Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (77)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

77. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when Ireland will withdraw from Operation Sophia and return to search and rescue missions in view of the continuing deaths of refugees and migrants in the seas around Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52646/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

In relation to Operation Sophia, the Irish Naval Service has not deployed Naval Service vessels to this mission since November 2018. Defence Forces personnel continue to occupy three posts in the Operational Headquarters of the Operation Sophia mission in Rome.

The EU Naval Mission, Operation Sophia, is primarily a security operation, designed to disrupt the traffickers business model and counter oil and weapons smuggling. Operation Sophia has played an important role in improving the overall maritime security in the Central Mediterranean.

A decision was adopted by the European Council on 26th September 2019 to extend the mandate of Operation Sophia for a further 6 months until 31st March 2020, with a temporary suspension of its naval assets, while Member States continue working on a solution related to the disembarkation of any rescued migrants. As the suspension of naval assets under Operation Sophia remains in place, and there is no agreement on the locations for the disembarkation of any rescued migrants, there are no plans for the return of Naval Service vessels to the Mediterranean at this time. The Operation mandate continues to be implemented through strengthening surveillance by air assets, as well as reinforcing training support to the Libyan Coastguard and Navy.

It should be noted that although the deployment of EU Naval assets to Operation Sophia has been suspended, EU Member States have highlighted the importance of continuing to work closely with the relevant authorities and international organisations to improve the protection of refugees and migrants.

The Department of Defence constantly reviews the deployment of Defence Forces Personnel overseas. The changing nature of demands and potential future mission profiles need to be considered in the context of assets and capabilities which can be made available by the Defence Forces for overseas deployment, given existing operational demands at home and overseas.