Dáil votes to join EU defence group Pesco

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: Gerry Mooney

Cormac McQuinn

THE Dáil has passed a government proposal to join, Pesco, an organisation aimed at deepening defence cooperation among EU member states.

TDs voted 75 to 42 in favour of the decision to take part in Pesco (Permanent Structured Co-operation Agreement) despite opposition concerns about the implications of the move.

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace had argued on Wednesday that an EU army was being created and raised concern.

He raised concern that Ireland's neutral status is already "on a pretty shaky footing" and raised fears it could be the final nail in the coffin of this policy.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted that the government will defend Ireland's neutrality and said the country would be joining Pesco on an opt-in, opt-out basis.

He said Europe is "worth defending" and should not be dependent on the United States in this regard.

Mr Varadkar gave counter-terrorism initiatives, cyber-security and peacekeeping as as example of areas Ireland may participate in.

He said Ireland won't be buying aircraft carriers or fighter jets.

Labour TD Brendan Ryan had asked for a halt to the vote on Pesco membership arguing that there hadn't been enough national debate on the matter.

He referred to Mr Varadkar's remarks about how Ireland won't be entering the market for heavy weaponry but raised concern about the desire among some member states for an "increasingly militarised" EU.

Fine Gael TD Martin Heydon last night said joining Pesco will be good for the Irish Defence Forces pointing to a plan to build a peace and leadership institute at the Curragh Camp.

"I hope that our joining Pesco will lead to  the advancement of that proposal," he said.

He said there's no obligation on Ireland to increase defence spending to 2pc of GDP under Pesco membership.

But he said he would like to see increased investment in Defence Forces personnel given the reduction in their allowances over the past decade.