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.