Defence talks | 

Leo Varadkar confident he could secure a Yes vote for Ireland to join EU army

The Tánaiste added that this European defence force should have “close links” to Nato, despite Ireland having “no plans” to join the military alliance.

Leo Varadkar

Gabija Gataveckaite

Leo Varadkar has insisted it is “possible” to win a referendum in Ireland to join a European defence force but says there is no political support to join Nato.

The Tánaiste added that this European defence force should have “close links” to Nato, despite Ireland having “no plans” to join the military alliance.

“I do think it would be possible for us to win a referendum on joining a European defence (force) but I think that’s why it would be important for us to be a part of designing it alongside countries like Cyprus, Austria and Malta, who also don’t plan to join Nato,” he said.

“We are not members of Nato and we have no plans to join Nato, but we have never been neutral politically, we have always been on the side of democracy.”

The Fine Gael leader said the party wanted to help design the European defence, which would create a role for militarily neutral countries who want to have a role in defence.

He said that plans for this new force would be put in a “proposal to our people in a referendum, which we will have to do once [the proposal] is designed, but it’s not fully designed yet”.

However, he said there should be “very close links” between the new European force and Nato.

“Some people would talk about developing a European defence that is separate to Nato or almost in competition with Nato. That doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

“It makes sense to me that there should be very close links between the European Union and any European defence and Nato – even though we may not be a member, we wouldn’t want to prevent cooperation or interoperability between any of those things.”

He said that Fine Gael wanted to be more involved in Pesco, the EU’s security and defence policy.

“I think Irish people have always seen defence and security as being more than military alliances so we’re very proud of the role that we’ve played in United Nations peacekeeping around the world.”

The Tánaiste was speaking at a panel discussion on rebuilding European security and defence at the European People’s Party (EPP) Congress in Rotterdam, the European grouping to which Fine Gael is aligned in the EU Parliament.

He told the panel that Ireland would increase its military spending and increase monitoring of the country’s airspace and seas.

Mr Varadkar also criticised the EU for making the “major strategic error” in relying on most of its energy supply from Russia. .

Former Dutch ambassador Robert Bosch asked the Tánaiste why he was certain that Ireland would not “see the light” and join Nato.

“In Ireland, given our tradition, there isn’t political support for joining Nato, it’s not something Irish people would want, at least the majority wouldn’t. One thing that has definitely shifted is strong support in favour of Irish participation in European defence.

“Our constitution says that we cannot form part of a full European defence without a referendum on it. And certainly from Fine Gael’s point of view, we want to be involved in constructing that European defence,” he added.

On the war in Ukraine, Mr Varadkar said there should not be a ceasefire until Russia began to retreat because, otherwise, Putin would claim victory.

He said sanctions should be “deepened and strengthened” and that “weapons and tools” should be provided to Ukraine.

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