asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is aware that recent military incidents in the Lebanon suggest that the de facto forces there have changed their policy from shelling to shelling and firing at UNIFIL positions “for effect” and if he will make a statement on the matter in view of the threat posed by this new policy to the safety of Irish troops.
Private Notice Questions. - Irish Troops in Lebanon.
I am aware that there have recently been some further incidents of serious harassment of UNIFIL positions by the de facto forces, including shelling and firing. These are naturally a source of great concern to the Government and we have conveyed our views very strongly to Israel.
In addition, the United Nations have protested to the de facto forces about those incidents and have taken them up with the Israeli authorities, in view of the great influence they exercise over the de facto forces. However, from the information available to us from all sources there has not been any significant change in the pattern of harassment by the de facto forces when this occurs.
The situation within the Irish battalion area had until recent events been relatively quiet for over a month. Clearly, however, the overall situation remains somewhat unstable owing to the general conditions in the area, the activities of the de facto forces which Israel continues to support, and the limited progress made towards full implementation of UNIFIL's mandate.
As I said previously, no peace-keeping operation can be without risk and UNIFIL confronts particular difficulties. I can assure the Deputy, however, that the Government will continue to monitor developments very closely and to use every diplomatic channel open to us to assist the Secretary General in reducing to a minimum the risks faced by the force.
I am somewhat amazed to hear the Minister imply that the situation there is just a continuing situation of de facto forces and possibly Israeli forces directly firing for harassment purposes. There is no doubt from my observations that the firing now is for effect.
A question, Deputy.
Would the Minister agree with the statement made by the Secretary General of the United Nations when the mandate for the peace-keeping force in the Lebanon was being renewed, dated 8 June 1979——
The Deputy may not quote at Question Time.
Would the Minister agree with the statement made by the Secretary General of the United Nations that it was an essential prerequisite for the successful fulfilment of the mandate by Irish and other troops under UN control in the Lebanon that, first of all, harassment, as it was then described, by the de facto forces in the immediate vicinity of Naquara must cease? That has not happened. In fact, it has escalated. Would the Minister agree that firing for harassment, as at that time it was, on UN positions and on the local population must cease? Not only has that prerequisite not been met but the situation has very dramatically and dangerously escalated.
It is a very long question.
It is a very important problem. The situation has deteriorated considerably and there is no doubt that the firing now coming from the de facto forces or from Israeli forces is on and into camps occupied by Irish troops and that firing is for effect and not for harassment. Would the Minister indicate, in those circumstances, if the Government feel that the diplomatic and political restraints and failures by the UN and by our Government have led to the present situation where it is practically impossible for any prospect of fulfilling the mandate by our troops in the Lebanon?
I will endeavour to deal with most of the points, if not all, made by the Deputy in his statement. First of all, I do not accept that the Government's representations and protests have been a failure. On the contrary, I want to assert here very clearly that the Government's representations and protests have been successful. There has not been, since the highest level representations were made by me directly to the Foreign Minister Dayan and, subsequently, by the Taoiseach directly to the Prime Minister Begin, anything like a repetition of the events we protested about at that time. So much for the failure.
With regard to what Deputy Cluskey on his judgement decides is a change of policy on the part of the de facto forces now to shoot for effect, I can only tell the House that that is only Deputy Cluskey's assessment but does not accord with the assessment of the military or the United Nations. I have said that very clearly in my reply. I suggest to Deputy Cluskey, in the circumstances, that we could both best rely on the information provided to us by the people most professionally qualified to do it. I appreciate that because Deputy Cluskey was in the region at the time of those events he might get the impression that what he saw was worse, a stepping up or a change of tactic than anything that happened previously. As he will know, the Government, through the channels available to us and also through visits by the Minister for Defence and the Minister of State at my Department, have been very closely in contact at all levels.
I do not accept, therefore, on the basis of the information available to me through all sources, United Nations and military, that there has been a change. I certainly do not accept that the Government's representations and protests have been a failure. I accept, because I have said it many times, that to implement this mandate effectively, all of the United Nations forces would be allowed to exert their authority over the whole area, including that portion which the Israeli forces handed over to the de facto forces. I accept that even the harassment of the nature that I acknowledge exists and continues to exist, is a major problem for the forces and a very serious obstruction to the UN forces in implementing a very difficult mandate in a very sensitive area.
We have conveyed our views at every level to that effect. The service which our troops and other troops are giving in the cause of peace out there should be supported. I would not like to think that the people of Ireland or the relatives of those soldiers would, because of the observations of Deputy Cluskey, get grounds for concern which are not warranted from information available to us.
First of all, with regard to the last part of the Minister's statement, I was extremely conscious——
We will not have a debate on this.
I am entitled to comment.
The Deputy is not really. The Deputy may proceed by way of supplementary question.
The Minister seemed to indicate that the present situation is reasonably satisfactory.
I did not say that.
The Minister indicated that it might be, in my view, that the situation was more serious than his information would lead him to believe. I can assure the Minister and the House that any statement I am making here is made in the full consciousness of the very serious matter which is under discussion. I have here completely documented information with regard to the situation, the location, the number of shells or bullets which were fired in 17 incidents which took place between 28 June and 8 July.
The Deputy must ask a question. This is not going to become a debate on UNIFIL.
In view of the fact that between 28 June and 8 July artillery and mortar rounds fired were, 149; machine gun rounds, 6,010; white phosphorous rounds, five; and counted machine gun fire, two incidents, does the Minister seriously stand up in the House, in view of the fact that some of those have landed within the compounds of Irish held positions, and tell us that this is just harassment and that he is reasonably satisfied with the position?
I want to say, first of all, that the information and the details the Deputy now presents as being recorded fact might have been presented to us, if he presents it as fact, but it does not accord with the facts as presented to me through the information available to me from the United Nations and military sources. I suggest to the Deputy that if, as his question implies, there has been a change of tactics to shoot for effect, namely, to shoot to kill, it does not square with the information that that level of attack either was very badly directed or that somebody did not have a very accurate aim—fortunately.
From the information available to me from the authorities whom I have consulted, I reject the statement that such is the case. I want to emphasise again that at all times we have insisted as have the United Nations, in order that our troops, who are undertaking risks which we and they accepted, will be enabled to complete the mandate which has been implemented in part, that this harassment must stop, the Israelis must stop their infiltration and the de facto forces must withdraw. That is the position as advised to me professionally from the sources available to me. I want to say quite deliberately that the figures available to me do not correspond with what Deputy Cluskey mentioned. I do not know what areas are involved.
Would the Minister regard an incident which happened last Saturday in which a white phosphorous bomb exploded on the roof of a building occupied by Irish troops was not firing for effect? Does the Minister just consider that harassment?
We are getting into the realm of debate. I am calling the next Private Notice Question.
We are talking about one bomb as distinct from what the Deputy referred to in the last part of his question. The Deputy must know from his visit that the Irish troops have taken every precaution. They are bunkered in situations of this kind to protect them against shells of that nature. I want to say there is no evidence that they were directed against the lives of any of the Irish troops. There is shelling in the area and we have protested about this on many occasions.
The matter raised is a very serious one and it is one that should not divide this House. Would the Minister not agree that his attempt to whitewash what is happening and his attempt to suggest that the representations made to the Israeli Government have been effective, when in the last few days they have invaded the UN territory occupied by Irish forces and attacked buildings there, is an affront to this House? This side of the House has no desire to divide the House on the issue. Would the Minister not agree that his function is to protect the lives of the Irish soldiers and the interests of the United Nations rather than to try to whitewash the situation and suggest that nothing serious is happening when the situation has got worse since he made his representations with the direct invasion by Israeli forces in the last few days?
The Deputy sat in the seat that I occupy and of all people he should recognise that it is not the function of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to protect the forces in operation. Irrespective of what protests we make or what effective action we can take, it is not the function of the Minister. If he knows the procedures under which the UN forces operate, he must know that it is the function of the UN and the Commander-in-Chief of the UN to take those steps. Secondly, there has been no attempt on my part to whitewash and I reject any implication by the Deputy that I am trying to do that. Far from it. What I did say, and I repeat it again, is that the incidents that have occurred recently are not of the same nature and extent as the incident in respect of which I made contact directly with Foreign Minister Dayan and the Taoiseach made contact with Prime Minister Begin——
On what date?
In April of this year. On the basis of the information supplied to us they are not of the same intensity. If the Deputy wants to present that as whitewash, that is his privilege. I am endeavouring to adhere to the facts.
The Minister has attempted to suggest that protests have been effective with the Israeli authorities and he made that claim in this House a few days after the direct invasion by Israeli forces of territory under Irish control.
I am calling the next business.
What action is the Minister going to take with the Israeli Government to prevent a repetition of that and what action will he take with the American Government to ensure that arms are not being given to Israel to be used against Irish forces in the UN——
The Chair has called the next business and the Deputy is aware of that.
The action we have taken has been very consistent and effective.
What about the Israelis invading the territory? The Minister made a ridiculous statement.
We promoted a debate in the UN Security Council in which our permanent representative made a strong statement. We have led the protests to the Israelis on behalf of all of the nations who are contributing troops. We have taken a leading role in that operation. So far as representations to other countries who could have an influence are concerned, we have been very active as recently as yesterday. I resent any implication that, because there are incidents we deplore, that is a measure either of inactivity or lack of concern on the part of the Government. I reject that completely.
I did not suggest inactivity or lack of concern. I said the Minister had attempted to mislead the House——
We have devoted 15 minutes to this matter. I have called the next question.
The Minister attempted to mislead the House by saying that our efforts were successful but the Israelis cocked a snook at us and at other countries and followed that by invading territory under the control of the Irish troops——
If the Deputy wants us to pull out, why not say so?
Will Deputy FitzGerald please resume his seat? He should not ignore the Chair. When I permit a Private Notice Question it is not a debate. I have allowed 15 minutes on this matter and I will not allow any further questions.
I should like to ask one short question.
I am calling the next question. Will Deputy O'Keeffe or Deputy Hegarty read their Private Notice Question? I will not allow any further questions on this matter.
The Chair has refused to allow further questions despite the totally unsatisfactory attitude, the Pontius Pilate attitude, of the Minister with regard to the safety of the Irish troops. You have not heard the end of this.
The Deputy wants to exploit the fact that he visited the area and he wants to get good publicity for it.
The Minister is irresponsible.
Let the people decide that.