Deputy De Rossa has been given permission to raise on the Adjournment the deterioration of the situation in southern Lebanon and the dangers to Irish troops. The Deputy has approximately 20 minutes.
Adjournment Debate. - Irish Troops in Lebanon.
Thank you for the opportunity to raise this matter. It is of great concern to hundreds of Irish families whose husbands and sons are serving in Lebanon peace-keeping forces. There are two main reasons to be concerned about the situation in Lebanon. The fact that we have troops in the UNIFIL contingent there is one. Many people are gravely concerned about the increasing confrontation and the attacks on Irish troops. Another obvious reason is the fact that what happens in the Lebanon can have a widespread influence on the whole Middle East situation and that in turn has implications for world peace.
On 7 March this year Irish troops came under fire and again on 18 and 19 March they came under fire in the village of Braasheet. The culprits on each occasion were apparently Israeli-backed militia. More ominously reports in this morning's Irish Independent indicate that Irish army officers believe that Israel are trying to drive Irish troops out of the area for which they are responsible. A report from David Rogers in Camp Shamrock in the Irish Independent says:
Irish peacekeeping forces fear Israel may be trying to dislodge them from positions in southern Lebanon in order to carve out a security zone along the border, Army officers said yesterday.
Major Padraig O'Callaghan said it was a small miracle his company had not suffered casualties when it fought an unprecedented four-hour gunbattle with militiamen in the hill village of Braasheet on Monday night.
During the battle, some 500 rounds of ammunition were fired, bullets crashed into the Irish command post and two rocket-propelled grenades narrowly missed the building, he said.
Other officers said 23 hours passed before the Israeli army sent a liaison officer to the scene on Tuesday to persuade the local militia, led by a pro-Israeli Shi'ite Moslem, Hussein-Abdel Nabin, to retreat...
Israel has said that it wants pro-Israeli militia groups to police the zone when it completes its military withdrawal from Lebanon later this year. When necessary, the militias will be backed up by Israeli units.
Clearly, that is a fairly serious situation for Irish peace-keeping forces. The record of Israel in the Lebanon has been deplorable. It is unacceptable that a fellow member of the UN, a country with which Ireland has friedly relations, should be arming and encouraging groups to place the lives of Irish peace-keeping troops in danger. The Israeli Government have consistently flouted the authority of the UN and undermined their attempts to keep the peace. The Government should as a matter of urgency protest to Israel in the strongest possible manner about its activities in that area. We are not calling for the withdrawal of Irish trops from Lebanon. We are totally opposed to the line suggested by a former Deputy and Minister in this House who wrote in The Irish Times recently that Irish troops should be withdrawn. Such a move would not be in the interests of the people of Lebanon and it would be an abdication of our responsibility as a member of the UN with responsibility for keeping the peace. I would ask the Minister to indicate what steps the Government have taken in relation to this serious situation and if he has not done so, to make strong representations of protest to the Israeli Government about what is happening. I would ask the Minister to also indicate what steps have been taken to strengthen the Irish contingent in the area to make sure that they have the resources necessary to defend themselves and keep the peace.
I appreciate Deputy De Rossa's concern which I share, for the wellbeing of the members of our permanent Defence Forces. When any incidents take place in Lebanon in the area of operation of the Defence Forces or the UN generally it is a matter for concern for us and for other contributing countries. When an incident of the type described by the Deputy takes place it is protested by us directly through our diplomatic relations with Israel, it is protested on the ground to the UN commander-in-chief and it is also protested, I would imagine, in the normal way at UN headquarters in New York.
The reports in today's Irish Independent have not been confirmed to us by any direct contact from our forces in Lebanon. We are in daily contact, and daily situation reports come to army headquarters directly on the radio network and are reported immediately they occur. I cannot say if the report in the Irish Independent is one journalist's interpretation of what he heard discussed in Camp Shamrock or other parts of the area of operation but certainly I cannot substantiate the quotation as being an accurate account of the views of officers of the Irish battalion.
In relation to the political and military situation generally in south Lebanon, we have been following it with concern. To put it in context, this is not the first time there has been an unstable situation in that part of the country prior to the Israeli invasion in 1982. Incidents of a similar character to those that have taken place in the last number of weeks were relatively commonplace. Our troops are not faced with a situation new to their experience. Many of them are veterans of previous tours of duty and have had experience in the past of similar incidents. Relying on that experience they know how to deal with them. I am satisfied that the manner in which they are deployed and the equipment they possess are adequate to ensure maximum safety for the contingent consistent with their role in discharging the mandate.
The present difficulties arise from the Israeli withdrawal which has been characterised by increasing attacks on the Israeli defence forces by a Shi'ite resistance group. In turn they have provoked what I can only describe as excessive and unacceptable Israeli counter measures. Lives have been lost on both sides. The Government abhor and deplore the taking of life for political ends. We consider that there is a special responsibility on the Israeli authorities who invaded Lebanon in June 1982 to act with the maximum restraint possible in the course of their withdrawal.
Our position with regard to the Israeli invasion has been clear and unequivocal. In line with our fellow contributing countries we have consistently called for a complete and unconditional withdrawal. Indeed, we sponsored the key Security Council resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal in June 1982. We have stressed that any withdrawal should be orderly, peaceful and co-ordinated with the UN and the Lebanese Government and should be complete. We hope that the withdrawal will proceed in that way so as to avoid the bloodshed and destruction of recent weeks.
The other matter I should like to refer to is the role of UNIFIL and the security of its personnel, something that concerns us directly. The role of UNIFIL was established for the achievement of three objectives: to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, to help to restore peace and security in the area and to assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its sovereignty and effective authority in the area of south Lebanon. That has been a difficult role for UNIFIL to play from the time those troops first arrived in that country. UNIFIL has played a very valuable and valid role in keeping the peace and providing security for the local population. In the course of a visit there last October I saw the peaceful nature of the area controlled by UNIFIL. There was a tremendous amount of economic activity. I could see the contrast between the activity I saw on that visit in comparison with a previous visit in March 1983. The population had increased and there was more economic, commercial and agricultural activity. In my opinion, and in the view of the United Nations authorities out there, that was directly attributable to the presence of UN forces in the area. One can say that peace and security in the area was restored by the presence of the United Nations.
The other arm of the mandate was to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces and I have no doubt that the continuing presence of UNIFIL in Lebanon has assisted towards the decision of Israel to withdraw. I hope that decision is implemented peacefully and quickly and is co-ordinated with the authorities on the ground. When that withdrawal takes place the United Nations will be there to assist the Lebanese Government to restore its writ over the area concerned. In fact, there is a Lebanese Government presence there all the time and it is there with the assistance, co-operation and encouragement of the United Nations.
The Government and I are constantly concerned for the welfare of our troops. The recent incidents have been protested vigorously to the Israeli authorities. They have also been the subject of protest by the United Nations. We will continue to monitor the scene closely and the House can be assured that the Government, in collaboration with the other contributing countries and having regard to their obligation as a member of the United Nations, will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the mandate is effectively discharged bearing in mind always that we want to ensure that the welfare of our troops is kept prominently in consideration.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 March 1985.