Monday 21 May 2018

State neutrality questioned as threats to safety increase

MEPs pushing for access to new EU defence fund

ENGINE ROOM: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar chats to Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dennis Kelly, Sub Officer Caroline Byrne and Paul LeStrange, Station Officer, at North Strand Fire Station, Dublin, during a visit yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys
ENGINE ROOM: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar chats to Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dennis Kelly, Sub Officer Caroline Byrne and Paul LeStrange, Station Officer, at North Strand Fire Station, Dublin, during a visit yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The Government should dramatically re-examine Ireland's position as a neutral country and build stronger military ties with other EU states, according to a radical new Fine Gael policy document.

Four Fine Gael MEPs, led by former minister Brian Hayes, will this week publish a policy paper which will challenge the Government's stance on defence and security.

The landmark document will call for greater cooperation between Ireland and the rest of the EU on military spending and operations in face of growing threats from Russia, international terrorist groups and cyber crime.

Dublin sources said the paper will also suggest a review of the triple-lock system on defence decisions which requires Government, Dail and UN authorisation before action can be taken.

The document is understood to argue that a referendum will be required if Ireland is to fundamentally change its traditional stance on defence and neutrality.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently said the definition of military neutrality has changed dramatically since Ireland declared itself a neutral state during World War II.

Mr Hayes's paper, which will be published on Friday, will be followed by a conference later this year on the potential role for Ireland within a new European Common Defence and Security policy.

It is understood the four MEPs are seeking to explain to an Irish audience the debate in Brussels on a new common security and defence policy and Ireland's role in this policy. The group believes Ireland should not sideline itself from this security debate in Brussels, especially now the UK is leaving the European Union.

Their paper is similar to debates in Finland and Sweden in recent years where a traditional policy of neutrality has come under scrutiny.

There will be an argument in the document to radically re-examine the 2015 White Paper on Defence in light of the debate taking place in the European Union.

The document will argue that Ireland should seek to obtain funds from the new EU defence fund. It will propose expanding the Irish naval force's interventions in the Mediterranean.

The document also looks for greater coordination with the EU on taking on foreign fighters coming through Ireland.

The paper notes that Ireland is vulnerable to an attack because of the presence of US multinationals and data storage facilities and the threat has to be taken seriously.

They will argue that EU systems on joint purchasing, joint maintenance contracts and use of other defence forces' capital facilities could be adopted by Ireland as part of a common security and defence policy.

The document argues for increased spending on defence, including on personnel, machinery and hardware to ensure Ireland can increase its contribution to the EU's security defences.

The MEPs also want a public information campaign in Ireland to warn people about international terror and cyber attacks.

The paper warns that Ireland is open to the same international threats as the rest of the EU. Specifically, it warns that 75pc of the EU's energy comes from Russia and Vladimir Putin's regime poses a huge threat to the continent.

Cyber attacks such as those which targeted the HSE and ESB last year suggest Ireland is vulnerable to hackers. The paper will look for a more integrated cyber security policy across government.

Subversion of our elections by foreign countries is also a real possibility, according to the MEPs. Human trafficking in Irish ports is another growing concern which could be tackled through greater integration with the EU defence and security,

Last December, Mr Varadkar insisted neutrality meant "something different now" and said Ireland was not neutral when it came to human trafficking, the migrant crisis and cyber attacks.

"In the 1940s, it was about not taking part in the Second World War. It is different now because the security challenges and security threats are different," he said.

"For example, things like cyber security and cyber terrorism, people interfering in other people's elections using online tools. It's managing mass migration. It's human trafficking," he said.

Sunday Independent

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