Cowen seeks to assure Dail over neutrality

 

The State cannot adopt a common defence policy without a referendum, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, insisted in the Dáil.

Mr Cowen said the National Declaration and the wording of the Nice Treaty Referendum put to rest "definitively, the false argument propagated by the No proponents that the State could adopt a common defence without a referendum".

The Government was "giving constitutional expression to the factual position".

It was an "important reassurance, confirming the bona fides of this Government to deal with this matter in a clear, up-front and proper way".

During Foreign Affairs questions, Mr Cowen said the proposed constitutional amendment "provides an absolute safeguard that Ireland will not adopt a decision of the European council to establish a common defence without a further referendum".

He added, "this means that Ireland will never be part of any binding mutual defence commitment with the EU unless the people decide otherwise through another amendment to the Constitution".

There was now a "triple-lock guarantee" of UN endorsement, Government decision and Dáil approval on Ireland's participation in humanitarian or crisis management tasks.

The Green Party did not accept the Government's bona fides, Mr John Gormley (Dublin South East) said. He asked the Minister to confirm that the declaration from Seville would "not affect in the slightest the fact that US planes are refuelling at Shannon Airport".

Mr Cowen said Mr Gormley was introducing "a complete red herring" because normal, routine arrangements on the landing of aircraft were provided for in legislation and unchanged by this or any other declaration.

The Minister also said the Government did not need a protocol to the treaty "because our neutrality is fully protected under the EU treaties", and under the Seville declarations. "It was not necessary to seek an opt-out from obligations which do not exist," he said.