Speech by Brian Hayes MEP to the Irish Defence Forces Officers Club in the Hibernian Club, Thursday 3rd May 2018.
“The first responsibility that this State has to its citizens is to protect them. Security is not some added extra; it is a fundamental function of any democratic state. We invest in security to protect the people of Ireland. We invest in our security to protect our fundamental freedoms and our rights as Irish and European citizens.
“Defending Ireland’s freedom doesn’t come cheap and requires a political commitment. The threats of unmanaged migration, a disorderly Brexit and the looming challenge of a trade war with the US make it impossible to predict the future security landscape. Along with these geo-political threats are the day-to-day threats of terrorism, cyber security and human trafficking.
“The security this State provides to Irish citizens must always be reviewed as new situations emerge. Ireland is no different to other small or medium sized EU member states. The possibility of a major incident happening in one of our cities cannot be dismissed.
“We need a serious debate about Ireland’s capabilities in the area of security and defence. And I make no apology in arguing for more resources and better conditions for our Defence Forces in making sure that they have the equipment, the resources, the career paths and the operational capacity to do their job in defending this country.
“There are three reasons why now the right time to review Irish security and defence. Firstly, the debate on the future of Europe is underway and security looms large in that debate. PESCO is now underway and many want to build a Common European Defence Union. We need to have a view on what type of Common Defence Union we should be part of, if at all.
“PESCO is not a dirty term. It’s not something to be hid away from the public debate. The public will be suspicious of that which they do not know. So constant explanation is required as to the importance of our involvement in PESCO.
“The EU’s 7-year budget was announced just yesterday which proposes a new EU budget heading and commits €20 billion to defence over 7 years. This is a serious commitment. Yet in Ireland we still can’t even debate the issue in a rational way.
“Secondly, we need to be involved in this debate because across the EU other governments and citizens are genuinely worried about Putin’s Russia, ISIS and how mass migration could potentially undermine European security.
“While the concern varies from member state to member state and according to political orientation, there is no denying that security and Defence is as important as ever to Europeans. We need to understand and be aware of other member states views on this. Be aware of the sensitivities of member states like Estonia or Latvia who live on the collar of Russia. Or member states like Finland or Sweden who are rethinking their traditional security needs.
“Thirdly, we need to debate this because Ireland has decided to remain in a European Union without the UK. We have decided that the EU will be our main connection to the international community and for good reason. The EU is our biggest market now and into the future. Protecting our economic interests in a fully integrated single market is crucial for Ireland.
“Too often in recent years, Ireland has become known as the Dr. No of EU decision-making. Brexit is a game changer moment for Ireland in navigating our new relationship with the EU. We will obviously never agree to something that is not in our interests but we must take our membership of the EU more seriously, now that the UK is leaving.
“Politics matters in how the public sees the importance and significance of issues. This State has a fundamental choice to make as to whether or not it wants to deal seriously with defence-related issues. That means expenditure of course, but it also means making the brief a political priority.
“The Minister for Defence should always be a full cabinet position in a full Government Department of State. At a policy level, so much of the development that is occurring is at an EU level. We need a fuller national debate on these developments and that requires political leadership.
“For some reason, talking about Irish neutrality or security and defence policy ignites a debate in Irish politics where name-calling and wild exaggeration become the order of the day. The neutrality debate is largely academic and theoretical. And we should not be sidetracked by the debate. Do I believe are we heading in the direction of a common EU Army? No, I don’t. But we are facing the reality that Member States want to do more in the area of security and defence, and we need to be part of that debate.”