Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 29 Jun 1993

Vol. 433 No. 1

Defence (Amendment) Bill, 1993: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to set out the headings of the proposed amendment to the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1960. Copies of my speech will be handed out to the spokesmen of the Opposition parties as well as to the Members who will be involved in the currency of this debate.

The purpose of the Bill before the House is to amend and extend the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1960 which is the legislation currently governing the despatch of contingents of the Permanent Defence Force outside the State as part of United Nations International Forces. The 1960 Act defines such a force as an international force or body established for the performance of duties of a police character. The mandate of UNOSOM II is not confined to duties of a police character. The effective removal of the restriction to duties of a police character is the only material change to the 1960 Act. The Bill provides that personnel who enlisted in the Defence Forces before the change in legislation takes effect will not be liable for service in the broader role unless they offer in writing to do so and the offer has been accepted,

While the Bill, if enacted, would be enabling legislation without specific reference to a particular mission, Deputies will be aware that the Government are favourably disposed to a request from the United Nations to supply personnel for service with the second UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II). The mandate of the new Force is broader than any in which Ireland has previously participated, necessitating the proposed change in legislation.

The Irish Government have been requested to furnish UNOSOM II with a transport company which will consist of six officers, 23 NCOs and 51 privates. These personnel will operate a fleet of 30 transport vehicles and will be mainly employed in transporting supplies for UNOSOM. The personnel of the company — all of them volunteers with extensive experience of previous United Nations missions — have undergone intensive training in preparation for Somalia. The unit has been organised to achieve maximum self-sufficiency and will bring its own catering and medical facilities. Personnel will be issued with small arms and other weapons appropriate for self-defence, although when moving in convoy in the transport role, armed escorts will be provided by other contingents. Irish personnel will not be involved directly in military operations.

In deciding our response to the United Nations request, a number of considerations arose. In the first place, while accepting that there is always an element of risk attached to service with the United Nations, the Government were conerned that Irish personnel would not be exposed to an unacceptable level of danger. Secondly, the Government considered whether participation in UNOSOM II would be appropriate having regard to our traditional role in the United Nations. Having seen the situation on the ground at first hand, I can give some assurances on the level of risk but I cannot give absolute guarantees in that regard.

Because of heightened concern about Irish participation in UNOSOM following recent events, I travelled to Somalia last weekend in the company of a number of senior military officers and of a member of the staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I wish to record, on the one hand, my appreciation of the professionalism of the Army officers and, on the other, the wisdom of the advice received from the person from the Department of Foreign Affairs. On Saturday, in Mogadishu, I met the Admiral Jonathan Howe, the special representative of the Secretary General in Somalia and with General Thomas Montgomery, the deputy Force Commander on UNOSOM II. I sought a meeting with the Force Commander, General Bir of Turkey, but unfortunately, on that occasion he was out of South Mogadishu. However, his deputy Force Commander received us warmly and gave us a general account of what we might expect in our role in Somalia with the other forces. I met also with representatives of the Irish aid agencies in Mogadishu and Baidoa. In Mogadishu I met with representatives of GOAL and of Concern and of other international aid agencies. There were 15 or 20 personnel from one aid agency or another in South Mogadishu with whom I had extensive talks. Certainly the GOAL and Concern representatives were most anxious that Ireland be represented under the United Nations flag in Somalia in the present circumstances and under the present conditions. The military officers accompanying me also had discussions with senior staff officers in UNOSOM headquarters in South Mogadishuu. The House will be aware that the jurisdiction of South Mogadishu up to recently was under the patronage of warlord General Mohammad Aideed, a man I met on two previous occasions during the course of my visits to that tragic country.

North Mogadishu is under the patronage of another warlord who describes himself as an interim president, Mr. Ali Mahdi. I put that in historic perspective to give a geographical description of who is in charge, and in what region, in the context of the complex situation which existed and continues to exist in Mogadishu, a devastated city.

While the present position in south Mogadishu, the stronghold of General Aideed, remains very tense that is not the case in the rest of the country where conditions are relatively calm. I was informed that the Irish contingent will be kept together as a unit and co-located in Baidoa with a larger French unit. In other words, the integrity of the Irish contingent will, at all times, be respected, under no circumstances will they be separated. I obtained permission from the United Nations people to go to Baidoa which was not on the agenda, and that was generously acceded to. It was a worthwhile visit, the experiences of which far exceeded my expectations. While in Baidoa, I visited the French contingent which took up duty several weeks ago, having replaced the Australian contingent. I also met with the Irish aid workers and local community leaders. The military officers accompaning me had detailed discussions with officers of the French contingent concerning the precise arrangements for Irish personnel. In that regard I pay tribute to General Quadri of the French contingent who warmly welcomed us and put all his disposition, forces, experience and information at the disposal of our two professional soldiers, General John O'Shea, Assistant Chief of Staff and the officer commanding the proposed contingent, Commandant Maurice O'Donoghue. Those two officers had extensive talks with General Quadri on the Saturday evening we arrived and two hours of briefing on the Sunday morning before we departed. Therefore, we will not be going into Somalia or Baidoa uninformed. Our journey and arrival is well prepared for.

From the outset, I made it clear that I will be guided absolutely by the professional advice of the military authorities regarding risk assessment. That advice, based on first-hand observation, is in favour with going ahead with the peace enforcement measure. I would add that in south Mogadishu and Baidoa, the reputation of the Defence Forces as United Nations peacekeepers has gone before them and the arrival of the transport company with its fleet of heavy lorries is awaited with urgency. I need hardly add that the Irish aid workers are looking forward to being joined in Somalia by Defence Forces' personnel. The news that the transport company will be based in Baidoa will give a major lift to the morale of the GOAL and Concern volunteers.

When I first visited Baidoa in August last year it was known as the city of death. I saw at first hand the obscenity of famine, people dead and dying in their hundreds if not in their thousands, on the streets of Baidoa. It was an horrific sight, one that will remain with me forever. Thousands of people were starving without hope. The Baidoa which I visited last weekend is now a city of hope, a city of revitalisation and resurrection. The aid agencies, particularly GOAL and Concern, have worked miracles in recent months now that aid is getting through. The work done by GOAL in the orphanage where there are more than 979 children whose brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers have died during the past 12 months is remarkable. Their achievement is writ largely in that now those orphans are well fed and have some hope that life is available to them. The Concern feeding stations and the school operating under the aegis of Concern have made remarkable achievements having regard to what I saw less than 12 months ago. Therefore, very positive things are happening in Somalia. Desperate things are happening in south Mogadishu and more desperate things are to come, particularly in the context of the upcoming arrest of General Aideed and the convulsions expected thereafter, but what is happening in south Mogadishu is not reflected in the rest of Somalia and in Baidoa in particular.

I would like to record my admiration and gratitude for the magnificent humanitarian work performed by the volunteer Irish aid workers in Somalia. Their heroism knows no bounds, particularly during the past number of years and more specifically in the past number of weeks. The generous response of the people of this island has been well placed and they should be justly proud of their humanitarian generosity. In the past 12 months the Irish people, since Somalia was brought to their attention, have given millions and millions of hard earned money towards the support of the aid agencies in Somalia and I assure them that, having seen the bad days and, as recently as last week, the good days, their money was well spent on the starving people who, happily, are no longer starving. In addition, I pay particular tribute to the voluntary agencies, including GOAL, Concern, Trocaire and the Red Cross for their tremendous work in saving life in Somalia.

As to the appropriateness of participating in UNOSOM II, given the broader powers set out in its mandate, we should remind ourselves of why UNOSOM was established. In regard to the background to UNOSOM, the scale of human suffering inflicted on innocent men, women and children in Somalia amid scenes of utter and total despair was vividly brought into our living rooms by the news media. Pictures of gaunt figures ravaged by disease and lack of proper nourishment with no hope of survival moved the international community to come to their aid. However, when relief did arrive the warlords of Somalia, for their own selfish and self-perpetuating reasons would not allow the supplies to reach those in need. Law and order had given way to the rule of the gun, with men, women and children starving to death because the available food and medical supplies could not be distributed.

The United Nations is the only body with the moral authority to address the crisis, there is nobody else to do it. If the United Nations pull out, what will be left? There will be famine and starvation on the same horrific scale, if not worse. Against that background, the United Nations responded first with UNITAF, a mission undertaken by the armed forces of the United States and other countries and now with UNOSOM II.

Overall, the UN intervention has produced a dramatic turnaround in the situation. When I visited Somalia for the first time as Minister for Foreign Affairs and as the first ministerial representative of the European Community, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and experienced in those few days. At that time it was estimated that out of a total population of 7.8 million, 1.5 million were in immediate danger of death from starvation and a further 2.5 million were seriously at risk. I accompanied the President on her visit last October 1992 — that visit helped in no small measure to keep the plight of the Somali people in world focus and once again drew attention to the need for an urgent and co-ordinated international response. When the President left Somalia I accompanied her to the United Nations where we had extensive discussions with Mr. Butros Butros Ghali, the Secretary General of the United Nations. We impressed upon him the urgency of addressing what was happening in Somalia, which I described at that time as a land forgotten by God. Certainly, the international community had forgotten it. As a direct result of Ireland's intervention we now have what we have in Somalia, warts and all.

The first response of the United Nations was to authorise UNITAF, the force initially established under US command, to deploy in Southern and Central Somalia. It has now been replaced by UNOSOM II which is deploying throughout Somalia and working to recreate a normal environment in which the Somali people can live in peace and security and in which the various aid agencies, including the Irish overseas agencies, can carry out their work. Recent events have only served to reinforce the importance of UNOSOM II. Quite simply, the alternative to UNOSOM II is a return to the nightmare of 1992 and previous years.

UNOSOM II will consist of approximately 28,000 troops drawn from 32 countries. All these countries are sending their contingents and not one of them has said they will not go.

UNOSOM II's mandate, which covers the whole territory of Somalia, includes enforcement powers in accordance with chapter VII of the UN charter. Its mission will be to ensure that all factions will respect the ceasefire, to prevent the resumption of violence, to maintain control of heavy weapons, to seize unauthorised small arms, to secure ports, airports and lines of communication, to protect UN, Red Cross and non-governmental personnel and facilities, to continue the demining programme and to assist in the repatriation of refugees.

The end of the cold war has produced dramatic changes in the international environment. In many parts of the world conflicts formerly held in check by the tensions between the superpowers are now coming to the fore. There is a growing need for intervention on the part of the United Nations. Ireland has long supported United Nations peace-keeping operations and we support the need to develop further the UN's capability in this important area.

In many ways the participation of Irish troops in United Nations peacekeeping has become the mainstay of our involvement in the affairs of that organisation. Without our peacekeeping commitment the UN could be said to have little real meaning for us as otherwise our voice would be lost among the voices of the superpowers. It is in this vein that we approach the latest request from the United Nations to Ireland to send troops to Somalia. Not to respond positively would be to fail to recognise and support the new enhanced role of the United Nations and also to recognise the role which Ireland, as a small, neutral, independent state, can play in helping to bring about peace and stability in today's world.

The people of Somalia need help and they need it now. It is of no use to them for Ireland as a nation to preach to others about what should be done or who should do it. As a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations we have a responsibility to match our actions to our concerns. To do otherwise would be to shy away from our obligations to our fellow human beings.

Irish troops have a long and proud tradition of serving in the cause of peace around the world under the flag of the United Nations and have made a very significant contribution and sacrifice in the cause of international peace through the years. Our troops are highly thought of and highly sought after by the United Nations and it came as no surprise that we were asked to contribute to the force now being established in Somalia.

The Defence Forces have participated in United Nations missions since 1958 and since then over 35,000 troops have served abroad with patience, diplomacy, discipline and military professionalism and have won for themselves international acclaim and an excellent reputation. At present approximately 750 military personnel are serving overseas in 12 countries, a very large number for a small country and a clear demonstration of our support and belief in the role of the United Nations as an international peacekeeping institution. As a direct result, Ireland's international prestige and standing have been greatly enhanced. We are seen internationally as a country which is willing to contribute to the cause of international peace in a constructive and worthwhile way.

It is my firm belief that the Irish people who responded so humanely and so generously in so many different ways to the needs of the Somali people fully and actively support our participation in UNOSOM II. I also believe that public opinion would be critical of a refusal to participate in this force. Not to participate would negate the generosity and humanity shown by the Irish people and would show scant regard for the safety and well being of aid workers working in Somalia. It is not in the nature of the Irish people, nor is it a justifiable moral posture, to stand on the sideline and watch an entire people starve to death knowing that there is something constructive that we can do to alleviate the situation.

Before finishing, I would like to give a brief explanation of the sections of the Bill. The four sections of the Defence (Amendment) Bill, 1993, provide for the amendment and extension of the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1960, the legislation which currently governs the despatch of contingents of the Permanent Defence Force for service with United Nations International Forces.

Section 1 of the Bill provides for definitions. The definition of an International United Nations Force is amended so that it will no longer be confined to a force established for the performance of duties of a police character only. This is the single most important provision in the legislation. Section 2 provides that automatic liability for service with a United Nations International Force will be confined to personnel joining the Defence Forces on or after the date of passing of the Act. Personnel who are serving at present will become liable for service only if they volunteer.

Section 3 provides that various provisions of the 1960 Act will also apply to personnel serving with United Nations Forces as defined in the new legislation. This section provides that the requirement in the 1960 Act for Dáil approval before 12 or more armed members of the Permanent Defence Force are sent overseas for service with a United Nations Force will remain. The section also applies the provisions of the 1960 Act regarding personnel on active service, registration of births and deaths outside the State etc. to a United Nations Force as it will now be defined.

Section 4 provides for the short Title of the Bill, collective citation and construction and is self-explanatory.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Since joining the United Nations in December 1955 Ireland has played a major role on peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. In 1958 Ireland received its first request for assistance when the Secretary General asked for a contingent of officers to take up peacekeeping duties in the Lebanon. Irish officers have continued to serve on numerous observation missions and their devotion to duty has not been without cost. I refer to the loss of two officers in 1957 and in 1982.

Nineteen sixty saw the beginning of armed members of the Defence Forces serving outside the country in a peace-keeping role. Contingents of the Permanent Defence Forces amounting to 55,000 troops helped in no small way to bring peace and stability to many parts of the world. This service has given the Irish people a justifiable pride in their Army and has brought home to Irish public opinion in the most concrete way possible the aims and achievements of the United Nations Organisation. Those members who died in the course of active service, whether it was in the Congo, the Lebanon or anywhere else, did so in defence of this country, in the preservation of world peace and of the things this country stands for. Our involvement in peacekeeping missions has also afforded our troops the opportunity of working alongside soldiers from a number of different nations. The knowledge they gained has resulted in the development of expertise in the area of peacekeeping to the point that we are highly regarded throughout the world.

Many of the Irish troops who served abroad under the flag of the United Nations have since left the Defence Forces and applied the skills and knowledge acquired from UN service in their civilian life to the benefit of this nation. Fine Gael continues to support the provision of Irish troops to assist United Nations actions abroad for the preservation of peace. We also recognise that overseas service has a positive effect on morale in the Defence Forces and provides experience of an operational nature which cannot be acquired at home.

This Bill seeks to amend the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1960, to allow Irish troops serve abroad in a peace enforcing role. While recognising that this change is being sought to enable an Irish transport company, consisting of 80 troops, to participate in the UN peace enforcement mission in Somalia, it should also be recognised that if the Bill becomes law it will allow for the involvement of Irish troops in future peace enforcement missions throughout the world, not just in Somalia. While respecting the Minister's goodwill in regard to this request, this legislation will be on the Statute Book long after the Minister, other Deputies and I will have left this House. This fundamental change deserves a great deal of consideration, particularly as it involves the UN in a vastly expanded role and the possibility of prolonged involvement in local conflicts. Force should always be the last resort in our search for peace and protection of human rights. It is easy to believe that the use of military power can provide a quick and easy solution to the resolution of problems and this manner of thinking can put aside the use of preventive diplomacy in attempting to bring hostile parties together by peaceful means.

In the case of Somalia it is understandable that the public reaction to the horrific scenes on our television screens of hundreds of thousands of starving men, women and children would provoke an immediate response to get in there and sort out by whatever means necessary the problem in relation to the people who are causing this holocaust. I know that was my immediate reaction. I agree with the Minister when he said that would have been the response of most Irish people at the time.

The United States justified Saturday's retaliatory missiles strike against Baghdad as its response to the alleged attempt to murder former President Bush. What would happen to the moral authority of the UN if the soldiers who fired the missiles were wearing the blue beret of the United Nations and were found subsequently to be responsible for the deaths of six civilians as a result of straying missiles hitting residential areas. The United Nations is arguably one of the most important political organisations in the world. It is dedicated to achieving and maintaining world order and harmony. For its influence to be lasting it must rely on its moral authority. No one power or bloc should ever be totally dominant. Ireland's role in this organisation should be to ensure that the mixture of objective diplomacy, patient political persuasion and humanitarian assistance is the best formula for achieving peace.

Ireland has built a great reputation in the area of peacekeeping. This reputation has been built over many years and we still have a great deal to offer in carrying out this role. The Irish personality is very suitable to the area of peacekeeping. Our soldiers have the great gift of friendly persuasion. This gift has contributed in no small way towards our success. There is a danger that if we are seen more in the light of the aggressor in places like Somalia, we will be less effective and therefore, contribute less to the cause of peace.

When we are asked to perform the role of peace enforcer we will be serving alongside troops from many countries where cultural differences and different values can often lead to actions alien to our way of thinking or acting. I ask the Minister to consider that the concern that exists does not refer a hesitancy to support the people of Somalia. I hope that as we debate this request there will be open and frank discussion and that sense will prevail in this regard. We must recognise that this matter does not just relate to Somalia. Once people are involved in the area of peace enforcement working alongside people from other countries there are grave dangers in regard to what will heppen in the future and account must be taken of problems in relation to communications, language and cultural differences.

The United Nations should only consider the utilisation of peace enforcement units in exceptional and clearly defined circumstances. When used their terms of references must be specified in advance. It is vitally important that those who volunteer for this type of service undergo extensive preparatory training. While I am satisfied that the experience built up through our peacekeeping missions will greatly assist in peace enforcement, I am not sure that is the case in other countries. The recent behaviour of the Pakistanis in Mogadishu left a great deal to be desired. Their behaviour could have caused enormous damage to the important role of the UN. The action of the US, who launched missiles on Bagdad having no regard to the loss of life of civilians, was also very serious. The Irish Army is trained and equipped for peacekeeping roles. It has become involved in peace enforcement. The present type and intensity of combat training will have to be reviewed. Suitable equipment will also have to be acquired, including armoured personnel carriers designed to provide maximum protection to our troops.

If and when this Bill is passed I am aware that the Minister will come before the Dáil to seek its approval to send troops to Somalia. At that stage I intend to question the Minister in regard to a number of issues. Those issues include the UN mandate covering UNOSOM II troops in Somalia, the UN mandate covering the US presence in Somalia, the level and type of co-ordination which exists between the US and UNOSOM II troops. I will inquire to what extent the US and UNOSOM II troops operate jointly and, where this is the case, what command and control procedures prevail. I will inquire if they operate jointly under US command and how this affects the UNOSOM II mandate.

It is important that the role and objectives of US troops in Somalia are clarified. During the Gulf War the perception was that the US troops operated under the US flag, but in reality they were controlled by the Pentagon and used the UN as an agency which legitimised its activities. Consequently, troops from other nations could be caught up in activities which may not be in the strategic interest of the UN. In addition, it is important that the objectives of the UN and the US in Somalia are known. It is of equal importance that the strategy to achieve these objectives is also known. For example, is it proposed to establish a political infrastructure in Somalia and, if so, how is this to be achieved? Is it intended to withdraw forces when political stability has been restored and relief agencies can function in safety? If this is so, then a strategy to achieve these objectives must be accompanied by a plan of implementation which must include target dates and a timetable.

Finally, in relation to Somalia, I am aware that the transport company which it is intended to send to Somalia is a logistic back-up unit.

Debate adjourned.