I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 40 together.
The Defence Forces contingent which was deployed for service with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, in December 2003 comprises a motorised infantry battalion of some 430 personnel. A small number of additional personnel have also been deployed at force headquarters and as military observers.
Initial deployment will be for one year with a possible extension thereafter subject to renewal of the UN mandate and a satisfactory review of the mission. In the case of UNMIL, my intention is that Defence Forces involvement will not exceed two to three years in duration. Elections, which are due in 2005 under the comprehensive peace agreement, should be completed at that stage.
At the request of the United Nations, a contingent of the Army Ranger Wing, amounting to some 40 personnel, was deployed for a three month period from December 2003 to February 2004. This contingent has now returned home. Sadly, as Deputies will recall, Sergeant Derek Mooney of the Army ranger wing lost his life while on duty in Liberia and one of his colleagues was injured.
The main Irish contingent operates as the force commander's rapid reaction reserve. The role of the Irish personnel is the provision of an immediate response capability, deployable in sufficient strength and with the required level of force to provide a swift and decisive military reaction to any crisis. To date, the Irish battalion in UNMIL has mainly operated in a path-finding and reconnaissance role supporting the deployment of other UN contingents.
It has also conducted long-range patrols beyond Monrovia and well into the interior of Liberia in order to display a strong UN presence, deter lawlessness and protect local populations. The contingent also undertakes regular daily patrols within the Monrovia area. While the UN contingents have now deployed to their areas of operation throughout Liberia, the Irish battalion remains available to the force commander to provide support and a rapid response capability in the event of a breakdown in law and order or further conflict.
A wide range of equipment and force protection assets have been deployed with the contingent including Mowag APCs, armoured vehicles and support weapons, heavy machine guns and mortars. Due to the equipment modernisation programmes that have taken place in the Defence Forces over the past few years, UNMIL will be the best-equipped battalion ever to serve overseas.
I visited Irish troops serving with UNMIL during the period 21 to 23 January 2004 and observed at first hand the work of Irish military personnel serving in the area and conveyed to them, on behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland, our deep appreciation for the outstanding manner in which they continue to perform their duties on overseas service. UNMIL is a challenging assignment and the Defence Forces are to be congratulated on the expeditious manner in which they planned and undertook their first deployment to this mission.
Camp Clara, the headquarters of the Irish troops serving with the 90th infantry battalion, UNMIL, is located 10 km. from the main town of Monrovia. Since its deployment, the Irish battalion has put a significant amount of work into the establishment and development of the camp, including the provision of recreation and training facilities. Further facilities will be added in the future as appropriate.
Deputies will be aware that the adoption of a number of local humanitarian projects is a feature of Irish peace support operations. While in Liberia, I visited an AIDS hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity, the order of Mother Theresa — now St. Theresa — which is being assisted on a personal voluntary basis by members of the Irish battalion. During this visit to the hospice, it gave me great pleasure in announcing that Development Co-operation Ireland is contributing €15,000 to the humanitarian work of the current contingent in this regard. I have also allocated €10,000 from the Vote for defence to the contingent to support this important humanitarian work.
During my visit I found morale among troops to be very high. I congratulated the Irish personnel on the success of their mission so far and observed the positive effect their presence is already having in Monrovia and other areas since their arrival.