Despatch of Defence Forces Personnel: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea, today:
That Dáil Éireann approves the despatch, pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1960, as applied by the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006, of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the EU military operation named "EUFOR TCHAD/RCA", established under the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1778 (2007), including headquarter elements to be located as may be determined from time to time.

I asked the Minister earlier to assure the House that there will be adequate numbers of medical staff on this mission. On 25 September last, the UN Security Council authorised Resolution 1778, which provides for the deployment of a multidimensional international presence in east Chad and north-east Central African Republic. Human Rights Watch has called on the EU and the UN to address the needs of the most vulnerable civilians — displaced people who remain outside the large camps and those who are still living in their home communities. It is imperative that EU forces act to protect the civilians who are at greatest risk, wherever they may be. The UN resolution I mentioned focuses assistance on areas of east Chad and north-east Central African Republic where continued armed conflict, general lawlessness and chronic instability, partly related to the conflict in the adjoining Darfur region of Sudan, have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.

Reports in the media have suggested that Ireland will be the second-highest contributor, in terms of soldiers, to the EU mission in Chad. I understand that France is to provide half of the full contingent in the shape of a battalion comprising three companies and support units. Ireland will provide between 350 and 400 troops, Sweden will provide 200 troops, Austria will provide 160 troops and other countries will provide much smaller numbers of troops. Countries which are much larger than Ireland are making far fewer troops available for this mission. I appreciate that Ireland is taking the lead in this high-risk mission.

The involvement of France in this deployment is one of the serious problems faced by the mission. As France is the former colonial power in Chad, it might not be seen as an independent player. France's tough approach in the past could benefit the Irish troops by causing rebels to become fearful of attacking the EU forces. It might add to the authority of this mission. However, France's status as the former colonial power could create the impression that this EU force has been deployed to protect the local government from attempts to overthrow it. That might make the force a target.

Rebels have claimed that in April, France fired warning shots on rebels who were advancing on the Chadian capital. They argue that France's interest in participating in the EU mission is a tactic that will enable the French authorities to keep the President of Chad, Mr. Déby, who is a French-trained helicopter pilot, in power. Those rebels who seek to overthrow Mr. Déby have explicitly stated in media reports that if the EU mission gets in their way, they will have no hesitation in attacking it and thereby dragging the mission into combat within Chad. A representative of one of the Chadian rebel groups stated bluntly in September that if the EU troops come on the pretext of Darfur but then block the rebel advance on the capital, they will receive a very bad welcome.

It has been suggested that everything will be okay if the force does not touch the rebels. The rebels have said that the EU mission will see what they are made of if it gets in the way of an advance on the capital. Another rebel spokesman said that if the EU force is deployed to secure Darfur the rebels will not get in the way, but there will be clashes if the EU troops get in the way of rebel strikes on government positions. The situation in Chad is deteriorating. The rapid pace of development in the security situation is reported in The Irish Times of 8 November 2007. It reported that people are doubtful that the recent peace agreement signed between the Government and the rebels would last. Within two weeks of this report, the rebels had declared their ceasefire to be over and fighting had flared up on 26 November in the area in which the EU mission will be based. The rebels accused the regime of attacking them.

Chad has suffered from political instability. It has faced constant coups, with governments splitting and ministers plotting coups against the existing regime. One risk for the EU force is to find itself based in a country where the government may be deposed by rebels potentially hostile to the French, who are the main component of the EU force.

The lack of physical infrastructure in Chad, the poor quality of airports and the distance between them means that the ability of the mission to offer support to the soldiers on the ground may be severely compromised.

Questions arise as to the ability to supply the EU forces with adequate food, water and medical supplies, should major civil disturbances erupt. With the upsurge in rebel attacks, the EU force might be prevented from receiving necessary reinforcements and air cover and may need to be withdrawn in an extreme case.

The geography and weather conditions in Chad must be taken into account. The temperature rises to 45° Celsius. The EU force must be guaranteed every necessary protection, full air cover and a guarantee that food, water and medical supplies can be supplied in any circumstance and no matter what civil disturbance might arise.

Military planning must cover for every potential development, up to and including the possibility of wholesale civil war; the overthrow of the current regime; a destabilisation of the situation in neighbouring Darfur which may lead to a flood of massive numbers of additional refugees fleeing from Darfur into Chad.

I ask the Minister to confirm whether the Government has invested €43 million of Irish taxpayers' money in companies that are propping up the regime in Sudan, which fuels the conflict. This is reported in one of today's newspapers.

The Deputy should not believe all he reads in the papers.

The mission is necessary and humanitarian and it has the full support of Fine Gael. However, it is a mission that is highly risky. Full protection must be in place for the duration of the mission. This is the most dangerous mission ever undertaken by the Irish Army. If proper protections, facilities and support are in place, the risks may be minimised, if not removed. However, if corners are cut and facilities and back-up supports are not in place and the situation deteriorates, the EU force could find itself in a very dangerous environment, caught between warring rebels, a government with accusations of abuse of human rights levelled against it and masses of refugees from Darfur. This is certainly an exceptionally risky mission. I wish Lieutenant General Pat Nash, leader of the mission, and all the troops all the best. They have served us well and with great distinction in the past. I hope they will have a safe mission.

An extremely important humanitarian issue exists in the Chad, Darfur and general region of central Africa. This mission is in response to a terrible situation with 230,000 refugees from Darfur in Chad. The international community has been criticised for a lack of action in this regard. I am glad to see some action in the form of this undertaking.

The refugees continue to flee into eastern Chad and the north-east of the Central African Republic. Sudanese rebels are carrying out attacks on refugees and local people. The international community and this State have a moral duty to act to relieve the situation.

The legal framework to allow Ireland to participate deserves special mention. This mission is backed by a UN resolution, a decision of the EU Council of Ministers, an Irish Government decision and a decision of the Dáil which represents the Irish people. These important procedures reflect the dangers inherent in this mission and the precautions that must be taken before our soldiers are sent into this dangerous region. This is not a decision to be taken lightly.

I note the political interests in central Africa and the criticism of the Chinese for their role in the region. The more we can do to bring the Chinese on board in dealing with this area, the better.

The French have a historical connection with Chad and with central Africa in general and they have made a significant contribution to the mission. It is important that a neutral country such as Ireland plays a significant role in this mission, under the leadership of General Nash. The mission will then not be regarded as a mission composed solely of the former colonial powers. Ireland's role is very important even though it has been suggested that this involvement is not compatible with our neutrality. It is the responsibility of a neutral nation such as Ireland to provide a leading role in maintaining peace and order in the world.

I am a new Member of the House and I remember the occasion of my participation in the election of the Taoiseach and the Ceann Comhairle as being a joyful time. I speak on this issue with a certain nervousness because this is a motion to send troops into a very dangerous part of the world, a fact that has not been underestimated by any Member of the House. The Government, particularly the Minister for Defence, must carry the burden, but even as a lowly TD I feel a certain burden of responsibility when I speak on this matter and I consider the possibilities of what might happen. I am confident this operation will not commence until all the problems have been ironed out. The Minister has stated that troops will not be deployed until the force commander, General Nash, is satisfied that existing problems have been overcome.

Many members of the Army are based in my constituency in Gormanston camp. They have provided a wonderful service to the nation and have enhanced the reputation of our country. I recall the sacrifices of the loss of life made by the Army. It may be politically incorrect and somewhat American to say that we think of the soldiers in our prayers. Laborare est orare, to work is to pray. I know the Government will work to ensure the operation is as safe as possible for our troops. However, if the situation was safe, there would be no need to send such a mission to central Africa.

The continent of Africa deserves more attention from this Legislature and should be the subject of debates. The Irish nation has contributed missionaries to Africa. I have only visited Africa once when I went to Morocco and I do not think I will return there as a tourist because of the political instability in the area. Anything we can do to maintain law and order and provide humanitarian assistance is very important.

I hope this motion will be supported by the House. I know that all Members will be thinking of the troops who will go on the mission. I know the Government will do all in its power to help General Nash, whose appointment is a significant honour for the country. His appointment enhances our image and reputation abroad.

I commend this motion. I have not heard any voices of opposition to it. I am pleased we are all united and are aware of the risks and dangers. The Minister will do all he can to ensure the safety of the Irish troops.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Joe Costello, and I ask the Acting Chairman to notify me at the appropriate time.

During my time as a Deputy, several motions such as this have come before the House. My concern in this regard is that doubt is always cast as to the safety of the participating troops. However, everyone knows that being a soldier is about soldiering and that danger is always present. All things being equal, I have the utmost confidence in the Minister, the Chief of Staff and Lieutenant General Pat Nash to ensure this will be a true and genuine effort to help the people of Chad and Darfur. Members must be honest in this regard and must highlight that this mission will not happen unless the feedback from Pat Nash to the Chief of Staff and the Minister is completely positive. The Army is second nature to those who live in the constituency I represent. They see soldiers training every day and have neighbours who are members of the Defence Forces. Active units of the FCA operate in the area. People in my constituency know and understand what it is to be a soldier. They know that soldiers want to act as soldiers and to be seen in that position.

This is what is happening in this instance. The Government has responded to a request and will put in place a mechanism, through logistics and everything else, to ensure that Irish soldiers again will play a dominant role in providing peace in part of the wider world. They have done so since 1960 when they served in the Congo and on many subsequent occasions. They have never let down the country. Such service has been an ideal for young people who have sought a profession as members of the Defence Forces. A wonderful standard has been set by the Defence Forces in respect of UN service overseas. I include Naval Service personnel in this regard, although they have not served in the same numbers.

Ireland will provide help by carrying out this mission. One only needs to look at any television channel to discover what is happening to humanity in these regions. Were Ireland able to implant a sense of law and order there that made a difference to the people affected, the effort, time and dedication of the Defence Forces personnel being deployed would be worthwhile.

Problems have been encountered previously and there have been sad times. I have witnessed the brunt of such sad occasions in my constituency when those who unfortunately were killed on active service or through accidents etc. when overseas were brought home. In such circumstances, the entire community joined together with the Defence Forces and the Minister of the day to show their respect and understanding of what had happened. They tried to be part of the greater family of those unfortunate husbands or wives who had lost a loved one. With the help of God, this will not happen in this case.

I will raise one issue. Although only a small group will be deployed in the first instance, Christmas, which is important to every family, approaches. The logistics should be in place to ensure interaction between the soldiers serving overseas and their respective families during that time. My main request today is to ensure this will happen.

One minute remains Deputy.

I will turn to what faces the soldiers. I have visited a number of African countries and have seen devastation arising from hunger and everything associated with it. In this case however, the Defence Forces personnel will have seen nothing that compares to what they will encounter. This is the reason it is so important for Members to show unanimity in agreeing to the Minister's request regarding the deployment of the Defence Forces. In so doing, Members also will give confidence to the members of the Defence Forces to ensure that this mission will be a success, as we all wish. Such confidence will flow from the Chief of Staff, Dermot Earley, a native of County Roscommon who has lived in County Kildare all his life, and through him to Pat Nash etc.

I fully support the motion. I ask the Minister to provide the logistical service that is so important at Christmas time for the families concerned and am confident he will do so.

I thank Deputy Jack Wall for sharing his time with me. Members should be proud of the Defence Forces who have served so well, bravely and humanely in many theatres of conflict throughout the world. Only two weeks ago, I attended the annual commemoration at Arbour Hill of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, IUNVA. The commemoration was for 89 members of the Defence Forces who had died in service abroad under the UN banner. Members must be proud of this record and of the soldiers who are going to Chad. Moreover, they should be proud that although Irish personnel will not comprise a numerical majority of the contingent, an Irishman will lead the force, namely, Lieutenant General Pat Nash. I refer to the new reform treaty being introduced. It specifically makes reference to the neutral status of countries such as Ireland that will not look towards a common European army. Ireland will do the business it has laid out, namely, peacemaking and peacekeeping and this also will form part of our intended future direction.

I have received some documentation on this matter from Amnesty International in respect of human rights issues. In respect of a delay in the arrival in Chad of the main component of the force, it is concerned that were the force to arrive in March or April, that would be too late given the existence of serious issues at present. Although the rangers will be deployed in December, it would be desirable to have in place a major part of the force well before the date currently expected. Perhaps the Minister for Defence will comment on this matter because the situation is quite variable and vulnerable at present. Given its contacts and experience as a non-governmental organisation, Amnesty International is of the opinion that it would be desirable to have the force on the ground much earlier.

Amnesty International also is greatly concerned about existing abuses of human rights. I refer in particular to gender violence directed against women. Amnesty has expressed concerns that women are being targeted by militias and the Chadian military and considers the present position to be serious. Consequently, it advocates the deployment of female Garda and Defence Forces personnel, who may be more in tune with the needs of the situation. Certainly, it suggests that those members of the Defence Forces who are being deployed abroad should be well-briefed on this aspect of the difficulties that are being experienced in Chad at present.

As my colleague, Deputy Jack Wall, has already noted, joining the Army entails a degree of danger. The Defence Forces have served in Lebanon and the Congo and have suffered because of it. However, they have done their duty and have provided an excellent service. I expect the same service will be provided this time. All necessary resources and backup — I refer to the logistics regarding air transport in particular — should be put in place as a matter of urgency and should be available to the highest level when Irish troops go abroad.

I welcome the opportunity afforded to Members to express their view on this deployment which, to quote the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, "is one of the most challenging and ambitious overseas deployments to date."

I have not spoken very often since I was elected. I only spoke once so far and that was on the tragic circumstances of the fire in Bray in which two firefighters lost their lives. There is a certain similarity between these situations because, in effect, we are making a decision to deploy members of our armed forces into an area of the world which is an extremely dangerous one. I acknowledge the fact that all sides of the House support this deployment. It is, as Deputy Thomas Byrne said, a momentous decision to make and one about which, obviously, the families of those who will be sent will have some concerns. We all hope the mission will be successful.

I welcome the fact that since early September 2007 the crisis in Chad has been given greater prominence by the visit of the United Nations Secretary General, who went there to build support for the proposed multidimensional UN mission. The authorities in Chad and the Central African Republic have welcomed a possible EU military presence in their respective countries. The signing of the peace deal in Chad in October 2007, although under some strain now, can still provide an opportunity for greater stability in the region and, with the deployment of the UN mission, an improved environment for assisting and protecting refugees and supporting the distribution of humanitarian aid.

On 25 September 2007, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1778 establishing a multidimensional United Nations mission in Chad and the Central African Republic that will help strengthen security in the region. The mission will focus on the security and protection of civilians, especially refugees, internally displaced persons and civilians in danger, and on human rights and the rule of law in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic. The United Nations element of the mission is targeted primarily at supporting the civil administrations in Chad and the Central African Republic to protect refugees and refugee camps with the support of a UN police element and liaison officers.

I welcome the fact that the EU is intent on launching this operation as a matter of urgency. We receive media reports on a daily basis about attacks on refugees and their camps. I am especially concerned about the welfare of children in that scenario. It is important that we deploy personnel as soon as we safely can.

As has been stated previously, Ireland's participation in European Union-led peace support operations is entirely consistent with our foreign policy commitment to collective security which recognises the primary role of the UN Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security and our tradition of support for the United Nations. This mission can make a major contribution to peace and security in the region and the creation of a safe and secure area for refugees.

I also welcome the fact that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Defence in particular have been positively disposed towards the proposed mission and have supported a positive response from the European Union to the United Nations request for assistance in this mission. I join Members on all sides of the House in welcoming the appointment of Lieutenant General Pat Nash as operation commander of the EU force, together with up to 11 additional personnel, who will be based at the headquarters of the operation. He is to be congratulated on his appointment and we wish him well for everybody's sake.

While I support the mission and the philosophy behind it, I have concerns, which other Members have expressed, and I urge the Minister to bear these in mind. Because the troops will be deployed to an area that is land-locked — it is 1,200 miles from the nearest port — the movement of personnel, goods, equipment and materials to the Irish camp will be a difficult task. I urge the Minister to consider the possibility of ensuring the availability of medium-lift C130 aircraft to support this mission. This will have a positive effect in terms of the time saved in getting to the region where the camp will be located but it can also act as a transporter which would allow personnel to have a break in service during their four-month deployment, which is currently intended to be without leave. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, stated the EU force will be based in stark terrain and temperatures that can reach 45° centigrade. We know the environment will be difficult. I urge the Minister to consider sourcing some medium-lift aircraft and not just to rely on helicopters to support the mission.

Likewise, I urge the Minister to consider the provision of communication facilities for personnel to contact their families. I refer in particular to Internet and e-mail access. At times this facility is supported by the Government but at other times it is not, depending on the location of deployment. In some missions, personnel have to buy their own telephone call cards and pay for access to communications. Given the length of the mission in this case, all efforts should be made to support overseas troops' communications with home.

While the mission presents challenges, we should be proud as a nation that we have men and women in our armed forces who are willing to serve in a situation where there is great devastation and difficulty and where children are suffering greatly, especially through lack of educational facilities, in a conflict that seems to be ongoing and does not appear to be capable yet of a resolution. I commend and support the motion before the House and I urge the Minister to address the points that have been raised by me and other speakers.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this proposal. I join others in wishing those who will represent Ireland safety, health and success in their mission.

It is important that we put this decision in context. It is a very important implementation of a shift in thinking in regard to participation at the United Nations from, for example, humanitarian intervention to humanitarian protection. Humanitarian intervention has an old and somewhat discredited record going back to Mussolini and North Africa. The weakness was always that those who invaded countries would sometimes justify their actions on the basis that they had made a humanitarian intervention. The shift in thinking to humanitarian protection, which I support, has implications for classical constructions of theories of sovereignty. We are living in a world where it is no longer sustainable to suggest that one should use the veil of sovereignty as an absolute block against the vindication of human rights.

This brings me to the second point, namely, the significance of this force being authorised under a chapter VII mandate. This is correct as it enables the force to defend itself and United Nations personnel. Therefore, more force is attached to those who wish the participants well because it accepts the higher degree of risk, which the advice to the Minister has described as medium, and it gives one an idea of the difficulty of the situation. For my part, I would like to think that while our people are there, there will be a better attempt at linking the discourse on human rights with their particular actions of enforcement. There is an incredible gap in understanding in regard to the difficulties in the general region of Chad, the Central African Republic and the Darfur region of Sudan. There have been enormous refugee problems, enormous numbers of internally displaced people and a deepening rather than a lessening of ethnic and other divisions. Perhaps the most significant feature, which is the most tragic in the context of our contemporary history, has been the acceptance of rape and violence against women as a weapon of war and an instrument of oppression in a conflict zone.

With regard to the practice of humanitarian protection, I support the new proposals that have been made, and are acquiring some global support, for a United Nations emergency peace service. We are in a difficult time. It is a difficulty the Irish forces do not share but there have been difficulties about Sri Lankan forces and Canadian forces, who have a very good record with regard to Somalia and so forth. There is a need to wed together the human rights, development and peace building discourses to create the context in which forces such as this do not appear as a fire brigade, without having a theory as to how fires might be avoided.

There are 40 million people in uniform in the world. They have not prevented genocide, nor can we require them to do so. They are, for the most part, responding to genocide and to conditions which are characterised by genocide, including the one we are discussing. In that sense there is a necessity, with regard to humanitarian protection, to be explicit about the legitimate authority and about the real cause to which one is responding and to have the correct intention, which is the primary difference between human rights intervention and human rights protection. It is intention that defines the content of genocide as well.

It is also important that we be explicit about the human rights that are being threatened. In 1998, a total of 120 countries committed themselves to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The task is to turn the principles to which countries have signed up into a durable and operable set of obligations. We should use this opportunity of making our connection with this region and its difficulties as one to make other connections through our human rights or international legal perspectives and, as it were, use it as an attempt to achieve the globalisation of human rights, including their indivisibility and the universality.

One should also remember the context in which our troops are going. Chad, for example, has ratified virtually every international human rights treaty, and this is reflected in its constitution and laws. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has met with the representative authorities in Chad and one could claim to an extent that our forces are arriving in a welcoming environment. However, it is not that easy. I agree there is a necessity for a Chapter VII resolution. Chad is also a high contracting party to the Geneva Convention and has ratified all its additional protocols.

The regular raids by the different forces across the borders are unacceptable. The idea that older women must go out to gather firewood or be involved in agricultural tasks to lessen the risks for all women is indicative of the low level to which humanity has sunk. It is important, therefore, that we recall the context in which our troops are going and not just wish them well but assist the consequences of their good action by making linkages in our human rights and development discourses and in our international politics with what they are doing.

I agree with the Members on all sides of the House that it would outrageous if there were insufficient air transport. In Darfur, for example, it is unforgivable that the African Union force did not have basic means of communication and had to be assisted by NATO. We must ensure that the provision of logistical assistance by our European Union partners is not such as to either delay or mitigate against the effectiveness of Irish participation. We should secure the widest possible public awareness of what UN Security Council Resolution 1778 does. It is aimed at the security and protection of civilians, particularly refugees, internally displaced persons and civilians in danger, and the vindication of their rights. It might be useful if the Minister explained how the European Union joint action fits with the United Nations mission. The UN mission has a particular purpose with regard to civil society. I hope those who would be critical will see that the Irish participation in the European Union joint action is, in fact, in support of the set of principles embodied in the UN mission.

I wish the forces and the commanding officer well. I join the congratulations to Lieutenant General Pat Nash. It is a tribute to him and to Ireland that he has been given such a serious responsibility. I wish all the participants every success.

It is an honour to speak on this important motion. As other Deputies have said, it is of the utmost importance to Members of the House, the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish nation. I support Deputy Behan's call that our troops, when they are abroad on prolonged missions of four months or more such as this, have the requisite means of making contact with their families and loved ones, be it via Internet access or satellite telephones. That is important for the troops' morale in difficult circumstances.

I am proud of the Defence Forces and of the role they continue to play in the protection of vulnerable groups of people throughout the world. Our record in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions over the past 50 years is second to none. The Irish Army and, indeed, Irish people generally are in a relatively unique position across the world in that they are seen as genuinely impartial. Ireland is a neutral country. This is shown in particular in the relationships our Defence Forces built up with all sides in their various missions in Lebanon. It is a striking example of the high esteem in which our Defence Forces are held. It is important, therefore, that we continue to play a positive role in trying to help people in difficult situations and in trying to broker peace and ensure human rights are upheld.

Our Defence Forces work tirelessly for peace and justice in many trouble spots across the world. Currently, over 330 Defence Forces personnel are stationed in 11 different missions. Of that number, 204 are doing invaluable work in Kosovo which permitted the recent peaceful elections there. The decision to send 400 troops to Chad was not taken lightly by the Government. However, Ireland will not be, and never has been, found wanting when asked to assist persecuted civilians. The situation in the Darfur region of Sudan is intolerable. What has happened there over the past number of years is nothing short of genocide. Thousands of people have been persecuted by militia and rebel groups and Ireland must do what it can to protect them.

The main purpose of the mission is to afford much needed protection to civilians in danger, particularly the refugees from Darfur who have fled to Chad. The mission will also facilitate the delivery of much needed humanitarian aid and help aid workers continue their important work by affording them much needed protection. As I mentioned, Ireland will be sending approximately 400 troops on the mission — a number exceeded only by France. Included in the 400 are 50 members of the highly trained Army Ranger wing which recently headed up the mission in Liberia. I compliment members of the Defence Forces and the Army Ranger wing, in particular, on their successful tour in Liberia and the manner in which they conducted themselves in a very dangerous environment.

Participation in such missions is only possible due to the ongoing modernisation of the force which followed publication of the White Paper on Defence in February 2000. The modernisation programme has focused mainly on the creation of additional capacity and capability throughout the Defence Forces in order to meet new challenges such as that presented in Chad. The programme has been successful in reallocating funds from payroll, due to the reduction in the size of our standing defence force to 10,500, and reinvesting them in equipment. The Defence Forces have seen many positive changes in the past seven years, with increases in investment in equipment and infrastructure and continual recruitment to maintain numbers at the agreed level of 10,500. Just as important is the reorganisation of the Reserve Defence Force and improved, enhanced and focused training for all members. Planning of the mission in Chad is still ongoing under General Nash. Much of the equipment being brought to Chad such as the 20 Mowag armoured vehicles and the eight special reconnaissance vehicles was purchased during the modernisation programme. Our forces will be very well equipped.

The safety of our personnel must be paramount on this mission. With this in mind, I add to the comments of a number of other Deputies my concern about certain gaps in the force structure for this mission, particularly in respect of helicopters, tactical aircraft and medical support associated with the launch of this operation. The Minister raised this issue at recent meetings with EU Defence Ministers and it is one we should pursue. As Chad is a landlocked country nearly 2,000 km from the nearest port, these aircraft and helicopters are essential to the success of this mission. As I stated, I am aware the Minister has raised this matter and I wish him well in trying to resolve it.

The Government, particularly the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has been using all available avenues to try to resolve the humanitarian and political crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. The Government must continue to pursue the three main objectives, one of which is to ensure humanitarian aid gets to those who need it without hindrance. The establishment of the force in Chad should help. Another is to put in place a truly international peacekeeping force with a strong mandate for the protection of civilians who need our help. The long-term plan is to achieve an inclusive Darfur peace agreement that will bring lasting stability and allow refugees to return home and live safely in their own countries.

The Minister has visited Darfur and impressed upon the Sudanese Government the importance of a lasting settlement and, more urgently, the need to ensure innocent civilians are no longer persecuted and given the protection they need and deserve. As we know, the Taoiseach has raised these issues at the highest level with the UN Secretary General, President Bush and President Sarkozy. The people are very concerned about the ongoing crisis in Darfur and support the stationing of troops in Chad to assist and protect refugees. I know how proud they are of the important role played by the men and women of the Defence Forces in many humanitarian crises across the world. I wish Lieutenant General Nash and the Irish contingent the very best in this mission. They will perform their duties to the highest standard and the people will be justly proud of them.

Tá stair bródúil againn de bharr taithí saighdiúrí an Stáit a d'oibrigh ar son na síochána thar lear leis na Náisiúin Aontaithe. Chun fios a bheith againn ar an stair spéisiúil atá againn ó thaobh saighdiúrí na hÉireann ag obair lámh i lámh le saighdiúrí ó tíortha eile thar na cianta, ní gá ach féachaint siar go dtí tréibhse imeacht na n-iarlaí. Nuair a chuaigh na n-iarlaí thar lear chuaigh siad isteach in arm na Fraince agus na Spáinne agus sheas siad leo i cogaí san Eoraip.

Le tamall anuas, ó bhunaíodh na Náisiúin Aontaithe, tá tréimhse nua sa domhan. Tá sé tábhachtach, mar sin, go mbreathnódh muid siar ar an fáth a bunaíodh an t-eagras sin agus na fadhbanna a bhaineann leis. Is cóir dúinn tacaíocht a thabhairt i gcónaí don eagras sin agus gach is féidir linn a dhéanamh chun a dhéanamh cinnte gurb é an t-eagras is foirfe é. Mar a dúirt mé sa Teach cheana, ní tharlaíonn sin agus muid ag gabháil le grúpaí cogaíochta mar atáimid sa chás seo le grúpa cogaíochta na hEorpa. Gearann an coincheap sin trasna ar an bhun prionsabal gur chóir go mbeadh na Náisiúin Aontaithe chun tosaigh ag coimeád síochána in áiteanna sa domhan ina bhfuil raic, cogaíocht nó géarchéim de shórt éigin ar siúl.

Aithním go bhfuil géarchéim uafásach sa Sead agus go bhfuil gá le fórsa idirnáisiúnta chun tacaíocht a thabhairt dóibh siúd atá i gcruachás sa tír. Is cóir freisin go mbeadh fórsa síochána ar an talamh sa tír sin, ach ba cheart go dtiocfadh sin go hiomlan faoi smacht na Náisiúin Aontaithe, seachas aon ghrúpa eile. Tá an fhadhb agus an cruachás i Sead ag éirí níos measa, agus ní gá dúinn ach féachaint ar na pictiúir a tháinig ón tír sin le tamall anuas chun a fheiscint cé chomh dona agus atá sé. Is í an fhadhb is mó a bhaineann leis na Náisiúin Aontaithe ná nach féidir cuid de na tíortha san eagras sin a choimeád faoi smacht i dtaobh cá dtéann a gcuid fórsaí. Déantar moilleadóireacht go minic ar chinneadh tuairimí, mar shampla, cinneadh a dhéanamh gur cóir dúinn cuidiú le leithéid Sead i bhfad níos tapúla. Is isteach san achar sin atá leithéid NATO nó grúpa cogaíochta na hEorpa tar éis sleamhnú, áit nach cóir go mbeadh siad. Ba chóir go mbeadh athraithe suntasacha déanta ag na Náisiúin Aontaithe, ionas go mbeadh siad in ann freagra níos tapúla a thabhairt ar fhadhbbanna daonra timpeall an domhain, fadhbanna a thagann chun cinn de bharr teipeanna sa chóras poiblí, mar shampla, ba chóir cinneadh a dhéanamh i dtaobh humanitarian support. Chomh maith le sin, ba cheart dóibh déileáil le fadhbanna a bhaineann le cogaíocht i dtíortha eile.

Sa chás seo, is trua liom nach bhfuil go leor eolas againn mar gheall ar an eachtra seo — an mandate atá i gceist, mar shampla, nó conas a íocfaimid as. Cé chomh fada is a leanfaidh sé? Cad é an toradh deireanach atá á lorg againn sa chás seo?

Dar ndóigh, táimid buartha mar gheall ar an ról lárnach atá ag an bhFrainc san eachtra seo. Cé go mbeidh Lieutenant General Patrick Nash i gceannas ar an bhfórsa, beidh sé lonnaithe i bPáras. Beidh formhór na saighdiúrí sa fórsa seo ón bhFrainc, go bhfios dom. Tá ról lárnach á imirt ag muintir na Fraince san Aontas Eorpach agus leanfaidh sé sin. Ní chóir dúinn dearmad a dhéanamh go raibh an Sead mar chuid d'Impireacht na Fraince uair amháin. Tá ceangal mór fós idir an Fhrainc agus regime Idriss Déby. Tá tacaíocht nach beag á thabhairt ag údaráis na Fraince don regime sin, in ainneoin na ceisteanna móra atá ann maidir le taifead cearta daonna regime Déby agus an leibhéal caimiléireachta atá le sonrú sa tír sin. Ní gá ach féachaint ar an toghchán uachtaránach a tharla i Sead anuraidh, nuair a sheas an freasúra siar — níor ghlacadar aon pháirt sa toghchán úd — de thairbhe an caimiléireacht a bhí ar siúl, ar nós cinsireacht rialtais agus neamhrialtachtaí éagsúla maidir le clárú na vótalaithe. An bhfuil an cheart ag muintir na Fraince, chomh maith linn féin, dar ndóigh, bheith gafa chomh mór leis an Sead? I ndeireadh thiar, is oifigeach na Fraince a bheidh i gceannas ar an dtalamh sa tír sin.

Tá an-bhród orainn maidir lenár páirt sna Náisiúin Aontaithe. Beidh sé deacair orainn an meas atá orainn timpeall an domhain, ó thaobh an seasamh neodrach atá againn sna Náisiúin Aontaithe, a chosaint de thairbhe go bhfuilimid chun ceangal a fhorbairt le grúpa cogaíochta mar seo. Tá an cuma ann ar fud an domhain go bhfuilimid ag taobhú le iar-fórsa impireachta san Aifric. Sa chás seo, is trua liom nach bhfuil go leor eolas againn mar gheall ar an eachtra seo — an mandate atá i gceist, mar shampla, nó conas a íocfaimid as. Cé chomh fada is a leanfaidh sé? Cad é an toradh deireanach atá á lorg againn sa chás seo?

From participation in the EU rapid reaction force to NATO's Partnership for Peace, and now the EU battle group, Ireland is becoming increasingly associated with the fledgling EU army and the military intervention but is also committing increasing amounts of money to acquire weapons of war to facilitate this burgeoning military enterprise within the European Union. For those reasons and ones I have aspoused here in the past, my party is opposed to Irish participation in this force and I outlined that when the first four soldiers were sent.

We have consistently cautioned against the deployment of EU battle groups and we believe the increase in military missions will further boost the militarisation of the EU. We believe battle groups serve the purpose of the EU's military and economic elites and seek to sideline the United Nation's ability to deliver on peacekeeping missions. That is true because what we have contributed to this battle group will not be available to the UN in other fields. There is a deliberate shift in focus from the UN to the EU and it is both dangerous and distructive. The United Nations must be provided with the resources and political support it requires to undertake peacekeeping tasks, including rapid deployment, and ensure that it is not vying with other regional alliances attempting to duplicate its work.

The EU is increasingly involved in seeking solutions to conflicts in Africa by military means and this is reflected by the increasing number of military operations. In addition, the exploitation and pillaging of natural resources and raw materials on that continent by developed nations endanger rights as well as the political and economic future of Africa and its people, especially concerning the resources in Chad. Many of the EU states at present involved are the ones which caused much of the underlying problems and tensions in Africa in the first place, and that has continued since the imperialist stage has ended and new imperialism has sought to exploit the natural wealth of the African nations. That is being carried out by multinational companies based in their former colonial masters' countries such as France and Germany, and in the United States in recent times.

Rather than automatically defaulting to the support of militaristic means to resolve the conflict in Darfur, the Irish Government should be demanding a review of the EU strategy for Africa with the full involvement of the African nations. I reiterate that there is no denying that the position of the people of Chad is dire and requires urgent international peacekeeping and humanitarian support. However, the former must be provided by the United Nations, not outsourced to the EU military force.

I am delighted to get the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on the deployment of the Irish peacekeepers to Chad. I listened to the debate as it developed throughout the day and I support my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, in her comment that there is no such thing as a safe mission. I have great confidence in the ability and professionalism of the Irish troops in the role they will play in ensuring that this operation will be a success.

Since Ireland joined the United Nations in 1955, our peacekeeping forces have enhanced this country's reputation internationally. We have gained a standing as a small, neutral country which has always been prepared to play its part to alleviate humanitarian suffering in many troubled parts of the world and we are now known as an honest broker which strives to build peace in a non-partisan manner. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Ireland's first involvement in overseas peace support operations. Since our soldiers were first sent on overseas duties as part of the United Nations observer group in Lebanon in 1958, we have maintained a continuous involvement in United Nations mandated peacekeeping missions. Our soldiers have served with distinction in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and closer to home in both Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia. However, this service to world peace has not been without a cost and, unfortunately, 85 of our servicemen paid the ultimate price to bring peace and stability to many troubled areas of the world. We must always be mindful of their sacrifices when we are debating issues such as this.

I support the Minister for Defence's proposal to continue this fine tradition of peacekeeping by involving Irish peacekeepers in the United Nations mandated peacekeeping mission to Chad. The border regions of Chad, the Central African Republic and the Darfur area of Sudan are now one of the most volatile areas of Africa. The United Nations has sanctioned this intervention because it regards this instability as a threat to the peace and security of the entire region.

Although Irish people are familiar with the conflict and suffering in Darfur, this conflict has spilt out over international borders and the suffering involved is now seen in a number of countries. In the eastern region of Chad where the Irish peacekeepers will be based, there are now an estimated 236,000 refugees from Sudan. In the same region are an estimated 180,000 natives of Chad who have been driven from their homes by the conflicts in their own country. In addition, 43,000 refugees from the Central African Republic have fled to Chad and another 20,000 to Cameroon. The conflict in Darfur and the many other regional conflicts on the borders of Chad and the Central African Republic have destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands and possibly up to a million innocent men, women and children.

The refugee camps on the Chad-Darfur border, which are now home to up to half a million people, are rife with malnutrition and disease. Children, in particular, are suffering serious levels of deprivation in these refugee camps and it would be remiss of us at this stage if we did not acknowledge the important role Irish Aid workers are playing in refugee camps in the region, trying to bring aid to many of those suffering.

Adding to the suffering felt in the refugee camps are the ongoing campaigns of violence and harassment towards the refugees. The camps have suffered in recent years from attacks by rebel groups based in Chad and from cross-border raids launched by the Janjaweed militia from Darfur. These rebel groups use hit and run tactics to launch quick attacks on refugee camps and then disappear quickly. They operate opportunistically, targeting weaker groups such as refugees and isolated local populations, but they do not appear to have the strength to engage in any form of prolonged fight with stronger forces. The Janjaweed militia has also engaged in a scorched earth policy of burning abandoned villages and poisoning water supplies. Tactics such as these make the resettlement of refugees far more difficult. The ready availability of weapons has presented the problem of aid workers becoming attractive targets for kidnapping for ransom, which adds to the difficulties already faced in the refugee camps.

While a ceasefire has been brokered between the Government of Chad and a number of the main rebel groups, it does not appear to be operating effectively. The two largest rebel groups appear to be abandoning their ceasefires, with heavy fighting taking place this past weekend just 60 miles from Abéche, the town that will serve as the base for Irish military operations in Chad.

The proposed involvement of Irish soldiers in peacekeeping duties in Chad is part of an EU operation under a mandate of the United Nations. On 25 September, Resolution 1778 to establish the United Nations Mission in Chad and in the Central African Republic received the unanimous support of the UN Security Council. The EU force is authorised to support the UN mission to carry out its objectives of protecting all civilians in danger in the region, particularly refugees and displaced persons, re-establishing human rights and the rule of law, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of aid workers by improving security and protecting UN personnel and equipment in the region.

The situation in eastern Chad, Darfur and in neighbouring regions of Africa is one of the most serious humanitarian crises facing the world. I urge all sides of the House to support this proposal to allow Ireland to continue its fine tradition of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid. I hope that all sides recognise that the mission to Chad was established with the unanimous support of the Security Council, the first body in the triple lock process required to authorise the deployment of Irish peacekeeping forces. As the Cabinet has approved this mission, we only require the consent of Dáil Éireann to allow members of the Defence Forces to play their part in alleviating suffering in this most impoverished of regions.

If Dáil Éireann supports this proposal to allow the participation of Irish peacekeeping troops in the mission to Chad, Ireland will play a central role in the mission. We have already been honoured by an Irishman, Lieutenant General Pat Nash, being chosen as the mission's operation commander, which is surely a recognition of the high regard in which the abilities of the men and women of the Defence Forces are held throughout the world. If approval is given by the Dáil, Ireland will have the second largest complement of troops in the mission after France, comprising 10% of the total force.

This mission will be the Defence Forces's most ambitious and demanding overseas assignment to date. However, the significant investment the Minister has made in military equipment in recent years means this will be the best equipped Irish mission to ever go overseas. The Irish contingent of the EU mission will be based on a mechanised infantry battalion group comprising manoeuvre elements and combat support elements. The up-to-date equipment they will bring will include Mowag armoured vehicles, special reconnaissance vehicles and logistical vehicles, a full range of force protection assets and firing capabilities, including mortars and machine guns. This range of modern, state-of-the-art military equipment shows the progress that has been made by the Defence Forces since our first large peacekeeping assignment in the Congo in the early 1960s. It will certainly be our most prepared military contingent to go overseas.

From a geographical point of view, Chad presents a number of challenges that will make this a logistically difficult operation. It is several times larger than any country in western Europe and the nearest port is almost 2,000 km away. Roads and basic infrastructure are almost non-existent and, of the country's two airstrips, only one can handle large aircraft. This will pose considerable challenges in ensuring that our troops are adequately resourced and that they receive every piece of equipment needed to enable them to complete their mission in a safe manner.

There are those who feel that, for these reasons, we should not allow Irish troops to take part in the mission, but I am reassured by the fact that the Taoiseach has already informed the Dáil that the final assigning of troops to Chad will be subject to the force commander being satisfied that these logistical problems are solved. We should also commend the Minister for Defence for the work he undertook at the recent Council of Defence Ministers meeting to ensure these logistical issues are overcome.

While this mission has been assessed as medium risk, the experience the Defence Forces received on their recent successful mission to Liberia will help to minimise the danger to our personnel. One of the greatest challenges our troops will face will be from the local environment, but the environment in Chad is similar to that in Liberia and our soldiers will have knowledge and first-hand experience of what they will face. Militarily, our troops will face similar opponents to those in Liberia, where the rebel groups did not have the capability to engage superior, better equipped and better trained soldiers. Irish peacekeepers in Liberia had little engagement with the rebel groups. French soldiers already on the ground in Chad are reporting that a similar situation exists there and that their strength and equipment is ensuring that the rebels have been unwilling to engage them to date.

I urge all sides of the House to give unanimous support to this proposal. Allowing our troops to engage in a UN mandated peacekeeping mission to Chad will not only enable us to continue our noble tradition of peacekeeping, but it will also help to bring much needed relief to some of the most deprived refugees in the world. I wish Lieutenant General Nash and all the men and women of the Defence Forces who will serve on this mission a successful and safe deployment to Chad.

I welcome the opportunity to support this motion and to commend it to the House. As stated by many speakers, Ireland has a long and noble tradition of foreign service overseas, almost exclusively in the service of the UN. We have participated twice in EU-led missions in Africa.

Given the difficulty and scale of this operation, it merits particular scrutiny. In Dáil Éireann on 9 October, I had the opportunity to debate the appointment of Lieutenant General Nash to the head of the UN part of the mission, a fact of which Ireland should be proud. There are three parts to the mission, namely, the UN, the MINURCAT and Chad police elements. I regret that Deputy Ó Snodaigh is not present, but the tone of his comments was inappropriate. This is not a military mission. Rather, it is a humanitarian and security mission, the primary purpose of which is to secure the lives of innocent people, particularly the women and children in refugee camps who are under considerable threat.

Chad is in central Africa, has a population of approximately 10 million, is largely desert — certainly in the north — and does not have much water. For many years it has been riven by internal strife and life expectancy there is 42 years or 45 years depending on whether one is male or female. The country is commonly referred to as the dead heart of Africa and no place presents more difficulties for an international force in terms of helping refugee camps and other tasks.

Given the difficulties, I do not want to downplay the dedication and professionalism of the members of the Defence Forces. I have no doubt that the operation will be planned in a thoroughly professional manner. I am confident that Lieutenant General Nash and the Minister would not allow the mission to occur except in circumstances where all eventualities had been considered. Nevertheless, the Minister would accept that this is by any stretch of the imagination a dangerous mission to an area in central Africa where there are many hostile groups and tribes, no water and major access problems. I welcome the fact that the Minister addressed the last issue in his speech when he stated: "I can assure the Members of the House that there is no question of the Defence Forces deploying in-theatre without the required enablers being in place." That is an important statement. It is our political responsibility to ensure when military personnel are sent into the field, all necessary precautions have been taken with the necessary equipment purchased and provided. The issue of transport for the mission has been raised. The Minister for Defence has worked hard with his European colleagues to ensure the necessary transport equipment is procured.

The motion must be supported because of the nature and depth of the suffering of so many people in the region. We can take pride, given the wealth in this country relative to one of the poorest countries on Earth, in ameliorating their condition. That is the challenge and the opportunity. When all technical arrangements have been put in place, the Minister should consider going before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to set out in considerable detail, if necessary with the attendance of Lieutenant General Pat Nash, all transport and logistical arrangements that will be put in place before the operation starts.

Troops from the Army Ranger wing will soon embark on a reconnaissance mission to Chad, which is welcome. As the total of the mission will be approximately 4,000 personnel and given the importance of this assignment, it merits detailed scrutiny by the Oireachtas committee on defence matters. I will write to its chairman to suggest such a meeting and that the committee undertakes a detailed evaluation of these technical points.

There was some criticism that this is not a UN mission. This must be scotched as it is one, acted on an agency basis by the EU. If, for example, a similar situation arose in south America, some North American and South American countries would be used on an agency basis by the UN. It is wrong of some Members to suggest this is an EU battle group that takes away from our neutrality. Any Member who claims this is open to a charge of misleading the House. This is a UN-sponsored and approved mission. The only difference is that the Exchequer will foot the bill for this mission whereas under pure UN missions the Army is reimbursed by the UN.

Most Members will agree that Ireland will only participate in missions that have UN approval. It is a cornerstone of our foreign policy. I see nothing in this mission that deviates one scintilla from that core principle. The Minister knows that many backbenchers would be reluctant to give approval to any such mission were it not UN approved.

Ireland can be proud of its contribution to the developing world. Our foreign aid budget stands at €800 million. We will meet the 0.7% target of GDP for foreign aid in 2012, which will amount to €1.3 billion. While this may seem a large amount, it is the UN target. I hope there is cross-party support in arriving at and maintaining this target as there is much poverty and suffering in the world. There is an obligation on the developed world to deepen its commitment to the developing world.

It must also be underlined that Irish foreign aid is not tied as it is with many other countries. Many other countries insist that as part of their aid programmes, their domestic products must be purchased. The value of those products is also included in the calculation of aid given. Irish foreign aid is free, unfettered and generously given.

I pay tribute to those military personnel who will shortly embark on a reconnaissance mission to Chad. I pay tribute in advance to those brave men and women of the Defence Forces who will risk their lives by going on this mission.

I will only be satisfied about this mission when those important issues raised in the Minister's speech have been signed off. The best way to achieve this is by addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights.

In October I welcomed the nomination of Lieutenant General Pat Nash to head up the EU-led UN force in Chad and the Central African Republic. Today, the Dáil will complete approval of the EU force within the special triple lock mechanism, with Cabinet and UN approval already secured.

During the debate on the motion in October, the House heard an array of statistics on Chad and its neighbour, the Central African Republic. Chad suffers from severe economic challenges and low life expectancy rates. For instance, it is unlikely Deputy Mulcahy or I would be alive if we were in a similar forum in Chad. It is in an extremely tense geopolitical and security situation.

Since the first motion was moved, I was a member of a Council of Europe election observation mission to Kosovo for the parliamentary elections held on 17 November and I witnessed at first hand the incredible work being carried out by the Army. I met Brigadier General Gerry Hegarty, commander of the KFOR multinational task force centre, a military regional area that includes the capital, Pristina.

That the Army was the first to take command of this area indicates the high regard in which Irish troops are held. They have long experience in peacekeeping missions, a fact recognised by other nations. I was proud of each Irish soldier in Kosovo, seeing how professional and efficient they are. They act as ambassadors for our country, contributing directly to improving the lives of many in what is a very difficult political situation on Europe's doorstep.

Captain Deirdre O'Rourke of the bomb disposal unit gave the mission a briefing on the dangers of unexploded mortars and landmines. The mission was impressed with her knowledge and experience.

Witnessing the work of an overseas peacekeeping mission highlighted to me the importance of increasing civil and military co-operation. In many cases, the army is the first point of contact between the local populations and the international community. Armies have invaluable on-the-ground knowledge of local terrains and cultures. Often they have higher capabilities and resources than other agencies.

While the Army's core competency may not be deemed to be the so-called softer side of peacekeeping, such as institution-building, building schools and working to improve local economies, it is experienced in this kind of work and is well placed to do more of it.

It does not want to, nor should it, dramatically increase its humanitarian role in these regions. The amount of funding it receives for development should be substantially increased. Will the Minister ask Irish Aid, which does much invaluable work overseas, to strengthen its relationship with the Army? The Finnish army in Kosovo has much more funding for community development programmes than the Irish Army. This engenders a certain amount of goodwill for the Army which will be the first point of contact before many of the NGOs so we should consider it seriously and give more money to the Army in Chad. Irish Aid should identify community projects there on which the Army could work with the NGOs with increased funding. Irish Aid and the NGOs working on their behalf would benefit from the goodwill created by the Army because this will ensure a better outcome in countries which have not had the advantage of developing as quickly as we have. The Army operates efficiently in a structured way when it delivers aid and works with communities, ensuring value for money, which is important.

The political situation in Kosovo is tense as 10 December looms but I support the despatch of Irish forces working to improve the stability and future of such areas because it stabilises them. It has worked in Kosovo and will work in Chad. As a wealthy nation we have a responsibility to be involved in missions such as this one.

The mission to Chad is dangerous because heavy fighting was reported last week between the Chadian army and rebel forces. French participation in this mission is fraught with danger and creates difficulties, of which the Minister is aware but it has benefits too and we should not get bogged down in the difficulties. Logistical difficulties must be resolved and the Minister has been active in this work. Chad is bigger than the UK, Spain, France and Germany put together so it is vital that the troops have sufficient resources. This should not, however, deflect from Irish commitment to the peacekeeping force. The Irish role includes the establishment of a safe and secure environment that will facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and will enable humanitarian staff to carry out their work. I support the despatch of Irish Defence Forces on this mission and wish them every success under the able leadership of Lieutenant General Pat Nash.

Since 2004 eastern Chad has hosted some 240,000 Sudanese refugees, who have fled the fighting in Darfur, in 12 camps. In addition, Chad faces a surge in the number of internally displaced persons now totalling more than 170,000. These people have fled attacks, widespread banditry and criminality, and clashes between rebel and government forces on both sides of the porous Chad-Sudan border.

I undertook some research on the region for this debate. This underlined how diverse the region is and the complexity of its surroundings. Chad is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the south west, and Niger to the west. Due to its distance from the sea and its largely desert climate, the country is sometimes referred to as the "dead heart of Africa". Chad is divided into three major geographical regions — a desert zone in the north, an arid Sahelian belt in the centre and a more fertile Sudanese savanna zone in the south. Lake Chad, after which the country is named, is the largest wetland in Chad and the second largest in Africa. Chad is home to more than 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups making it a cultural melting pot. French and Arabic are the official languages. Islam is the most widely practised religion.

At times in our relatively homogeneous society we forget how diverse other countries can be. Chad is divided into 18 regions. This system came about in 2003 as part of the decentralisation process, when the government abolished the previous 14 prefectures. Each region is headed by a presidentially appointed governor. Prefects administer the 50 departments within the regions. The departments are divided into 200 sub-prefectures, which are in turn composed of 446 cantons. The constitution provides for decentralised government to compel local populations to play an active role in their own development. To this end, the constitution declares that each administrative subdivision be governed by elected local assemblies.

In response to the serious situation in Chad, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution authorising the establishment of a multidimensional mission to provide security and protection for refugees and the displaced, allowing for refugee facilities to return and facilitate humanitarian assistance and Chad and the Central African Republic. The multidimensional presence is mandated to contribute to a more secure environment through monitoring, promotion and protection of human rights and to support efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Central African Republic and the Chadian Governments in meeting international human rights standards. A specific police training element totalling more than 300 personnel will form part of the mission.

Ireland's expected role in the UN mandated EUFORCHAD-RCA mission is welcome. It reaffirms our commitment to humanitarian concerns as the Government plans to increase support for humanitarian and recovery activity in Chad. The recent visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to Chad, during which he visited several camps for internally displaced persons and refugees and met local government and UN representatives, gives us an insight into the seriousness of the situation in the region. We will have an important role to play in this matter because the fragmentation of rebel groups, growing tensions in camps for internally displaced persons and banditry in the countryside are making the tasks facing peace negotiators and humanitarian agencies increasingly difficult. Nobody in the House should doubt that this is a most dangerous mission for our troops.

Since 2002 the stability of Chad has been threatened by armed rebellion arising from clashes between ethnic militia and government forces, incursions by Janjaweed from Sudan and clashes between Arabs and non-Arabs within Chad. The EU military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, entitled EUFOR TCHAD/RCA, was authorised by a joint action of the Council of the European Union on 15 October. In accordance with the mandate set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1778 of 25 September, the joint action included the appointment of Lieutenant General Pat Nash of the Defence Forces as operation commander. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well on his mission.

Last week the Government authorised the Minister for Defence to arrange, subject to Dáil approval, the despatch of a contingent of up to 14 members of the Defence Forces for services with the EUFOR TCHAD/RCA, making Ireland the second largest contributor to this mission, a fact of which we should be proud.

Lieutenant General Nash, as operation commander, has had primary responsibility for the force generation process, which aims to ensure the mission has the capacity to undertake the tasks envisaged for it by the United Nations. Those tasks are to protect civilians in danger, particularly refugees and displaced persons, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and to protect UN personnel. Ireland fully supports the deployment of EUFOR TCHAD/RCA as a means to address the serious security and humanitarian situation in both eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic, in addition to the broader regional dimensions arising from the Darfur crisis. This will undoubtedly be a challenging matter that should contribute equally to improving overall security and respect for human rights in this fragile region.

It is a difficult mission because Chad is an enormous country that is larger than the UK, Spain, France and Germany combined. Ireland has an established record for providing humanitarian assistance to the people of the Central African Republic and since 2006 Irish Aid has provided over €3.8 million in support of UN agencies. The missions that our troops undertake should not go unappreciated and we must remember that our troops are partaking in missions all over the world seeking to restore and maintain peace in volatile regions.

We celebrated the turning on of the Christmas lights today in Leinster House and at this time of year we should remember our troops serving abroad who will be unable to spend Christmas with their families. I wish to acknowledge the contribution of the troops from Sean Connolly Barracks, Longford, in my own constituency, in the service of the State and long may it continue. Sean Connolly Barracks is the heart and soul of Longford and its members, past and present, are involved in all aspects of life in County Longford including charity, sports and culture. The Army touches everything good in our community.

I thank the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea, for his great work in the interest of the nation. This mission will involve risks but such is the humanitarian crisis in the region that we cannot stand idly by. I support the mission because it is grounded in basic human values and I wish all taking part in it well. I trust they will have the support and best wishes of the Irish people.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to address the House on this important debate, which deals with the despatch of our Defence Forces to Chad. I wish our troops well and a safe mission.

This mission is very important and, as has been clear in the media, Chad is an extremely dangerous place to go. I am confident that our soldiers will act in an independent and professional manner. I wish to take this opportunity to commend the work done by our troops, particularly the United Nations forces, in the past 30 or 40 years in places such as Liberia and the Middle East. Irish soldiers have died on these peacekeeping missions but they served international peace and their country well. I stress that they gave their lives for peace and always retained their independence and integrity and this is something we should keep in mind during this important debate.

We all have concerns relating to this mission but it has a UN mandate and is being commanded by Lieutenant General Pat Nash. We are sending 400 troops and the total group will consist of 4,000 troops. It is important that UN peacekeeping missions remain part of Irish foreign policy. Last week concerns were expressed relating to the availability of aircraft needed to transport troops in the regions and the availability of medical teams for the mission. These issues are being addressed at the moment and are close to being resolved because it is important that before we send troops into such a situation the necessary preparations have been made and that medical backup is available. I wish Lieutenant General Pat Nash the best and hope he is satisfied that the proper precautions will be in place for our soldiers.

We must understand, however, that the 400 Irish troops and their UN colleagues are being deployed to assist with the delivery of humanitarian aid and the protection of displaced persons and not to take sides in any conflict. The key to this debate is understanding the purpose of the mission as I outlined because hostilities in Chad are an internal matter. Ireland is expected to commit approximately €60 million to the year-long mission and, while this is a huge expense of which we must be conscious, it is money spent on a decent cause. As Members of the Oireachtas we must ensure we account for money spent on these missions because in many other countries money that could often be spent in other areas such as health and education is squandered on military weaponry. It is important that we are open and honest about this during the debate.

When one examines the details of this conflict one learns there are now more than 180,000 people from Chad internally displaced and 236,000 Sudanese refugees in camps in eastern Chad. Approximatelly 170,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since September 2005 and more than 43,000 refugees from the Central African Republic are in Chad. Some 20,000 people are believed to have fled to Cameroon. Malnutrition has reached alarming levels, particularly among children, and the nightmare that is war is evident throughout the region. Once again families are suffering — men, women and children, the vast majority of whom are innocent victims.

Given the massive wealth and resources available to us in the West, it is unacceptable that we cannot feed and care for children in Africa and other areas. Some 400 of our troops will take part in this humanitarian mission and it is important that we give them our maximum support. No child should suffer from malnutrition, and that should be the focus for all of us.

It is important that we set out our stall in terms of our role in the United Nations and our vision for the future of our foreign policy. I have a clear vision of the role of Irish troops in UN missions. It is within the OSCE and a reformed UN, rather than the EU, that Ireland should pursue its security concerns. We should pursue a policy of positive neutrality and independent foreign policy and avoid joining or forming an association with NATO or any other military alliance. I am strongly of the view that Ireland should seek to promote European and international security through a policy of disarmament and demilitarisation and should therefore oppose all instances of militarisation, particularly within the EU. Ireland should refuse to co-operate with or condone decisions, policies or military groupings that maintain nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction. Irish troops should only serve abroad as peacekeepers under the auspices of the UN.

These are the elements of my view on foreign policy and I ask that they be considered as part of today's debate. Other political parties and individuals have another vision, with which I strongly disagree. It is important that we focus on the purpose of this discussion, which is peacekeeping in the region and assisting those at risk. It is a question of protecting people's lives and facilitating humanitarian aid. I am convinced from listening to Army members, particularly soldiers in my constituency and family members, that they wish to implement a strong, humanitarian and independent foreign policy position on these types of missions. They have shown this before in areas such as the Middle East, where they were respected by all communities and where some paid with their lives. Irish troops built relationships with communities in conflict situations. That is the way forward for the Army and for the UN. I urge the Government to take these views on board. This is my clear policy position and these are my political objectives.

This mission is dangerous but it is important that there are cool and calm heads. The Army's experience in Liberia and the Middle East, and even as far back as the Congo, allowed our troops, through difficult circumstances, to gain significant experience of conflict situations. For a small country, we have made a significant impact on the international stage. The experience, training and leadership offered by these 400 troops will be significant.

Many of us are in favour of radical reform of the UN. Some of the criticism to which it has been subjected is valid. We in Ireland must be more proactive, and so must the UN. There are many good people involved in that organisation and countries like Ireland with sensible foreign policies. We must, however, bring the larger nations with us. Some of this work has commenced but it must become a priority. Like many of my colleagues, I am of the view that the priority must always be peacekeeping and humanitarian endeavour. We must be more proactive within the UN in regard to conflict resolution.

We can learn from our own experiences abroad, whether in the Middle East, Liberia or the Congo. We can also learn from the experience of some 30 years of conflict on this island, which resulted in more than 3,000 deaths. We have no need to hide behind the door when it comes to assisting other countries. I welcome the establishment by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, of the conflict resolution unit. This is an issue on which I focussed in the talks leading to my agreement with the Taoiseach. This unit could make a major contribution to the development of sensible foreign policy and to assisting in the resolution of foreign conflicts. We should not be ashamed to use our own experience of the peace process.

On 25 September, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution No. 1778 establishing the UN mission in Chad and the Central African Republic. This will strengthen security in the region. Above all, I am hopeful that it will save lives. Since 2004, eastern Chad has hosted, in 12 different camps, some 240,000 Sudanese refugees who fled the fighting in Darfur. I wish our troops well in this important mission. I hope they will all be safe and I commend them on their valuable work.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this issue. We all extend our good wishes to the Irish troops travelling abroad on the mission to Chad. They will, as always, serve us in the proud tradition of service they have established since the 1960s. Irish troops have carved out their own niche as international peacekeepers. They do not quibble about the service they give, for which we owe them a great debt of gratitude. They go where they are sent and do so without demur. They have done us proud over the years.

However, I am not certain whether the force being sent to Chad is sufficiently strong. The small pocket battleship type of force is fine, but in a large territory with major problems, as is the case in Chad, a larger force is preferable. I have attempted for years to promote the notion of increasing the strength of the Defence Forces to allow for overseas deployment without depleting the force at home. If I were a member of the Defence Forces, I would like to see strength in numbers as troops are sent further afield. That would be reassuring for the troops themselves and would also be important in conveying the peacekeeping message in the location to which they are sent. If an opposing force or army sees that a peacekeeping force is particularly small, it may have a particular attitude to it. It is important that the force is sufficiently strong.

The next important consideration is that the troops be adequately equipped both for the climate and for the types of life-threatening situations that can and will arise. We have learned much from past experiences and that will stand the troops in good stead. From what we can glean from the replies to parliamentary questions, I understand the force will be well equipped.

I have observed in the past that Irish troops often rely to a great extent on supply and transport to other forces that may be engaged in peacekeeping alongside our particular deployments. I am not convinced this is a positive arrangement. It is preferable that our troops be self-sufficient in such circumstances. In the course of a debate many years ago about how far back Archbishop McHale could trace his lineage, somebody made the cynical suggestion that he must have been in the Ark. To this the Archbishop responded that the McHales had a boat of their own. It is essential that in future we develop our supply of transport — helicopters, in particular, for those kinds of missions. I say this without discussing the matter with the military establishment in my constituency or elsewhere. We should consider this in future as a major capital investment, given that our Defence Forces are likely to be deployed in these and other similar circumstances.

I do not agree with my colleague on the other side, the Government backbencher, Deputy Finian McGrath.

The Deputy means I am an Independent.

I do not agree with him on the restrictions he seeks to place on our Defence Forces. Our Defence Forces must be and are prepared to engage in whatever conflict arises. They have shown strength and determination to do that very effectively in the past, and I have no doubt they will do it in future.

The European battle groups, which have been referred to with disdain in some quarters, are an area in which we, as good upright members of the European Union, will be expected to contribute. I see nothing wrong with that as our Defence Forces are supportive of the notion. They wish to involve themselves in training and security enforcement which may be necessary in certain circumstances. We do not always call it peacekeeping and this will emerge to a far greater extent in the future than we have seen in the past.

I have listened to the Minister in the past and I know he takes issues as they come. Sometimes it is very difficult to understand what he has in mind for the future but we are at one on this matter.

This in no way infringes on our neutrality as it is a commitment by the Irish Defence Forces, in the context of the European Union and in keeping with the triple lock mechanism, to ensure we are seen to be making a worthwhile contribution to European defence and security. That is part and parcel of membership of the European Union and we cannot walk away, pretending we have no responsibility in the area.

Today we had a delegation before the Joint Committee on European Affairs from the Serbian Parliament, which was led by a senior member. It is sad to think of the events which occurred within the European Continent in the past 14 or 15 years. One shudders when visiting the Balkans and seeing that strife was so violent, the cemeteries are full to the gates. The only difference between the sides is that on one hand the people are Christians and on the other they are Muslim. It does not make any real difference as they all died. These people died on our doorstep, as the European Union at that time had the strength but not the will to deal with the matter. That is something we must consider in future in the context of peace enforcement by the European Union groups. I have no doubt they will be called upon.

As others have stated, the role in Chad could be quite difficult. It is not any more difficult than some of the tasks which have come the way of the Defence Forces in the past and I have no doubt they will be well capable of handling it. We must realise it could be a different scenario from some of the other matters we have dealt with in the past. For that reason I have mentioned the possibility of increasing the strength of the contingent. Such an option, along with ensuring adequate supply and transport facilities are made available, could ensure the Defence Forces become self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency is very important in this type of action.

Some weeks ago I was watching a television programme late one night which showed that in an African country not so long ago, a protracted outbreak of violence took place as a result of which some 500,000 people were killed. This occurred mainly because nobody was there to intervene. An outside authority intervened but to no avail. No outside body was in a position to intervene to act as a buffer in the conflict taking place. As time goes on the developed world is expected to contribute to such situations in a positive manner, which this deployment will do. I have received answers to various parliamentary questions but I believe there is a case to be made for increasing the strength of the Defence Forces, as well as the scale and extent of their commitment and hardware in view of the extra responsibilities thrust upon them.

Is cúis áthais é dom deis a bheith agam chun cuidiú leis an rún an-tábhachtach seo, atá ar chlár an lae inniu faoi bhráid na Dála. Tréaslaím leis an Aire Cosanta, an Roinn Cosanta agus an Airm uilig as ucht an seirbhís iontach náisiúnta agus idirnáisiúnta atá curtha ar fáil acu ar feadh na blianta fada.

It is a great pleasure for me to support this motion and I commend the Minister for Defence on the leadership he has given in military matters in this country and the key role he plays. Anybody considering our Constitution would acknowledge the very critical importance of the Minister for Defence in that Constitution, reporting directly to the President of our country, the Supreme Commander of our Defence Forces.

This motion coming before us this evening demonstrates the importance of this Parliament, our democracy and our neutrality. Every decision taken on external military matters is brought before Parliament, including the appointment of General Nash as force commander of the group going to Chad. The matter was debated in the House and passed unanimously. We are returning to discuss the motion before us.

This motion is the second element of the triple lock mechanism, made up of a Government decision, ratification by the Dáil and the initial UN request. These are all being fulfilled here on behalf of Parliament through its elected Members by the Minister for Defence. I salute him and his colleagues for their outstanding work, both in the Department of Defence and in all of our military operations across the country. They have brought significant success and great honour to this island over the years.

I have a very special interest in defence matters, going back to my election to this House in 1982 and subsequent to that my first appointment as a shadow Minister for Defence in 1983, a position I held for four and a half years. I had a very good relationship with the then Minister for Defence, Mr. Patrick Cooney. We had a common understanding and he gave me a significant opportunity to partner with him on many occasions in many of the military activities which took place around the country. I value that experience.

My brother-in-law recently retired as an officer of the Irish Army, so I have a personal interest in these matters. In particular, I remember my primary school days in 1962, when we deployed our first force to the Congo. We lost a number of great people there, one of whom was a family friend. Those people gave their lives on behalf of Ireland in the cause of world peace.

That has happened on a number of occasions, with different missions throughout the world. On at least two occasions I have had the opportunity to visit our forces in Cyprus and in Bosnia. I have also met members of the Garda Síochána, who are partnering with the Army on United Nations duty there. Like all public servants who serve our country with such distinction, both nationally and internationally, the contribution made by the Garda Síochána and the Army in international fields, dark and difficult places far from home in the cause of world peace, has been absolutely phenomenal. It has brought great distinction to our country.

One can look at the success of the Army in every facet of its activity, be it military or extra-curricular action in equestrian or other sports. We can see how the Army has been a role model for the people of Ireland and the youth of our country. Today I salute all members of the Army, past and present, one of whom at least who has had a distinguished career in the Army is here tonight. I pay tribute to him and all other members of the Defence Forces who have served in Parliament during the years.

They have made a major contribution in bringing their expertise and professionalism to Members of the House like me who have not had the privilege of wearing the uniform on behalf of the country, even though that would have been our desire.

This force which will be made up of approximately 400 Irish members will equate to approximately 12% of the entire force on this small island. It is critical that we continually serve international peace and give an opportunity to members of the Defence Forces to serve the country across the world, taking into account the exigencies, risks and challenges to be faced and the criteria to be met in what in most cases are dangerous missions. They have carried their responsibilities with great distinction, regardless of their location or the challenges facing them. Anybody who has had an opportunity to visit different parts of the world where members of the Defence Forces have served with such distinction will know at first hand from citizens of those countries of the even-handed, humane and dignified way they have conducted themselves, the integrity they have brought to their job and the respect they have earned, both from those who were part of a conflict and ordinary citizens who wanted to live in peace.

In my former position as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs I had the opportunity to discuss the situation in Chad, Sudan and the surrounding area on a number of occasions in the past three years at various European meetings. There has been a constant demand that the elected politicians of Europe give leadership and make a positive contribution to bring stability, human rights, dignity, protection and opportunity to these unfortunate peoples. It is tragic that so many displaced people, particularly women and children, have found themselves in this desperate situation. It is important that the House give full and unequivocal support to the motion in order that we can be seen as a nation to make a key decision in 2007, again enhancing our reputation as a country that makes such a major contribution to the achievement of peace across the world.

Alongside this, we have our contribution to overseas aid. The overseas development unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs has done great work. I salute the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, on the work he is continuing, carrying on from his predecessors, in a very important area.

I am delighted that a large part of the composition of the force will come from the Western Command. I am proud to come from a Gaeltacht county. While the Western Command headquarters is based in Athlone, the only Gaeltacht operation and Irish language-speaking unit in the force is based at Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa in Renmore in the suburbs of Galway city. It is named after Liam Mellowes, one of our great patriots. I salute all those involved in Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa, as well as in Custume Barracks in Athlone and the different parts of the Western Command functional area for their contribution during the years, with their colleagues in all other command areas.

This experience which is critical for us as a nation is vital for the development of the Army. We have some of the best and brightest in the Defence Forces. In one of my former offices, as Minister of State with responsibility for science and technology, when we did our utmost to drive the science agenda and ensure we would build an economy that would embrace opportunities for our brightest and best, we looked at the resources of State in Departments and agencies. Among the best supporters we had were the members of the Defence Forces. At many science weeks and science exhibitions we were able to have outstanding large displays of both——

The Deputy has one minute remaining.

Apologies, I thought I had about an hour left.

The Deputy could go on for two hours.

We had large displays of both men and women, as well as equipment and technology from outstanding brilliant skilled personnel in the Defence Forces, for which I thank them.

As a member of the IPA's UN reform committee, I had the privilege on 19 November to visit UN headquarters in New York and meet Assistant Secretary General Orr. One of the requests made was for Ireland to play a major role in Chad. I provided full assurance on behalf of my parliamentary colleagues that the Minister for Defence on behalf of Ireland was doing his utmost to ensure we could expedite our contribution as rapidly as possible. I salute the Minister and his colleagues. I am proud to be a Member of this House where democracy prevails and we have the final say on where our military men and women should go in the cause of international peace and justice.

I am delighted to be here to say a few words. It was very enlightening listening to Deputy Treacy. In my time in the Army I remember that Tynagh Mines was a black spot for a person serving in the military. We had to carry out an unthankful duty in that area out beyond Loughrea. I wish the troops of the Western Command and the Army Ranger Wing in the initial stages the very best of luck on this mission.

The motion has been tabled as a result of UN Resolution 1778. Many have expressed concern that this is a mission to a very remote area with an assessment of medium danger. I would be concerned that from the international community's point of view there may be a certain degree of appeasement because we cannot do anything in Darfur or Sudan because the Sudanese Government does not want troops other than African Union troops and that this is the next best thing. While I suppose it is better than doing nothing, we need to consider how the international community is hamstrung from the point of view of assisting in Sudan where many tens of thousands are dying.

Many contributors have spoken about the logistical difficulties of the mission which certainly will be difficult. It will be difficult to identify the various factions on the ground. People change sides regularly; it is not like here in Ireland where if one had a group of Kerrymen coming at one, one would identify them quickly.

The Deputy's fellow countymen are very lucky to have recruited one of ours.

They will not be sending Mick O'Dwyer back to us too quickly.

It is very unusual to meet an enlightened Kerryman, which we have in our new manager in Wicklow.

On a serious note, Deputy Treacy spoke about the triple lock arrangement which the Minister also mentioned. I am a strong opponent of it for the following reason. In Kosovo we have made a great contribution in a few short years. Depending on how things go there in next few weeks, it is possible that our role could be made redundant as the UN resolution may become null and void. I do not know whether the Minister has sought legal advice on the matter. We could be left with a situation where nothing will have changed on the ground other than the Kosovars might make a unilateral declaration of independence. Our force could end up being there illegally and we could be forced to withdraw from Kosovo which, in purely pragmatic and practical terms, would be very difficult to explain to the international community and ourselves.

I appreciate the work the United Nations does. However, as I have mentioned in the House before on occasion, we use the concept of the United Nations as a comfort blanket. We are mature enough as a state to be able to make our own decisions. If the situation evolves, I would deeply regret having to cease our involvement with KFOR owing to the difficulty regarding the triple lock arrangement which was inserted as the Seville declaration on the Nice treaty. I am not certain what the substance of that declaration is.

I ask the Minister to address the following issue. Where would we stand if difficulties were to arise and we needed the assistance of NATO to move into or out of the area? I am not advocating that we join NATO, as people sometimes believe. It was something of which the former Deputy, Gay Mitchell MEP, was accused on occasion. While I am not advocating it, I certainly see no difficulty in seeking assistance from it. What will happen if the only mechanism available to us if we are to ensure the safety of our troops in this region is to avail of NATO resources?

Like Deputy Treacy, I got a briefing from the UN on the situation in Chad a couple of weeks ago. Having listened to a French officer who went to Chad on a reconnaissance mission, my initial doubts about the safety and security of this mission have been assuaged. I accept that one can never predict what will ultimately happen in a volatile area. I am satisfied that the mission will have enough resources to protect itself and that it will be secure. I am not sure about the long-term future of the mission and the ultimate success or otherwise of this endeavour. Given that there are several hundred refugees in this region, it is important for the EU troops to build good relations with the locals and gain their trust.

That Chad was a French colony for a long time is advantageous in the sense that the French authorities know the lie of the land, but disadvantageous in the sense that colonial powers can bring baggage with them. Can the Minister give us more details about the case of a group of children who were being moved from Chad to France? This matter received a great deal of publicity a few weeks ago. I am not sure whether the Minister addressed this subject in his speech, as I did not go through it in detail. I understand that French diplomats intervened to ensure that many of those involved were allowed to return to France. What is the current situation in that case? I understand that it might not have been a once-off occurrence — it might have been happening on a regular basis. I would like some more information because it is important to have such details if we are to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable communities by people from other countries. A force that comes to such a society without any baggage can suffer if a difficult environment has been created by the sins of its predecessors.

It is important that this mission should have a clear role. I am sure Lieutenant General Patrick Nash, who is very professional, and his staff will ensure that is the case. Our troops need to have the ability to deal with the difficulties they will encounter in Chad, such as the physical infrastructure there. I appreciate the difficulties which will be encountered within families when members of the Defence Forces leave for Africa at the start of December, just before Christmas. I wish them well.

It is easy for societies, nations and international communities to talk about intervention and the provision of assistance. It can be much more difficult to undertake the practical tasks which are involved in making peace. Deputies will be aware of the problems associated with trying to resolve local conflicts in our constituencies. I refer to street fights and tensions between families, for example. The difficulties associated with making a difference at international level are obvious, therefore.

It is important that we acknowledge the role played by peacekeepers in the past. Many Irish families have lost loved ones on UN missions. As I have said to the Minister and his predecessor on many occasions, we need to provide for the upkeep of the monuments which have been erected in many countries where Irish people have unfortunately been killed. Irish troops are no longer present in south Lebanon, for example, but memorabilia commemorating those who died there are still in existence. We should find a way of ensuring that these memorials are maintained.

I will conclude by speaking about the slightly related issue of the many Irish servicemen who fought overseas in the First and Second World Wars. We are often unaware that people from our own communities died in such conflicts. While those who went abroad and gave their lives in the world wars for what they saw as the freedom of small nations have been officially recognised in recent times — we have come a long way in the last few years — the time has come to try to remember them in their own communities, where they have been forgotten in many instances. We should do something to remember such people.

I support the motion before the House and I wish the force well.

I am sensitive about following an accomplished speaker like Deputy Timmins, who has a strong background in Army affairs. I appreciate the point he has just made, which we should all support. I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly during this important debate. I do not want to upset Deputy Deenihan, but I might do so because I am about to praise the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, who is doing a very good job.

That is an unusual statement.

The Deputy has told me not to praise Ministers so often, but I think we should praise Ministers when they deserve to be praised.

The Deputy could do with not mentioning Tallaght so often.

The Minister for Defence is doing a great job as far as I am concerned.

The Minister is getting embarrassed.

I hope the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will allow me to refer briefly to the interesting interview the Minister gave on "Morning Ireland" this morning. It was full of excellent information. Those of us who heard the interview will be aware that just as it was ending, the Minister spoke about the case of Robert Tobin and Michelle Mahon, whose housing difficulties have been the subject of a great deal of publicity over the last couple of days. I appreciate that this does not pertain to the motion before the House. I was not aware that Mr. Tobin and Ms Mahon were Army people. The Minister showed a great deal of care by offering to assist them, as Mr. Tobin said when he spoke on "Morning Ireland" subsequently. I was glad to read in today's Evening Herald that progress has been made in this case with the co-operation of the Law Society and the Ulster Bank. In fairness to the Minister, he went out of his way in his handling of the issue this morning. I applaud his work in this case. I am glad that some progress has been made.

I have listened carefully to the speeches which have been made throughout today's debate. I cannot claim, as Deputies Kelly and O'Rourke did, that there is an Army barracks in my constituency. The Minister, Deputy O'Dea, is aware that I have taken an interest in defence matters over recent times. Many serving Defence Forces personnel come from my constituency. Like other Deputies, I sincerely applaud the efforts made by the Army and the rest of the Defence Forces over a long period of time. I wish our troops well as they prepare to go to Chad.

Like some previous speakers, I come from a generation that remembers the funeral services in Dublin of our heroes who were killed in the Congo. I was quite young at the time and had not yet left school. Members may recall that children were given a day off school. I went to the funerals, which were very sad. I am sometimes unable to remember things which happened yesterday, but I often recall clearly details of things which took place a long time ago. That episode in Irish history — a number of the Irish soldiers who went abroad in 1962 to do a job that needed to be done lost their lives in Africa — left a lasting impression on me. Some aspects of that sad episode were unresolved for over 40 years. It was another example of the kind of heroism Irish people have shown on many occasions over the years, including on other missions. It is important, therefore, to wish the men and women who will represent Ireland on this occasion well.

It is important to put this discussion in context. It is difficult to say something new during a long debate like this, as many Deputies have spoken already today. In September of this year, the UN Security Council authorised a resolution establishing a multidimensional UN mission in Chad and the Central African Republic. We have been told that the mission will help to strengthen security in that region. I understand that the mission's comprehensive mandate focuses, as it should, on the security and protection of civilians who are in danger, particularly internally displaced refugees; human rights; and, the rule of law in east Chad and north-east Central African Republic. This EU military mission is authorised, under chapter 7 of the UN charter, to support the UN and take all necessary measures within its capabilities and its area of operation to fulfil its mandate.

I share an interest in Africa with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle — both of us are members of the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa. Since 2004, eastern Chad has hosted approximately 240,000 Sudanese refugees, who have fled the fighting in Darfur, in 12 camps. I understand that Chad is facing a surge in the number of refugees. The authorities in Chad and the Central African Republic have welcomed the possible EU military presence in their respective countries. I understand that the Chad mission will complement the planned United Nations-African Union hybrid mission, which is to be launched by the UN in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, by limiting the potential for the Sudanese conflict to spill over into this region.

I attended my first meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body in recent days. I was happy to get that assignment, as it was something I wanted to do. They gave me a tie which I decided to wear today since we were discussing the mission to Chad. I was appointed as a member, with other colleagues on one of the sub-committees dealing with European affairs and European defence issues under the chairmanship of a Conservative MP, Mr. Robert Walker. We discussed missions of this sort and great interest was expressed in what Ireland was doing. It is good to see the reputation of this country flying high. There was a time when there was a different atmosphere between Irish and English politicians. I am glad to say I am not from that generation. There is now an understanding between nations. I have the impression that the reputation of Ireland is gaining and that this mission is welcomed by other countries.

The Minister will be interested to know that the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body is proposing to send a delegation to the Paris headquarters to discuss a number of issues with Lieutenant General Pat Nash. I hope to be given the opportunity to participate in that visit. It is important to honour the Irish mission and what General Nash hopes to achieve.

Lieutenant General Nash comes from Limerick and I am confident he will bring his professionalism to the job. He follows in a line of other Irish military personnel who have served in similar capacities. I refer to General Seán McKeown who served in the Congo in the 1960s, General Jim Quinn who was in Cyprus and a man I remember well and General Bill O'Callaghan, the mission commander in the Lebanon. Lieutenant General Nash is following a tremendous tradition of Irish Army officers who have led important missions abroad. I wish him well, as will every Member of the House. The Army has a great reputation and it is being given an opportunity to undertake this important role. We all look forward to the roll-out of the programme.

I listened to contributions from colleagues from across the floor of the House who expressed their concerns. I have confidence in the Army leadership and that of the Minister for Defence. However, people are worried about the challenges and difficulties to be faced in Chad. It is right to be cautious. Other Members asked the Minister to ensure all resources would be provided for the Irish troops and I have confidence in him. The public does not wish to send our troops into dangerous situations without being properly equipped and resourced. I wish our forces well.

This motion deals with the security of the Defence Forces personnel and the humanitarian aid being delivered. Arising from the conflict, more than 180,000 internally displaced Chadians and 236,000 Sudanese refugees live in camps in eastern Chad which is where our troops are going. They will protect these refugees and displaced persons from starvation, rape and attack, until they can return to their homes. The EU mission to Chad will complement the planned UN-African Union hybrid mission being launched by the United Nations in Darfur by limiting the spillover potential from the conflict in Sudan.

As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of the motion. At last Wednesday's meeting of the joint committee, it unanimously welcomed the Government's decision of the previous day to send 400 Irish troops to Chad once they were supported with the resources and equipment they needed.

The question of resources has been raised many times during the debate. The Minister has informed the House that the intention is to have initial operational capability on the ground in December, with the operation fully functional by the end of March 2008. While troop contributions are broadly in line with the requirements identified by the operational commander, gaps in the force still remain, particularly in vital elements of the structure such as helicopters and tactical aircraft and medical support associated with the launch of the operation. The Minister is right to highlight these defects and shortfalls which are being actively examined and addressed by EU military staff in consultation with the operational commander. At the recent meeting of EU Defence Ministers the Minister expressed his concerns and urged his colleagues to re-examine the shortfalls and actively support the mission.

Members will wish to ensure the mission is adequately resourced and capable of fulfilling its mandate. The Minister has given an undertaking to the House that there is no question of the Defence Forces deploying in theatre without the required enabling mechanisms being in place. I welcome his assurance, as will all Members. The European Union must not fall short as the situation is too dangerous. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs will monitor the progress of this mission. We plan to visit the Irish UN force in the field when it is fully established.

Ireland has a long and proud tradition of participation in UN peace missions which extends back almost 50 years. Members may recall two of the more prominent and dangerous missions undertaken by the Defence Forces; its participation in the UN peacekeeping mission in the former Belgian Congo in the 1960s and in the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon from its establishment in 1978. Ireland has also provided military personnel for other UN missions such as to Cyprus and Egypt. In more recent years our forces played a highly valuable and distinctive role in bringing peace to Liberia and have contributed in that mission to new thinking about how conflict resolution should be addressed, with humanitarian aid and follow-up support.

In all these missions our forces behaved with great distinction and won many honours. However, the missions in the Congo and Lebanon were also dangerous and brave Irish soldiers were lost in both missions. We have learned that UN peacekeeping operations are not without risk. As a small country, Ireland has punched above its weight in UN peacekeeping missions. When it comes to the difficult work of peacekeeping, our officers and soldiers are internationally recognised as being second to none when it comes to deploying the necessary skills in the cause of keeping the peace in post-conflict situations.

Conflict resolution, security and peace are the foundations on which politics and democracy and economic and social development can flourish. In this new operation in Chad all the experience and skills which the Defence Forces have developed during the years will be put to the test. Everyone recognises that this will be one of the most difficult missions undertaken by the Irish Army. Chad poses immense challenges.

The conditions on the ground will not be easy, the terrain is difficult and the hot summer climate will pose a real challenge to the Defence Forces personnel. For this EU-UN peacekeeping operation to be successful, it must be fully resourced and the force must have all the necessary equipment at its disposal to ensure that the soldiers can carry out their mission in the manner expected, both in Ireland and in the broader international community. This includes the capability to move quickly and reconfigure when necessary. It is a matter of great pride for Members that the force commander is Lieutenant General Pat Nash. His appointment to this important position is a testimony to the high regard in which members of our armed forces are held by the United Nations. Members wish him well in this difficult undertaking and wish well to all who go with him, as well as a safe return.

The function of the force will be to establish a safe and secure environment for the many thousands of refugees who have fled into Chad to escape the horrors that have been inflicted on them in Darfur. The force also will be required to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the refugees. Additionally, the force must protect UN and humanitarian personnel. These three tasks will require the deployment of all the skills our soldiers have learned from our extensive peacekeeping experience. I am confident they will carry out their mission in the most professional manner possible and that they will be able to so do in the knowledge that they have the full support of this House and the people as a whole.

By now, the Minister for Defence and his officials must be experts on the geography of Chad and on the numbers of internally displaced people. I will do my best not to continue to read those facts into the record. On a more serious note, this will be an extremely tough assignment and it poses a real challenge to our forces and to all who will accompany them into the heart of Africa.

I note that Chad has been a killing field for many generations. This has been the case since its civil war in the early 1960s and internal conflict continued into the late 1980s. Many civilians in Chad are under attack by the Janjaweed and others as the conflict to the east spills across the border. I note that Forbes magazine, not normally a publication to which I pay much attention, has placed Chad at the top of the list of the world’s most corrupt nations for what may turn out to be the single most piggish use of philanthropic funds. I refer to proceeds from a project funded in part by the World Bank to build an oil pipeline through Chad and Cameroon. It was supposed to have been ring-fenced by President Déby’s government to assist and feed the desperately poor people of these nations. Instead, approximately $30 million was diverted to buy arms to keep in power the government of President Idriss Déby. Corruption and danger certainly are present in Chad and there is a huge amount of death, destruction and conflict.

I found it interesting to observe the debate in recent months on the need to ensure that our troops do not face undue danger in the conduct of their duties. Achieving this will rely greatly on the resources of the Army and, more importantly, on the resources made available by others in that area. Were the conflict to escalate and were the simple logistics of feeding, watering and providing logistical back-up not to happen, it could leave our troops exposed. In common with all other speakers, I wish the members of the Defence Forces a peaceful and successful mission in that country. The scale of the problems they will face is enormous and they will see at first hand the poverty, malnutrition and difficulties faced by the people of Chad. Undoubtedly, Pat Nash will be able to face this challenge. Irish troops have performed in many countries to date and Lieutenant General Pat Nash must be satisfied that his troops will not be in undue danger. I am sure he will so satisfied. I note that hundreds of rebels have been killed in the region in recent days in clashes with the Chadian Government and there is no easy end to the problems they will face there.

I intend to read into the record some of the concerns that Amnesty International has brought to Members' attention regarding the problems of Chad. It has pointed out that much of the conflict has spilled over from Sudan and that the Janjaweed has extended its activities into eastern Chad with attacks on communities that began approximately four years ago. Initially, these consisted of small-scale raids aimed primarily at stealing cattle. In more recent times, however, the levels of weaponry, violence and destruction have escalated. There have been many accounts of groups of women being attacked and raped. There is a particularly awful account regarding the village of Djorlo, in which the Janjaweed raped seven women who had taken refuge in a mosque. The women were captured, beaten and raped. It is for these reasons and many more that Ireland will do its best to play its role on the international scene and to demonstrate that it is there for the most disadvantaged on earth. Ireland has a long record of humanitarian assistance by missionaries throughout the 20th century and through overseas missions of the Defence Forces. More importantly, this mission shows that in the 21st century, Ireland is providing both assistance through Irish Aid and the humanitarian and peacekeeping back-up that is required for those who are threatened in Chad.

Democracy is at great risk in Chad. Moreover, civil liberties are under threat and hundreds of people have been killed there in recent days. On behalf of the Green Party, I support this mission in Chad. The Green Party shares the concern to ensure our troops will be as safe as possible. It seeks the establishment of a safe and secure environment for refugees and internally displaced people, as well as the protection of United Nations and humanitarian personnel. The Green Party is satisfied that the triple lock will be in place, that is, the UN, the Government and the Dáil will approve this mission. On behalf of my Green Party colleagues, I wish the members of the Defence Forces a safe journey and a successful mission. I am sure they will learn much from the people they encounter there.

All too often, Africa is in the news for the wrong reasons. It is important to acknowledge Africa's enormous cultural importance. I refer to its rich history and I am sure our troops will learn from its rich musical heritage, of which I am a fan. Moreover, there have been fantastic successes in Africa in recent years and it is important that Members do not spend all their time considering its trouble spots, dangers, difficulties and problems. Members should welcome and give thanks for the culture, music and history of Africa. Undoubtedly this mission will lead the Irish people to learn more in this regard and hopefully it will lead to some of the richness of that culture being brought home. We will be all the better for it and we will be able to hold our heads slightly higher on the international stage.

I commend the Minister, his Department and the Defence Forces on agreeing to send members of our Defence Forces to Chad. Like previous speakers I acknowledge the huge problems they will face when they go to Africa. The concern of the Government and of the European Union about the situation not just in Chad and its neighbouring countries but on most of the continent of Africa is a source of ongoing concern to the wider public and democracies in general.

On a personal note I am hugely disappointed that the countries of Africa, which have come from a background of colonisation but which received their independence, for complex reasons appear unable to embrace the concept of democracy. We have sham democracies in a number of African states. Many African countries have great natural resources such as mineral wealth and oil potential but, unfortunately, they have not been able to benefit to the extent they should from their great natural resources. It is incumbent on the European Union, the United States and other developed countries to assist where possible. Just sending money and food is not the answer. We must be able to assist in educating the populations of African states because without education we are going nowhere and throwing good money after bad.

This debate relates to the posting of 400 Irish troops to help the situation in Chad. We have a strong and proud record in peacekeeping going back to the 1960s when we went to the Congo. That mission was followed by one to Cyprus. The most successful mission in which we were involved was UNIFIL in southern Lebanon. From a professional military point of view, all of these missions have been very good for morale and the training of the Defence Forces. On the completion of every mission the personnel have been commended on the manner in which they carried out their duties.

Lieutenant General Pat Nash is the force commander and I wish him every success. I noticed in some earlier debates he had received promotion to Lieutenant General. It is a credit to the Defence Forces that the force commander is a member of the Irish Defence Forces. Based on our record in peacekeeping in previous missions I have no doubt the higher level of military management will be more than capable of dealing with what the soldiers who are posted to Chad will have to face. The vast majority, if not all, of the senior Army officers have served overseas on various missions.

The transfer from tribal rule to democratic rule in Africa has not happened at the pace many of us would like. The losers in many cases are the local people, especially women and children. The main purpose of the mission to Chad is to provide some form of protection to this vulnerable part of the population, many of whom are fleeing hostilities in their home areas. We are still dealing with conflicts in so many areas that the troubles in Chad and the Central African Republic are only two of many that need to be addressed. Corruption is endemic in African countries and we will not make progress unless we reach a stage where we can educate people and get rid of corruption.

I commend the Minister on his statement on Army deafness. This is an old chestnut of mine. I especially commend him given his background in the legal profession on having the courage to say what he did in this regard. I believe the legal profession behaved scandalously in its abuse of that scheme. Some solicitors did the legal profession a disservice in the manner in which they abused that scheme. I know this at first hand because former members of the Defence Forces came to me and told me they were actively canvassed to put in a claim which was not the purpose of that scheme. In some cases when former soldiers did not want to make a claim they were scorned and made to look foolish just because they were principled enough not to make a claim as they genuinely did not have a case to make under the Army deafness scheme. I wish to put that on record.

The activities of the rebel groups will eventually be sorted out in many of the African countries, especially in Chad where we are going, but that will not happen until a political agreement is reached. A far greater threat to most African states comes from the activities of criminal gangs. While we can get over the political aspects of many of the problems, the existence of political gangs where there is a great deal of unemployment is something with which these new democracies will have to come to grips. Unemployment and a lack of sustainable investment are major shortcomings which will have to be addressed. The European Union and the United States will have to play a very active part in this regard.

The mass displacement of local populations is of huge concern, as is the scale of mass migration. These countries do not have the means to deal with such humanitarian crises. When one adds natural disasters to the mix, the scale of the problem has to be seen to be believed. The new force being despatched should not underestimate the task ahead of it. It is going there to protect some of the most vulnerable people on this planet. The anecdotal evidence we hear about some of the scandals taking place out there suggests that the challenge facing the Defence Forces is not to be underestimated. Women who have escaped horrific situations in their own homelands are now facing the problem of being assaulted and raped in refugee camps where they sought shelter and protection. It is the duty of our Army personnel who will be deployed to Chad to defend these people. It is important that we do our bit to bring peace and security to the region and that we can give some form of safety and security to the refugees.

I wish every member of the Defence Forces who goes to Chad a safe and fruitful mission. I commend the Minister on his stewardship of the Department to date.

I thank the various speakers for their constructive and helpful contributions today. Many points have been raised but time does not permit me to deal with them all. Will the House grant me a few minutes over and above the ten minutes allocated to conclude?

Is that agreed? Agreed. The Chair must put the question before 7 p.m.

I wish to deal with the main points that were raised by Members, including Deputies Deenihan, O'Shea, Michael D. Higgins and others. One question related to the water supply in Chad. There have been reports that there is a problem with the supply and capacity of water in Chad. While these reports have been around for some time, accurate reports and surveys are not available to confirm them. During the reconnaissance carried out by the Irish Defence Forces from 11 to 17 October 2007, there was no indication of a shortage or rationing of supplies by the French contingent already in Chad. However, it is understood that a significant expansion in demand could have serious repercussions for the capacity of this particular water source and may involve some form of rationing. The military authorities have advised that this matter is being addressed at the highest level. An EU-UN water survey is currently ongoing to confirm the sites most favourable for selection from an engineering perspective. In addition, a reserve 30 days supply of bottled water will be held and stored. The bottled water will be of EU quality.

Another relevant question was raised about the medical facilities. The Defence Forces adopt a comprehensive approach to managing and protecting the health of all personnel. As a matter of course all personnel volunteering must have passed their annual medical in the first instance. They are then subjected to a further detailed overseas medical, where they are assessed for suitability with particular reference to the physical requirements of the mission. The troops to be deployed to Chad will go through this process. All troops will be immunised against known disease risks. With regard to possible water borne parasites or diseases, the Defence Forces will bring their own water purification plant and sewage treatment plant. On return from the mission all troops are fully tested from a health perspective as a matter of course. The Defence Forces will deploy, as part of the battalion, a containerised medical facility. It will be operated by two medical doctors, who will be assisted by a team of 13 Defence Forces personnel and paramedics.

We spoke about gaps in the mission. One of the key gaps is the absence of a level two medical facility in the general area where the Irish Army will be stationed. That is one of the reasons the force commander has decided not to deploy the force yet. That facility will have to be in place and negotiations about it are ongoing.

Reference was made to France's colonial past and the danger that the United Nations force, including Irish troops, would be seen to be on the side of the government, as it were, against the rebels. I reiterate that this is a UN mandated mission, organised by the European Union. It is going there as a neutral force with a humanitarian brief to alleviate the suffering in the camps, ensure the safety of the refugees and internally displaced persons and to provide a measure of protection for the United Nations personnel and installations. Despite what was said in the debate, France will not contribute more than half the troops. It will contribute approximately 1,260 troops to a force of between 3,500 and 4,000. It is a significant contribution but the force is organised by the European Union at the behest of the United Nations. It will be clear that it has no brief or agenda on behalf of one side or the other and will be seen as such.

Deputy Kenny on the Order of Business and other Deputies in the course of this debate asked what would happen if a major civil war breaks out in Sudan and hundreds of thousands of people start to stream across the border. We are conscious of that danger; it has been factored into the risk assessment. We will monitor the situation regularly. I assure the House that nobody, least of all me, takes the safety and the lives of our Defence Forces lightly. For that reason the force commander, Lieutenant General Nash, is not prepared to deploy the force without sufficient air assets. This is one of the key enablers. If there is sufficient air capacity, one can move troops either out of the country, in a desperate situation, or out of a danger zone very quickly. The force commander will not deploy the force until these assets are in place in sufficient numbers.

Deputy O'Shea raised the issue of human trafficking. That is a matter for the local authorities. However, the United Nations mandated force can contribute in so far as it can deal with instances of human trafficking that come to its attention. The force is going there to provide a safer system, to help restore civil authority in these regions and to provide support until such time as it takes root. That will enable criminal activity such as trafficking to be dealt with more easily than at present.

Deputy Wall and Deputy Behan asked if the troops would have contact with home during the deployment. The Government is conscious of this issue. Usually a tour of duty is six months, as was the case with Lebanon, Kosovo and other countries. In Chad it will be four months. That is due not only to the environment but also because it is not practicable to have a break in the middle of the deployment, which is what happens during normal tours of duty. It is too far away to haul troops there and back. The Defence Forces are currently examining a range of support provisions such as postal arrangements and telephone, Internet access and e-mail facilities which can be put in place for the Irish troops. We are conscious of the matter but I thank the Deputies for reminding us of it.

Deputy Costello said that Amnesty International and other organisations claim that March or April might be too late for deployment. There is some confusion arising from some of the questions asked on the Order of Business this morning. The Taoiseach referred to late March as the date for deployment. However, that is the date when all the force will be in place; part of it will be in place before that. It is hoped that if we can keep to the original timetable, even taking into account a three week delay because of the danger in supplying the various enablers, the troops will be there by late January or early February.

One speaker said this would be the most risky or dangerous mission ever engaged in by the Irish Army. I agree with Deputy O'Rourke that the danger of a mission will only be evident when it is under way. The risk assessment is that it is medium risk, the same as for Liberia. I believe it was low to medium risk in Kosovo. The Congo is so long ago I do not know what the risk assessment was but it turned out to be a dangerous mission, unfortunately. Liberia was medium risk but due to the equipment and training of the troops, they were well able to manage that risk.

Deputy Deenihan asked what the situation will be if this motion is passed. If it is passed, the three components of the triple lock will be fulfilled and we will have the authority to send our troops out when the force commander deploys them. However, as I have said on a number of occasions both inside and outside the House, the force commander will not deploy until the necessary enabling provisions are in place.

I also requested that the Minister attend the committee meeting.

I have no difficulty with attending the committee meeting to discuss the matter further.

Would Lieutenant General Nash be available?

I will ask him. The Deputy will appreciate that he is busy at present but if the request is made, I will certainly ask him.

The Minister can take it that the request is being made now.

We will communicate that request to Lieutenant General Nash. Deputy Ó Snodaigh indicated that he intended to oppose the motion because he did not agree with battle groups. This is not a battle group in the classic sense of the word. We are part of the Nordic battle group. This is a peace support operation which is being carried out for humanitarian reasons. Incidentally, of all the missions launched by the EU, only four have been military missions, three of which were carried out as a result of specific resolutions and requests from the UN. There are so many demands on the UN now that it just does not have the capacity to organise all the missions it is requested to be involved in. Sometimes it must subcontract the job to an agency, as it were, such as the EU or NATO. In the case of the mission in Sudan, the African Union is the organising committee. That is quite normal. There is nothing sinister or untoward about it and there is no particular agenda. The arrangement simply enables the UN to establish more UN-supported missions than it would be capable of doing if it was restricted to organising blue helmet-type operations.

Deputy Timmins raised an interesting point when he said that the danger on the ground would be increased by the fact that there are so many factions it would be hard to tell one from another. We are conscious of this and it has been factored into the risk assessment. Deputy Timmins also spoke about Kosovo and the possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence on 10 December. That is a question which exercises not just us — it is not just a question of the triple lock — but also many of our partner countries in the Kosovo operation. I have been speaking to some of their representatives. The better view is that there will be no need for a new UN resolution. However, in answer to the question raised by various people, we have referred the matter to the Attorney General for advice and I expect to hear from him on this shortly. If it turns out that another UN resolution is required but not forthcoming, we will not be the only country that is embarrassed. I assure the Deputy of that.

Deputy Timmins also asked whether we could accept assistance from NATO if difficulties arose and we needed to get out of a country or a certain location quickly. There is an arrangement between the EU and NATO, the Berlin Plus arrangement, whereby we can have access to NATO assets. That is how it is dealt with.

As Deputies mentioned, this is not a trip to a holiday camp. There is no doubt this is a risky mission with potential dangers. However, I wish people would stop saying things such as "very high risk", "imminent danger", and "the dead heart of Africa". The families of the troops are sufficiently worried already. We should not add to their worries by using this sort of over-the-top language. We should keep it calm.

At the same time, the families want to ensure that adequate support is in place.

I am giving them that assurance.

I hope the Minister will increase the foreign allowance for Defence Forces personnel, which is something they have been seeking for a long time.

I am giving all those assurances.

Is the Minister giving an assurance he will consider the issue of foreign allowance?

The Deputy must wait a minute. He was not here for the debate. Lieutenant General Nash will not deploy——

I was here. I was not here to speak.

The Deputy must have been invisible, because I did not see him all day.

I was not here to speak.

Lieutenant General Nash will not deploy unless all the key enablers are in place.

I am like the Minister. One might not see me but one can hear me. I am not big.

At a meeting of Defence Ministers in Brussels last Monday week I pleaded with my colleagues to put the key enablers in place. We have less than 1% of the population of Europe but we are supplying approximately 12% of the troops for this mission. Someone asked me why we are not supplying air assets. We would gladly supply them if we had them, but the air assets we have do not have the range or capacity to be any good in Chad. That is the simple truth. I accept Deputy Deenihan's point about acquiring strategic airlift capacity. This is something that will be considered in the context of the next White Paper, although a cost-benefit analysis will have to be done first.

Recently, at a Defence Ministers' meeting in Brussels, we approved the Progress Catalogue 2007, which set a headline goal for the EU of being able to put 90,000 troops in the field within three months, sustainable for up to 12 months, with the appropriate backup and logistics. We are supposed to be able to do this and we have passed the appropriate resolutions to give ourselves the power and right to do that by 2010. Here, we are putting fewer than 4,000 troops into a classic peacekeeping operation. If we cannot do that in 2007, I am certain we will not be able to meet the aspiration of 90,000 troops within three months by 2010.

Do our neighbours in the UK have any troops involved in this?

I was amazed to hear Deputy O'Connor saying that they were very interested and that a delegation would be sent to Paris to meet Lieutenant General Nash. The Minister might ask them to send a few troops as well.

There is a lot of diplomatic activity going on at the moment with a view to obtaining what is still needed to launch the mission. As we have a sufficient commitment of troops, fortunately, we do not need any more.

We may not have enough.

We do not have sufficient air assets or medical facilities and we need substantial assistance in these areas. I appeal again to our European partners in this regard. The whole future of European security and defence is at stake. The credibility of the EU's involvement in peacekeeping missions is at stake if we cannot launch this mission as soon as possible. If our partners do not step up to the plate we have a fallback position, but I do not even want to contemplate that at the moment. I appeal to them again to step up.

The goal of the Progress Catalogue 2007 is the ability to deploy 90,000 troops within three months, sustainable for 12 months, by 2010, which is just two years away. If we cannot deploy 4,000 troops now, how will we achieve that goal? The first part of an operation always takes a certain period of time, but I hope this matter can be resolved because people are living in appalling circumstances. Women are being raped and worse, people are being murdered, there is famine, and the average life expectancy is 42 years. People who are trying to bring humanitarian aid to these unfortunate people cannot do so because of the activities of the rebel groups and bandits. These people are crying out for help. Every day that passes, their condition worsens and more people die. Every day people are brutalised. The sooner we get this mission in place, the better. We have done our part. Now it is up to others to do theirs and I appeal to them to do so. Once again I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and declared carried.