Some TDs only want soldiers confined to barracks or ‘shovelling snow’, Minister claims

Paul Kehoe defends Defence Forces participation in EU battle group approved by Dáil

 Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe, under increasing pressure over poor pay and conditions for the military, accused the Opposition of not wanting soldiers to participate in anything.

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe, under increasing pressure over poor pay and conditions for the military, accused the Opposition of not wanting soldiers to participate in anything.

 

A Government Minister has hit out at political parties opposing Defence Forces participation in an EU battle group and claimed they want to confine soldiers to barracks.

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe accused the Opposition of not wanting soldiers to participate in anything.

He claimed some TDs “would love it if members of the Defence Forces rode to barracks in the morning and stayed there all day, except to shovel snow, help when there is flooding or cut trees”.

He added that “you don’t want the Defence Forces to participate in anything”.

Mr Kehoe was speaking following a Dáil debate on a motion about the participation of Irish military personnel in a German-led battle group for six months from July next year.

The battle group of 1,500 personnel will include soldiers from Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia and the Netherlands and 152 Irish personnel will serve if a battle group is deployed.

The Government has approved participation and a memorandum of understanding agreed with the other participating countries will now be signed after the Dáil approved participation by 85 votes to 29. Fianna Fáil and Labour supported the Government.

Fianna Fáil defence spokesman Jack Chambers said the issue was about “keeping citizens safe and secure. If we were to opt out of this and not participate, we would effectively be saying to other European nations: ‘You do it. You keep us safe’.”

Ireland has already participated in four battle groups on standby for deployment to a possible mission including crisis management and humanitarian assistance in Europe. None has ever gone into action but personnel are involved in training in case of such deployment.

Mr Kehoe insisted the formation of a battle group “is not a dry run for a European army as certain Deputies claim each time I bring any motion such as this before the House”.

But Sinn Féin defence spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh said sending in a thousand soldiers to disarm one side or another in a conflict anywhere in the world is a battle. “That is taking sides and we are a neutral country. That is not our role, has never been our role and should never be in the future.”

Labour defence spokesman Brendan Ryan said Ireland had participated in four previous battle groups. “We have not compromised our values, nor have we supported sending our troops into any battle of aggression. That will not change.”

When Mr Kehoe rounded on opposition TDs and claimed they wanted to keep soldiers shovelling snow or cutting trees, they repeatedly shouted “pay them what you owe”.

The Minister pointed out that if there was ever talk of an EU army, Irish citizens would get to vote on the issue.