O'Dea anticipates Irish role in EU's Nordic battlegroup

Sweden is expected to respond soon to an approach to include the Irish Army in the Nordic battlegroup being established as part…

Sweden is expected to respond soon to an approach to include the Irish Army in the Nordic battlegroup being established as part of an EU initiative, Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea said yesterday. A positive response is anticipated by the Government.

At the Forum on Europe in Dublin Castle, the Minister also announced he intended to change the law so the Government could allow Irish troops to participate in purely humanitarian relief operations not the subject of UN Security Council resolutions. Later, Fine Gael called on the Minister to go further and abolish the "triple lock", which only permits Irish participation in EU peacekeeping operations sanctioned by the Security Council.

Mr O'Dea told the forum that Ireland favoured the development of the EU's rapid-response capability in support of UN-authorised missions.

"There is no conflict between Ireland's participation in regional arrangements including EU battlegroups and our traditional policy of support for the UN. Participation in any EU operation remains a national sovereign decision, and our current policy on the 'triple lock' will not be compromised by participating in battlegroups."


The Minister added that discussions had begun with other like-minded nations on a potential contribution by Ireland to a battle group. A delegation from the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs and the Army met their Swedish counterparts in Stockholm last March to discuss possible participation in the Nordic battle group.

"Our representatives outlined Ireland's position in relation to battle group participation and international peacekeeping generally, and gave a presentation on the capabilities which Ireland can make available to a battle group," said Mr O'Dea.

The Nordic battle group was organised some time ago and most of its core elements were already in place.

The smaller countries in the EU are grouping together to supply battlegroups, which will be 1,500-strong, while the larger countries like Britain and France will supply their own. The EU aims to have two battlegroups on standby at all times for peacekeeping intervention. Ireland will only participate in operations which have been sanctioned by the UN but this legal requirement will not apply to the other members of the Nordic battle group.

Mr O'Dea said he also proposed to change the law to provide for the participation by Defence Forces personnel in humanitarian operations in response to natural and man-made disasters, such as the tsunami in south- east Asia or the earthquake in Pakistan.

"Under the current arrangements, the option to deploy a contingent of the Defence Forces in such circumstances is not available to the Government as such events are not the subject of UN Security Council resolutions. In these cases, Defence Forces personnel must volunteer for service with a civil undertaking [such as an NGO], in the same manner as any ordinary citizens, whereupon the NGO would then deploy them to the disaster area. They cannot be deployed at the behest of the Government and I intend to introduce legislation to rectify this," he said.

In a statement, Fine Gael representative at the forum Charlie Flanagan said this amendment was long overdue and he went on to advocate the abolition of the triple-lock mechanism. He welcomed the contribution from Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney, who questioned the retention of the triple lock.Opposition to Irish involvement in battle groups was expressed by Sinn Féin and the Green Party, while Labour supported the continuation of the triple lock.

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