Cabinet gives green light to join EU plan for shared security
The Government has given the go-ahead for Ireland to take part in an EU plan for closer co-operation on security and defence to combat the growing threat from terrorists and cyber warfare.
The plan has created a controversy here amid fears that it could undermine Ireland's long-held policy of military neutrality.
However, Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe said last night that the proposals contained in the plan, known as Pesco (permanent structured co-operation), would pose no challenge to our neutrality.
The Cabinet has now approved Ireland's participation under the so-called triple-lock mechanism, which governs participation by the Defence Forces in operations overseas. The measure must also be sanctioned by the Dáil and the United Nations.
Under the Pesco plan, Ireland will be able to benefit from an annual €500m budget for joint security and defence projects, shared funding of overseas missions and greater co-ordination of defence planning.
Ireland has the lowest spend on defence of all EU countries and this was recognised in the Government's white paper two years ago.
Competition for funding from more urgent issues such as health and homelessness has meant that the cash available for military matters has not improved much in the interim.
Joining Pesco is seen as a way of partially overcoming that problem - although Ireland will eventually have to spend more on defence from its own coffers.
There is a view that staying out of Pesco runs the risk of marginalising Ireland, as the EU prepares to learn from the mistakes that have led to the series of terrorist attacks in the past few years and prevent a repeat of the jihadi atrocities.
Mr Kehoe stressed that participation in any particular Pesco project was voluntary.
"Ireland, along with all other member states, is free to decide for itself whether to opt in to any project on a case-by-case basis," he said.
He said Pesco provided a means for Ireland to be part of common security and defence policy crisis management and peacekeeping operations.