Search Speeches
Home > Speeches > Speech
Presentation by the Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea T.D. to the Forum on Europe

Ireland and the EU Battlegroups

11 May 2006Word Version of speech - Click to view or download - File size 43 kb (7 Pages)
Forum on Europe.doc

Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address you today in the National Forum on Europe on the important issue of Ireland and EU Battlegroups. The Forum has played an important and meaningful role in educating and elaborating European issues for our citizens in an understandable and accessible manner. The development of the EU Battlegroups is an issue which is open to misinterpretation and misrepresentation but which I see as an important dimension through which Irelands commitment to international peace and security can be further developed. However, the concept does need explanation and elaboration, so I am glad of today’s opportunity to speak to you.

I would like to set the EU Battlegroup concept in its context, as a military force which has the capability to respond rapidly to emerging crises in support of the United Nations. It is in this role that I, and the Government, see Battlegroups playing their substantive role. This rapid response capability is one which has not been available heretofore and which the United Nations has been calling for some time. During his visit to Dublin in October 2004, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, stressed the importance of Battlegroups and requested Ireland’s support for them.

It is recognised as a key enabler for stabilising potential conflicts, in specific circumstances, before they get out of hand.

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.

Ireland joined the United Nations on December 14th 1955, and, last year, we celebrated our 50th Anniversary of membership. Over the course of those fifty years, Ireland’s support for the United Nations has been unwavering.

Ireland’s affirmation and support for the UN is based on Article 29 of our Constitution, which states that Ireland is devoted to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations, founded on international justice and morality. This belief in the peaceful settlement of international disputes and the principles of international law, has been the stated policy of successive governments, not just since 1955, but since the foundation of the State.

One of the most visible and tangible expressions of our commitment to the United Nations, and our support for its principles, has been the participation by Irish Defence Forces in UN peacekeeping operations. 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. Since our first UN peacekeeping mission in 1958, our troops have performed over 55,000 tours of duty on 58 UN peace support operations worldwide.

Unfortunately, despite the ongoing efforts of the UN and other international organisations involved in conflict resolution, the threat to international peace and security 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.

On Tuesday, the Government authorised the despatch of up to ten members of the Defence Forces for service with the EU military operation in support of MONUC. MONUC is the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and consists of about 16,000 troops. Ireland contributes three military observers to the mission. In December 2005, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) invited the EU to consider the possibility of providing "a suitably earmarked force reserve that could enhance MONUC's quick reaction capabilities during and immediately after the electoral process." The main purpose of the proposed EU mission is to be available to support MONUC during the upcoming election process, due to take place in July 2006. In line with our commitment to the UN, Ireland from the outset has been positively disposed towards the proposed mission and has supported a positive response from the EU to the UN request. During the course of our EU presidency in the first half of 2004, Ireland promoted the use of EU Crisis Management Capabilities in support of the UN and, the planned support mission to MONUC represents a tangible outcome of our efforts and our partners efforts in this regard. The EU mission will comprise approximately 1,500 troops, mainly based in neighbouring GABON where they will be available for quick and rapid response. The DRC authorities have welcomed possible EU military support to MONUC during the electoral process. Ireland's proposed contribution is well in line with that of other contributing member States and has to be looked at in the context of our existing major commitments to peacekeeping operations in Africa and in the Balkans.

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.

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, which was agreed in the course of Ireland’s presidency of the Union, 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.

As I have stated previously, I believe the term “Battlegroups” 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.” While the term is understood in military terms, the word has connotations that some may wish to exploit to raise baseless fears and mislead the public. Nonetheless, it is the underlying concept we should focus on, not the word itself. What is actually meant by Battlegroups in this respect is a core of troops which could respond quickly to a crisis situation.

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.

In the past two decades we have seen some of the worst atrocities in man’s history. The horrendous carnage in Rwanda and at Srebenica not only appalled and shocked us, it brought home how powerless and ineffective the international community was in the face of such barbarity. The failure to act was not the failure of the United Nations as an institution. It was the collective failure of civilised nations to act together - rapidly, speedily and effectively in defence of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable peoples.

Today the EU has a range of political, diplomatic, economic and security instruments at its disposal to support conflict prevention, crisis management and reconstruction. It is important that we bring all these to bear in a coordinated and effective manner such that we never again see another Srebenica or Rwanda.

The European Union 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 an 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.

Following on from the initial Government consideration of the Battlegroup Report, discussions commenced at official level with other like-minded nations on a potential contribution by Ireland to a Battlegroup. 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 continuing. I understand that the other members of the Nordic Battlegroup have been consulted and that a formal response from Sweden, as Framework Nation, will issue shortly. Technical discussions on an MOU and on the specific nature of our contribution will then ensue.

As you will appreciate, the Nordic Battlegroup was organised some time ago and, I understand most of the core elements are already in place, with Sweden contributing the core manoeuvre battalion. In addition, Battlegroups covering the period through 2010 have already been announced and, on this basis, I would expect that our contribution in the period to 2010 is likely to be limited. Any decision on a specific contribution to a Battlegroup will be subject to formal Government approval.

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 have further 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.

I am fully satisfied that our participation in the Battlegroup concept in no way weakens or undermines Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality. 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. Ireland’s basis for participation in missions undertaken by the EU is grounded in the legitimacy conveyed by the UN Security Council. This will not change. The Triple Lock of UN, Government and Dáil approval will remain in place.

In the event that we participate in a Nordic Battlegroup we would be the only participant with a legal requirement for a UN Mandate. That said, many Member States acknowledge that it would be politically desirable, if not a political imperative, to have a UN mandate for any Battlegroup deployment.

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. Having regard to the contribution which Defence Forces personnel can play in disaster areas and Ireland’s commitment to support disaster relief and humanitarian response, it is important that Defence Forces can be deployed to such missions in an appropriate manner, under normal military command and control, and with the appropriate safeguards. It is also vital that Government can respond to legitimate and urgent requests for humanitarian relief by affected States involving resources and equipment which may only be available from military means in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, such as, temporary accommodation, tents, water treatment plant, generators, lifting equipment and other capabilities. Under the current arrangements, the option to deploy a contingent of the Defence Forces in such circumstances is not available to the Government as such events are not the subject of UN Security Council resolutions. In these cases, 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. They cannot be deployed at the behest of the Government and I intend to introduce legislation to rectify this.

These issues are important and must be addressed. The requirement for this amending legislation arises irrespective of our participation in Battlegroups. I intend to bring the Heads of Bill formally to Government next week. 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.

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 EU’s operation ‘Artemis’ in the Democratic Republic of the Congo clearly showed what can be achieved. There, the EU stopped a potentially destabilising situation in Bunia from escalating into something more dangerous. This intervention allowed the UN to expand its force and provide a deterrent effect.

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
11 May 2006
Presentation by the Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea T.D. to the Forum on Europe - Ireland and the EU Battlegroups

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