Despatch of Defence Forces Personnel: Motion.

I move:

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.

I would like to share time with Deputy Jim O'Keeffe.

Fine Gael broadly supports this motion, albeit with some reservations. The Minister will accept that this could be the most challenging and dangerous mission in which Ireland has been involved since the Congo deployment. It is important for us to give every possible support to the approximately 400 troops who are to be sent to Chad. I was somewhat concerned to hear the Minister say the UN will meet the cost of the supply and resupply of food and water, and the cost of accommodation. I ask him to clarify that remark.

We have to meet such costs ourselves. This is an EU-led operation. If it were a UN-led operation, the UN would meet those costs.

I am glad the Minister has clarified the matter. The most important thing about this mission is the provision of resources for our troops. It is one thing to send soldiers to Africa, but it is another to support them while they are there. Various doubts have been expressed about our capacity to provide that support. I raised these issues when I asked a question in the House about Ireland's air transport capability. Major concerns continue to be expressed about our capability in this regard. I accept that many of these matters may have been resolved. However, I understand that at least 20 helicopters will be needed, whereas just three helicopters are being provided as things stand.

Most Members received a communiqué yesterday from the Irish section of Amnesty International pointing out our lack of air transport equipment. The e-mail sent to me argued that there is an urgent need to commit adequate resources to the air transport sector. It states:

Lack of air transport support is a crucial issue that could delay the force and delay effective protection of civilians in the region. There is a real danger that the force's deployment will now be significantly delayed due to under-funding and a lack of adequate air transport, such as helicopters. Effective implementation of the mandate can also be undermined if insufficient resources are authorised. The resources authorised for this UN operation should correlate to the mandate that it is expected to perform to avoid situations where a mandate to protect civilians is not matched by the capacities of deployed forces. In addition, given that the local gendarmerie in eastern Chad is poorly equipped, adequate material assistance is needed to ensure reasonable conditions of service. Otherwise, their capacity to operate and act in accordance with international standards and principles can be significantly undermined.

Many people seem to suggest that insufficient resources are being provided. Our mission in this region, which is 2,000 km inland, will not be the same as our mission in Liberia, which proved to be quite successful. The Irish contingent returned from Liberia relatively unscathed in the sense that there were very few problems. This will be entirely different, however.

In addition to the air transport difficulties I have highlighted, which will have an impact on the delivery of supplies, the issue of water will be very important. I read last week about the visit to Chad of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He mentioned that the temperature in that country was 45° Celsius. That will present a major challenge to Ireland's 400 troops, who will never have worked in such conditions. The availability of a quality water supply will be important. People who served in Liberia told me that the water supply there, which was made available through the UN, was not of the quality that might be expected by armies in this day and age. They used to borrow water from the Swedish troops, who had their own supply of much higher quality water. The availability of decent water could be a matter of life and death in a mission of this nature. It is obvious that water will have to be supplied in large volumes. This issue will have to be addressed before our troops leave this country.

I would like to speak about the medical back-up personnel available to Irish soldiers. The Army does not have numbers required by the White Paper or mentioned in the previous PriceWaterhouseCoopers report, which proposed the retention of 47 medical staff. Currently, the Army has 27 medical personnel, some of whom are non-nationals. It is important that the medical personnel accompanying our mission should be Irish because they must look after not only the physical well-being of the troops, but also their emotional and psychological well-being. This also raises the issue of communication and, where possible, Irish doctors should accompany them. The primary hospital of the mission will be based on mainland Europe but it is important that the other medical supports be provided in situ and that will create a number of complications.

Amnesty International has highlighted the treatment of women, especially in the internally displaced persons area, and that will demand particular attention on the part of the mission. Our troops will be aware of this issue since the war broke out.

The French will make up half the force but their involvement raises a number of issues. France is a former colonial power in Chad and it has been a strong supporter of the current regime, led by President Déby, who is a former French-trained helicopter pilot. He staged a coup in Chad and the French have been accused of launching attacks on the militia to defend the Déby regime. As a result of this significant involvement, the mission could be targeted by four or five different militia or rebel groups and our troops could become embroiled in that scenario. The mission is, therefore, fraught with risks and potential dangers.

The key issue is whether the EU force will be used to support the Déby regime in the event of attacks by rebels. Will Irish and other EU troops become involved in the political instability in Chad as opposed to protecting the victims of the instability? The Minister will have to clarify the precise role of the mission before the troops are deployed in the country.

Deputy Kenny met people from Egypt yesterday who advised him of the likelihood of a major civil war in the Sudan shortly. That will result in more refugees crossing the border into Chad into the refugee camps, thereby putting more pressure on the EU mission to protect them. The region will also become more volatile because different rebel forces will be involved and the Janjaweed, the principal rebel force, which is very active, well organised and reasonably well equipped, will present a threat to the mission. That must also be taken into consideration before the Minister makes the final decision.

A number of rangers will be deployed shortly to set up camp and so on but I disagree with the Taoiseach who gave the impression there would be no threat to them. Even though they are highly trained, efficient soldiers, they will be under threat. Will the Minister come back to the House before he makes the final decision on sending the main force or are we giving him approval to deploy 400 troops to Chad at the conclusion of the debate? Next March or April he will know more about the warring conditions in the country. Will he come back to the House to make sure we are happy the safety of our 400 troops is assured, every support and service is available to them and the logistics on the ground are appropriate to protect them so that they can pursue their peacekeeping mission?

On the one hand, I feel a great sense of pride at the nobility of the actions of the State in sending troops into an area that needs protection but, on the other, those of us who know a little about the area feel a great sense of apprehension regarding the safety and security of our troops. I should declare an interest, as a member of my family has lived on the other side of the Chad border with personnel from Concern and the UN agency based in Al Fashir, western Darfur. I receive e-mails regularly regarding the situation there, which causes me to believe our troops are being sent into bandit country and the government, particularly in Sudan, is utterly sinister, corrupt and unreliable. It is one of the worst governments in the world, as it arms various militia and breakaway groups, which has created an insecure environment.

I have the greatest respect for the Minister who has examined this proposal in detail but he referred to the report of the chief of staff in his contribution who described the mission as a "medium risk". What is a "medium risk"? Like Deputy Deenihan, I would like an absolute assurance that risks will be minimised. The logistics are outrageously difficult with problems relating to air strips, helipads and other equipment. While soldiers are trained to look after themselves and I have the greatest respect for their training, I would like to ensure this "medium risk" will be minimised and reduced. The troops are capable of doing a very good in Chad but let us ensure they do it in conditions of the greatest security and safety. If our troops are sent, I wish them the best of luck. I will be proud of their work.

Tá áthas orm seans a fháil labhairt sa díospóireacht ar an rún an-tábhachtach seo. Beidh Páirtí an Lucht Oibre ag tabhairt tacaíocha don rún, cé go bhfuil nithe áirithe ag cur imní orainn, mar shampla an tacaíocht atá ag teastáil ó thaobh fearais, cúrsaí leighis agus córais taistil. Má bhíonn an tacaíocht is caoi ar fáil, creidim go n-éireoidh go maith le saighdiúrí na hÉireann a bheidh páirteach i MINURCAT. Beidh na daoine atá faoi bhrú uafásach i Sead faoi láthair go mór níos fearr as. Beidh mé ag iarraidh ar an Aire a dheimhniú go mbeidh an tacaíocht sin ar fáil.

The Labour Party will support the motion moved by the Minister for Defence against the background of the deepening humanitarian crisis in Darfur and eastern Chad. Approximately a quarter of a million lives have been lost in the conflict in Darfur while more than 2 million people have been displaced. The Labour Party supports the deployment of 400 Irish UN-sanctioned troops to eastern Chad but has concerns regarding the resourcing of the mission, as well as the safety and welfare of our troops.

Following his four-day visit to Chad and the Sudan earlier this month, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, stated that the environment in which the Irish troops will be located is one of the harshest in the world. He described the terrain as stark and noted that temperatures can reach up to 45° Celsius. The Minister for Foreign Affairs also noted there were no roads to speak of and that travel over land can be very time consuming and, in some instances, dangerous. The Minister pointed out that for the mission to be a success, it must get the full support of member states. This involves ensuring the troops will be provided with the requisite medical supplies, hardware and, in particular, helicopters to get around. According to the Minister, only three helicopters were deployed at the time of his visit, while the French peacekeepers there have insisted that 20 are needed to support the troops in the region. What has been the response to the plea to European governments by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to supply much-needed transport for the thousands of troops on this humanitarian mission to central Africa? I note the Minister for Defence has also made similar pleas.

The unfolding humanitarian crisis in the region in recent years is not due solely to an overspill of the conflict from the Darfur region of Sudan as local tribal and ethnic tensions are also a factor. The situation is further compounded by the actions of militias and bandit groups. The Irish deployment of 400 troops will form the second largest component of the 4,300 troops which will make up the UN-mandated EU force. France is to contribute more than half the force, which will facilitate humanitarian access, as well as protecting refugees from Darfur and displaced Chadians who populate the camps in eastern Chad. This extraordinarily difficult and demanding mission is not without its dangers and is the most challenging to date.

Today, Members will complete the triple lock mechanism, following the mission's approval by the Government and that of the UN last September. All Members are proud of our troops and have full confidence that they will make a major contribution in this most difficult situation. It is a matter of particular pride that on Tuesday, 9 October 2007, this House unanimously approved the despatch of Lieutenant General Pat Nash to the position of operations commander for the proposed EU military operation in the Republic of Chad and the Central African Republic. The challenge posed by this mission is illustrated by considering that Chad, which is the main area of operation, is the same size as France, while the total area involved is the same as France, Germany and Spain combined. Moreover, Chad is landlocked and is approximately 2,000 km from the nearest port.

I understand the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces has described the threat level related to this mission as one of medium risk. One issue to arise concerns the potential for our troops to be drawn into the government-rebel conflict there. There is also the matter of the increasing level of banditry on vulnerable targets, while the risk from breakaway rebel factions seeking arms, ammunition and vehicles is on the increase. Reportedly, the Irish Army mission, which is to be the most expensive ever, will cost €57 million. Only yesterday, there were reports of hundreds being killed in fighting in eastern Chad. The Chadian army stated that several hundred rebels were killed in fighting on Monday last, while the rebels stated that 200 soldiers and only 20 of their fighters were killed. This incident may well constitute the heaviest fighting since last year.

The Minister noted that following the passing of the motion in the House today, the initial entry force, which I understand will consist of up to 70 troops, will be deployed next month. In addition to the ranger wing, it will include logistics and communications specialists who will join the UN forces already in eastern Chad. This will facilitate the subsequent arrival of the remaining troops to be deployed. Despite the signing of a peace deal last month between the Chadian Government and four rebel groups, clashes continue, not least last Monday's incident. The existence of 180,000 displaced Chadians and 236,000 Sudanese refugees living in camps in eastern Chad, as well as the continuing fighting, gives an indication of the difficulties that face the mission. The Minister has already outlined the horrific treatment of women in the camps and the huge problem associated with malnutrition. Consequently, a range of skills will be required from our contingent in Chad.

While one does not wish to reflect on former times when sad events have taken place, Members should recall the people who were lost in the Congo in the early 1960s. Although Members hope and pray there will be no fatalities in the present mission, it is always a possibility. This raises again the issue whether the medical and hardware backup will be available. The question that probably will be of the greatest ultimate importance is whether the 20 helicopters required will be supplied, as opposed to the three that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, indicated were available during his recent visit. The Minister for Defence should outline to the House the progress that has been made in this regard in the interim. I seek an undertaking from the Minister that he will hold firm until the appropriate and adequate backup is in place for our troops.

The initial force, comprising 50 to 70 personnel, will deploy in December to get things ready for the main contingent to follow. Can Members be certain that all necessary steps to ensure the safety of our troops in Chad from the perspective of health, safety and general security will be taken? Can the Minister provide Members with more information regarding the problems with fighting in the region? Has he had official confirmation or does he possess reliable figures regarding the incident that took place last Monday? The figures involved are startling and it appears that just as our troops are about to be deployed, the worst incident since last year has just taken place.

Previously, I have raised in the House the issue arising from the incident in which an attempt was made to take children from Chad. What is the up-to-date information in that regard? It appears that these children were being taken abroad to be fostered and perhaps in some cases to be adopted, but in a significant number of cases the children involved had at least one parent. The House should be informed of whether there is any danger of human trafficking, especially child trafficking, occurring in the area and to what extent this has been taken into consideration in the planning of the mission.

None of us should underestimate this undertaking or the challenge it presents. A number of international political issues are bound up in this matter. The resourcefulness and skill of our troops and officers in eastern Chad will be called upon, especially in terms of diplomacy and on other levels. I have no doubt our people will rise to the occasion. We all expressed great confidence in Major General Pat Nash when we debated the authorisation of his appointment as operations commander for this mission. We have the people to do this job, which very badly needs to be done. It is obvious that the humanitarian crisis in Chad is worsening. If our people do not have the tools to do the job in the most effective way, serious issues will arise when we will deploy people to take part fully in the mission.

I am seeking information and guidance from the Minister. It is quite probable that he has a great deal more information than he has already told us. I am not aware of anything being flagged in terms of where the additional helicopters will come from. I read a report which stated there are 400 km of road in the area to which the Army is going, which is pretty minimal when one considers the vast area with which the mission will be dealing.

The Labour Party is proud that the Permanent Defence Force is to take part in this mission. I believe it will make a contribution that will bring great credit to its members, the Defence Forces generally and to the country, but those involved must be given the tools to do the job and the wherewithal to protect themselves from the point of view of health and security.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in this debate with my colleague the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, and other colleagues. The Taoiseach already referred to this issue this morning. It is obviously a matter of significant importance to Members of the House.

My interest in this area dates in particular from my time as Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid. In 2004, I visited Sudan and the refugee camps in El Fasher and Darfur. I saw at first hand the suffering of the men, women and children in those camps. I was accompanied by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and representatives of NGOs like Concern and GOAL. We heard horrific stories of the suffering of the people there, especially women who were abused, attacked and raped if they left the camps. They were extremely frightened. On a broader level, it is a terrible reflection on the international community that this conflict has continued for so many years and has not been resolved.

Returning to Deputy O'Shea's point, it is clear that the main reason we are sending troops to Chad, where these refugees are fleeing from Sudan, is for humanitarian purposes. I am very proud of the fact that our Army personnel are going there. I accept there are legitimate concerns about safety and these are being addressed. My colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, has referred to them, as I will in my contribution. I note what he and Lieutenant General Dermot Earley stated yesterday about safety. Lieutenant General Earley stated the risk would be similar to that in Liberia. The terrain in Chad is more vast and the climactic conditions will be more difficult there as the temperature is hotter. Serious issues arose in terms of malaria in Liberia also. The personnel travelling will be well resourced.

As the Taoiseach stated this morning and as my colleague, the Minister, stated today, 50 members of the Army Ranger Wing will be going in advance next month. From my experience of travelling to Liberia, it is clear they will be very well equipped. I will try to deal with some of the issues raised by Deputy O'Shea and others in my brief contribution.

I note that the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has identified deteriorating security as one of the major challenges it faces in addressing the humanitarian issues in Chad. For that reason it is most appropriate that the Army, which has done tremendous work in other parts of the world, should go there, notwithstanding the very serious points that have been made on security.

There are approximately 240,000 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad and 180,000 internally displaced persons. The country also hosts approximately 45,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. The problem in Chad is inextricably linked with developments across the border in Sudan. In recent years Ireland has played a significant part in helping to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Chad, as we have also been doing in Sudan. Since 2006 we have provided over €6 million in funding endeavours in Chad and a further €2 million was announced recently for humanitarian support by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. That money is going to the United Nations and NGOs, including Irish NGOs. I see this involvement as complementing the tremendous reputation we have abroad on the humanitarian side. I will try to deal with some of the issues raised by Deputy O'Shea, as will my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, in concluding this debate.

The basis of Ireland's participation in international peacekeeping is firmly grounded in the United Nations. Ireland is, and always has been, a strong and committed supporter of co-operation and multilateral arrangements for collective security through the development of international organisations, particularly the United Nations. In tandem with this, Ireland has recognised and defended the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with the UN Charter.

In recent years, the UN has recognised the advantages presented by the existence of regional organisations, such as the European Union, to which it can assign crisis management and peace support missions. Today, the European Union has the capacity to mount major peacekeeping operations and, to date, a total of five military operations, both in and outside Europe, have been undertaken by the Union. The comprehensive range of instruments available to the Union, including the capacity to deploy military forces, means that the Union now has the ability to play a major role in supporting international peace and security and in support of the United Nations.

Co-operation between the European Union and the United Nations is being continuously developed to ensure a coherent and complementary response in peace support operations. There is also increasing co-operation between the UN and the EU in the area of crisis management, with EU involvement in the areas of rule of law, incorporating courts and prisons, civil administration and civil protection, including response to natural disasters.

The increasing necessity for post-conflict peace building has also called for the involvement of civilian police, typically including a training element, and the Garda has participated in a number of such operations and has built up a capacity in this field that is well recognised internationally.

The touchstone for Ireland's participation in overseas missions continues to be the UN. Decisions on Irish participation in ESDP missions are taken on a case-by-case basis and are subject to the "triple lock" process. Irish participation in ESDP operations is fully in keeping with Ireland's commitment to the UN. The Government is fully supportive of the participation of the Defence Forces in a substantive manner in the EUFOR mission.

Turning to the current conflict and the proposed operation in Chad and the Central African Republic, 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 people are displaced and 240,000 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 the north east. Approximately 170,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since September 2005. In addition, more than 43,000 refugees from the Central African Republic reside in Chad and 20,000 people are thought to have fled to Cameroon. Malnutrition has reached alarming levels, particularly among children. The very troublesome situation in the region, in Sudan, Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic demands an immediate response from the international community. The Defence Forces will play a crucial role in helping to provide a more secure environment for the camps.

That innocent people, already uprooted from their homes, terrorised, raped and murdered, continue to be at risk in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons cannot be tolerated. The authorities of Chad and the Central African Republic have welcomed a possible EU military presence in their respective countries. On 25 September 2007, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1778 establishing a multidimensional UN mission in Chad and the Central African Republic that will help strengthen security in the region. The multidimensional presence will comprise, first, 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 or IDPs and civilians in danger — and on human rights and the rule of law in eastern Chad and north-eastern CAR and, second, 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.

UN Security Council Resolution 1778 authorises the European Union, acting under Chapter VII of the UN 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 its capabilities and its area of operation to contribute to protecting civilians in danger, particularly refugees and displaced persons; to improve security in the area of operations to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel; and to contribute to protecting United Nations and associated personnel, facilities, installations and equipment.

The EU is planning to launch this operation as a matter of urgency. The intention is to have an initial operational capability on the ground in December with the operation fully functional by the end of March 2008. The Minister for Defence has called on his European ministerial colleagues to step up to the plate and provide the required assets to allow this important mission to proceed speedily. Ireland from the outset has been positively disposed towards the proposed mission. In its decisions of 2 October and 23 October 2007, the Government decided to deploy the then Deputy Chief of Staff, 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 his deployment and that of his personal support staff on 9 October 2007. The role of the operation commander is to manage the overall military operation and to provide the military interface between the military operation and MINURCAT, the EU and the UN.

The likely location for the deployment of the substantive Irish contingent will be in eastern Chad. 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 comprise some 400 personnel. Due to the nature of the operation and the mission area and environment, force protection will be a key consideration. 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. The main contingent, which is currently undergoing selection and concentration prior to detailed mission specific training, will likely deploy in February or March 2008. A full assessment of the Chad-CAR operation was undertaken, including a comprehensive and detailed reconnaissance of the area of operations by an experienced Defence Forces team, before the final decision was made. 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 bandit groups using 4 x 4 pick-up vehicles and hit and run tactics constitute the main threat EUFOR may have to face. These groups operate opportunistically, concentrating and dissipating quickly, and engage weaker targets, including aid workers, the local population and weaker military elements, but without the potential for any prolonged engagement. These groups operate mainly along the border between Chad and Sudan. French forces based in Chad have indicated that to date they have had no engagement with any of these groups, possibly due to the fact that the groups do not have the potential to engage well trained and equipped military elements.

The Defence Forces have a strong tradition of participation in missions of this nature and Ireland has a particular commitment to Africa, evidenced by, among other things, our bilateral aid programme. Having regard to the importance of this mission for peace and stability in the region and Ireland's abiding interest in Africa and its development, the Government is satisfied that we should participate in the mission. Ireland is determined to play a meaningful and constructive role, as the expected second largest contributor and the provider of the operation commander. As I stated earlier, the launch of the operation depends on the response of the European Union. In this regard, it is vital that those member states who have access to medical and air assets come forward in support of the mission. Planning is continuing in earnest and I look forward to a successful launch of the mission in December. The House will join with me in wishing our troops a successful and safe mission.

I thank the Minister for his educational lesson on how ESDP and the triple lock operate. It was most enlightening for Members on this side of the House. I have mixed views on this mission. I understand the logic behind Resolution 1778 and the desire of the Government to participate, given the situation in eastern Chad. A total of 230,000 refugees from Darfur are currently living in camps run by the United Nations and at least 180,000 Chadians have been left homeless as a result of attacks by armed groups and militia.

However, this situation arose as a result of the abdication of responsibility by the international community for the situation in Darfur. The Irish Government and the European Union cannot be held responsible for it but they have all had a part to play in it. The United Nations failed to broker a meaningful peace deal in Darfur and stood idly by as it witnessed genocide. The Minister referred to the genocide when he visited the area. In addition, there was mass rape and the absolute subjugation of human rights in Darfur. This led to the outbreak of further violence in Chad and the CAR. It is a highly unsatisfactory situation.

There is a huge need to protect the people who have been displaced and forced to live in horrendous circumstances in refugee camps in eastern Chad. The Minister is misleading us somewhat by saying that the Irish Defence Forces have a tradition of participating in missions of this nature. I do not accept this is the case. This is by far the most dangerous mission in which our Defence Forces have participated, particularly under the ESDP. The scale of the mission and the potential danger to our troops are significant and we must weigh up the pros and cons of participation. The potential impact that the troops will have by attempting to provide peace and stability must be contrasted with the risks and dangers to the Irish men and women who will serve there.

We are talking about sending an Irish force of 400 troops, the second largest in the entire deployment. In one sense this is very brave, but it must also be regarded as somewhat foolish. No troops have been committed by larger countries such as Germany or Italy. This must cause us to ask ourselves why Ireland, a small island state, must provide such a large number of troops to this mission. The region has been under siege in recent weeks and violence flared up in recent days in the area in which the Irish troops are to be based. That in itself is a cause for serious concern.

Let us consider the logistics of this mission. Irish troops are to be sent to an area that is entirely landlocked and 2,000 km inland. Based on the history of such missions, there is likely to be a considerable strain on the supply of necessary provisions, particularly water, food and medical supplies. I have major concerns about that aspect. I do not want our troops facing similar conditions to those experienced by troops in German East Africa during the First World War, when a lack of water, food and medical supplies resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. I hope we are not entering that type of situation. Deputy Deenihan mentioned this also in his remarks. The area of Chad is vast — more than three times the size of California — and there is a history of despotism and rebel groups and much danger involved. I have already mentioned the harsh conditions that will be faced. We are talking about temperatures of over 45° Celsius. Obviously, dehydration and the potential risks associated with that are of major concern.

The critical aspect of this mission, which is also my main concern, is the issue of aircraft. The Minister has entirely failed to deal with this point. It is acknowledged that in order to make the mission sustainable there is a requirement for approximately 20 helicopters and other aircraft. We have had no commitment on this from either the European Union or the Government. I am very concerned about it. Perhaps the Minister can emphasise to our European partners at ministerial level the need to provide assistance in that regard. I do not believe the Government should be providing these, given that we are already sending 400 troops. I hope the Minister will ensure that a guarantee will be given in this regard before we give this the go-ahead. I am concerned about us sending 400 troops to a landlocked area with a back-up of three helicopters, which will make it extremely difficult to provide the necessary supplies.

As we are aware, the infrastructure in Chad is very poor. There are 20 airports in the country but only seven of these have tarmacked runways that would be suitable for landing aircraft, a critical aspect of this mission. There is also a risk of disease. African countries, particularly Chad, are major risk areas for malaria and other tropical diseases. I want a guarantee from the Minister that adequate medical provisions will be made available and that doctors will be at hand with the necessary medical resources to deal with any problems that arise among our troops.

The focus of this mission is concern about the refugee camps in Chad. I would like to hear the Minister acknowledge that there are large numbers of displaced people who have not even made it into camps but are on the outskirts and have absolutely no protection. I hope our troops will look after the needs of these people and provide adequate protection for them. They are in a most vulnerable position, more vulnerable than that of the displaced people who are currently in refugee camps. I hope this will be acknowledged by the Minister in the terms of the mission.

We know the history of French colonialism in Chad. I hope the presence of French troops will be counterbalanced by the other troops on the mission and that there will not be a negative backlash from locals. The presence of French troops will be an advantage because they will know the area and the people involved, but there is the risk of a backlash. There is also a major risk of civil war. If this happens, I would like to know what the position of the Irish troops will be. What will happen if local tribes react in a negative manner to the current leader who, as we are aware, rose to power through a coup d’état that was backed by France? There is much tension about this aspect. Where do the Irish troops stand? Will we take one side or the other? Will we be neutral and how will that work in practice? Have these things been thought through?

While I understand the motivation behind this mission, I do not accept that it is a mission like any other because it is not. The conditions are harsher and more perilous, and the scale is far greater, than in any other mission undertaken by the Defence Forces. I ask the Minister to respond to the issues that have been raised by me and my colleagues on the Opposition benches.

I am proud to speak on this motion put forward by the Minister for Defence and, in so doing, to pick up on some of the points that have been made in the House during the debate.

I come from an Army town, with the headquarters of the Western Command across the River Shannon. The proposed mission is a Western Brigade mission. It is important that we mark this fact. Troops from Athlone, Galway, Longford, Mullingar and Donegal will be going, along with some troops from other areas. It is essentially a Western Brigade mission. In my town and county we are very proud of the men and women who have gone abroad on other missions.

Although Deputy Creighton has left, I must point out that there is no such thing as a safe mission. The idea that one mission is safer than another is ridiculous. If one goes abroad to fight or, as we are doing, to keep the peace, one does not believe one is going on a sunshine holiday. I was reminded sharply of what happened in the Congo during a graveyard commemoration last summer for some of the people who had been lost there. We can only think back to that; it was surely the most perilous mission of all. However, every command is perilous and nobody who goes on a mission thinks it is easier than Cyprus, the Lebanon or Liberia.

The Army is not imbued with those kinds of spirits or feelings. They are imbued with spirit for going where they are sent as part of their mission statement when they enlisted in the Army. The troops and officers on this mission know that they are going on a perilous journey. The journey will be simple enough, but the operations of the troops will be fraught with danger. How could it not be so, working in an area of that size? I was amazed that the area is the size of France, Spain and Germany combined.

They are going to Chad under the triple-lock mechanism, an enormous safeguard for us under which the Europe Union, the United Nations and our Parliament give permission. That is as it should be. They are our troops who are fighting for our country and enlisted in our Army.

Of course it is a humanitarian mission. I was taken by the enormous perils which the people who have come into the camps are undergoing and I do not know how they are able to manage their daily lives. I commend the fact that the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Tom Kitt, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, went separately to see what the terrain and the circumstances would be like and to know what we were taking on and going into. Likewise, I commend the group of women headed by former President Mary Robinson who went there and reported on what the women told them. The women have gone from one difficult situation to another extremely difficult one in camp there and the Army will be fully stretched in dealing with the aspect of their mission on this occasion.

We all have approved of Lieutenant General Pat T. Nash and I wish him well as he sallies forth with his troops to do his duty. For a country the size of Ireland with our troop capacity, which is not enormous, it is amazing — the Minister and I had a brief conversation about this previously — that we are able to go with such vigour and enthusiasm to such dangerous spots around the world to take charge of a mission to keep the peace, which is what it is all about, and to care for the dispossessed.

There is sure and firm evidence of many other missions which established great friendships. There are people still visiting Athlone as a result of friendships made in Cyprus, in the main, by our soldiers who went there on difficult missions. I am sure the friendships will endure.

I note that the advance force departs in December, but it will be January when the main mission departs. Lest we think that they will have a less perilous time than the time before, it is not at all like that. I deal in the main with many women and while I understand from the Minister that there will be women Army personnel taking part in this mission, in many instances it is the mothers, wives, sweethearts, sisters and daughters of the male personnel involved who will bear the burden of worry, who will scan the news for every word from eastern Chad and read the newspapers for everything they can glean from them about Chad, and who never thought that they would find themselves in these circumstances.

Due to the work of Army personnel, we now are acquainted with places with which we never would have become acquainted previously. Liberia and Chad are two of those exotic sounding places news of which we would not have bothered listening to, except that we now know that our troops are going there or have been there, and have acquitted themselves in such a fine fashion.

I am not speaking in terms of fairy tales and Pollyanna. I know what I am talking about as I was born, brought up and reared in the town of Athlone with many of the sons and daughters of those who have been abroad. The town is proud of our forces. We are proud of the Western Brigade. We are very proud that Athlone is the headquarters of what was the Western Command, now the Western Brigade.

People ask why Athlone was picked to be the Western Brigade headquarters. That is the way history laid it out. Custume Barracks is across the River Shannon. The Minister, Deputy O'Dea, is an honoured guest whenever he comes to our town and we hope that prior to this deployment he will pay us a further visit, perhaps to say farewell to them.

I am very much in favour of the motion. I am conscious of the dangers our troops will face. At the same time, I am proud of what Irish troops from a peace-living and peacekeeping country have done over the years in wishing to ensure that they can spread their peace and humanitarian message into the strife-torn country of eastern Chad. I pay tribute to those who lost their lives over the years or were injured in various other missions in which the Irish forces were deployed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I thank the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, for his speech which provided us with the background to the mission to Chad. However, will the Minister please assure the House that there will be adequate air support, including 20 helicopters which are needed on this deadly mission?

The instability in the region has been evident again this week when heavy fighting broke out between rebels in the UFDR and Government forces in eastern Chad. Only two days after rebels had declared an end to a month-long ceasefire that had been brokered by Libya, rebels accused the Chadian Government of launching an attack on them. The fighting is in the area where EU forces are to be based, which is of major concern, which is only 25 miles from the border into the Darfur area of Sudan.

Obviously, Chad has faced constant instability and coups since it achieved independence from France in 1960. It has had a colourful history. One president after another has been overthrown. As previous speakers stated, it is the fifth largest state in Africa, at 1.284 million sq. km. It is also land-locked, which no doubt provides many challenges to our Army.

Chad is slightly more than three times the size of California and larger than any state in western Europe. Some 47% of the population is below the age of 15 and the life expectancy is 47 years, which is not high. Obviously, there is much poverty. There are health issues. Some of the social conditions are the worst in Africa. This poses many challenges.

Regarding the physical infrastructure, there are 55 airports, of which only seven have paved runways and 48 are unpaved. This also will prove challenging for our airborne personnel. In addition, only 267 km of the 33,000 km of roads are paved, which is seriously outrageous.

Obviously, there are many diseases associated with Chad, including malaria, hepatitis A and typhoid fever. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be adequate medical support?

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.