Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 1 May 1979

Vol. 313 No. 11

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Irish Troops in Lebanon.


asked the Taoiseach if he has received any reply following his recent communication with Mr. Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, on the situation facing Irish troops in the Lebanon, and if it is his intention to make further representations.


asked the Taoiseach to outline the reasons which led to his communication with Mr. Begin.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Question Nos. 1 and 2 together.

The Deputy will be aware that the UN Force in the Lebanon has frequently been subjected to harassment and that it has been prevented from fully carrying out its mandate from the Security Council by the activities of local forces supported from outside.

In the period immediately prior to 18 April harassment by local elements in the southern Lebanon area had increased. The Irish contingent in particular had come under severe artillery fire on several occasions from the socalled de facto forces. It appeared that these incidents had been occasioned by opposition by the de facto forces to efforts to carry out the mandate of the Security Council, to restore the authority of the Lebanese Government in the area. It was also apparent that Israel was in a position to exert a very considerable influence over their activities.

On 18 April, I conveyed personally to the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Begin, my very serious concern at the overall situation which the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was facing in carrying out its difficult mandate and, in particular, my anxiety and that of the Government about the safety of our own troops and that of the other contingents serving with the force.

On the night of 18-19 April, intense shelling and firing by the de facto forces at the UNIFIL HQ in Naqoura took place and six members of the Irish company stationed there were injured.

In his reply, which I received on 19 April, the Israeli Prime Minister indicated that his Government were not in a position to give orders to the de facto forces in southern Lebanon, but that they had influence with them. He said that Israeli authorities had informed the de facto forces that Israel opposed without qualifications any firing or shelling at units of UNIFIL.

The precise circumstances of the bombardment of Naqoura are now under investigation by UN experts in the field. Since these events, there has been no major shelling of Irish forces, though the UN force is still being subjected to harassment and full freedom of movement has not yet been established. The Government will continue to support the efforts of the Secretary General, who is responsible for the operations of the force. I would hope in particular that the Government of Israel will do all in its power to facilitate the force in its efforts to carry out its mandate. The Government will also continue to keep the entire situation in southern Lebanon under close review.

I wish to avail of this opportunity to express the Government's firm support for the UN peace-keeping operation. In particular, I want to express appreciation of the performance of the officers and men of UNIFIL under extremely difficult circumstances and to convey our concern for the troops who have suffered injuries during these attacks. Deputies will, I know, join with me in wishing them all a speedy recovery.

I join with the Tánaiste in commending the behaviour of the Irish troops in difficult circumstances. Will the Tánaiste tell the House if the Government have any reservations on the UN code of combat regulations governing behaviour of UN troops under fire? Will he state if the Government have made any representations on such reservations to the UN authorities? Have the Government any information on the immediate military outlook in the Lebanon, whether that spells further danger for Irish troops and whether any consideration has been given to the withdrawal of these troops if the basic UN instructions that troops under fire may not defend themselves adequately are not altered?

The position is that under UNIFIL's terms of reference approved by the Security Council it is provided that UNIFIL shall use force only in self-defence. Self-defence is defined as including resistance to attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under its mandate. It is clear, therefore, that troops serving with UNIFIL are entitled to return fire. In fact, during the recent bombardment at Naqoura they did so. The question as to whether fire should be returned in particular circumstances is, of course, a matter for the UNIFIL command under the overall direction of the Secretary-General taking into account the overall peace-keeping objectives of the force. With regard to the current military situation the position has improved but it is still by no means satisfactory. I would not like to hazard a guess because it would be no more than that as to how the situation will develop, but I want to make it clear that it is not the intention of the Government to withdraw the Irish troops. The Government are satisfied that the Irish contingent should be maintained with UNIFIL in view of the task it is performing, a task which is of very great importance not only in the area concerned but having implications for a much wider area. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that no peace-keeping operation can be without some risk. Furthermore, Ireland's continued participation in UNIFIL is the practical expression of our support for UN peace-keeping activities. The Irish contribution to UNIFIL is particularly highly regarded. Of course, the Government continue to monitor developments closely and to assist the Secretary-General in any way possible to minimise the risks involved. It is essential that progress be made in enabling the force to carry out its mandate fully and I hope that Israel will now co-operate wholeheartedly to this end.

I do not know if the Tánaiste will agree, but I do not know of any previous UN peace-keeping operation which has been as complicated or as difficult as this. The troops have been caught in a veritable crossfire. In these circumstances, does the Tánaiste agree that there is a case for looking for a reassessment of the code governing UN troops in combat conditions in a situation like this in which we are asking brave men to put their arms aside when their lives are in imminent danger? Will the Tánaiste agree there is a case——

This is a statement leading to a debate.

Is there not a case for asking the UN authorities, whose peace-keeping operations we have supported throughout the years, to review the situation?

The relevant terms of reference do not preclude the troops there from returning fire, and they have in fact done so. The Deputy may rest assured that the whole question of the circumstances in which the troops there should engage in the use of their weapons will be, and indeed continues to be, kept under continuous review having regard to the whole object of the exercise, which is a peace-keeping one.

Have the Government any information as to where the arms have been coming from, where they originated?

These questions could go on for hours.

It is related to the position in which the Irish troops have been finding themselves.

We could have hundreds of such related questions.

It is relevant from the point of view of the representations that could be made to ensure that if possible the supply of arms to those people will dry up, that arms would not be made available for firing at our troops. There was a newspaper article today which stated that the weapons originated in a certain country.

I am not sure that it would be helpful for me to pursue that line, but I can assure the House that the whole matter, including the aspects adverted to by the Deputy, is being monitored closely by the Government, and any steps that can be taken, particularly in conjunction with the Secretary-General and the other countries supplying contingents, are being taken to minimise the risks involved.

In reply to one supplementary the Táanaiste said he hoped the Israeli Government would co-operate in the matter. Have the Government any reservations about the present position of the Israeli Government or their involvement in possible firing on UN troops?

The question of whether any of the firing on UN troops came from Israeli territory is being investigated, among other matters, in the course of the UN investigation, and I should not like to anticipate the outcome of that inquiry.

Do the Government accept the reply given by the Israeli Prime Minister?

We have no reason not to.