5. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the meetings he has had with European counterparts in respect of PESCO; the timeline for Irish participation in PESCO projects; and the way in which he plans to inform Dáil Éireann on the progress of and details relating to such projects. (Question 20744/18 asked on 10 May 2018)

Deputy Eamon Ryan: I am interested in knowing the detail of how Ireland is operating within PESCO. I am particularly interested in knowing how we, as a Dáil, can get transparency and openness regarding every aspect of the agreement, specific projects, budget and Council meetings and how we will integrate with NATO. I am keen that the Minister of State should set out the means by which Deputies can get clarity regarding what is happening. We regularly hear him refer to Ireland’s neutrality but what we need to hear is the detail of what is actually happening.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: As the Deputy will be aware, discussions within the EU in the area of defence and security take place in the context of the Common Security and Defence Policy, for which decisions require the unanimous approval of all member states. These discussions take place at regular meetings of Heads of State and Government, at ministerial level meetings and through the Council preparatory bodies.

To date this year, I have met my EU ministerial colleagues on two occasions, at the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) in March and more recently on Saturday last, 6 May, at the informal defence ministerial meeting in Sofia. At both of these meetings, PESCO and matters relating to it were agenda items. At the ministerial Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) meeting on 6 March, the Council decision detailing the first set of PESCO projects and the Council recommendation on the way forward on PESCO implementation were both adopted. Arising from the Council recommendation, discussions are ongoing between my Department, EU colleagues in other member states and the PESCO secretariat in respect of a common set of governance rules for PESCO projects.

The Council decision detailing the first set of PESCO projects confirmed Ireland’s participation in two projects - the European Union training mission competence centre and the upgrade of maritime surveillance. Both of these projects are in the very early stages of development and, accordingly, the scope and timeline for participants’ involvement has not as yet been fully determined.

PESCO projects will enhance the capability and capacity of the Defence Forces to successfully undertake UN-mandated missions, including CSDP operations, consistent with the provisions of the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. Ireland’s participation in PESCO projects is on a wholly voluntary, case-by-case basis.

The common set of governance rules for PESCO projects and the implementation of PESCO were discussed at the informal ministerial meeting held in Sofia on Saturday last. Following discussions at this meeting, it is anticipated that High Representative Mogherini will present an annual report to the Council each year, potentially in May. The report will have input from the participating member states and will detail progress on implementation of PESCO.

In terms of informing Dáil Éireann, I welcome the opportunity to discuss defence matters here and would encourage more extensive discussion on the important and emerging security and defence challenges we face as a country.  I am always available to update the Oireachtas on developments, including in the context of CSDP and PESCO, as I did recently when I accepted the invitation of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence to answer questions on 26 April. 

Deputy Eamon Ryan: I thank the Minister of State for answering the question. In order for this to work, it cannot be on the basis of us having to ask him questions in the hope that the process elucidates information. We should have the ability, in our own right, to find out what is happening, what budget is being spent, what personnel are involved and what commitments are being given.

I understand from the Minister of State’s reply that the governance rules in terms of how PESCO will operate are still under consideration. We do not yet have the full scope and timeline for the two projects although the House has committed to them. I am interested in knowing if, as per the proposal that there be an annual report each May from Madam Mogherini, we will receive an annual report this month.

In the context of the maritime surveillance project, what did we sign up to in this regard, will the Minister of State outline what this project is intended to achieve, what budget is involved, what will be the requirements for the Irish Defence Forces, what will we give to it and what are we likely to gain from it? This is an example of a question in respect of which I should, by right, be able to access information rather than having to raise it in the House. This is a matter for the House as a whole.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: The upgrade of maritime surveillance projects aims to integrate land-based surveillance systems and maritime and air platforms in order to distribute real-time information to member states so as to provide timely and effective responses in international waters. The main objective of the programme is to enhance maritime surveillance awareness and the potential response effectiveness of the EU by using the existing infrastructure, deploying assets and developing related capabilities in the future. It also aims to address, timely and effectively, new and old threats and challenges - such as energy security, environmental challenges and security and defence aspects - and thereby ensure accurate awareness and rapid response in order to contribute to the protection of the EU and its citizens. This is a capacity deployment area in which the Naval Service has already invested through the European Defence Agency’s maritime surveillance, MARSUR, project. Investment in the project should help to develop this expertise further.

Ireland has also confirmed that it will act as an observer on eight other projects that will involve military mobility, energy, operational functions, deployment of a military disaster relief capability package, maritime mine countermeasures, cyber threats and instant response information-sharing, European security software, armoured infantry fighting vehicles and indirect fire support.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: When was it decided that Ireland would join eight of the other 17 projects as an observer? How was this decided and was the information communicated to the House? Where do we get details on this matter? Will our involvement in the MARSUR project allow vessels from other states’ naval services to access Irish waters in a way they cannot currently access them? Will it allow air forces from other countries access to our air space and does it involve investing in shared drone technology to carry out surveillance work in the maritime area? We need the details. We cannot continue to have only statements from the Minister of State to the effect that we are neutral and that these operations are not connected to NATO. As a Member of this House, where can I get the details before decisions are made, other than by way of asking questions in the Chamber every three months?

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Ireland is not joining eight projects, it will have observer status in respect of them.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: When was that decided?

Deputy Paul Kehoe: It was decided by military management. I am not obliged to come into the House to advise Deputies of the projects in which we are participating.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: That is the issue. What is the Minister of State obliged to do?

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Following on from a motion agreed by this House, Ireland joined PESCO as a fully-fledged member. I have no issue with appearing before Oireachtas committees. If I were required to come into the House on a day-today basis to seek permission to enable the Defence Forces to do their daily duties, the Deputy might like that but no work would be done. Deputy Eamon Ryan was at the Cabinet table when the decision was taken to allow Ireland to participate in the European Defence Agency. It would not be fair if I were obliged to seek the permission of the House on every occasion the Defence Forces are asked to participate in or be observers on PESCO projects . At every opportunity, as I did earlier in response to a question from Deputy Mattie McGrath and as I have done before the committee and on numerous occasions in this House, I outline Ireland’s position on neutrality, including at formal meetings, informal meetings and at European Council. I will continue to do that. I refer the Deputy to the final sentence of the PESCO agreement, whereby Ireland’s neutrality, and that of other neutral countries, is outlined.