personnel (332 Irish and 171 Finnish).
89. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Defence if he will provide a progress report on Ireland's EU Presidency insofar as it relates to defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21306/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 89 and 96 together.
The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy forms an integral part of the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. In the area of Common Security and Defence Policy, the role of the Presidency is now limited to supporting the High Representative and the European External Action Service in this regard. However, that said, this arrangement provides Ireland with an opportunity to influence the Common Security and Defence Policy agenda.
In relation to progress made during the Presidency, the key event of the presidency was the Informal meeting of Defence Ministers held in Dublin Castle in February. The Secretary General of NATO, on his first formal visit to Ireland, attended the meeting as did, the UN for the first time and was represented by the Under-Secretary General in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. A range of issues were discussed including the upcoming European Council on Defence, Mali, the Horn of Africa and Partnerships between the EU and the United Nations.
To date, two very successful seminars have also been held in Ireland. The first seminar was on the topic of Regional Organisations Co-Operation with the United Nations in the area of Crisis Management, Peace Support and Peace Enforcement Operations. The second seminar dealt with the issue of Maritime Security and Surveillance. The outcomes have been very positive for both seminars and have stimulated debate in these areas at EU and institutional levels.
In summary, the priorities have centred on how Ireland and the Union as a whole can contribute to the enhancement of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, a critical component of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, which is central to the achievement of Ireland’s foreign policy objectives.
90. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Defence since his Department has facilitated the availability of archive material to the nation, if he will outline the importance of this service; the cost to the State; the usage of same since this information was made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21130/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): The mission of the Military Archives is to acquire, preserve and make available to the public the documentary heritage of the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence. The Military Archives also provides advice and other services to the Defence Organisation, assisting in the administration and management of its records. From as early as 1924, the Defence Forces undertook to preserve historical documents from that time and since 1990 the Military Archives has been the official place of deposit for such material, including that of the Army Pensions Board, under the terms of the National Archives Act, 1986. Associated with the Military Archives is the Military Service Pensions Archive (MSPA) project which, although not currently in the public domain, is a cornerstone of the Government’s Centenary Programme. Approximately 300,000 files relating to the period from Easter Week 1916, through the War of Independence and Civil War comprise this collection. The files relate mainly to applications by individuals and/or their dependants for the award of pension and gratuities for veterans who served as members of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Hibernian Rifles, the Irish Republican Army, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann, the National Army/Defence Forces on active service or who were casualties or wounded while on duty during the period from April and May 1916 through to 30 September 1923.
91. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence his views that arising from the consequences of the Troika agreement, if it will be possible to maintain the full scale of activity, services and support for the Defence Forces without the further downsizing and /or closure of barracks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21236/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): In the context of the very serious economic crisis that this country is experiencing, all elements of Defence expenditure have been critically reviewed in order to deliver savings. The required savings of recent years, in both pay and non-pay, have necessitated a flexible and adaptive approach from the Defence Organisation. A key focus has been the prioritisation and maintenance of Permanent Defence Force operational capacity in order to ensure that the Permanent Defence Force retain the capacity to fulfil all roles assigned.
The Defence Organisation has recently undertaken further significant re-organisation and reform as a result of the revised strength ceiling. These changes are designed to ensure that the Defence Forces organisational structures are configured to maximise required capabilities. There were no barrack closures as part of this process.
The Chief of Staff has advised me that the Defence Forces retain the capacity to fulfil all roles assigned by Government. The operational capacity of the Defence Forces will continue to be prioritised within the resource envelope allocated to Defence.
94. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Defence if he is considering getting more involved in NATO projects in the future in view of the comments made by Anders Fogh Rasmussed on his recent trip to Dublin. [21292/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): The Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, visited Dublin on the 12th and 13th February this year. He did so at the invitation of the EU High Representative and myself to participate in the informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers which was held at Dublin Castle, as part of Ireland’s EU Presidency. During his visit Mr. Rasmussen expressed his appreciation for the cooperation NATO has had with Ireland since we joined the Partnership for Peace in 1999. He paid tribute to the contribution Ireland has made to UN-led peacekeeping missions and to UN-mandated missions which are led by regional organizations such as NATO and the EU. Participation in overseas peacekeeping missions is a key element of Ireland’s foreign policy and has been an important dimension in meeting Ireland’s international obligations as a member of the UN and the EU. With the increasing use of more robust Chapter VII missions/operations, in the past number of years, the UN has turned to regional organisations to undertake and lead missions on its behalf. In effect the EU, the AU and NATO, together with other similar such organisations, are now major players in UN peacekeeping.
As the House will be aware, Ireland has been contributing Defence Forces Personnel to UN mandated, NATO-led missions since 1997, when we contributed personnel to the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our forces have and continue to serve in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
As members of Partnership for Peace (PfP), Ireland participates in PfP’s Planning and Review Process (PARP). As part of this process, Ireland has adopted a range of Partnership Goals aimed at assisting Ireland to meet its UN/EU commitments in the areas of Counter Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED), Cyber Security, Network Enabled Services, etc. Membership of PfP has allowed the Defence Forces to gain access to NATO standards – which are internationally-recognised as representing best practice for the development of military capabilities. The Defence Forces participation in PARP will continue as part of our engagement in Partnership for Peace.
98. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Defence his plans to develop EU cooperation in the area of maritime security and surveillance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21323/13]
109. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the recent meeting on maritime security and surveillance; if he is considering any new measures to enhance our maritime security and surveillance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21127/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 98,100 and 109 together.
A Seminar titled “Challenges and Opportunities in Maritime Security and Surveillance for Effective Governance and Innovation in the EU’s Maritime Domain” was hosted in April. High level representatives from the European Commission, European External Action Service, the European Defence Agency, NATO and national and international academics and practitioners, made presentations at the Seminar.
The seminar highlighted the importance of building EU wide consensus and cooperation in relation to security and surveillance in the maritime domain in support of EU Sea Basins Strategies (including the new EU Atlantic Strategy), the Integrated Maritime Policy, the Common Information Sharing Environment and Common Security and Defence Policy. In meeting the challenges of the 21st century, the unique aspects of the Union’s maritime and surveillance domain was highlighted. The seminar drew lessons from existing EU Sea Basin strategies and the technologies and operational procedures which support collaboration among member States, with a particular focus on EU Navies.
The seminar also highlighted that the EU’s seas and oceans provide an essential contribution to our wealth and wellbeing and hold immense untapped economic opportunities, in terms of energy, food and mineral resources. It is a very significant resource worth protecting. To achieve these benefits closer cross-sector and cross-border cooperation is required and this was clearly articulated during the seminar.
The Atlantic Strategy, which will cover the coasts, territorial and jurisdictional waters of the five EU Member States with an Atlantic coastline – France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. Preliminary meetings between these five Member States have taken place and work is ongoing regarding the development of this strategy, in which Ireland is playing a key role.
The “MARSUR” project, involving 13 Member States, including Ireland, will develop the Recognised Maritime Picture exchange network to allow for the sharing of sensitive and confidential maritime information among participating member States Naval Forces in a safe and secure manner. The Irish Naval Service participates in this project.
The Common Information Sharing Environment (an EU Commission initiative) - will allow for the exchange of information across all EU maritime sectors, through the integration of existing maritime systems with the use of modern technologies, in a cost efficient and effective manner. “MARSUR” will ultimately feed into this system.
Ireland’s involvement in this project will enhance information sharing and knowledge transfer between Member States and build working relationships based on “mutual trust” with other European agencies at the operational level. This is evident by Ireland’s very successful involvement in drug seizures, the success of which is dependent on building partnerships between the various actors in this domain.
99. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he remains satisfied regarding the ability of the Defence Forces to respond to and security requirement including natural disasters that may arise notwithstanding expenditure cuts brought about as a consequence of the Memorandum of Understanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21237/13]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): My priority as Minister for Defence is to ensure that the operational capacity of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible. Whilst the Defence Forces are not a Principal Response Agency, as defined in the Framework for Major Emergency Management, they provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or severe weather emergency in its Aid to the Civil Authority (ATCA) role under the muli-agency Framework. At National level, representation on the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, by both my Department and the Defence Forces ensures the fullest coordination and cooperation in the event of an emergency. The Defence Forces are also represented on the eight Regional Working Groups that have been established under the Framework and, on an ongoing basis, designated members of the Defence Forces, based around the country, act as Liaison Officers to Local Authorities.
In relation to security, primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order rests with An Garda Síochána. However, one of the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence (2000) is to provide Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) which, in practice means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. A wide variety of military training activities are specifically designed to counter or respond to possible security emergencies and the Defence Forces hold regular coordination and liaison meetings with An Garda Síochána in relation to ATCP issues.
Similar to all other Government Departments, it is imperative that the Department and the Defence Forces take into account the current difficult economic environment we are now operating in. The budgetary situation will continue to dictate the level of funding available for new equipment, including vehicles, upgrades of equipment and different technologies. Within the resource envelope available for Defence, the Defence Forces will continue to fulfil all roles assigned by Government.
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