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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Nov 2006

Vol. 627 No. 5

Other Questions.

Overseas Missions.

Charlie O'Connor


6 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Defence the nature of the mission being undertaken by Irish troops serving in Lebanon; the number of troops serving there by rank; the nature of the equipment being deployed there; the current risk assessment; his plans to visit the troops serving there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38051/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


25 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding the deployment of Irish troops to Lebanon. [38178/06]

Ciarán Cuffe


39 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the deployment of Irish troops to Lebanon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38111/06]

Joe Costello


42 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Defence the duties that have been assigned to the Irish troops in Lebanon; the location of the Irish troops in Lebanon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38183/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 25, 39 and 42 together.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, was originally established on 19 March 1978 under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426, following the then invasion of Lebanon by Israel. In response to the crisis of July and August 2006, under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 the UN decided to extend the mandate of UNIFIL to the end of August 2007, and to increase its troop strength from approximately 2,000 troops to a maximum of 15,000.

The council also decided that, in addition to carrying out its original mandate under Council Resolutions 425 and 426, UNIFIL would also monitor the cessation of hostilities; accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout southern Lebanon and extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.

The nature of the expanded UNIFIL mandate is such that its role is to be considerably more robust than it was prior to the adoption of Resolution 1701, while still operating under Chapter VI of the UN Charter. UNIFIL will assist the Government of Lebanon to exercise its authority throughout the UNIFIL area of operations. It will take all necessary action, acting in support of the Government of Lebanon, "to ensure that its area of operations is not utilised for hostile activities of any kind and to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council".

Following the ceasefire which took effect on 14 August 2006, the Government monitored the situation with a view to determining how best Ireland might contribute to the expanded UNIFIL mission. Against this background, an option was identified whereby Ireland might partner Finnish troops and provide a protection detail to a planned Finnish engineering company.

On 3 October 2006, the Government authorised, subject to Dáil approval, the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to UNIFIL. The necessary enabling motion was moved in the Dáil on 10 October 2006 and approved on 11 October 2006.

The 34th Irish Infantry Group deployed to South Lebanon on 31 October 2006 as part of the integrated Finnish-Irish battalion. The Irish group has a total strength of 158 personnel, comprising 21 officers, 58 NCOs, 78 privates and a chaplain. The Finnish engineer group comprises 211 Finnish military personnel. In addition, six Defence Forces personnel continue to be deployed at UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura.

The Finnish-Irish battalion is located in Sector East of the UNIFIL area of operations, at a newly constructed camp, known as Camp Ida, near the village of Ebel Es Saqi in the general area of Blate. The Finnish engineering unit will carry out tasks in support of UNIFIL and also some humanitarian work, including dealing with unexploded ordnance clearance. While the Irish unit will be tasked primarily with providing protection to the Finnish engineering company, it will also be available to undertake other security tasks as may be directed by the UNIFIL force commander.

The Irish mechanised company has significant force protection capabilities and assets, including 12 Mowag armoured personnel carriers and is supported by a cavalry troop with its six AML armoured cars. These armoured assets provide the unit with significant protection, firepower and a mobility capability. The threat assessment in the short term is considered low, with the main danger being posed by the significant amount of unexploded ordnance and war debris which remains in the area.

Initial deployment is for one year subject to renewal of the mandate and a satisfactory review of the mission at that time. In line with standing policy that the duration of any deployment should be set at the outset of a mission, it is considered that Defence Forces involvement in UNIFIL should not exceed a maximum of two to three years in duration. I look forward to visiting the Irish contingent serving with UNIFIL in the near future when they have settled into their new camp and when the unit has become fully operational.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply to a subject in which we are all interested. Many Deputies, particularly in the Dublin region, know people who are serving in that force. There are certainly people from my constituency serving with it. Earlier today, those of us who listened to "Morning Ireland" will have heard the interview with the Muslim extremist. We all saw the "Newsnight" programme the other night also. In light of the threat from that cleric, who I understand is from Lebanon, what risk analysis has been carried out with regard to the involvement of our troops in Lebanon, particularly before they left? Does the Minister have any intelligence concerning the current level of threat to Irish personnel there? I understand the Minister will be going to Lebanon soon so perhaps he might mention me if he meets anyone there from my constituency. What action will the Minister take to raise those threats that have been made on the airwaves, including RTE, at the highest levels of the Lebanese Government? I heard that broadcast this morning——

The Deputy should put a question please.

That is my question.

The Deputy is going off script.

No. At my age, I sometimes need to have notes but I do not use scripts. The Minister should understand the level of interest in this subject, particularly in light of threats that have been made on the airwaves.

A detailed threat assessment was carried out jointly with the Finns during a reconnaissance mission to Lebanon in September. We also consulted closely with UNIFIL and some of the other nations involved. The threat assessment was "low but within a volatile situation". In other words, while the threat is low at the moment, a number of issues could trigger a conflict again. That assessment is not dissimilar to those that preceded the despatch of troops to Liberia and Kosovo. We are keeping the situation under ongoing review. The threat assessment remains the same.

There are a number of matters in Lebanon, for example, the future disarming of Hizbollah, which could be potential flashpoints. The resupply of Hizbollah by Syria is also a potential flashpoint, among others. There are a number of al-Qaeda camps in southern Lebanon, which train jihadists on the way to Iraq. We do not know what action, if any, the Lebanese army will take in that regard. We are aware of all those potential flashpoints. We have deployed the troops for a year and will reconsider the situation next August or September.

Deputy O'Connor suggested that we should raise the matter with the Lebanese Government at the highest level. I will be meeting Lebanese Government officials on my forthcoming trip to Lebanon during which I will express my concern for the safety of our troops. I can also assure the Deputy that if I happen to meet anybody from Tallaght I will certainly mention his name.

The Minister said he will raise the matter with the Lebanese Government but that is if we have any such government. That is surely the biggest potential flashpoint. The leader of Hizbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has said there may not be a Lebanese Government because it may collapse. He has accused members of that government of collaborating with the Israelis. Does the Minister agree that this situation is extremely volatile? Under those circumstances, what contingency plans does he have to remove our troops if the situation becomes very serious? The Minister spoke about a time span of two to three years but has he discussed the issue with his colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs? If there are no talks a vacuum will arise, which is a serious situation in itself. Does the Minister agree that the sooner we have real talks, as Tony Blair has suggested — at long last common sense is prevailing — and the Iranians and Syrians are at the table, that will be the best way to get stability? It would be the best solution for our troops in the long term.

I agree with Deputy Gormley on the latter point. I have had ongoing discussions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the matter. The two to three-year timescale can be a bit misleading. The last time we went into Lebanon we intended to spend a few years there but finished up spending 23 years in the country. The Government has made it clear that the maximum deployment to Lebanon will be two to three years. The current deployment, however, is only until next August. Coming up to next August we will have to re-examine the situation. Depending upon the position then, it may be that we will not be going back there in August. We just do not know and that has to be decided.

I wish to support my colleague, Deputy O'Connor, in expressing concern for our troops in their overseas role. They deserve our congratulations. The concern arises from the threat assessment. Will the Minister clarify the need for triple-lock approval? Does it apply in all situations? Will the Minister indicate briefly what criteria apply before deciding to deploy Defence Forces contingents on overseas missions?

The triple-lock mechanism, involving Government and Dáil approval together with a UN resolution, applies in all cases where troops are deployed, under arms, on overseas peacekeeping missions. Under the provisions of the Defence Act, Dáil approval is not required if the number going overseas is fewer than 12.

On the criteria that apply, we must first decide how usefully Ireland can contribute to the mission. In addition, we must decide how well the mission is financed and how it gels with the demands of Irish foreign policy. Apart from whether our troops can improve the situation out there, the risk to our troops is the paramount consideration. That is something to which any Government sending troops abroad from this country has always paid great attention. Before making an informed decision, one must take advice and gather intelligence from the people who go out on reconnaissance and other relevant military personnel, as well as UN people. Therefore, the criteria comprise the list I have outlined along with the requirements of the triple-lock, which means UN authorisation, a Government decision and Dáil approval.

As regards the location of the troops, are they all located in the same place? Are they all in a supporting role with the Finnish engineering unit? Are they likely to be moving around, considering the type of work that will be required of an engineering unit? Will Irish troops be getting involved in any humanitarian activities or are they so involved at this time? When the first six months are up, as part of the assessment to be undertaken will the Minister produce a formal report that will be laid before the House for debate?

I do not know what is the practice as regards the third issue raised by the Deputy, or whether we do that after six months. I will inquire and if there is no problem with it I will be happy to discuss the matter after six months.

As regards the deployment of troops, they will be in the general area of Blatt beside the village of Belasaki in the eastern sector, south of the Litani river. They will all be in the same place at the joint Irish-Finnish Camp Ida. They will be moving around providing protection details for Finnish engineers when they are doing construction work. They will also be providing protection details for Finnish troops when they are clearing unexploded ordnance. In addition, they will be undertaking other tasks assigned to them by the UNIFIL force commander, which could include security duty in other locations, escort duty and patrols. Ultimately, therefore, even though their primary duty is to protect the Finnish engineers, they are liable to be assigned to other duties by the force commander, which could include humanitarian work.

I wish to be associated with Deputy Costello's remarks on the report the Minister commissioned on the Niemba ambush. I compliment the Minister and Colonel Behan on that, in addition to Dr. O'Donoghue. I am sure when the Minister is in Lebanon he will pass on the regards of Senator Brian Hayes, the spokesperson on defence for the Fine Gael Party in the Seanad, to any troops he meets.

He will be sent there for six months.

Defusing bombs.

I did not say that.

Do not tempt me.

Will Deputy Timmins be brief? We are running out of time.

Has the Minister received any requests for additional troops to be sent to Lebanon? Is there a chance we could increase our commitment there when we are finished in Liberia? Can the Minister tell the House how he views the submission by the Permanent Defence Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, for an increase in the overseas allowance? Good faith is fine but it would be nice to see good works also.

I will certainly pass on Senator Brian Hayes's felicitations when I am in Lebanon. I have had no request for additional troops there. We still have 320 troops in Liberia but they will be finished next summer and will be available to go elsewhere. There are several places that could request our services.

Overseas allowances must go through the conciliation and arbitration process but I said at the PDFORRA conference that such a request would be very sympathetically considered.

I thank the Minister for Defence for correcting the Dáil record on the Niemba case and the inquiry. I urge the Army to honour Private Kennedy and Private Fitzpatrick.

I ask the Minister to make the protection of civilians in Lebanon the priority issue when bringing a message to the United Nations and the armed forces. He can use his authority and the forum of the UN to ensure the maximum protection of civilians is achieved, particularly given the men, women and children slaughtered there recently. It is important that this be a priority of the Irish troops serving there as part of the UN force.

The priorities of the troops are set by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, force commander. One of the duties envisaged for the Lebanese Army when it enters southern Lebanon is not only the protection of civilians, but allowing them access to humanitarian assistance and Irish troops will play a part in this regard. Ireland is working hard at the United Nations, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to have the law changed to considerably restrict the use of cluster weapons which were deployed to such ill-effect in Lebanon.

State Property.

Dan Neville


7 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Defence the position in relation to his Department’s lands at Gormanstown, County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38143/06]

The Government decided on 1 July 2003 that lands at Gormanstown, County Meath, would be among the State lands released for inclusion in the Sustaining Progress affordable housing initiative. How land at this location might play a role in the delivery of affordable units is a matter in the first instance for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which is the lead Department for the development of the affordable housing initiative. The legal formalities relating to the transfer of lands at this location under the affordable housing initiative are being progressed in consultation with that Department and the Chief State Solicitor's office.

Is the Minister concerned that the construction of affordable housing in that area could affect the use by the Air Corps of the region as a range?

That is an obvious consideration that we have taken into account and the deal will be constructed so that there is no interference with Air Corps activities. We are still negotiating that point, among others, with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The transfer is taking some time and it will take another year.

The news is better regarding other lands that are being handed over. We have completed a transfer at St. Brychan's and other lands at McGee Camp and Camp Field at Collins Barracks in Cork are almost ready for transfer.

What is the acreage of the lands being handed over and how much will be retained by the Department of Defence? If this land is for affordable housing, will it be sold to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government? Is it part of a transfer arrangement to be conducted by the affordable homes partnership chaired by Des Geraghty? Will it be handed over to the local authority or how will the affordable housing be developed?

The lands in question are around 261 acres in size and about 57 acres are used for the Army camp. Some 25 acres is cut off from the main body of land by a roadway. The matter of how much will be handed over has not yet been finalised, although I would guess it will be about half of the 261 acre total.

My Department's brief is to hand the lands over to Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I understand that Department will discuss a possible land swop with a local developer or will give the land to such an individual in return for a certain number of houses. I am not sure of the details as they are being dealt with by other people, but I can supply more specific information if the Deputy wishes.

Will the Department of Defence receive the market value for the lands?

It is not a cash transfer. We are merely playing our part in the affordable housing initiative by transferring the land.

Well done.

I am delighted the Minister is playing his part. Many of my constituents have asked me about the future of Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines and I have tabled a separate question in that regard. Is there any possibility of affordable housing being built on that site?

That had not been considered but since the Deputy has mentioned it, we will look at the possibility.

I would not like to see the Department of Defence become a soft touch for giving away land because when local authorities dispose of lands to State Departments, they get top dollar. The Government has committed that money received from the disposal of Defence Forces land will be reinvested in the Defence Forces. We must ensure we receive market value as this was not achieved with land given away in the recent past.

That land was given to other State agencies to advance State projects. There was no question of giving it to private developers.

I am aware of that but any money in this case is to be reinvested in the Defence Forces.

I see the point Deputy Timmins is making. The land bank available to the Department of Defence is kept under constant review. We will have progressively less land to dispose of on the open market in future and we will receive funding from the Minister for Finance to compensate for this and maintain the considerable level of investment in infrastructure, weaponry, training and so on.

I do not see that here.

Overseas Missions.

Ivor Callely


8 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Defence the number of members of the Defence Forces currently serving on UN authorised missions overseas; the number of these missions; the number serving on each; the expected duration of each of these missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38240/06]

Richard Bruton


45 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Defence the number of personnel currently serving overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38155/06]

Ivor Callely


222 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Defence the number of Irish troops currently on missions overseas; the mandate associated with each mission; the number of personnel and the number of years that Irish troops have been involved in such missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38260/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 45 and 222 together.

Ireland is currently contributing 826 Defence Forces personnel to 19 different missions throughout the world. Full details of all personnel currently serving overseas on UN mandated operations, observer missions or undertaking representative or staff postings are listed in the following tabular statement.

The main overseas commitments are to the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, with 320 personnel; the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, led international security presence, Kosovo Force, KFOR, with 211 personnel; the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 164 personnel; and to the EU led operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, EUFOR, with 59 personnel. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with the United Nations, UN, the European Union, EU, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE. Staff are also deployed at the organisational headquarters of the UN, EU, OSCE and NATO.

A contingent of the Permanent Defence Force was deployed for service with UNMIL in December 2003, comprising a motorised infantry battalion of 430 personnel. 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 in any crisis situation. The contingent undertakes regular daily patrols within Monrovia and is available to the force commander to provide support in the event of a breakdown of law and order or further conflict. Ireland will complete its participation in UNMIL in May 2007 and the 96th Infantry Battalion, which is currently being deployed to UNMIL, will be the final Defence Forces deployment to the mission.

KFOR was established in June 1999 to support the maintenance of civil law and order within Kosovo so as to develop a climate of safety and security, which will enable the transfer of increased responsibility to the civil authorities. Ireland has participated in KFOR since August 1999. The Irish contingent currently comprises an APC mounted infantry group of 211 personnel, including a number of personnel in staff posts at various KFOR headquarters. Having regard to the fragility of the peace in Kosovo and subject to ongoing assessments of the position on the ground, Ireland has decided to maintain a continued presence in KFOR in 2006-07. Ireland will take on the role of framework nation for the multinational task force in which it participates in August 2006 for a period of 12 months.

Operation Althea, EUFOR, is an EU military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ireland has participated in SFOR since 1997 and has 59 troops stationed in the region as part of an Austrian-led multinational task force. We provide personnel for the headquarters, military police unit, verification teams and a national support element. Ireland currently acts as the framework nation for the military police platoon. Discussions on down-sizing this mission, which is expected to commence early next year, are ongoing at EU level. I have discussed the position in Lebanon.

Members of the Permanent Defence Force serving Overseas as of 10 November 2006

1. UN Missions

(i)UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) HQ


UNIFIL 34th Inf. Group


(ii)UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) — Israel, Syria and Lebanon


(iii)MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara)


(iv)UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo)


(v)MONUC (United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo)


(vi)UNOCI (United Nations Mission in Ivory Coast)


(vii)UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) FHQ


UNMIL 95th Inf Bn




UN Mandated Missions

(viii)EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina)


(ix)KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo)


(x)ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan)


Total number of personnel serving with UN missions


2. EU Missions

(i)European Union Monitor Mission (EUMM) to the former Yugoslavia


(ii)EU support to UN authorised African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS)


(iii)ACEH Monitoring Mission (AMM)


(iv)EUFOR RD Congo (support mission to MONUC)




3. Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

(i)OSCE Mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina


(ii)OSCE Mission in Montenegro


(iii)OSCE Presence in Albania


(iv)OSCE Mission in FRY


(v)Staff Officer, Higher Level Planning Group, Vienna


Total number of personnel serving OSCE


4. Head of Military Staff (Brussels)


5. EU Military Staff (Brussels/Mons)


6. EU Military Staff (New York)


7. Liaison Office of Ireland, PfP (Brussels)

8. Permanent Representative to EU (Brussels)


9. Military Representatives/Advisers

(i)Military Adviser, Permanent Mission to UN, New York


(ii)Military Adviser, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna


(iii)Military Representative to Partnership Co-ordination Cell/Supreme


Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Mons, Belgium

10. Appointments — UN HQ (New York)

Officers seconded to DPKO (Department of Peace Keeping Operations)




Will the Minister provide a breakdown of the total number of officers and other ranks serving overseas? Deputies discussed threat assessment, injuries and so forth in response to one of my previous questions. Will the Minister indicate the number of personnel serving overseas in support services, specifically the medical corps? Will he also provide a breakdown according to profession? How many doctors, dentists, paramedics and other support personnel are serving overseas? Are difficulties being experienced in recruiting any of these personnel, particularly in dentistry?

This week, I read with interest a report in one of the newspapers that Sweden, the framework nation in the Nordic battle group, has reservations about Ireland's requirement to secure triple lock approval. Did the Minister see the report and will he comment on it? Will he also comment on Ireland's proposed role as the framework nation in KFOR?

The Minister may also wish to comment on calls made for him to sign up. I do not refer to signing up in the Defence Forces but in response to his excellent presentation on——

Is it to sign the new book in Limerick?

I understand that following his appearance on "The Late Late Show" news networks from around the world want the Minister——

Seán South of Garryowen.

Maybe the Minister will give us a verse.

The matter does not arise on these questions.

I congratulate the Minister on his performance.

Ireland currently has 826 troops serving overseas. This figure consists of 168 officers and 658 non-officers. I understand five doctors are currently deployed overseas. While I do not have figures on the number of dentists, I understand none is serving overseas. The answer to the Deputy's question on whether we are having difficulty recruiting a sufficient number of doctors is an unequivocal "Yes". I will deal with this matter in some detail in a later question.

On Sweden's reported reservations about Ireland's triple lock requirement, I read the report and do not agree with it. I have not received queries from Sweden in this regard and, in any case, they would not matter because we must operate the triple lock mechanism under the law which states we cannot deploy personnel abroad without it.

On acting as framework nation in Kosovo from August 2007, this new responsibility will contribute significantly to the development of the Defence Forces, improving their capability and heightening their profile as a professional, well organised force in the international peacekeeping community. This is the reason Ireland will assume the role, which will require the deployment of an additional 50 to 60 personnel for a short period.

With regard to the memorandum of understanding between the members of the Nordic battle group, is it not the case that it does not include a reference to Ireland's requirement for a triple lock or UN mandate? Will the Minister lodge a copy of this document in the Oireachtas Library? Will he arrange for a discussion on it given that it has far-reaching consequences?

I have consulted my officials about making the document available and will be pleased to do so if there are no barriers to publication. A memorandum of understanding would not usually refer to the requirements of contributing members. It simply outlines details of how the various contingents will operate together, who will perform what function etc. It is not supposed to refer to the legal, political or other requirements for participation. Sweden is the framework nation of the Nordic battle group and the Swedish Government has known throughout the process that Ireland has a triple lock requirement. I have advised it of this matter and it accepts that the law here states that troops cannot be deployed on a UN peacekeeping mission without each of the three requirements of the triple lock mechanism being met.

The Nordic battle group will be on stand-by for the first six months of 2008. If the European Union were to decide in February or March 2008 to deploy the Nordic battle group, in which we have an explosives contingent consisting of 80 to 100 troops, the legal position would be that Ireland would not be able to deploy troops if each of the three triple lock requirements were not met. That position will continue.

The Minister referred to difficulties experienced in filling positions for overseas appointments. Does he agree that the problem would be alleviated if the Reserve Defence Force were allowed to serve overseas? Will he indicate when they will be permitted to serve abroad?

I agree that if the reserve Defence Forces, particularly doctors, engineers and other professionals, were to serve overseas, it would significantly alleviate the problem. Various difficulties are encountered in trying to get release from employment and these require deals to be done with IBEC etc. The target set down in the White Paper was to have reserve Defence Forces serving overseas by the end of 2009 when the period covered by the White Paper was coming to an end. We are still on target to achieve this goal.

I share Deputy Callely's view on the Minister's performance. As I told him the other day, he is being talked about positively in Tallaght. He is better known in Tallaght than one of Deputy Timmins's colleagues.

Is he better known than the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan?

Allow Deputy O'Connor to ask a question.

Deputy O'Connor looks after internal matters.

We have discussed at length the contingents that have served abroad. Constituents of mine have pointed out that when Irish troops serve abroad they get involved in charity and community works. Does this impact on the Minister's office? Can he provide assistance in this regard?

During the week, I was asked by someone from Templeogue to explain the reason the Department and Defence Forces do not use the expertise of those who have served abroad. The first contingent of troops went to Lebanon in 1978. This former soldier asked me why the expertise that is still available is not being used by the Army to assist those going abroad on these dangerous missions.

The expertise is available. Of the 826 personnel abroad currently, two thirds have been abroad previously, a considerable reserve of expertise. I cannot remember the Deputy's first question.

When is the UN contingent being dispatched to Tallaght?

We want to know about the decommissioned bus.

It was a serious question. I am told by Army personnel who have been abroad that they are interested in getting involved in charitable and community work when they arrive. Are there any plans to assist those who wish to do this?

They become involved with community and charitable work with local groups and people. There have been instances in Kosovo and Monrovia where that happened and we give the Army every encouragement to continue with such work. That is why the Army has such a great reputation in international peacekeeping circles.

Will the Minister give the numbers of men and women who are serving abroad on the various UN missions? Are the command areas evenly distributed? Is there an overlap? If someone goes to Kosovo, can he then go to Liberia on a further mission?

What about the countries operating battle groups? The memorandum of understanding does not include any specific references to the triple lock. Would it be useful to review the situation so the memorandum includes a statement on our legislative requirements before deployment abroad on a mission? Instead of advising Sweden and Finland on a personal basis, there should be a formal arrangement in the memorandum in writing.

I am alarmed about the level of medical support for the large number of troops serving overseas. There are five doctors but not a single dentist. What arrangements exist for those who require dental treatment while overseas? The Minister did not answer the question about paramedics involved in overseas missions. I could make some positive suggestions on incentives we could put in place to encourage the medical professions, doctors and dentists, to participate in our overseas missions.

The breakdown between men and women reflects the general numbers of women in the Army.

Around 5%.

Yes, it is in that order but I will get exact figures for the Deputy. There is no barrier to prevent a person who goes to Liberia from then going to Lebanon or Kosovo. There is an overlap.

I see no reason why the memorandum of understanding should require a reference to the triple lock because the triple lock is the law and that takes precedence over any memorandum.

I am sorry we did not get on to Deputy Crowe's question about sick leave but we are now providing incentives to recruit more doctors and dentists into the Army to provide frontline services. We are also providing for more tracking of people who have received treatment through computerisation, even when we must bring in civilian doctors to treat them.

On dentistry, Lebanon, for example, is a joint Irish-Finnish operation so there are medics from both countries.

Dentistry would be cheaper in Finland.

There are facilities for all medical and dental ailments and the same applies in all overseas missions, the expertise is available. If Deputy Callely has any other incentives we could offer to recruit doctors and dentists, because we badly need to do this to provide frontline services instead of bringing GPs in from outside, I would be delighted to hear them.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.