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'You're talking about going to war': TDs concerned EU defence deal could lead to Ireland joining a European army

Last week, the Cabinet gave the go-ahead for Ireland to take part in an EU plan.

NUMEROUS TDS and senators have voiced their concerns about Ireland signing up to a European defence pact known as Pesco.

The plan has created a controversy here amid fears that it could undermine Ireland’s policy of neutrality.

Some argue Pesco (permanent structured cooperation on defence) is the first step towards an EU army, with its proposals including inclusion in the European medical command, a network of logistic hubs across Europe and a creation of a European crisis response centre, as well as the joint training of military officers.

Last week, the Cabinet gave the go-ahead for Ireland to take part in an EU plan.

However, as per the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, for Ireland to participate in Pesco, a government decision and Dáil approval is required.

A motion is due to be brought before the Dáil next week for approval. Countries have to sign off on the plan at the next Foreign Affairs Council meeting on 11 December.

While some TDs argue signing up to the deal will impact on Ireland’s neutrality, Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe maintains it poses no challenge to it.

Historic decision

The Green Party’s Eamon Ryan said the deal would have huge implications for Ireland’s future budgets and the Irish Defence Forces. He said a full debate on this historic decision was needed urgently.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the proposal for more structured cooperation on defence and security issues across the European Union has been in development for a number of years.

He said:

It does not, however, oblige Ireland to do anything. The structure has, essentially, a voluntary opt-in that allows Ireland to choose the projects in which we want partnerships with other countries. Perhaps these could be in areas such as marine surveillance, peacekeeping, training or cyber security.
This is a practical response by the European Union to create more structure around co-operation when countries choose, on a voluntary basis, to work together in a more coherent way. The Government will be recommending that Ireland supports the programme.

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the move is an “absolute scandal” and hit out at the independent ministers in government.

“So much for the Ministers of State, Deputies Finian McGrath and Halligan and the Minister, Deputy Ross’s supposed support for Ireland’s neutrality. It will be interesting to see how their supporters react to this and how they can justify such a move,” he said in the Dáil this week.

He claimed the aim of Pesco is to jointly develop defence capabilities and make them available for EU military operations.

Ireland’s neutrality 

“That is at odds with Irish neutrality. Our capabilities should be available to the UN and the UN only. The minister should bear in mind that it also allows for the EU alone, it is not obliged to act with the UN’s support. It can also be used to support NATO operations.

“When we raised this during the debate on the Lisbon treaty, we were told that we were scaremongering. Here we are a few years later, and we have been proven right. Ultimately, the minister is talking about going to war,” said Ó Snodaigh.

Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield also expressed his disbelief at the government’s decision to approve Ireland’s involvement Pesco.

He said the plan is being driven by France and Germany, which are both key members of NATO.

“By signing up to this the Government would, in addition to committing to providing troops to Pesco missions, be committing to trebling current spending on defence, at a huge cost to the Irish people,” said Warfield.

Minister Kehoe said he was not hiding anything from the national parliament on the issue.

“I do not want deputies to leave the chamber saying that our neutrality has been brought into question. The situation could not be further from the truth. The final Pesco document reflects the position of neutral countries, of which we are not the only one. Other neutral countries have already signed up to Pesco,” said Kehoe.

European army

Earlier this month, the Taoiseach reiterated what Kehoe had said, stating:

“Ireland will not join a European army, nor will we contribute to a common European defence budget.”

However, he said he wants Ireland to be part of a common security and defence policy.

Varadkar said security threats exist today which are not the traditional ones that existed in the 1940s when NATO was established and when Ireland enunciated our policy of neutrality.

“They include cyber terrorism, cyber attacks, traditional terrorism and drug and human trafficking. We want to be involved in European actions against all of these. We also want to share our experience and knowledge, as we do already, through the European Defence Agency, of which we have been a member since 1992,” he said.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said  Ireland cannot “drift” into such an agreement and called for a proper debate on the issues in the House.

Read: ‘If UK Brexit offer is unacceptable to Ireland it will be unacceptable to Europe’ – Donald Tusk>

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