Ireland not to opt out of EU security policy, says Martin

 

THE GOVERNMENT will not opt out completely from European security and defence policy (ESDP) in response to last year’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, according to Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin.

“No that is not being considered. That was never considered,” Mr Martin told journalists yesterday when asked if the Government was planning a Danish-style opt-out from ESDP. But he said there was no final decision yet on whether Ireland would withdraw from the European Defence Agency, which helps states to improve defence capabilities by promoting research and development and co-operation on armaments procurement.

Mr Martin said a draft text outlining guarantees on neutrality had now been written in co-operation with the legal service of the council of ministers. The Government is also finalising specific guarantees on taxation and social/ethical issues in advance of a second referendum on Lisbon. It hopes to insert the guarantees into the European treaties via Croatia’s EU accession treaty to make them legally binding.

Mr Martin’s comments in relation to a Danish-style opt-out from ESDP will provide some comfort to the Defence Forces, which had warned this would severely reduce their own capabilities and effectiveness. A complete ESDP opt-out would have prevented Irish Defence Forces from contributing to EU missions and removed the veto Ireland retains at the council of ministers over the deployment of EU forces overseas.

It will disappoint the NGO Peace and Neutrality Alliance, which has campaigned for Ireland to opt out of what it describes as an increasing militarisation of the EU.

There is still a debate in Government over whether Ireland should withdraw from the European Defence Agency. The Green Party and Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche are understood to be advocating withdrawing, while Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea has defended Ireland’s participation in the agency. Withdrawing from the agency does not require a change to the EU treaties and is much easier from a legal perspective than negotiating opting out from ESDP, which requires a new protocol added to the treaties.

Mr Martin, speaking at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, said no final decision had yet been taken on the timing of any second referendum. He said a lot of work had to be achieved before the Lisbon Treaty could be put to the people. He said he favoured a system whereby Irish Ministers had to attend the Oireachtas subcommittee on European affairs before attending council of ministers meetings to improve scrutiny of EU decision-making.

Other domestic responses under consideration by Government include adding a clause to the Constitution specifically outlawing conscription, an issue that caused concern for some voters in last June’s referendum on Lisbon. It is also considering national legislation to boost the rights of workers to meet trade union concerns. Mr Martin said the Department of Foreign affairs had set up a new unit to counter misinformation about Ireland’s economic situation. He said the unit would act to protect the country’s reputation by contacting embassies and media to correct misinformation.