Fianna Fáil MEP calls for citizens’ assembly on neutrality

Barry Andrews says current defence spending is ‘virtually negligent’

Ireland must abolish the triple-lock system governing the deployment of Defence Forces troops abroad, a Fianna Fáil MEP has said.

In a position paper on Irish neutrality, Barry Andrews also called for Ireland to join a common EU defence arrangement where Irish troops would come to the aid of other member states if they come under attack.

However, Ireland should remain out of Nato, he said. "While Ireland should fight to protect the European Union, it should not interfere with sovereign countries in the way that Nato has done in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Therefore, I call on the Government to emphatically reject any possibility of joining Nato."

A citizens' assembly on the issue of neutrality should also be held. Mr Andrews told The Irish Times this should be followed by a referendum on the issue.

“The subjects of defence and security have been taboo for too long in Ireland,” and Ireland’s “partial neurosis” on the subject have left it unable to defend itself, the position paper states.

“The last few weeks have shown the need for a comprehensive, depoliticised debate among citizens, politicians, Defence Forces personnel and academic experts. Ireland has developed an internationally recognised model for untangling difficult public policy issues through participative democracy.”

Mr Andrews said the document was created to stimulate debate on the subject of neutrality and defence.

In calling for abolition of the triple-lock, Mr Andrews was echoing calls from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Mr Varadkar told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party last month that Fine Gael should adopt the position to distinguish itself from Fianna Fáil.

The triple-lock requires a UN General Assembly or Security Council resolution, along with both Government and Dáil approval before more than 12 Irish troops can be deployed overseas.

It means the permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, have an effective veto on the deployment of Irish troops.

"We must give ourselves the flexibility to deploy our peacekeepers wherever we want, whenever we want," Mr Andrews wrote. He called on the Government to replace the requirement for a UN resolution with a requirement for a decision of the European Council.

He said Ireland should “affirm its commitment” to any EU member which is the victim of aggression. This would mean the deployment of Defence Forces troops in the field, but only after the military is properly funded and equipped, he said.

However any EU common defence arrangement should be limited to conventional, hybrid and cyber attacks. French nuclear weapons should not be included in the arrangement “under any circumstances” and it should be limited solely to EU territory.

These policies should be underpinned by greater funding for the Defence Forces as per the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces which reported earlier this year.

Mr Andrews called Ireland's defence funding, which is 0.3 per cent of GDP, "virtually negligent". He noted Finland, another neutral country, has just announced a 70 per cent increase in its defence spending.

However “in the current climate” Ireland should refrain from committing to the most ambitious spending proposals contained in the commission’s report, including the purchase of jet fighters, he said.

Ireland should also take a greater role in the EU’s Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco), which sets out military development goals for member states to work towards. Ireland is a participant in just one of 60 Pesco projects, a project to upgrade maritime surveillance systems.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times

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