I propose to introduce the motion and provide some brief information on the reasons the Government is responding positively to the United Nations request to provide a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF. On 16 July 2013, the Government authorised the Minister for Defence to arrange for the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force, for a period of one year, for service with UNDOF, and to move the necessary enabling resolution in Dáil Éireann.
In commending the motion to the House, I would like to thank the House for the opportunity to briefly outline the background to UNDOF and to the UN request to Ireland for support in enhancing the capabilities of UNDOF to continue implementing its mandate. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, was established on 31 May 1974 by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 350 (1974). The force was established following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights in May 1974. Since 1974, the mandate of UNDOF has been renewed every six months, most recently on 27 June 2013.
UNDOF supervises the implementation of the disengagement agreement, maintaining an area of separation between the forces which is over 75 km long. While the area of separation is governed and policed by the Syrian authorities, no military forces other than UNDOF are permitted within it. UNDOF remains an important element in ensuring some level of stability in the region.
The escalation of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has significantly and adversely affected the UNDOF area of operations in recent months. The armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic have deployed and carried out military activities and security operations in the UNDOF area of operations. This is a violation of the 1974 disengagement agreement. There has also been an increase in the number of incidents involving United Nations personnel on the ground. The safety and security of UNDOF personnel and Observer Group Golan military observers remains essential for enabling UNDOF to continue to implement its mandate under these difficult conditions. Given the deteriorating security situation, the mission has had to reconfigure its operations so as to ensure the safety of personnel while continuing to implement the mission’s mandate.
The UN Secretary General has called on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions throughout the country, including in the UNDOF area of operations. On 6 June 2013, the Government of Austria announced its decision to withdraw its contingent of 341 personnel from UNDOF. This followed extensive fighting between Syrian armed forces and opposition forces around the area where the Austrians were based. The withdrawal, to be completed on 31 July 2013, has significantly affected the efforts of UNDOF to continue to implement its mandate. Austria has been a long-standing troop-contributing country, of almost 40 years, to UNDOF. The United Nations has approached a range of member states in an effort to urgently identify additional contributions from former and new contributors to UNDOF. Fiji, India and Nepal are understood to be sending troops.
On 1 July 2013, Ireland received a request from the UN to consider contributing a mechanised infantry company as a Force Mobile Reserve to UNDOF. The concept is to provide a mobile, protected and capable independent company to undertake reinforcement, reaction, escort and other operations throughout UNDOF’s area of responsibility. The UN has requested that the Force Reserve Company should be available for deployment by 1 August 2013 and be deployed no later than 1 September 2013.
The mandate for the UNDOF mission was developed in a very different security situation to that which pertains today. The mandate provides for the policing of a voluntary ceasefire and separation agreement between two sovereign states which had full control and were secure within their territorial boundaries. The separation agreement, on which the mandate is based, did not contemplate the current volatile environment and internal conflict in Syria and the threat this poses to UNDOF personnel or to the local population. As such, it is vital that the mission be reinforced with additional and more robust capabilities so as it can continue to discharge its important mandate in this troubled region and in the current difficult circumstances.
The deployment of the Force Mobile Reserve from the Defence Forces will significantly enhance the capability of the UNDOF mission and the protection of UNDOF personnel. The Chief of Staff has advised that the tasks outlined for the Force Mobile Reserve are within the means and capabilities of the proposed Defence Forces contingent. Having considered all the risks and threats associated with the proposed deployment, the Chief of Staff has advised the Minister, Deputy Shatter, that he is satisfied that the proposed Defence Forces contingent, operating within the numbers and the weapons constraints imposed by the UN, have the capability to operate effectively as a Force Reserve to UNDOF and discharge the mandate. He has recommended the deployment of a Defence Forces contingent, as proposed by the UN, subject to confirmation of the situation on the ground by an operational reconnaissance, to be undertaken later next week.
The overall threat to Defence Forces personnel on the Golan Heights and within the UNDOF area of responsibility is assessed as substantial. This is similar to some other theatres in which the Defence Forces are currently deployed.
Following the Defence Forces operational reconnaissance in the mission area, my colleague, the Minister for Defence will consider detailed threat assessments from the Defence Forces to ensure the security of personnel before any deployment to UNDOF.
Subject to Dáil approval, it is proposed to deploy a force reserve company which will primarily be deployed and operate on the Syrian side of the UNDOF area of responsibility. The company will consist of a headquarters commanded by a lieutenant colonel, two mechanised infantry platoons, one reconnaissance section and a logistics group including a forward medical team. The final organisational configuration of the Defence Forces contingent to UNDOF will be determined following a detailed reconnaissance by a Defence Forces team to the mission area. If participation in UNDOF is approved, initial deployment will be for one year, subject to the renewal of the mandate. The Minister for Defence estimates that the additional costs of deployment and sustainment in 2013 will be approximately €2 million and the additional cost for a full year will be approximately €5 million. Approximately three quarters of this will be recoverable from the UN. The Minister for Defence is satisfied that the costs of the mission can be absorbed for the balance of the current year. The costs for 2014 will have to be addressed as part of the Estimates process.
The Government has approved participation in UNDOF, which remains an important element in ensuring there is a level of stability in this region. The proposal to deploy Defence Forces personnel to the mission is supportive of Ireland’s ongoing obligations to international peace and security and the Government’s commitment to maintaining the Defence Forces capabilities in international operations. Like my colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, I am confident that the Defence Forces will play a real and substantive role in supporting the UN's efforts to enhance the capabilities of UNDOF. The deployment of the force mobile reserve will help to ensure the mission can continue to implement its mandate. I believe the Defence Forces contingent can make an important contribution to the success of the UNDOF mission, as the Defence Forces have done throughout the world on many occasions in the past. I commend the motion to the House.