Thursday, 21 June 2012

Questions (8)

Michael McGrath

Question:

7Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Defence his plans to reduce the amount of Irish Soldiers engaged in our 14 overseas mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29950/12]

View answer

Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Defence)

Ireland has offered, through the United Nations Standby Arrangements System, UNSAS, to provide up to 850 military personnel for overseas service at any one time. This demonstrates Ireland's commitment to the cause of international peace. This is the maximum sustainable commitment that Ireland can make to overseas peacekeeping operations. Ireland is currently contributing 440 Defence Forces personnel to 12 different missions throughout the world. Full details of all personnel currently serving overseas are listed in the following table.

The main overseas missions, in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed, are the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 356 personnel, the NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo with 12 personnel, the EU Training Mission, EUTM, Somalia with ten personnel, the EU-led operation ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with seven personnel, and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, in Afghanistan with seven personnel.

Ireland will participate with 175 Defence Forces personnel in the Austro-German led battlegroup which will be on standby from 1 July 2012 to 31 December 2012. Ireland has received an invitation from the operational commander of operation EUNAVFOR ATALANTA to contribute an autonomous vessel protection detachment, AVPD, to the operation. The Department is considering whether it will be in a position to do so.

Over the past two years, Irish personnel serving with KFOR in Kosovo and the EU-led Operation ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been drawn down in line with the Government decision in December 2009 to scale back Defence Forces commitments to overseas peace support operations as one of the budgetary expenditure reduction measures.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Planning for the deployment of a contingent of the Finnish armed forces with the Irish battalion in UNIFIL has been ongoing over the past number of months. This has culminated in the formation of a joint Irish/Finnish battalion in UNIFIL, which became fully operational with effect from 1 June 2012. The deployment of the Finnish contingent with the Irish battalion has resulted in the rationalisation of the Irish contribution to UNIFIL from 454 to 356 Defence Forces personnel. Subject to renewal of the mission mandate by the UN Security Council, it is proposed to maintain this level of commitment to UNIFIL for the next three years. There are no plans for any major reductions in the Defence Forces current commitments to overseas peace support operations at this time. The current contribution of some 440 personnel to overseas missions reflects the Government's continued commitment to our responsibilities in the area of international peace and security.

Members of the Permanent Defence Force Serving Overseas

as of 19th June 2012

1

UN Missions

(i)

UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) HQUNIFIL 106 Infantry BattalionUNIFIL Sector West HQ

163328

(ii)

UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) – Israel, Syria and Lebanon

12

(iii)

MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara)

3

(iv)

MONUSCO (United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

3

(v)

UNOCI (United Nations Mission in Ivory Coast)

2

(vi)

UNSMIS (United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria)

6

TOTAL

382

UN Mandated Missions

(vii)

EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina)

7

(viii)

EUTM Somalia (EU-led Training Mission in Uganda)

10

(ix)

KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) – HQ

12

(x)

ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan)

7

TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING WITH UN MISSIONS

418

2

Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

(i)

OSCE Mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina

2

(ii)

OSCE Mission in Belgrade - Serbia

1

(iii)

Head of High Level Planning Group, Vienna

1

(iv)

Staff Officer, High Level Planning Group, Vienna

1

TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING OSCE

5

3

EU Military Staff

Brussels

6

4

Austro-German BattlegroupUlm, Germany

1

5

Military Representatives/Advisers/Staff

(i)

Military Adviser, Permanent Mission to UN, New York

(ii)

Military Adviser, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna

(iii)

Staff Appointments, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna

(iv)

Military Representative to EU (Brussels)

(v)

Liaison Office of Ireland, NATO/PfP (Brussels)

(vi)

Military Representative to NATO/PfP Co-ordination Cell/Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Mons, Belgium

112321

TOTAL NUMBER OF DEFENCE FORCES PERSONNEL SERVING

OVERSEAS

440

I thank the Minister for his reply. This gives us an opportunity to place on record our appreciation to all those serving abroad for the fantastic work they do on the various missions they participate in on behalf of the country. I also send best wishes to their families.

I appreciate there is a question about Syria later but does the Minister expect to have to make commitments to large scale deployments of troops in the next while? A total of 356 personnel are deployed in the Lebanon. How many is it envisaged will participate in that mission over the next 18 months to two years?

We are jointly engaged with a Finnish contingent in the Lebanon and that is envisaged to be the position for some little time.

With regard to Syria, in the context of the six point plan that Kofi Annan has been engaged with arising out of UN decisions, six members of the Defence Forces are engaged as monitors in an overall contingent of 300. I had particular concerns about the safety of the monitors given the manner in which that conflict was continuing. The sad reality is that the six-point plan has not worked to date. Moreover, there is no indication that the murderous campaign being waged by the Assad regime against its own citizens is coming to an end or that the groups opposed to the regime have any intention of laying down their arms. The unfortunate reality is that the level of violence has escalated since our monitors travelled to Syria. The role of these personnel, who are unarmed, was to have overseen matters following the ending of violence. As matters stand, all of the monitors are stationed in headquarters and are not conducting monitoring activities. I have conveyed my concerns regarding the safety of our personnel. The engagement was initially expected to last 90 days, which means it will come to an end around 20 July unless it is renewed by the United Nations.

It is my hope that the conflict in Syria will cease, the monitors can perform the function for which they were deployed and the Kofi Annan plan will be successful, but I am not optimistic it will happen. My position is that our monitors should only remain in place if they have a proper role to play in maintaining peace. I am keeping the situation under review on a day-to-day basis and receiving regular reports on how matters are proceeding. Unfortunately, the barbarity of the conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of many thousands of individuals, does not give rise to optimism that the violence will end soon.

Question No. 8 taken with Question No. 6.