Michael Noonan, being a very busy man, couldn’t answer my e-mail directly. I think that’s understandable, seeing as how he is appearing on every talk show going. Instead Jim Duffy, a member of the FG backroom team, sent me the following reply. My original e-mail in bold, my commentary in italics.
What is your opinion of the present state of the Irish Defence Forces? It’s reduced budget and size, its promotion freeze, and limited participation in missions abroad? Do you believe, as many do, that the Irish Defence Forces are surplus to the requirements of the modern Irish state?
Fine Gael supports the maintenance of the Defence Forces at 10,000.
The first actual answer I’ve gotten. I’d like to see the Defence Forces expanded beyond this number, but a commitment to keep it at the standard level is fine.
In government we will be publishing a white paper on Defence within 18 months of entry into power. Fine Gael is strongly committed to the Defence Forces and is aware of the complications caused by the Promotions freeze. Obviously financial commitments cannot be made out of power given that much of the information needed to reach conclusions is not available to the opposition. We are aware of the practical problems the promotion freeze imposes, and of the arguably excessive use of ‘acting up’ to require that the functions be carried out.
It is good to see a party that actually recognises one of the practical problems of the recruitment/promotion freeze. But, I know that Fine Gael can get access to Department records if they wanted to (they are not extremely confidential, and the Government has previously given access to Finance Department records to the opposition) so their lack of any real policy ideas or firm commitments here is concerning.
Fine Gael appreciates the value of overseas missions for a number of reasons
1. The reputation benefit that flows to Ireland internationally
2. The skills built up in the Defence Forces by participation in overseas missions
3. The value for the Defence Forces’ reputation that flows in the state through participation in missions.
That last one seems to be same as the first one really. And phrased a little badly.
Fine Gael does not believe that the Defence Forces are surplus to requirements in the state. We are proud of the role our ancestor organization, Cumann na nGaedhael, played in creating the National Army and are committed to the maintaining the Defence Forces into the future.
Good to get the commitment, but the historical name dropping here is not appreciated. Leave that stuff to Sinn Fein lads.
What is your opinion of Ireland’s current neutrality laws and the “triple-lock” system?
Fine Gael believes the Triple Lock is flawed because of how the veto works in the UN Security Council. There is widespread agreement internationally that the Security Council needs major reform, particularly how vetoes work. That widely recognized problem with the veto makes a mess of our triple lock, because a knock-on effect of countries exercising a veto is that they prevent Ireland then being able to use its Defence Forces in peace-keeping, as we require a motion to have been passed authorizing a UN mission. It produces a ludicrous situation where even if everyone in Ireland, everyone in the Oireachtas and everyone in the Government wants to send the Irish Defence Forces on a particular peace-keeping commission, even if every other country wants a peacekeeping mission to take place, even if the country where the mission would be to wants us to go, the mission can effectively be vetoed by Britain, France, Russia, China or the United States. I don’t find that acceptable, particularly when the reason they use their veto in the Security Council might have absolutely nothing to do with Ireland and all to do with some internal political dispute that led them to stop the Security Council passing a motion. They may not even be aware that the knock-on effect of vetoing a motion in the Security Council means Ireland can’t take part in peacekeeping somewhere.
As you can imagine, this is just about the most perfect answer I can get to this question. Duffy sums up the crux of the matter excellently, and if the words of the other parties are any indication, he’s dead right in that last sentence.
Fine Gael strongly believes in the UN. One option is that instead of actually requiring an actual motion to pass, we insist that all missions must be in keeping with the UN charter and international law. I find it rather galling that nearly a century after achieving our independence, London through exercising its Security Council veto still has a veto over the deployment of Ireland’s Defence Forces.
YES! This, this, this, this, this.
Do you have any specific foreign diplomatic initiatives or schemes in mind for the coming Dail term?
We are determined to restore Ireland’s position as a respected and influential part of the European family and to undo the damage done to our reputation by the outgoing Government. A key priority for Enda Kenny as Taoiseach will be to lead a major diplomatic effort to repair our relationships with our European partners and institutions. We will use our role in the European People’s Party, the strongest political grouping in the EU, and Enda Kenny’s senior position of Vice-President of the EPP, to further this cause.
I wasn’t even aware that Ends Kenny held such a position. A quick Google search tells me that he shares that position with nine other people, so it isn’t really that impressive. Anyway, I would agree with FGs view that our diplomatic focus should be on stronger, and more beneficial, ties with Europe.
We will ensure Ireland’s Embassies play a key role in both helping to win inward investment and in supporting the work of Enterprise Ireland and IDA for economic purposes, focusing particularly on emerging economies. We will also establish ‘educational attaché’ roles within Embassies in key markets to work with educational stakeholders and provide information about Ireland as an international education destination. We will expand the concept of ‘Ireland House’ whereby our Missions abroad and the offices of State Agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and the IDA come together in a single location.
Some good ideas there I think, that will cut costs in an effective but not debilitating way.
Overall, I am very satisfied with Fine Gael’s answer here, easily the best of the four I have received so far. I suppose, considering the person who wrote it, this should probably be considered an answer for Noonan’s running mate Kieran O’Donnell as well.