Search Speeches
Home > Speeches > Speech
Seanad Eireann

Defence (Amendment) Bill 2006.

Second Stage Speech

Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea T.D
28 June 2006

I am pleased to bring this Bill before the Seanad and I would like to thank the members for agreeing to take the Bill at short notice.

This is a short Bill, which is designed to amend and update the Defence Acts in relation to the despatch of members of the Permanent Defence Force on overseas duties. However, it is also an important Bill. The despatch of members of the Defence Forces overseas is a concrete expression of Ireland’s foreign policy objectives, in particular, our support for the UN and for multilateral arrangements in relation to 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 in relation to 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 many other reasons, including 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 standing training regime for the Defence Forces. In addition, for the first time, under this Bill, the Government will have the authority to despatch members of the Defence Forces to undertake humanitarian tasks in response to a disaster or emergency.

I would now like to elaborate on some of the main provisions of the Bill.

Section 1 of the Bill provides a definition of “international organisation”, which in conjunction with section 3 (1) of the Bill, covers the assignment of personnel of the Permanent Defence Force to appointments in specified international organisations, such as the UN, the EU and OSCE, together with other regional organisations involved in UN peace keeping operations e.g. NATO, African Union, etc. 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 of the Bill 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, 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 the 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 relating to transfers, service, court martials and the registration of births and deaths.

Section 3 provides for the despatch on overseas service of members or contingents of the Permanent Defence Force on a range of assignments 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, in fact, been part and parcel of Permanent Defence Force since the foundation of the State.

There are two provisions included in Section 3, which require specific mention, namely, participation in exercises, which 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 can’t continue with the current situation where our first joint training is when we are on the ground in a real 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 as 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 a disaster since they do not generally represent a threat to international peace and security. It is vital that 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 have 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 citizens, whereupon the NGO would then deploy them to the disaster area. The provision here 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 whose operations 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 in relation 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, 6 and 7 are technical amendments to extend provisions of the Principal Act (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 Battlegroups, 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 Battlegroup, 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 essentially good housekeeping.

The proviso I mentioned relates to section 13, which provides for an Annual Report to Dáil Éireann which 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 that I have set out 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 Battlegroup 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 help dangerous situations from becoming catastrophes and I’m sure 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 would like to update the Seanad on the current position on Battlegroups.

It is probably no harm at this stage to explain exactly what is meant by the term “Battlegroups”, as I believe it can be misleading. It is in fact a standard technical military term to describe a coherent military force package capable of stand-alone 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 Battlegroups, 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 Battlegroup, which is planned to be on stand-by during the first semester of 2008. Officials from my Department are in discussions with their Swedish colleagues in relation to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between participants in the Nordic Battlegroup. The MOU has been signed by Sweden, Finland, Norway and Estonia, the current members of the Nordic Battlegroup. 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 Battlegroup in 2008, possible participation in future Battlegroups 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 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, which are supported by the UN, and our traditional policy of military neutrality. If anything, participation in EU Battlegroups 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 Battlegroups. 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.

I think it is important, in the context of the debate, to set the Battlegroup concept in its proper context. The Government sees Battlegroups 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 Battlegroup 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’, 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.

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, amongst 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 the 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 in 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 (ESDP), 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 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.

I have reiterated on many occasions, that our participation in peace support operations would continue to require UN authorisation. Participation in Battlegroups 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 Battlegroup imposes no obligations in relation to international or multilateral defence. Participation of 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 Battlegroup, will be a national sovereign decision.

I know that some Deputies are of the view that this legislation is being proposed solely to enable members of the Permanent Defence Force to participate in EU Battlegroups. While that of itself would be no bad thing, I can 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 Battlegroups.

I commend the Bill to the Seanad and look forward to a constructive discussion.

Related Speeches

No documents found

Contact Us

Department of Defence
Station Road
Co. Kildare

Tel 00 353 45 492000
Fax 00 353 45 492017
* loCall 1890 251890

* Note that the rates charged for the use of 1890 (LoCall) numbers may vary among different service providers