Ireland is to significantly expand its participation in EU military co-operation projects, including in the areas of cybersecurity and special forces training.
Although a member of the Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco) initiative since 2017, Ireland has played a minimal role in the project which has been characterised in some political quarters as a prelude to an EU army.
The Government views it as a way of increasing interoperability between Irish and EU militaries in support of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, which it says is vital for future participation in peacekeeping operations. To date it has only been a participant in one out of 60 Pesco projects, a Greek-led project to improve member states’ maritime surveillance.
Last week the Dáil passed a Government motion to expand Irish participation to four more projects where Ireland had previously just held observer status.
One project will see the Defence Forces taking part in a “cyber threats and incident response information-sharing platform”, while another will see it contribute to the establishment of a special forces medical training centre.
Ireland will also take part in the development of a deployable disaster relief capability package to support EU’s civilian response to natural and man-made disasters both “both within and outside EU territory”.
Finally, the Defence Forces will take part in a collaboration to develop semi-autonomous technology to deal with mines at sea.
“Participation in these Pesco projects will enhance the Defence Forces’ military capabilities for participation in UN-mandated peace-support operations, enhance interoperability and working with our EU partners, ensure that our troops are equipped with the latest and best equipment and training,” Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said.
The Department of Defence said the decision to become full members of these projects follows an assessment to determine what value they can add to Irish capabilities.
“In each case the conclusion of the analysis and reflection is that full participation would deliver significant benefits to our Defence Forces to support them in their roles and in particular their contribution to international crisis management operations peacekeeping,” Mr Coveney said.
The department said it and the Defence Forces will continue to look at other Pesco projects to determine which ones might benefit Ireland.
Independent TD Thomas Pringle, who voted against the measure last week, told the Dáil he sees Pesco as “a precursor to an EU army”.
Sinn Féin TD John Brady, who also opposed the motion, pointed to comments from Federica Mogherini, the former High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who said with regard to Pesco “we are building an EU defence union. It is not a plan or a dream any more; it is reality coming true”.
“Mr Josep Borrell, her successor, stated categorically that the EU needs to develop a military force to give it military strength,” said Mr Brady.
Mr Coveney said it is unfortunate people are trying to misrepresent Pesco as “a Trojan horse for a European army”.
He said it does not impact on Irish neutrality and policy of military neutrality, and “does not involve a commitment to the development of any form of common military force”.
The Government has also signalled its intention join the Helsinki-based European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, which operates under the auspices of Nato and the European Union.
Separately, Mr Coveney is expected to bringing proposals to Cabinet on Tuesday to increase Irish defence spending by €500 million over the next several years following the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces.