Battlegroup plans due before Cabinet

 

Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea is to bring proposals for the participation of Irish troops in EU rapid-reaction forces to Cabinet next month, which would probably require a series of legislative changes.

Yesterday, the Department of Defence said Mr O'Dea expected three separate reports examining various aspects of Ireland's proposed participation in the so-called EU "battlegroups" - these will form the nucleus of any rapid-reaction mechanism.

While the reports have yet to be completed, a spokesman for Mr O'Dea said the Minister hoped to bring proposals to Cabinet at the end of next month.

It is now widely expected Mr O'Dea will advise changes in legislation will be required for Irish participation in battlegroups.

The battlegroups, which involve a number of countries working together as a cohesive military grouping, will be the basis of the proposed EU rapid-reaction force.

They will be deployed abroad quickly in unstable regions on short-term missions.

Earlier this year, Mr O'Dea asked an interdepartmental working group to produce three reports on battlegroups relating to policy, legislation and operational issues.

Questions have been raised about these battlegroups in the context of Irish neutrality. The State has said Irish troops would be involved in peacekeeping operations sanctioned by the UN.

It has said the "triple lock mechanism" of approval by the Government, Oireachtas and UN of any military deployment of Irish troops abroad would still stand.

The report on legislation is likely to advocate a number of legislative changes.

At present, Irish law in the form of the Defence Amendment Act stipulates that a maximum of 850 Irish troops can be deployed abroad at any one time on UN duties.

With 750 usually out of the country on UN peacekeeping duties at any one time, the Defence Forces have advised this cap would need to be lifted as Irish participation in UN missions is not likely to end.

There is also a question as to whether foreign troops would be able to train here alongside Irish troops under 1954 legislation, and this may also have to be changed.

It is also likely that Mr O'Dea's proposals will advocate Irish participation in battlegroups involving small, neutral countries like Finland and Sweden.

While this is ultimately a political decision, it is expected to tie in with operational advice to be given to Mr O'Dea, which will focus on the requirements for Irish troops to be able to function effectively as part of a battlegroup.

The Army is already working closely with Swedish soldiers in Liberia, while it has also worked with Finnish military in Kosovo.