Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 8 May 1990

Vol. 398 No. 4

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - UNIFIL Contingent.

Proinsias De Rossa


23 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement regarding the recent visit by the Minister of State at his Department to the Irish contingent serving with UNIFIL.

Commencing on 15 March 1990 the Minister of State at my Department made an official visit extending over a period of twelve days to Irish troops serving with the United Nations in the Middle East, including Lebanon and Cyprus. He spent four days with the Irish contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, and saw at first hand the conditions under which Irish troops are required to operate. He was satisfied that, despite the generally unsatisfactory situation in South Lebanon, the presence of UNIFIL affords protection and humanitarian assistance to the local population and provides a relative stability and sense of security.

The safety and welfare of Irish personnel are a source of constant concern to the Government. We will continue to monitor developments in Lebanon very closely.

While in Beirut, the Minister of State met the Lebanese Minister of Defence, Dr. Albert Mansour, and a number of senior officials. During discussions, he raised the case of Brian Keenan, who has been held hostage in Lebanon since 1986. He asked the Lebanese authorities for their assistance in establishing Mr. Keenan's whereabouts or any other information which might be of assistance in securing his release.

In interviews with local news media, the Minister stressed the concern of the Keenan family and appealed for information which might assist in securing Mr. Keenan's freedom. As the House will be aware Government efforts to secure the release of Mr. Keenan are a matter of top priority.

In the course of his visit to UNIFIL, the Minister met the Force Commander, Lieutenant-General Wahlgren and discussed the security of the Irish battalion with particular reference to the relocation of battalion headquarters and the redeployment of personnel. He also meet the Muktar of Tibnin and representatives of Amal.

The Minister then travelled to Cyprus where he spent two days visiting UNFICYP. He paid courtesy calls on the Cypriot Minister for Defence, the Force Commander and Chief of Staff of UNFICYP and the Special Representative in Cyprus of the UN Secretary-General.

The Minister also went to Syria for a three-day visit. He visited UN observation posts on the Golan Heights and met the Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force — UNDOF and the Syrian Minister for Defence. Before the Minister left Cyprus for Syria he had asked the Syrian Ambassador in Cyprus to contact his Defence Minister in order that some positive information on Brian Keenan would be available when they met in Damascus. In the event, the Minister of State was informed that Mr. Keenan was alive.

I would like to avail of this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication and courage of all Irish personnel serving with the United Nations. They are a credit to Ireland and to the Defence Forces.

I join the Minister in commending our Defence Force personnel serving overseas. Would the Minister state whether his Minister of State had any opportunity to raise the matter of the moneys outstanding to this country for the service of our soldiers on behalf of UNIFIL and generally UN troops abroad?

That seems to be a separate matter.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has been raising that matter with the Secretary General of the United Nations; that is where the difficulty lies in that respect. Repayments have increased recently as the Soviet Union and the United States endeavour to catch up on their defaults in payments over the years to the United Nations. Therefore these moneys are coming on stream at present.

Is it intended to continue such visits — at Minister of State level — by the Department of Defence to UN troops on a regular basis in the future?

It is desirable that that be done. It is particularly important that it be done with regard to the last contingent because they experienced a very difficult six months in which they performed their duties excellently.

I join the Minister in his tribute to our forces serving overseas with UNIFIL. Has the Minister any plans for a visit to them on the part of the spokespersons of the other parties? Does he not think such a visit would be of immense value to the spokespersons of the other parties and indeed to the morale of the Army personnel?

As the Deputy knows, that idea was mooted earlier this year. Then the security position there blew up, which sometimes, unfortunately, happens in that part of the world. The matter is still under consideration and is one for discussion between the Whips. Indeed I spoke to the Government Chief Whip about that only today.