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Presentation by the Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea T.D.
to the Joint Committee on European Affairs -
“Ireland’s Participation in EU Battlegroups”
22 March 2006 at 2.45p.m.

Ireland has been, and remains, a staunch supporter of the Charter of the United Nations and of the primacy of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security. We take very seriously our obligation under the Charter to make armed forces, assistance and facilities, available to the Security Council, in order to contribute to international peace support operations. To this end Ireland has always sought to remain at the forefront of the development of multinational arrangements in relation to such operations, both within the UN and in international organisations including the EU and the OSCE. Our participation in the EU’s European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is a continuation of our long and honourable tradition of support for multilateral arrangements in the maintenance of international peace and security.

The European Security and Defence Policy is an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which encompasses the EU’s international obligations in relation to the maintenance of international peace and security. Military capabilities are but one element among a wide range of instruments which the EU can deploy in this regard, which include economic, political, administrative, rule of law etc.

In the Headline Goal 2010, the EU set itself the objective inter alia, of being able “to respond with rapid and decisive action applying a fully coherent approach to the whole spectrum of crisis management operations covered by the Treaty on the European Union”. A key element of the Headline Goal is the capability to deploy forces at high readiness, broadly based on the Battlegroups concept.

Like many others, I find the term “battlegroup” unfortunate. It has connotations that some will exploit to raise baseless fears. Nonetheless, it is the underlying concept we should focus on, not the word itself, which is a technical military term for a rapidly deployable force, usually of battalion size which, with support elements, comprises approximately 1,500 personnel.

The ambition of the EU to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises has, and continues to be, a key objective of the development of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The tasks to be carried out under ESDP (the so-called Petersberg Tasks) are defined in the Amsterdam Treaty as “humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking.” Our participation in ESDP, and in the Petersberg Tasks, has been endorsed and supported directly by the Irish People in the referendum on the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the subsequent referenda on the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties. Our participation in ESDP is also fully in accordance with our traditional support for the UN and our obligations as members of the international community, to respond to crises, events and humanitarian disasters, wherever they may occur.

The European Union today has the potential to play an increasing role in responding to emergency crises, in providing humanitarian relief and in supporting the maintenance of international peace and security in furtherance of the aims of the United Nations and the UN Charter. Accepting this role is not just an EU ambition; it is an EU obligation and an obligation for Ireland as a member of both the EU and of the UN.

Ireland favours the development of the EU’s rapid response capability in support of UN authorised missions and is positively disposed towards participation in Battlegroups in this regard. To this end, I established the interdepartmental group to examine all issues relating to Ireland’s potential participation in an EU-led rapid response capability. The Group reported in November 2005 and, since then, its report has been considered by the Cabinet Sub Committee on European Affairs and, informally, by the Government.

Battlegroup commitments can be met within the context of the 850 ceiling on the number of military personnel serving overseas, set by the Government in the White Paper on Defence in 2000. Moreover, participation by the Defence Forces in EU Battlegroups 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 Battlegroups and our traditional policy of support for the UN. 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 Battlegroups.

As part of its study, the interdepartmental group has recommended some changes to current legislation in light of the increasing range of operations where military forces can play a role and the need for increased interoperability and training so as we can be more effective and more efficient once deployed.

It is important to the development of capabilities and the ongoing training of the defence forces that they can undertake training overseas and learn from best practice in other countries. While not conclusive, the study raised possible questions as to whether Defence Forces can be sent on such overseas training. 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.

I intend to introduce amending legislation to put this issue beyond doubt. Moreover, in light of developments since the Defence Act was amended in 1960 to provide for participation in UN peace support operations, for the avoidance of doubt, it is intended to update the wording in the Act to more closely reflect current practice in the formulation of UN Security Council resolutions endorsing Peace Support Operations. The Triple Lock requirement of UN, Government and Dáil approval will stand irrespective.

I also propose to provide for the participation by Defence Forces personnel in humanitarian operations in response to natural and man-made disasters such as the tsunami in South East Asia or the earthquake in Pakistan. Currently personnel must volunteer for service with a civil undertaking, in the same manner as any ordinary citizens and cannot be deployed at the behest of the Government.

These issues are important and must be addressed. The requirement for this amending legislation arises irrespective of our participation in Battlegroups. It is my hope, with the cooperation of the Oireachtas, which I expect will be readily forthcoming, to have the necessary legislation enacted before the summer recess.

Following on from the report of the Interdepartmental Group and consideration of its report, discussions with other like-minded nations on a potential contribution by Ireland to a Battlegroup have now commenced. A delegation consisting of representatives from the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs and the Defence Forces met with their Swedish counterparts in Stockholm on 9-10 March to discuss possible participation by the Defence Forces in the Nordic Battlegroup. Our representatives outlined Ireland’s position in relation to Battlegroup participation and international peacekeeping generally and gave a presentation on the capabilities, which Ireland can make available to a Battlegroup. These range from smaller niche capabilities, up to an APC mounted light infantry company group of approximately 200 personnel plus support elements.

This is now being considered by Sweden, which is the Framework Nation for the Nordic Battlegroup. Further consultations between the Defence Forces and the Swedish Armed Forces and between officials of the respective ministries are planned. Any decision on a specific contribution to a Battlegroup will be subject to formal Government approval.

Battlegroups are no panacea. They will not take over the role of larger forces deployed by the UN on peace support operations. They do, however, in specific circumstances, have the potential to stabilise a situation and create the conditions into which a more substantive force can be deployed.

The development of the Battlegroup concept and Irelands participation in them 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 on 14 October, 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’, Secretary-General 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.

I am satisfied that the development of EU Battlegroup concept provides another dimension and vehicle, within which, Ireland can contribute further to the United Nations and its international peace support operations. I am keenly also aware of the potential, which Battlegroups can offer in support of UN operations, which is one of the key objectives of the concept. This is a further way of expressing Ireland’s commitment to the UN and its principles. As such, Ireland will continue to contribute to the development of the EU Battlegroup concept in cooperation with like-minded nations and will remain at the forefront of developments within the international community in supporting international peace support operations.


Related Speeches
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Defence (Amendment) Bill 2006. Second Stage Speech by Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea T.D. Dail Eireann
28 June 2006
Defence (Amendment) Bill 2006. Second Stage Speech by Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea T.D. Seanad Eireann
28 April 2006
Speech by the Minister for Defence, Mr. Willie O’Dea, T.D., at the Conference on “EU Battlegroups - Perspectives from Neutral and Non-aligned states” 28/04/06
23 March 2006
Presentation by Minister Willie O’Dea to the Joint Committee on European Affairs - “Ireland’s Participation in EU Battlegroups” 22/03/06
9 February 2006
Speech by Minister Willie O’Dea on Ireland’s Future Participation in UN Peace Support Missions, 09/02/05

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