Fine Gael says Ireland should take part in a future EU defence entity

 

Fine Gael has become the first political party in the State to advocate abandoning traditional Irish neutrality, saying Ireland should participate in a future EU defence entity.

The party yesterday published a policy document, Beyond Neutrality, which both advocates the creation of a European defence entity and Irish participation in it. "It is time for us to become one of the architects in designing future European security/defence structures," the document says.

While advocating Irish participation in European defence, the party does not want the State to sign up for an "Article V" commitment as contained in the Western European Union (WEU) treaty. Such a commitment obliges WEU member-state to come to the defence of another under attack.

The party's foreign affairs spokesman, Mr Gay Mitchell, said Ireland should argue at EU level that such a commitment be incorporated as a protocol in any new treaty rather than a full treaty provision. Then Ireland could decide to become involved in common defence actions on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Mitchell said Ireland's concern should not be "to shirk our responsibilities or to refuse to come to the aid of a partner EU state. Our concern should be to ensure that, should we do so, it would be our own decision rather than as a result of an automatic provision".

He said any proposal for such Irish participation in future European defence should be put to the people in a referendum. "It is time to stop making security and defence policy by stealth. Let us be open with the people and let us put the issues clearly before them."

Mr Mitchell was speaking at a press conference which was also attended by his party leader, Mr John Bruton, the defence spokeswoman, Ms Frances Fitzgerald, and Mr Bernard Durkan, chairman of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs.

"What is Ireland's role to be?" asked Mr Mitchell. "To demand that somebody, somewhere, do something about events, such as the mass murder in Srebrenica, just as long as they are Dutch, German, American or British?"

He said European defence co-operation was now up for discussion. "The only question is whether Ireland chooses to help shape the future of that co-operation or if it just waits for others to design the structure and then face a `take it or leave it' decision later."

Mr Mitchell accused the Government of having misled the people on its intentions in relation to Partnership for Peace, and said Ministers "continue to run away from pro-actively developing policy in this area, or even explaining proposals or developments to the public".

Calling for an open debate on Ireland's role in European defence he said: "Ireland should now define the circumstances in which we would be willing to depart from neutrality and take part in an EU defence entity."

He said the Government appeared to be simply acquiescing in developments at European level without adequate debate at home. The forthcoming White Paper on defence was a missed opportunity, he said, as it was not, in fact, a White Paper on defence, but more a White Paper on personnel.

The document did not take account of Ireland's changing role in security through PfP, the Petersberg Tasks of the EU and the evolving security/defence structure in the European Union, Mr Mitchell maintained.

According to Fine Gael, a future EU common defence policy or common defence entity in which Ireland would participate could be based on the following principles:

Adherence to the fundamental principles of the United Nations.

A commitment to the vigorous pursuit of the goal of universal nuclear and biological disarmament and to a solemn undertaking by the European defence union acting as an entity not to use nuclear or biological weapons.

A commitment to mutual defence and support among all EU member-states but based on Article V protocol opt-in arrangements for those states that do not want to make this an automatic provision.

A commitment, as a priority, to providing resources to UN-mandated peacekeeping and peace-making operations and to the Petersberg Tasks of the WEU (humanitarian aid, search-and-rescue, peacekeeping and peace enforcement, including tasks of combat forces on a case-by-case basis).

Respect for the right of other member-states, if they so wish, to be involved in other military alliances such as NATO.