Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Irish Troops in Lebanon.

20.

asked the Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself with the security arrangements at present in force in Lebanon for Irish troops engaged in UNIFIL peace-keeping exercises; and the special steps which were or are being taken following the recent tragic deaths of four Irish soldiers.

24.

asked the Minister for Defence the investigations which have been held into the killing of Corporal Fintan Heneghan, Privates Thomas Walsh and Mannix Armstrong in Lebanon on 21 March 1989; if it has yet been established who was responsible for the attack; if the Irish UNIFIL troops had been deliberately targeted; if it is intended to provide additional armoured vehicles to protect against attacks of this nature; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

28.

asked the Minister for Defence if he has yet received the report of the Chief-of-Staff of the Defence Force on his recent visit to Lebanon to investigate the circumstances of the killing of four Irish soldiers; the findings of the Chief-of-Staff's report; if he will have the report published; if any action is to be taken arising from the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

34.

asked the Minister for Defence if, following the recent killing of four Irish soldiers in Lebanon, he has satisfied himself that Irish troops are not being deliberately targeted by the militia operating out of the region; and the steps he has taken to ensure that such tragedies will not recur.

42.

asked the Minister for Defence the action he has taken arising out of recent fatalities to Irish soldiers serving abroad; the steps he has taken to ensure that action is being taken to avoid a recurrence of such events; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

51.

asked the Minister for Defence if the report of the circumstances in which three soldiers lost their lives in Lebanon, drawn up by the Chief-of-Staff, will be published.

(Limerick West): I propose to take Question Nos. 20, 24, 28, 34, 42 and 51 together.

Before dealing with the substance of the question, I wish to say that I know that the House will wish to join with me in expressing the sympathy of the House to the families and friends of Corporal Fintan Heneghan, Private Mannix Armstrong, Private Michael McNeela and Private Thomas Walsh on their tragic loss, and in acknowledging the supreme sacrifice made by these men in the cause of peace with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Private McNeela died on 24 February 1989 when his checkpoint at Haddathah village came under fire from Israeli-backed militia. On 21 March 1989 Corporal Heneghan, Private Walsh and Private Armstrong died near the village of Brashit as a result of the explosion of a mine beneath their truck.

Following the most recent tragedy, I asked the Chief-of-Staff to visit Lebanon to assess the situation there and to liaise with the United Nations authorities in their investigations. As the House will be aware, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has been given responsibility by the Security Council for the day-to-day administration of the Force and the Secretary-General, in turn, has appointed a Force Commander who has responsibility for the operational deployment of the Force. The detailed investigation being conducted by the United Nations is not yet complete and so far it has not been possible to establish who was responsible for placing the explosive device or against whom it was directed.

In the course of his visit the Chief-of-Staff met UN Under Secretary-General Marrack Goulding, UNIFIL Force Commander Lt. Gen. Wahlgren, Irish battalion personnel and local leaders. Security in the Irish area of operations was examined and a number of measures to enhance the safety of Irish personnel were agreed, including the provision of specialist in mine discoveries and bomb disposal, certain engineering works and the closure of a high risk post.

In general the safety of Irish troops serving with UNIFIL is kept under constant review. Troops selected for overseas service undergo a rigorous programme of training designed to help them carry out their peacekeeping mission and to provide for their protection. They are issued with a modern range of weapons and equipment and operational procedures are geared to provide maximum safety for our troops consistent with the carrying out of their mission. I am satisfied that the training, equipment and procedures provide adequately for the protection of our personnel.

A Cheann Comhairle, the Minister has not answered my question, Question No. 51.

Order, please. I call on Deputy Connaughton.

Like the Minister, I wish to extend on behalf of my party our sympathy to the families of those gallant heroes who died in Lebanon. I tabled this question so as to ensure that such a thing will not happen again and that at the least the precautions that can be taken are taken. I am not satisfied with the Minister's reply. I have made inquiries and I wonder if the Minister can tell the House if the authorities out there at this stage have the necessary equipment to monitor and identify mines that may have been laid in that territory? It is very important, particularly for the members of the Defence Force, that we as a nation genuinely believe that everything that can be done to prevent such terrible disasters has been done. Can the Minister tell us if such equipment is now in use or is it the case that it has not even been thought about at this stage?

(Limerick West): Such equipment is in use. I wish to repeat that the safety of Irish personnel serving with UNIFIL is kept under constant review. Troops selected for overseas service undergo a rigorous programme of training.They are issued with a modern range of weapons and equipment. In addition, physical security in the form of equipment and engineering works at posts and checkpoints is steadily being improved. The Deputy will agree that military service with UNIFIL carries an inherent risk but I can assure him and the House that all necessary precautions are taken.

May I take it that the jeep used by the three soldiers was fitted with all the equipment necessary to identify and monitor a mine? That is a simple question.

(Limerick West): That is a separate question. If the Deputy puts down a precise question I will very gladly give him an answer.

Can the Minister tell us if it did or not?

(Limerick West): I have given the Deputy the information he asked for in his question. All necessary equipment is provided for all personnel serving with UNIFIL in Lebanon.

Question No. 21, please.

A Cheann Comhairle——

If the Deputy's final question is to be dealt with, he will appreciate it must be taken now.

What I want——

Perhaps a brief supplementary, Deputy.

I totally disagree with what the Minister has said.

That is not a question.

The Minister for Defence should know——

A question, please.

——whether the jeep was carrying all the necessary equipment.My second question is——

(Limerick West): I wish to repeat that all necessary equipment is provided to our forces in Lebanon.

I must now insist on a reply being given to Question No. 21 in the name of the same Deputy.

May I ask one further brief supplementary?

Very good, Deputy.

May I take it that the UNIFIL force have open door contact with the various warring factions? Do they speak to them on a day to day basis or do we just fly them into the hottest spot in the world? Can the Minister tell the House what sort of contact the Defence Force have with them when they get there, irrespective of how well trained they are and also what they actually do when they get there?

This is a widening of the subject matter.

(Limerick West): The United Nations keep in contact with the various forces in Lebanon.

Who do they talk to?

Question No. 21, please.

On a point of order——

A point of order on a priority question? How does it arise, may I ask.

The Minister said that he was taking a number of questions together, including Question No. 51 which is not a priority question.

I am sorry, Deputy, but we are dealing specifically with priority questions. I cannot allow the Deputy to intervene. At this stage questions are confined to the Deputy who tabled the question, Deputy Connaughton.

The Minister ignored my question. That is not good enough.

I hope Deputy Nealon and Deputy Barry appreciate that they are eroding the precious time available for the taking of priority questions and that Deputy Connaughton's final question may not be dealt with.

The Minister should answer questions he is asked. He ignored my question.

What I want to say is non-contentious.As a Dáil Deputy for Sligo-Leitrim from where two of the soldiers came, I would like to be associated with the tribute the Minister paid to these gallant soldiers.

I appreciate the Deputy's sentiments but this is an intrusion of the regulations and Standing Orders governing the taking of priority questions. Question No. 21.

Will the Minister answer my question?

On a point of order, I wish to draw the attention of the Chair to the fact that the time allotted for the taking of priority questions has now expired and as one of the Deputies who is particularly disadvantaged by that rule I am asking——

I will decide on that. I do not think the one quarter of an hour——

I have watched the clock very carefully. I merely ask that you move on. Questions in our names have been tabled.

I have admonished the Deputies. I have asked for their co-operation and I have told them time and again that time is very limited in respect of these questions.

I have no allegiance to priority time because I am completely excluded from it. All I am saying is that the time allotted has long since expired.

I think the Deputy was right to draw the matter to my attention. I accept it.

Perhaps you would also draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that he has not answered my question.