Committee Reports::Report - Partnership for Peace::31 March, 1999::MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA / Minutes of Evidence


(Minutes of Evidence)

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs

Dé Céadaoin, 17 Feabhra 1999.

Wednesday, 17 February 1999.

The Committee met at 4 p.m.

Members Present

Deputy Aylward

Senator Lanigan

Deputy Briscoe

Senator Mooney

Deputy Callely

Senator Taylor-Quinn

Deputy Creed

Deputy Deasy

Deputy De Rossa

Deputy M. Kitt

Deputy G. Mitchell

Deputy O’Kennedy

Deputy O’Malley

Deputy B. Smith

Patricia McKenna MEP, also in attendance.

Apologies from Senator Norris.

Deputy O’Malley in the Chair.

Address by the Peace and Neutrality

Alliance of the question of European security architecture.

Chairman: The Peace and Neutrality Alliance has requested an opportunity to address the Committee in the context of recent debates held by the Committee on the question of European security architecture. I welcome Mr. Roger Cole, chairman of the alliance and two of his colleagues. Mr. Cole will address us now.

Mr. Cole: My colleagues are Mr. Feargus Mac Aogáin, secretary, and Mr. Con Maxwell, international secretary of the alliance. The Peace and Neutrality Alliance was established in 1996. The president is Mr. Terence McCaughey. The alliance is open to groups and individuals who support our objectives. Individual members include Ms Patricia McKenna MEP and Mr. Brian Crowley MEP. Affiliated groups include Pax Christi, CND and the East Timor solidarity group. I was particularly pleased to be here when the presentation on East Timor was made as two our partners, Britain and the United States, provided most of the military equipment to the Indonesian government with which genocide was perpetrated on the people of East Timor.

We will talk, principally, about the implications of membership of Partnership for Peace. The 1997 Fianna Fáil election manifesto was quite clear. It said, “We oppose Irish participation in NATO itself, in NATO-led organisations such as Partnership for Peace or the Western European Union beyond observor status”. In recent articles in The Irish Times the Minister for Foreign Affairs did not refer to that manifesto. We believe that since 1997 the PfP has become more “enhanced”. The link between the PfP and NATO has been strengthened. The word NATO is found in references to every area of relationship between the PfP and NATO.

We believe the foundation of European and international security should be based on the universality of the United Nations and not on a narrow cold war military bloc, bolstered by nuclear weapons. At the launch of the PfP in 1994 the partnership was hailed by NATO as playing “an important role in the enlargement of NATO” and as “a path to full NATO membership for some and a strong lasting link to the alliance for all”. In his recent statement, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said, “there can be no question of Ireland joining a military alliance based on nuclear weapons”. Why then, are we even considering a strong and lasting link to NATO? NATO’s position on nuclear weapons is very clear. A NATO defence communiqué in 1996 stated that nuclear weapons “will continue to play a unique and essential role in the alliance’s strategy. There is no need to change any aspect of NATO’s nuclear posture or nuclear policy and we do not foresee any future need to do so”. The PfP would involve us in negotiating directly with NATO. It operates under the authority of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s supreme body which is chaired by the NATO general secretary. The PfP can go beyond peace keeping and humanitarian missions and in 1997 was “enhanced” to include peace enforcement/crisis management and according to a senior NATO official in June 1997, “much more robust complex military-to-military co-operation”. The US ambassador to NATO remarked that the enhanced PfP is furthering the goal of military interoperability and “making the difference between being a partner and being an ally razor thin”.

The Irish Government can, of course, choose which aspect of the PfP it wishes to adopt. However, it is important to note the broadness of the PfP and to question for how long Ireland could confine its involvement. As a PfP member, would Ireland not be associated with those PfP actions in which it did not actually take part?

The PfP can go beyond Europe and would not necessarily have a UN mandate. NATO is putting the mechanisms in place to police the world. At the moment, PfP is plugged into a support structure for the UN. One of its framework document objectives is to be able to provide troops “subject to constitutional considerations, to operations under the authority of the UN and/or the responsibility of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a UN regional grouping”. However, the other framework document objectives do not limit the PfP to UN mandated missions. For example, as reported in The Irish Times on 16 December 1996, the chair of the US joint chiefs-of-staff called on the PfP to be able to act in Africa and the Middle East.

Irish troops would be expected to participate in joint NATO exercises under the direction of NATO and, possibly, on Irish territory. The line separating NATO military exercises from the PfP can be very easily blurred. Irish military equipment would have to conform to NATO standards at the expense of Irish taxpayers. Interoperability of our forces with NATO is one of the PfP framework document objectives. We would acquire standardisation agreements which identify common NATO procedures, systems and equipment standards and we would interact with a number of NATO defence committees in the implementation of those standards.

Recently, PDFORRA called for defence spending in order to prepare Ireland for participation in NATO-led security arrangements. PDFORRA envisages a 4,500 strong mechanised infantry unit to serve in NATO-led operations and exercises and is proposing the purchase of “intercept” or “strike” aircraft. This would mean that Ireland would be integrated further and further into NATO. Irish officers would be obliged to serve in NATO headquarters in Brussels and in the Partnership Coordination Cell which operates under the authority of the North Atlantic Council and co-ordinates PfP military activities with NATO staffs, commands and agencies. The PfP would assist the enlargement of a nuclear-weapons based alliances.

At its launch in 1994, it was acknowledged that the PfP would pay a key role in the expansion of NATO and it has done so. PfP members such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Repubic are now readying themselves to become NATO members by buying NATO standardised equipment. The arms market in these countries is reckoned to be worth approximately $35 billion. There will be steadily growing pressure on Ireland to increase our military expenditure to keep up with the standardisation process.

The PfP would undermine our neutrality.

Supporters of PfP insist Ireland would remain neutral as PfP does not contain a mutual defence commitment. That is the argument the other neutral countries have given for entering PfP. However as we have shown there is a very thin veneer and such a definition is a very narrow and erroneous interpretation of neutrality. Ireland’s objection to NATO membership and support for neutrality has always been broader than the objection to mutual defence commitments. It has involved revulsion to nuclear weapons and the arms industry and support for the poor and marginalised of the developing world, often the victims of militarisation and the arms industry. Several PfP neutrals are reconsidering neutrality with debates in both Sweden and Austria about joining NATO. Austria has already been mentioned as being in a next wave of NATO members. Finland and Sweden are already co-operating in defence, including weapons production and procurement.

The UN’s role in peacekeeping and maintaining international security will be downgraded. Much has been written about NATO’s attempt to find a new role for itself after the Cold War to justify its continued existence, extending operations into peacekeeping and enforcement. In the process the UN and its regional grouping in Europe, the OSCE, have been starved of funds for support and this is a tragedy and blunder in the post Cold War world.

The expansion of the new NATO’s role is ringing alarm bells in many parts of the world. NATO has always been regarded as - and I quote from Martin Walker, a respected journalist for The Guardian - a “defence club for the prosperous transatlantic democratic world”. He goes on to state “If, as NATO plans and expects, Russia falls into its embrace, the alliance is on track to become not only a security system which reaches from Los Angeles to Vladivostock but something more ambitious still: the white race in arms.” We would like to know if Ireland’s good reputation in the developing world is to be placed in jeopardy as we join the white man’s club in bringing “proper order to the world”.

This pamphlet is specifically about Partnership for Peace. However it must be added that the whole PfP project is linked in with the development of the European Union, specifically under the Amsterdam Treaty, to bring defence matters into the European Union. The NATO-linked Western European Union was chosen to be in effect a defence wing of the European Union. However the WEU is only the middle man between NATO and the EU, and the British in particular are now leading the move to side-step the middleman and link the EU directly with NATO. Having all EU member states in PfP would facilitate that move. At present we are the only one which is not a member.

In March 1996, Mr. Bertie Ahem, leader of Fianna Fáil stated that to join the PfP without a referendum would be a “serious breach of faith and fundamentally undemocratic”. I realise Fianna Fáil is now in coalition with the Progressive Democrats. However the point Mr. Ahern made then is as valid now as it was in March 1996.

Deputy G. Mitchell: I join in welcoming the delegation here to make their presentation. I am more used to debating with them outside the House rather than asking them questions across a table. They are very welcome.

There has never been any debate here on the principles on which our neutrality is based, except to say that we will become full charter members of NATO the day after partition ends. Given that mental partition has just about ended, what are the principles to which the speakers feel the people have agreed and which they hold so holy in relation to neutrality? When was it debated and discussed by them?

In relation to Switzerland, Russia, Austria, Finland and Sweden, does the delegation believe they are a razor thin distance away from becoming full members of NATO? The UN Secretary General recently stated that lightly armed peacekeeping forces are no longer feasible and cannot be efficient. Would the group agree peace enforcement is sometimes necessary, particularly in delivering humanitarian aid? If so should Ireland take part?

Is the groups aware that Northern Ireland has been in NATO - which some people think is a bad four letter word - since 1949 and the Good Friday Agreement may bring security and defence policy or defence proposals with it in time? Are we to say “no” because Northern Ireland is in NATO?

Lastly, many of our partners in the European Union are already in NATO and we co-operate with them, so I do not understand the point against us co-operating with them through Partnership for Peace. Given events over the years, in the Second World War and more recently in Srebrenica, and given the possibility of events in Kosovo continuing, should we simply step back and slap ourselves on the back and say what wonderful people we are in our neutrality? I do not have a record of us making any great input into the Srebrenican situation. In my recollection NATO dealt with that situation while the rest of us sat on our hands. I was a Minister sitting around the table when much of that sitting on hands was done. I was at the general affairs Council at the time and I have no fond memories of the role of the European Union, neutrals or otherwise.

Chairman: We have not an indefinite amount of time so could Mr. Cole please reply briefly?

Mr. Cole: Deputy Mitchell is a member of the Fine Gael Party which in the last European elections advocated the merger of the Western European Union and European Union, so for a long time Deputy Mitchell’s party has-----

Deputy G. Mitchell: Could Mr. Cole give up the propaganda? This is a parliamentary committee. He should answer the question and we will debate the propaganda outside.

Mr. Cole: I am answering.

Deputy G. Mitchell: Incidentally, of which party is he a member? My party credentials are well known. He should answer the questions I asked and show some respect for this committee.

Mr. Cole: I was only saying that his party-----

Deputy G. Mitchell: I know which party I am in.

Mr. Cole: On the question of Switzerland, Austria and the other countries mentioned, in the NATO material they are referred to as the former neutral states. For example, the current Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs has advocated membership of NATO and the Western European Union. This issue was not brought up at the time Austria joined PfP. People in Austria who advocated PfP membership at the time are also now arguing in favour of membership of NATO. The principles of why we should be neutral are outlined in my presentation. Our job should be to identify with the poor of the world rather than the rich of the world. That is essentially the choice we are making in joining PfP and getting involved in NATO which is largely dominated by the rich and powerful states which produce all these weapons. We have seen the effects of these weapons and the arms industry in East Timor where they are supplied to the Indonesian Government by the US and Britain. We must identify either with the people of East Timor who are suffering or the people who are providing the arms by which these people are oppressed. That essentially is the choice we have to make. That is what this is all about. It is all about money for the arms industry. I would prefer if a small country like ours stayed outside the arms industry.

According to the document I presented to the committee, AFRI shows the number of military export licenses issued by the Department of Enterprises, Trade and Employment has increased from 81 in 1996 to 346 in the first eleven months of 1998. Our direction is quite clear in terms of our increasing involvement in the arms trade. That is all linked up with PfP. Mr. Mac Aogáin will answer the questions about Bosnia.

Mr. Mac Aogáin: I am sure Deputy Mitchell has heard me say this before.

Deputy O’Kennedy: We are here as a committee and some of us have not heard Mr. Mac Aogáin’s views before. Some of us have not even met him and so do not know who he is.

Mr. Mac Aogáin: I met the president of the Serb Civic Council in Bosnia in 1996 shortly after the Dayton Peace Agreement and in the same visit I met Mr Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnian ambassador to the UN, Dr. Kapatanovic, vice president of the Bosnian-Croat Federation at the time and Mr. Beslagic, mayor of Tusla and many other politicians and trade union leaders during my visit there.

I feel I do have some knowledge of the situation in Bosnia. I would like to say that if Ireland, as indeed, it did at the time said very little about the situation in Bosnia during the war, it seems to me to be entirely consistent with our role within the EU in terms of the EU having a position which it did have on Bosnia at the time which was to sit on their hands. That was the EU position at the time. What would have been more just for us to do, as we are not a member of a military alliance would have been to say that some of the things that were happening were not acceptable. However as a neutral country we did not use the position we had to say anything about what happened in Bosnia. That is rather ironic because of all the countries involved in the situation within the EU I would have thought that it would have been more apt for us, above all other countries, to have say something about what was happening in Bosnia. If we could not, and did not say anything about Bosnia as a neutral country I fail to say how being a member of an enlarged military situation in the EU would actually allow us to say anything more.

Deputy De Rossa: I also welcome Mr. Pat Fowler to the meeting. I have not met all three yet. I have various points on various issues mainly relating to this issue. Does PANA have an attitude to the development of common foreign security policy within the European Union as distinct from joining Partnership for Peace or NATO?

May I ask Deputy Mitchell what it is, when discussing Partnership for Peace why you constantly make the case about Srebrenica which seems to be an argument in favour of supporting or joining NATO as distinct from Partnership for Peace. What role could Partnership for Peace have played in Srebrenica Your argument is a non seconder as far as I can see.

Deputy G. Mitchell: The point I am making is that there is such a thing as peace enforcement and sometimes that may have to be done by the WEU and sometimes by Partnership for Peace or maybe done under the auspices of the UN led by NATO and it may be enforcement rather than peacekeeping. Partnership for Peace allows us to take part in that. In so far as any other role for us goes, I have an open mind.

Proinsias De Rossa: My point is that non membership of Partnership for Peace or non membership of NATO did not prevent us from taking a position within the European Union on the war in Bosnia or within the United Nations. I am afraid your argument does not hold. You are misusing a very emotive situation in Bosnia to make a case for Partnership for Peace which simply does not hold water in the real world.

Deputy G. Mitchell: Perhaps the main speaker might declare what party he is a member of since he brought up my party membership. May I say I am one of the few people around this table who have published a document on Partnership for Peace. I have stated my position. I have fed up listening to DUP type irredentist arguments being put forward that simply do not stand up.

Deputy O’Kennedy: Can we have a little less of that?

Deputy G. Mitchell: We sat on our hands in the European Union.

Deputy O’Kennedy: We are not here to argue.

Deputy G. Mitchell: I was one of the Minister’s who went to General Affairs Council meetings and we sat on our hands when those things happened in Srebrenica. We shout be part of the European Union and part of the European architecture and if that means enforcement then so be it. Partnership for Peace allows for enforcement on a case by case basis. We can choose when we want to be in or out. But the point is, if we are not in it, we are not likely to be able to enforce anything.

Mr. Cole: We believe that it is within the OSE and reformed United Nations that we should pursue Ireland’s security concern, not within a block such as the EU.

Ms. McKenna, MEP: Chairman, I would like to ask what is the actual role of PANA? Are other people going to be included in the draft report on Partnership for Peace? Looking at the draft report I noted NATO and some other countries that have joined but there does not seem to be any negative feedback in the report. Is this going to be considered later?

The issue of arms manufacturers and new market for arms cannot be ignored. The US, 1998 Foreign Submission to Congress states that the Partnership for Peace monies are specifically designed to “prepare countries for NATO membership by supporting acquisition of NATO compatible equipment”. You also have the situation where under the campaign to recruit members of Central and Eastern European into NATO an American representative called Augustine when in Romania promised to support the nation’s bid for NATO membership as a follow on to Romania’s purchase of an £82 million radar system from Lockeymartin. Lockeymartin is the biggest arms manufacturing body in the United States. They are the people who are pushing for Partnership for Peace. What we need to call Partnership for Peace is a NATO organisation whether we like it or not. The dropping of the word “NATO” is not acceptable because it is a NATO organisation. It is clear that even in neutral countries people argue that the neutral countries have joined. Sweden has joined and the argument there is that they are in Partnership for Peace so the next step is to become full members of NATO. It is very clear this is the road we are doing down. Even by joining NATO we are tacitly supporting the concept of nuclear weapons and the idea of a first strike option. Fine Gael have always been clear on this issue. Deputy Gay Mitchell is dying to join NATO.

Deputy G. Mitchell: That is untrue.

Ms. McKenna, MEP: Deputy Austin Deasy has said in the past that we should have NATO basis.

Chairman: It might be more useful to direct your remarks to the topic than to the members.

Ms. McKenna, MEP: Deputy Austin Deasy said in the past and I quote “we should have NATO basis in this country, we owe it to our EC partners.” You have this party here. Fianna Fáil have done a major u-turn without any justification and there is no way that this country should be allowed to join this NATO organisation with a vote in the Dáil. It has to go to the people regardless of the outcome. It is completely undemocratic to railroad this through the Dáil. I think Fianna Fáil have a major question to answer to their voters and to the people who voted for them on a manifesto which said they were going to oppose NATO’s Partnership for Peace.

I have no key questions for PANA and I would support them fully. The people I have questions for are the people who are going to make the decisions. The Government are going to make the decision. How can the Government do such a major u-turn? The tail is wagging the dog, is the PDs deciding on Ireland’s future foreign policy? Is that the influence that Fianna Fáil have within Government. We do not have to worry about Fine Gael. We know they are crazy to join NATO and any other millitary organisation that is going.

Deputy O’Kennedy: It is the first time I have met this group, so any views that I express now may or may not be new to them. They may be aware of views that I have already expressed. I have some criticisms to make of their presentation and I would like to hear their response. I note that you say the poor and marginalised of the developing world are “often the victims of militarism and the arms industry”. May I suggest that they are not often the victims of militarism and the arms industry, but that they are always the victims of militarism and the arms industry. Why are you couching that point in such an inhibited way? Even what we heard today in relation to East Timor, or wherever one looks, the same wretches are always the victims of the arms industry. I wonder why you did not bring that point out more forcefully in your presentation.

You have not actually dwelt very much on the status and respect for Ireland’s traditional position, not just on neutrality but our independent foreign policy which has earned us respect and recognition throughout the world. Your presentation lacked that aspect as well, having regard to the standing we have at present, even though it is often said when standing Robert Burns’s famous line on its head:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

When Burns wrote that he was trying to bring the Scots down a peg. I sometimes wish that we could see ourselves as others see us, externally. They respect our consistently independent foreign policy.

I notice that you have not made any references in your presentation - which is the first one we have had from a group with, to say the least of it, reservations about Partnership for Peace - to how, while the focus seems to be Europe and the North Atlantic, the rest of the world will perceive this Partnership for Peace. I may be wrong, but I do not suppose that any of you are opposed to being partners for peace. Who could be so opposed Are your reservations confined to this organisation, Partnership for Peace, and if so, will you make it clear that you are not opposed to the concept of being partners for peace? Certainly, I am not. I have another criticism. You described the European Union as a military block, or something to that effect. To the best of my knowledge, however, as of now, despite the views of a number of member states within the Union, there is no defensive commitment in the European Union. I would suggest that in your presentations, whatever might be the likely outcome of certain events and until such time as there is an amendment to the treaty - you should recognise that as of now there is no defence commitment in the European Union, if it is ever to happen. Our position in relation to the European Union cannot be overstated.

You touched on the OSCE and, from what I can gather, I take it your disposition towards that body is reasonably positive. As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I vigorously proposed an association with the OSCE as an organisation in Europe that could introduce confidence building measures that would see visible and transparent demilitarisation. I would like to hear your views in relation to that matter, as well.

Mr. Cole: If we gave the impression of stating that the EU was a military block, we stand corrected. We do not and it is not. The Deputy is quite correct. There are efforts to transform it into a military block. The Deputy himself knows that France, Germany and other countries are trying to integrate the nuclear aimed military alliance, known as the Western European Union, into the European Union. People are attempting to achieve that process. As we know, it is supported by the Fine Gael party.

Deputy G. Mitchell: On a point of order, what is supported by the Fine Gael party?

Mr. Cole: At the last European elections, Fine Gael advocated the merger of the Western European Union into the European Union.

Deputy G. Mitchell: We did no such thing. I was director of elections. I have debated that with you. You have not had a decent argument to put forward here. Please do not put forward facts of that kind.

Deputy O’Kennedy: I would be happier if he did not make reference to any party.

Mr. Cole: I apologise for that, Chairman.

Chairman: This is the second or third time you have gratuitously made statements of a party political nature.

Mr. Cole: I apologise for that.

Chairman: It is not the practice for people who come to this committee to make statements of that kind. I would ask you to desist from doing so now.

Mr. Cole: I will agree to that and I apologise. I apologise also for using the word “often”. There are occasions when certain small states need to have weapons, so not every single weapon is used in the process.

Deputy O’Kennedy: You misunderstood me. My criticism was of the fact that you used the soft term “often” rather than the actual term “always”, which is my own view on it. You may have different views.

Mr. Cole: We would agree with that. We are aware of the long tradition Ireland has had in having an independent foreign policy. We would see the United Nations as the organisation the plays the role of a partnership for peace.

Mr. MacAoghain: We certainly agree with Deputy O’Kennedy. We are aware of his position on this matter from various debates in the Chamber. He is correct as regards the title Partnership for Peace, which is Orwellian-speak. He described it as a euphemism and said: “If some of the partners for peace are suppliers of arms for destruction, suffering and murder, is it not the case that Ireland has a unique role outside such partnerships?”. We agree with his sentiments on that entirely.

Chairman: I propose to draw this meeting to a conclusion shortly. We have listened to what has been said and we received the documentation from Mr. Cole and his colleagues. No doubt the members who were not present will have an opportunity to read it.

I am entitled to make my own views in relation to it. It is a practice I undertake without difficulty with all others who appear before the committee. I have to say that what has been put forward today bears little relation to reality. I do not agree with pretty well all of it. I find it impossible to regard any one of the 4 3 countries who are members of the Partnership for Peace - and I include virtually everybody in Europe, except for some very small places - as some from of nuclear arms-bearing war mongers who are determined to engage in warfare, while helping the arms industry and oppressing the poor. Those are all the usual clichés. That is a million miles from the truth. It is not the case. I cannot accept the assumption that anything to with NATO is, therefore, inherently evil. I am sick of listening to that kind of thing. NATO has been the most successful military alliance in the history of the world. It has preserved the freedom of western Europe for 50 years because of its strength.

Deputy De Rossa: Some of us are sick listening to this speech.

Chairman: We are entitled to hear the two sides of the story.

Deputy De Rossa: We are, but you say you are sick listening to one side. I am saying some of us are sick listening to the speech you are about to make, which I have heard at least five times in the last few months.

Deputy G. Mitchell: People criticise Partnership for Peace. Partnership for Peace is no more Orwellian than the title “Peace and Neutrality”.

Deputy O’Kennedy: The Chairman did us the honour of allowing us to make our contribution without interruption. I think he would have anticipated my view, and equally I can anticipate his because I have heard it before. However, as Chairman, he is entitled to express that view, regardless of how much it frustrates some of us.

Deputy De Rossa: On a point of order, Chairman, I have never objected to you views at this committee. But I do take exception to the way the group has been treated here today. There has been a degree of aggression here which I have not seen before. The group is entitled to the courtesy of this committee which has been extended to everyone who has come before us.

Deputy G. Mitchell: On a point of order, I did not detect aggression. I observed Members defending themselves when political comments were hurled at them. Today it may suit Deputy De Rossa to side with people hurling political comments. If anyone hurled political comments at him, even people of my political persuasion, I would defend him. I would not allow that to happen. I believe the Chairman dealt with this matter fairly and he is as entitled to his opinion as anyone else.

Ms McKenna: I have never attended a parliamentary committee meeting where the Chairman said to those presenting their case that he is sick listening to this. I agree with Deputy De Rossa that it shows a lack of courtesy. You can say you disagree, but the language the Chairman used was -----

Chairman: I waited until they were finished.

Ms McKenna: The language you used was unfair and not very diplomatic.

Chairman: I am sorry if it was unfair language but I reserve my right to say I disagree with the point of view.

Ms McKenna: I asked what is the situation regarding the presentation by this organisation? This document is very unbalanced. It has a one-sided view and gives the position of all those in favour. It is not a balanced report. I want to know have you already decided on this?

Deputy O’Kennedy: Before Ms McKenna came in I raised that issue. I expressed the view that it is entirely premature to be considering this draft report. However, in fairness to the Chairman, he reversed the order of business so that we could hear your views before considering it. I still think it would be premature, but that is the next item for consideration.

Chairman: If I may now be allowed to continue, and I can hardly be accused of preventing different points of view being expressed? I believed that I am allowed to hold a point of view. I have expressed views for and against the views expressed by various people and organisations who have come here.

I cannot accept that the 43 states who are members of Partnership for Peace have any inclinations or intentions of the kind that have been ascribed to them. I cannot accept that countries such as Switzerland, which is so extraordinarily neutral and uninvolved that it will not even join the United Nations, can have any such ambitions or inclinations. The four European countries which were described as traditionally neutral made it abundantly clear to us, as they have to the whole world, that they have no problem with the Partnership for Peace. They were handed an á la carte menu, as it were, and asked to choose whichever of the many items on it they wished to become involved in. They were happy to do that, and there was no pressure put on them to do anything else. Public opinion in their countries is completely supportive of what they have done, and are more strongly behind it now than when they first joined a couple of years ago. I am not an isolationist. I fail to see why Ireland should remain removed from mainstream normal thinking by mainstream democratic and non-militaristic countries in Europe. I do not see why we should regard ourselves as deficient if we want to do what virtually every other country is doing. I do not think this alleged domination by the arms industry has any real part to play so far as most of these countries are concerned. We have an obligation to our Defence Forces, that is, we should not allow them to become isolated from current military developments. This would seriously affect their ability to fulfill their obligations under the United Nations. I see nothing wrong with inter-operability between all armies in Europe. I welcome this because it help to make them more efficient. It ensures that our Army, which is now in danger of being sidelined and isolated, will avoid that danger. I do not propose to again go through all the various arguments for and against because we have heard a great deal of this before. I suggest to those who are concerned about this proposal, which has now been adopted by the Government -----

Deputy O’Kennedy: Has the Chairman information -----

Chairman: I am referring to what the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs said.

Deputy O’Kennedy: That is an interpretation of what the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs said. I am not aware that any proposal has been put to the Government, much less adopted. I am aware the Taoiseach expressed this as an expectation and I know the opinion expressed recently by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but I am not aware the Government has adopted the proposal.

Chairman: I am not saying the Government has made a formal decision, but it could hardly have made its policy much clearer.

Deputy G. Mitchell: Last week the Minister for Foreign Affairs gave the date for application and the date he expected us to be members later this year.

Deputy De Rossa: He said: “I would envisage, all going well, that Ireland will join Partnership for Peace on a mutually agreed basis in the Second half of this year, and the Government will be working towards that timetable.” That sounds like a decision.

Chairman: I am not sure I used the word “decision”. I said “the attitude adopted to the proposal”. That has been expressed clearly by the Taoiseach and I welcome it. It accords with the view I have always held. I make no apology for the view I have held since the establishment of the Partnership for Peace in 1994. I do not believe one should apologise for that and I do not think other countries should either.

Deputy O’Kennedy: No one is suggesting you should apologise for your views any more than any other member should apologise for holding a view. We do not have to apologise for holding particular views.

Ms McKenna: The Chairman does not have to apologise for the view that he is in favour of Partnership for Peace. He was also in favour of building a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point. We must remember his position on other issues.

Mr. Mac Aogáin: My I make a point which might tie up with what was said earlier in relation to East Timor. There was a discussion during that presentation as to the benefits, or otherwise, of a consultation process or referendum.

During that presentation there was a discussion on the benefits of a consultation process or referendum. The Taoiseach said that a partnership for peace referendum should be given to our citizens. We do not see what has changed since then. The Chairman also said that the various countries involved in it are happy with what their people thought about it but those countries did not hold a referendum. This would be a unique opportunity for Ireland to show that we have a different attitude to these things by consulting the people and letting them decide. We do not understand why it was acceptable to suggest a referendum 18 months ago but now it is not.

Chairman: It is acceptable to suggest it but the Government has now taken the view that a referendum is not necessary. It is not legally or constitutionally necessary. I do not see why Switzerland, which is prone to having referenda at the drop of a hat and has six or eight a year, decided it was not necessary to have one on this point because the degree of commitment is so limited, there are no Treaty obligations and no mutual obligations in respect of defence.

Deputy O’Kennedy: Switzerland has not been noted for its principled position with regard to its relations with other countries.

Deputy G. Mitchell: Not like us.

Deputy O’Kennedy: No, it is not noted for it. I would not like Switzerland to be presented to us as our guide on principled positions on independent or foreign policy based on their respect for human rights, their banking or other systems.

Chairman: This committee is adjourned until 4 p.m. on 3 March 1999.

The Joint Committee adjourned at 6.15 p.m.