Cowen and Gormley to meet on European defence body


TAOISEACH Brian Cowen and Green Party leader John Gormley are to meet in an effort to reach a compromise on the junior Coalition party’s demand that Ireland quit the European Defence Agency (EDA).

The agency helps EU states to co-operate on research and development of military equipment, to combine together to cut costs on military purchases, and to ensure that EU forces increasingly use common equipment.

Mr Gormley, who is Minister for the Environment, on Monday said that Ireland should withdraw from the organisation to help persuade the public to back a rerun of the Lisbon Treaty referendum this year, as is now expected.

During yesterday’s Cabinet’s European Affairs Sub-committee meeting it is understood Mr Cowen expressed sensitivity about the Greens’ objections to the EDA, particularly before the party’s weekend conference in Wexford.

The two party leaders are to hold private talks “over the next week or so”, although Mr Cowen is said to wish to persuade the Greens to accept membership of the body with some restrictions.

“The reality is that we can veto things if we stay at the table, and we can’t if we are not there,” one senior source told The Irish Times.

Mr Cowen is keen to avoid a dispute on the issue. “The reality is that it is an allergic issue for them, and that is understood. The Taoiseach is very sensitive to their needs on this one,” the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The issue of the EDA is not on the formal list of motions already received for the Greens’ conference, although it could be raised on the margins.

Mr Gormley’s decision to voice again his party’s dislike of Ireland’s membership of the EDA did cause some surprise among some Fianna Fáil colleagues.

Mr Gormley is said to take a stronger line than his fellow Green Cabinet colleague Eamon Ryan on the issue, although a senior Green Party figure has refused to say if a departure from the agency would be part of the price that the party would insist upon.

“This is the Greens’ views ... And the agency caused problems the last time when we tried to get a majority of our members to support the Lisbon Treaty,” said Senator Dan Boyle.

A decision to quit the EDA – it would not remove Ireland from efforts to improve EU common foreign policy and defence issues – would raise questions about Ireland’s intentions.