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 thank the Members for agreeing to take this motion today on the planned deployment of a contingent of the Defence Forces to Chad and the Central African Republic and I look forward to a constructive and positive debate in this regard.
As the House is aware, under the Defence Acts, the deployment of a contingent of the Defence Forces on an overseas mission requires prior UN authorisation, Government approval and the approval of Dáil Éireann. This process is referred to as the triple lock, which is a cornerstone of this Government's approach to deploying our forces abroad.
In commending this motion to the House, I will briefly outline the background to the proposed EU operation in the Republic of Chad and the Central African Republic, which has been authorised by the United Nations Security Council and the reason the Government decided to authorise the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the new EU operation.
The multiple conflicts in the border areas between Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic constitute a threat to peace and security in the whole region. In Chad, following an agreement between the Government of Chad and the peaceful political opposition in August 2007, a peace deal was signed between the government and four rebel groups in October 2007. However, there continue to be major problems with ongoing clashes between rebels and government forces. Arising from these clashes, more than 180,000 internally displaced Chadians and 236,000 Sudanese refugees now live in camps in eastern Chad.
In the case of the Central African Republic, the already fragile situation has been exacerbated by the activities of criminal gangs, the spillover of instability from Darfur and Chad and an armed rebellion in the north west and north east. Approximately 170,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since September 2005 and more than 43,000 refugees in the Central African Republic reside in Chad, with 20,000 people thought to have fled to Cameroon. Malnutrition has reached alarming levels, particularly among children.
While conflict and lack of security have resulted in the mass displacement of the local population, the humanitarian crisis thus created has been exacerbated by natural disasters. In August 2007, serious flooding in eastern Chad washed out several camps and seriously hampered aid agencies' assistance to tens of thousands of people.
Since early September 2007, the crisis in Chad has been given greater prominence by the visit of UN Secretary General, who was there to build support for the proposed multidimensional UN mission. Former President, Mary Robinson, together with a group of women leaders, also led a well-publicised visit to Chad's camps in the same period. Her report of what she witnessed and what she heard from the women refugees is shocking. Women who had escaped from horrific attacks by militiamen in Darfur now faced being targeted and raped in the refugee camps, afraid to go out to collect food and firewood. She has called for an EU force to protect refugee camps, highlighting the need for security as the refugees and displaced persons, in particular women, are not safe in the camps.
The authorities of Chad and the Central African Republic have welcomed a possible EU military presence in their respective countries. This was reiterated during the visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to Chad on 15 and 16 November where he received such assurances from the Chadian Prime Minister. 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. The EU mission to Chad will complement the planned UN and African Union hybrid mission being launched by the UN in Darfur-Sudan by limiting the spillover potential from the conflict in Sudan.
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 multidimensional presence will comprise a United Nations mission in Chad and in the Central African Republic, to be known as MINURCAT, focusing on the security and protection of civilians — particularly 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; and troops deployed by the European Union with a robust authorisation to protect and support it. In its decision of 15 October 2007, the Council of the European Union agreed a joint action to launch the ESDP mission in support of the UN operation in Chad and in the Central African Republic.
The United Nations element of the mission is targeted primarily at supporting the civil administration in Chad and the Central African Republic to protect refugees and camps with the support of a UN police element and liaison officers.
UN Security Council Resolution 1778 authorises the European Union, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, to deploy for a period of one year from the date that its initial operating capability is declared by the European Union in consultation with the Secretary General. The EU forces will be deployed to eastern Chad and the north-eastern Central African Republic. The EU forces are authorised to support the UN and to take all necessary measures, within their capabilities and their area of operation to fulfil the following functions: to contribute to protecting civilians in danger, particularly refugees and displaced persons; to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel by helping to improve security in the area of operations; to contribute to protecting United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment; and to ensuring the security and freedom of movement of its staff and associated personnel. The EU is intent on launching this operation as a matter of urgency. The intention has been to have an initial operational capability on the ground in December with the operation fully functional by the end of March 2008.
Force generation for the mission is ongoing. While troop contributions are broadly in line with the requirements identified by the operation commander, there are still gaps in the force structure, particularly in vital enabling elements, such as helicopters and tactical aircraft, and medical support associated with the launch of this operation. These shortfalls are being actively examined and addressed by EU military staff in consultation with the operation commander. At a recent Defence Ministers' meeting in Brussels, I expressed my concerns about these and urged my EU ministerial colleagues to take another look at the shortfalls and to actively support the mission, ensuring that it is adequately resourced and capable of fulfilling its mandate. 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.
Ireland's participation in EU-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. Ireland is a strong supporter of a substantive involvement by the EU in crisis management missions within the framework of ESDP and under a UN mandate.
Against this background, and having regard to the contribution which the mission can make to peace and security in the region and the creation of a safe and secure area for refugees, the Government is fully supportive of the participation of the Defence Forces in a substantive manner in the EU mission to Chad and the Central African Republic. The enhanced capability being developed, arising from our participation in operations, such as the proposed EU mission, will serve to maintain and further develop Ireland's effective involvement in peace support operations in support of the UN.
In the past, the European Union has engaged in two military operations outside Europe where the EU provided a force under a UN Security Council resolution. The EU's first such operation was Operation Artemis to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which ended in September 2003 and to which Ireland contributed five Defence Forces personnel. In 2006, Ireland also contributed seven Defence Forces personnel to the EU military operation in support of the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUC, during the election process, which took place in 2006.
Ireland from the outset has been positively disposed towards the proposed mission and has supported a positive response from the EU to the UN request for assistance in this mission. In its decisions of 2 October and 23 October 2007, the Government decided to deploy the then deputy chief of staff of operations, Major General Pat Nash, as operation commander of the EU force, together with up to 11 additional personnel, to the headquarters of the operation. Dáil Éireann approved the deployment of Major General Nash and his personal support staff on 9 October 2007. The post of operation commander is the highest profile post Ireland will have undertaken in an EU operation to date. In agreeing his deployment, it was always understood that there would be a substantive and significant Defence Forces contribution to the mission. Further personnel will also be deployed to the headquarters during the mission build-up period and for the duration of the mission.
The likely location for the deployment of the Irish contingent will be eastern Chad. The role of the contingent will be to contribute to establishing a safe and secure environment in order to contribute to protection of civilians in danger, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, the free movement of humanitarian personnel, the protection of UN and associated personnel and encouraging the return of internally displaced persons.
The Irish contingent will be based on a mechanised infantry battalion group comprising manoeuvre elements and combat support and combat service support elements. The contingent will amount to approximately 400 personnel. Owing to the nature of the operation, and the mission area and environment, force protection will be a key consideration. The Defence Forces will deploy MOWAG APCs and close reconnaissance vehicles, which will provide armoured protection, mobility, firepower and a communications platform. Discussions are ongoing with other member states with a view to possible collaboration with their forces in the area of operations. The final configuration of Ireland's contingent contribution to the mission is being further worked out in consultation with the EU military staff and the operation commander.
The Defence Forces initial entry force will comprise an advance party of approximately 50 personnel of the Army Ranger Wing and support elements, which will act as reconnaissance and also force protection for engineers in the selection and establishment of the Irish camp.
If this motion is approved, these personnel will be deployed next month for approximately four months. The main contingent, which is undergoing selection and concentration prior to detailed mission specific training, will probably deploy in January or February of next year. Further staff will be deployed to the operational headquarters in France and the force headquarters, which will initially be located in France before it is deployed to Chad. The Army Ranger Wing and the main Defence Forces contingent will overlap for a while. Therefore, Ireland's total commitment to the mission will amount to 450 personnel during that time.
A Defence Forces fact-finding team participated in an EU reconnaissance mission in October of this year. The mission included visits to the region and to the operation's designated operational headquarters in Paris. Intelligence staff of the Defence Forces then made a reconnaissance visit to the proposed area of operations to conduct a detailed threat assessment. The chief of staff of the Defence Forces has advised that the threat level in the area of operations is assessed as "medium risk". Rebel and bandit groups using 4 x 4 pick-up vehicles, and using hit and run tactics, constitute the main threat EUFOR may have to face. Such groups operate opportunistically — they concentrate and dissipate quickly when engaging weaker targets including aid workers, the local population and weaker military elements. The groups in question, which do not have the potential for any prolonged engagement, operate mainly along the border between Chad and Sudan. French forces based in Chad have indicated that they have had no engagement with any of these groups to date, possibly because the groups do not have the potential to engage well trained and equipped military elements. The military authorities assure me that while the level of risk is consistent with any operational deployment into an African conflict zone, the Defence Forces have the capability to manage it.
This will be the most expensive operation on which the Defence Forces have been deployed. All costs of EU operations relating to the deployment, operation and sustainment of contingents are met directly by the relevant troop-contributing nation. When Ireland is involved in United Nations "blue hat" operations, the UN meets the substantial costs of deployment, repatriation, rotation, sustainment, accommodation, food and water supply and resupply, etc. The UN also looks after the strategic and in-theatre tactical lift of the contingent. However, the EU does not reimburse Ireland for such costs. The only costs met by contributions from EU member states are the costs of establishing and operating headquarters facilities. Such costs have been assessed at approximately €95 million, to which Ireland will contribute, or has contributed, €1.3 million pursuant to a European Council decision of 17 June 2002. It is estimated that the cost to the Defence Vote arising from the 12-month participation of the Defence Forces in this mission, including the contribution to common costs, will be approximately €57 million. Provision for meeting the additional costs of the operation will be made in the Defence Vote in the 2008 Estimates.
Ireland's contribution to this EU operation is commensurate with its long-standing support for and participation in peacekeeping, particularly in Africa, and its standing in the European Union. Our involvement in the mission represents a clear manifestation of the importance the Government attaches to the development of EU capabilities in crisis management and peacekeeping in support of the UN. Ireland is determined to play a meaningful and constructive role in this mission, as the expected second largest contributor, and the provider of the operation commander. In contributing to the mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, Ireland has the opportunity to contribute substantively to bringing stability to a key area of Africa. Our participation in this mission will help to create the security conditions conducive to a voluntary, secure and sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes. I commend the motion to the House.