Defence Forces Operations: Motion (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by the Minister of State at the Department of Defence on Wednesday, 12 July 2017:
That Dáil Éireann approves, pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1960, as applied by section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006, the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to serve as part of EUNAVFOR MED - Operation Sophia, and in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2312 (2016) and UN Security Council Resolution 2357 (2017), and subject to renewal of the UN mandate/authority thereafter.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
“the proposal that Dáil Éireann approves, pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1960, as applied by section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006, the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to serve as part of EUNAVFOR MED - Operation Sophia, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2312 (2016) and UN Security Council Resolution 2357 (2017), and subject to renewal of the UN mandate/authority thereafter, be referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence to allow for the opportunity to carefully consider its implications.”
-(Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh)

I urge all parties, including the Government, to support our amendment that this vote be deferred until such time as the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence has considered it. Despite the claims of the Minister earlier today, there is no urgency. Why would we sign up to an operation that is nearing the end of its mandate in December, given that it would take at least three months to prepare for it and the existing operation continues until November of this year? Operation Sophia existed in 2015 when the State took the decision not to sign up to it and signed up for Operation Pontus instead. The issues with Sophia have not been addressed in this House or elsewhere since then. Where is the discussion about it? Where is the discussion with the organisations operating in the region who have highlighted major concerns about the Libyan coastguard, the organisation the Irish Navy is now supposed to work with as part of its deployment in Operation Sophia? Organisations such as Amnesty International, the Irish Refugee Council and the Immigrant Council of Ireland, along with Médecins Sans Frontières have all raised major concerns about this proposal. The Minister, in fact, met Médecins Sans Frontières only last week.

The genius who dreamed up the titles for the operations was having a laugh. Pontus is a region of the Black Sea and has nothing to do with the Mediterranean. Somewhat bizarrely or perhaps ironically, in Greek mythology Sophia is the god of wisdom, in Christianity she is referred to as the wisdom of god and elsewhere as the friend of wisdom, or Philo Sophia - philosophy. There is, however, no wisdom in this mission. This is a military response to a humanitarian problem in a region that has been destabilised by recent wars, conflicts, famines and poverty. Many European nations must shoulder the blame for the problems that have ravaged Africa. Their imperial quests, looting, plundering and exploitation of the wealth of that continent for centuries still impacts. Ireland was not an imperialist power, and we have more in common with the fleeing refugees than with many of the nations still involved in warmongering and exploiting parts of the world, including Africa, that have been denied the chance to develop and evolve. There has always been an element in the military here who have wanted to play with the big boys, and they have their backers in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who have felt hampered by the stated policy of Irish military neutrality. In the past they wanted Ireland to become a NATO member and now, in conjunction with compliant Government parties, they see that opportunity. They are tying to force us to join the EU battle groups and, in this instance, Operation Sophia. Some are saying that what is behind the Government’s decision to jump ship from Pontus to Sophia is that the Italians are now playing poker with people’s lives as a means of forcing more EU supports and resources to help them deal with the immigration crisis. There is no justification for the Irish Government to contemplate jettisoning our neutrality, and with it the international goodwill, respect and high esteem that underpin our efforts when helping others.

Is comhair agus ceart dúinn tacú leis na teifigh agus iad a tharrtháil, agus seasamh i gcoinne siúd atá ag iarraidh muid a shú isteach in aontas míleata, i gcoinne neodracht ár Stáit. Tá na mílte á bhá san Mheán Mhuir gach bliain agus tá an tAire ag iarraidh dul ag ogaíocht i gcoinne smuigléirí daoine agus na treabhanna armtha gafa leo. Smaoinigh cé thug an armión dóibh sa chéad dul síos. Déileáil leis na cúiseanna seachas na torthaí, agus bíodh meas ag an Rialtas ar ár neodracht.

Only last week the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence heard harrowing testimony from Médecins Sans Frontières about what is happening in the Mediterranean. Their findings were supported by a House of Lords report published only two days ago which pointed to increased deaths at sea annually since 2015. There were 3,175 that year, 4,500 in 2016 and there already been 2,169 so far this year. In fact, Sophia has failed to disrupt the business of people smuggling, with only low-level smugglers being caught, and despite 425 boats being destroyed, they have just shifted their business to more unstable precarious inflatables. The boss of the EU’s border agency, Frontex, Fabrice Leggari, also this week stated that more refugees are on the dinghies than ever before, increasing the chances of capsizing and drownings.

Operation Sophia involves emboldening the disgraced Libyan coastguard which has been found to be abusing refugees caught on boats, firing live rounds at overloaded vessels, co-operating with the smugglers and the militias by selling seized boats back in some cases, and putting captured refugees into the inhuman conditions in so-called migrant detention centres. This is what the Minister wants us to sign up to. These centres are exactly where the refugees will be sent. While some will try to present Operation Sophia as laudable, I urge Members to be fully familiar, in the little time we have, with what they are committing to before sending members of the Irish Defence Forces into possible conflict.

Operation Sophia mandates participating countries to take military action in Libyan waters and on Libyan soil. This is very worrying and is something that may significantly increase the risks to navy personnel. This is different from rescuing sinking rafts overloaded with desperate people in the choppy waters of the Mediterranean. Theoretically, attacking and sinking Libyan ships could be construed as an act of war by some of the militias in the area and their international backers. Operation Sophia will undermine our existing humanitarian mission of coming to the aid of drowning refugees. If we support this Operation Sophia, we are diverting Irish Naval Service ships from saving refugees clinging to floundering boats. In future, it would only be when an unfolding tragedy at sea was spotted that they would be required under the laws of the sea to divert away from their anti-human trafficking and policing duties that we are going to sign up to under Operation Sofia. Just because the UN sanctions a mission does not mean it is appropriate for our Defence Forces to participate in it. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two parties primarily responsible for eroding Irish neutrality, support this motion, and if approved by this House, Operation Sophia will be yet another breach of Irish neutrality. Ireland’s foreign policy should be based on active neutrality, meaning our Naval Service should be allowed to continue its humanitarian mission without having to participate in offensive military operations.

Operation Sophia has been in place since 2015 and has already proven to be a failure, so why add our name to that failure? The vitally important role the Irish navy has performed in Operation Pontus has been universally commended and has the support of NGOs in the area. They need to continue working together and deal with the humanitarian crisis we have in the Mediterranean. I urge the Minister to put lives first, ensure we have adequate vessels whose primary purpose is search and rescue in the area, and encourage and support NGOs to continue their vital role in their humanitarian work in the Mediterranean.

A total of 73,000 refugees and migrants have reached Italy by sea this year, and more than 180,000 last year. Tragically, in excess of 10,000 have lost their lives in the perilous crossing in the past two and a half years. The more boats that are sunk, the more unscrupulous the murderous smugglers are in sending their victims to sea in rubber dinghies. I urge the Minister of State not to pass this motion without proper discussion of, and debate on, its effects.

The Labour Party is entirely supportive of the efforts made by our naval vessels in the Mediterranean which have saved more than 15,000 lives. They have every reason to be proud of their work and we have every reason to be proud of the work done by our navy in rescuing migrants, in many cases from the prospect of a harrowing death in the Mediterranean Sea. We hope that the work of our troops will remain focussed on saving lives in this region.

The values of Operation Sophia are noble. To put an end to human trafficking and smuggling is an ambition to which we all aspire. To search for, divert, or dispose of the assets of people involved in such activities is a noble aspiration. That said, real concerns have been raised about Irish participation in this mission. Operation Pontus was established as a humanitarian mission with its primary focus on saving lives. Operation Sophia was established on entirely different premises, as a military operation with the mission "to identify, capture and dispose of vessels" used by smugglers or traffickers to "disrupt the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean". There must be some concern about the risk to Irish naval personnel involved in that endeavour. One such concern surrounds the expansion of this mission to contribute to the implementation of the UN arms embargo. We should also be concerned about a diversion of resources from the prime task of saving lives, which should be the sole motivation for the despatch of our very scarce resources - we have only eight vessels - to the Mediterranean Sea.

Serious concerns regarding this mission have been raised in the House of Lords in a report published yesterday and which the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, mentioned last night. Many of these concerns are shared by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Irish Refugee Council and by Médecins Sans Frontières. The importance of the assessment by the House of Lords is not just that it is not working but that it is contributing to more people dying by diverting resources from the primary task of simply picking up people who otherwise would drown. The House of Lords report suggests that an unintended consequence of Operation Sophia's policy of destroying smugglers' boats has been that the smugglers have instead adapted and sent refugees to sea in any unseaworthy vessel that comes to hand. The House of Lords has determined that this has exacerbated the mortality levels. The statistics bear out this view. In 2016, there were more than 4,500 unfortunate deaths compared with fewer than 3,200 the previous year, any one of which is an appalling tragedy. These figures alone surely deserve deep consideration by the Members of this House.

We have also heard concerns from Médecins Sans Frontières about the aspect of the mission that involves the training of the Libyan coastguard and navy. I hope the Minister of State can focus on these and assure all of us parties that our armed forces will play no role in supporting efforts to return refugees and migrants to Libyan detention centres. Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to this. The accounts I have read of the so-called detention centres in Libya are harrowing. They are among the most awful places that any human beings are confined. The notion that our armed forces would in any way contribute to sending people back to Libya to enter those conditions would be deeply worrying for every Member of this House and certainly something that very few, if any, Members could contemplate supporting.

While in Libya, thousands of refugees and migrants have been subjected to extreme, even unimaginable, levels of violence. We should not play any role in returning fleeing migrants to detention in what by any evaluation is a failed state with a multiplicity of factions declaring themselves to be the legitimate government.

On this point we need the Minister of State's assurance that the Irish navy, if those of us on this side of the House fail to win the vote, will play no part in training Libyan troops in a way that could lead to the mistreatment and torture of refugees and migrants. I raised this matter on the Order of Business earlier in the week, because I fundamentally disagree with the way this matter is being dealt with in this Dáil. The motion we are being asked to agree to is a paragraph long. There is no detail on whether the Irish Government is aware of any of the concerns I have detailed, and that other Members have detailed and will detail, or whether it has taken them on board and considered them before deciding to present this Dáil with this motion. There were no background briefing papers or notes provided to Deputies. There was no reference to a committee of the House where these matters could be teased out and, if necessary, evidence called from our naval authorities, the United Nations, Médecins Sans Frontières and the other human rights organisations which have expressed concerns.

The motion was published on Tuesday and today we are supposed to just nod it through. I do not think that is an acceptable way to do business. I was very concerned last weekend when this matter surfaced in the media for the first time because it was indicated that a proposal would go to Government on Tuesday and be rubber-stamped here on Tuesday or Wednesday. This is a fundamental issue that we should take our time in considering. We should know all the arguments for and against before being asked to vote. That is why I strongly support the amendment tabled by the Sinn Féin Deputies to refer this to a committee. Bluntly, the argument in favour of the amendment was bolstered immeasurably by the intervention of the Chief Whip this morning because in responding to the question why the urgency, he made the case that it is urgent because the existing mandate is about to expire. Why in God's name would we want to get in during the last weeks of an operation that we have not been involved in for years, that would require incredible training and preparation in any event and is in the dying days or weeks of its mandate? That is very odd.

The Minister of State will recall that we agreed unanimously in Cabinet to deploy a naval vessel to the Mediterranean exclusively on a humanitarian mission. Operation Sophia existed at that time but there was no suggestion that we join it, and there would not have been support for the suggestion. Why should we join now, at the end of the mandated Operation Sophia mission, when there was not only widespread but uniform national pride in, and support for, our Naval Service's operations to date in the Mediterranean, which have been exclusively focused on humanitarian need and rescuing people from imminent death? Why would we at this stage want to alter it and why would we do so without the proper scrutiny of an Oireachtas committee? If we were going to make any decision on the most mundane of issues as a matter of routine, we would refer it for detailed scrutiny to a committee of the House which can adduce all the evidence, call any witnesses and make a recommendation having debated the matter in the round.

This motion is a few sentences, supported by Cabinet and then bounced in here. Deputies were originally given only 40 minutes to pass it without any background papers or supporting argument. This is not the way to do business of this importance. I urge Members to support the amendment tabled in the name of Sinn Féin Deputies to give us the time, the space and the information with which to make the right decision.

Among the refugees fleeing Libya, there were 5,000 deaths in 2016. It looks as though the figure will be something similar this year. Those are the official statistics and do not include those refugees whose dinghies and boats sank without a trace in the Mediterranean Sea. These are the sorts of numbers of dead one would associate with a war zone.

We have had Operation Pontus, which has been referred to as humanitarian search and rescue. The proposal now is to buy into Operation Sophia. In essence this is a border control mission. It involves boarding vessels and searching them. It involves seizing goods from ships and seizing the boats themselves. It involves diverting ships of human smugglers and traffickers and so on. Operation Sophia also involves training the Libyan coastguard and its navy.

I will start with a quote from Dr. Conor Kenny, an Irish doctor who is part of Médecins sans Frontières who addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence recently. Dr. Kenny told the committee:

On 23 May this year, my colleagues aboard the MV Aquarius reported that while we had a rescue operation under way a boat with men identifying themselves as Libyan Coast Guard approached one the boats in distress we were assisting, intimidating the passengers and firing their guns in the air. Armed and in uniform, members of the Libyan Coast Guard then proceeded to board one of the rubber boats. They took phones, money and other belongings from the passengers. They attached a line to one rubber dinghy and towed it back towards Libyan waters ... According to one of the people on board one of these boats:

When the Libyans pointed their weapons at us, asking us to give them all our money and cell phones and telling us to jump in the water, we did what they said and many of us jumped in. I was not afraid. I preferred to die at sea rather than being repressed and to die in Libya.

I also wish to read into the record of the House the comments of Mr. Sam Taylor, the director of Médecins sans Frontières in Ireland. At the same meeting he said:

MSF is concerned about the humanitarian consequences of some elements of European Union-funded capacity-building initiatives in Libya to which Ireland is contributing, namely, that of the Libyan Coast Guard and conditions within [detention] centres. ... MSF believes that European member states should be focusing on implementing a dedicated search and rescue operation in the central Mediterranean. We caution against any significant shift that would see the priority move away from a rescue operation to predominantly that of an anti-smuggling one, including Ireland’s naval response.

Mr. Taylor went on to make points about the inhumane conditions in the Libyan detention centres.

Yesterday, Deputies received a joint statement from the Irish Refugee Council and the Immigrant Council of Ireland. I also wish to read points from that statement into the record of the House. It stated they were concerned that Ireland would no longer be fully implementing its humanitarian obligations under maritime law and search and rescue missions would become incidental to and not the primary focus of any future operation. They are also concerned that participation in EUNAVFOR, because of the mission's coercion powers and provision for the use of force, may be contrary to Ireland's stated policy of neutrality. In addition, they expressed concern about compliance with non-refoulement, that is, if refugees are fleeing from a country where Irish forces are participating in a broader mission that brings refugees back from whence they came, then Ireland would be in breach of obligations in that regard.

We have a broad measure of agreement on these matters from these benches, from Médecins sans Frontières, from the Irish Refugee Council and from the Immigrant Council of Ireland. Humanitarian search and rescue is one thing but border control missions to bolster fortress Europe are a different matter entirely. The people who will lose out from this are not so much the people smugglers as the people themselves, as shown by the example given by Dr. Conor Kenny.

Ireland is not a neutral country. Perhaps it is neutral in name but in reality we see the way in which Shannon Airport has been offered to the US war machine and so on. Non-involvement in military operations, particularly those of big imperial powers, is what ordinary Irish people mean by neutrality. That is a positive sentiment. We endorse that sentiment and there should be no involvement in Operation Sophia. I have spoken for exactly five minutes and now hand over to Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have already brought shame on this State and shredded our tradition of military neutrality by facilitating 2 million US troops in going through Shannon Airport to conduct a disastrous war that led to more than 1 million deaths in Iraq, millions of people being displaced and the disastrous crisis we now see in Syria. Now the Government wants to compound the shame and shredding of our neutrality by trying to implicate the Naval Service in the filthy, xenophobic, racist policies of fortress Europe. These policies have led directly to 14,000 men, women, children and babies drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in the past two years. More than 30,000 have drowned over the last four years. This motion seeks to sully the heroic and brave record of the Naval Service, which has rescued some 16,000 people from the consequences of fortress Europe. The Government wants to sully that record by implicating the Naval Service in the xenophobic, racist and murderous policies of fortress Europe. That is what the Government would be doing.

This motion is an extension of the filthy deals that the European Union has done with Turkey - and is negotiating with Libya and with Afghanistan - to deport, force back and keep out desperate people who are fleeing from the consequences of the actions by this Government's friends in the US, Britain and France. When they were bombing Libya they said it was about protecting civilians but in fact it was about regime change and destroying Libya. It led on to precisely the refugee disaster we currently have. Having done that and having not spoken out against it on behalf of this country, the Government now wants to take measures to collaborate with the militias in Libya to force people back into the disastrous mess that was created by western powers. This is what the Government is doing with the desperate Syrian refugees who would not be refugees were it not for the fact that Ireland and others facilitated a war in Iraq in the first place. That war led directly to the destruction of Syrian society and is producing the disastrous humanitarian consequences we now see.

The Government has tried to do this at the last minute. We did not hear about this motion at the Business Committee yet it is something that strikes, fundamentally, at Ireland's neutrality. The Government has tried to push it through without any real background. This measure would move the Naval Service from doing humanitarian work to doing what is, effectively, military work and protecting filthy fortress Europe.

In the last minute remaining to me, I must say how this sort of cynical policy also has consequences for other Irish military personnel. We have seen what happened in Camp Ziouani with Irish troops in the UNDOF mission over the last weeks. They came under fire from Syrian rebels. Although it was not directed at the Irish troops it seriously endangered them. On 23 September 2014 I challenged then Minister, Deputy Coveney, about pulling our troops out of that type of situation. I had said that putting our troops in behind the Israeli side of the separation zone in the Golan Heights would lead the troops into potential danger from some of the militant groups in the area. This is what then Minister for Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney said in response to me at the time:

Commentators are talking about ISIL and Islamic State and US bombing in Syria. It has been made clear to me that the rebel forces and militia in the Golan Heights are not ISIL or Islamic State, but what is called the al-Nusra Front, which is an offshoot of al-Qaeda. They have different objectives and we are unlikely to see any bombing happening in that place.

I pointed out at the time how extraordinary it was that al-Qaeda had suddenly become our friends, according to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but it was unlikely we would see any bombing. Then we see in recent weeks Irish troops being forced on five different occasions to go to ground, fearing for their lives, because they are caught up in this cynical hornet's nest of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey backing al-Qaeda affiliates, which are putting our troops in danger. What is the Irish Government doing? There is the cynical implication of Israel in all this, which is publicly humiliating us, by the way, while at the same time co-operating with the al-Qaeda affiliates which are putting our troops in danger. The Government is destroying what is left of our neutrality, endangering Irish personnel in Syria and the Mediterranean and tarnishing our international reputation.

I call Deputy Clare Daly.

I am sharing time with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. In time, this discussion, if the Government and Fianna Fáil do not pull back from a vote on this today, will be as of pivotal importance as previous decisions in 2003 to allow the US military to use Shannon Airport as part of the Iraq conflict, and it will be a decisive turning point in our Defence Forces history. I do not say that lightly. This is the fourth time that the triple lock provision has been invoked and put before this House in the past decade. It is not something that happens every day. It is a very serious matter for our citizens.

The triple lock was put in place to ensure our Defence Forces personnel would not take part in military alliances unless they were backed by the UN, the Cabinet and the House. This day last week, when we sat at the Business Committee, there was no mention of this being on the schedule at all. It did not even get a mention. We organised the business for the week without hearing a word of it. A day later a new schedule came out. This was on it as a motion on defence. There was to be a half hour for discussion but no further details were provided. It only emerged early this week what this measure was. The idea that we would be moving this on almost the last day of the session without adequate discussion is an affront to the citizens of the State and Defence Forces personnel, and it is undoubtedly a move in putting this country further in the direction of participation in a European army, which is not what people want.

There have been previous UN exercises. There was Operation Unified Protector in Libya, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. There is not much freedom in those necks of the woods. In fact, the destabilisation of those countries is precisely why we have the number we have of refugees fleeing for their lives. Only one conclusion can be drawn as to why this is being rammed through by the Government and, in fairness, the Chief Whip spelt it out when he came back. He said that he went from the Business Committee and had a meeting with the Secretary General of the Department and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, and they want it. What we have developing in this State is, in essence, a layer of career militarists who see themselves as being part of a European army and linking in with their European peers, if one likes.

It is interesting that Vice Admiral Mark Mellett was sent to Afghanistan on a NATO mission in 2004 when he was head of the Naval Service. Afghanistan is a landlocked country that does not have a river big enough for a canoe not to mind a warship, yet he was, if one likes, blooded in that investigation.

What we have here is the emergence of defence politics. Will the Minister of State answer me this? Given the active French navy has 86 ships, the Italians have 186, the Spanish have 77, the Portuguese have 37 and the Royal Navy has 78 ships, not to mention all the other countries, how come we are dealing with European naval fleets? We have eight naval vessels and coastal territory more than enough for us to defend. That is what we have here: Defence Forces. They were set up to protect our territory and our people, not to be part of offensive missions or quasi-imperialist excursions by European defence forces in Africa. However, that is what is in front of us. It is a new departure. Even at this 11th hour, I urge the Minister of State not to push this motion to a vote. It is too serious.

Other Deputies have pointed out the bitter irony in our making this decision today to join Operation Sophia in the very week it has been established as an abysmal failure. It has not met the objective of its mandate to disrupt the business model of people smuggling and has, in fact, led to a sharp increase in deaths. These points have been made by other Deputies. It will divert attention away from all of the good humanitarian work that we have been involved in. Further, Operation Sophia is more than that. Along with the €200 million EU-Libya deal signed in February, it has meant more refugees are trapped in Libya and refugees who do not drown are sent back to Libya, which is a failed state because of western interference in it in the first place.

The Minister of State knows what happens in that region. Refugee children are being sexually abused, coerced into prostitution and work, held for months and profiteered from. According to UNICEF, unofficial detention centres in Libya are controlled by the militia. People are profited from. There are thousands of migrant women and children. We have heard the appalling statements of teenage girls being forcibly injected with contraceptives in order that they can be routinely raped and not get pregnant. This is what we are breaching our neutrality to be part of. It is shocking and a shame and people would be horrified. There is the video evidence of the Libyan coast guard, which Operation Sophia is supporting and training, turning machine gun fire on packed rubber dinghies full of refugees. The EU itself, in a leaked report, has said that Libyan border management is "in a state of complete disarray and unable to combat smuggling".

Behind all this, what we do not mention and what is rarely acknowledged at EU level is the reason refugees are travelling through Libya and risking their lives and the lives of their families, which is that the EU has refused them safe passage and the safe legal routes they used to take, not to mind the disruption caused in their countries in the first place. Refugees do not want to go to sea. They do not want to risk the lives of their families in the hands of smugglers. However, we have forced them into it. Not only that, we have had an enormous profiting from the securitisation of EU borders in recent years. Some €225 million was spent on ammunition for European border guards. This involves big companies and big military development, not to mention the fact that it was the West that helped to destroy Libya in the first place and forced that failed state to close the border with Turkey.

This is a huge turning point and the history books will not look kindly on the Minister of State. It is contrary to the principles of neutrality in the Hague Convention. We should be pushing the UN to be international peacekeepers, to rescue migrants and to protect our neutrality, not participating and deviating from these policies now.

The broad parameters of the comments that Deputy Daly made are well deserving of being aired. However, she referred specifically in her contribution to Vice Admiral Mark Mellett. I think most of us would regard him as a highly admirable leader of our Defence Forces. I am certain that there is no intention on the Deputy's part to attribute any malign intent to him in his role in this process.

What I was simply trying to say, and obviously the Chief of Staff at lunchtime mentioned his involvement in this process, is that there would seem to be at the top of the military a wish to push us in the direction of these alliances. That was the point.

If I may, I received my military advice from the Chief of Staff and the General Staff on this issue.

The point is who is leading whom. The Oireachtas decides whether we are to be part of it. It came across very much as the other way around.

As long as we are very clear that we are not attributing anything to Vice Admiral Mellett. I call Deputy O'Sullivan.

The question is why. On a very practical point, why is Ireland's very small Navy needed in Operation Sophia when we consider the immense resources that are at the disposal of the navies of Italy, Spain, Britain, France, Germany and so on. The only conclusion to draw is that Europe is putting pressure on Ireland to be involved militarily. Therefore, the first point to be made is that this is a major threat to our neutrality.

It is claimed that Operation Sophia was responsible for the saving of 33,000 lives in a certain period. At the same time, the Irish Naval Service saved 15,000 lives. One Irish boat saved half the total number saved by those involved in Operation Sophia, so we cannot afford to diverge from our humanitarian work. It is that work which has brought us a considerable reputation in Europe and throughout the world. The House of Lords inquiry found Operation Sophia to be ineffective and that it is costing more lives than it is saving. The inquiry called for its mandate to be disbanded because that mandate has failed to disrupt people smuggling, yet we are considering joining the operation.

People smuggling starts on land, and that is where it must be tackled. Instead of Operation Sophia, our priority should be focusing on the causes of migration and the poverty, hunger, conflict and human rights abuses that cause people to flee. There should be a focus on the detention centres in Libya where there is malnutrition, rape, violence and enforced prostitution, all of which was graphically described to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence by representatives from Médecins sans Frontières. We must focus on facilitating stability in Libya, not encouraging the three competing governments with militias roaming a country in economic crisis. They are being entrusted to look after migrants. We must also focus on stopping the sale of weapons to regimes that are fuelling the instability in Africa which, in turn, is fuelling the migration. These are the pressing and urgent issues. We cannot sleepwalk into this discredited Operation Sophia. We are seeing a great deal of vested interest rather than human interest.

We should not vote on this motion now. I would prefer if we did not vote on it at all. At least it should be deferred until after the summer so we can get a better perspective on what is happening. There is no doubt that unscrupulous people who are smuggling migrants must be tackled, but Ireland promised to provide humanitarian assistance to save lives. That commitment should not be turned into a military operation, which is what is being proposed.

I am delighted to speak on this motion and to have an opportunity once again to praise the heroic efforts of our Naval Service and the Defence Forces for the great humanitarian work they are doing in the Mediterranean. However, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Refugee Council have raised serious concerns about this motion. They refer specifically to the conclusion yesterday of a House of Lords committee inquiry that Operation Sophia has failed in its mandate to disrupt the business people - if one could call them business people as they are outrageous - smuggling individuals in the central Mediterranean, resulting in more deaths of refugees and migrants at sea. The problem, according to the committee, is that by the time the ships set sail, it is too late. However, it said that the focus on search and rescue should remain as it has been a humanitarian success.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Refugee Council point out that Operation Pontus, which all of us supported, was established as a humanitarian mission with a primary focus on saving lives and that the Irish Naval Service has done tremendous humanitarian work in saving almost 16,000 lives on the Mediterranean since it began carrying out search and rescue missions in 2015. However, both bodies are extremely concerned that the proposed motion to bring Operation Pontus within the remit of EUNAVFOR MED will fundamentally change the purpose and mission of Ireland's engagement in the Mediterranean from a humanitarian one to one of surveillance, diversion and tackling smugglers. That is a broad statement and it could mean a great deal. It does not mean that the Irish people, who have been so proud of our UN peacekeepers over the years, want them on this mission.

This raises serious concerns about our neutrality. The Guardian newspaper in the UK reports today that the number of recorded casualties on the central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy has risen by 42%, with more than 4,500 people drowning in 2016 compared with 3,175 in 2015. To date in 2017, there have been 2,150 casualties. These are staggering figures. It also reports that, as of 19 June, 110 smugglers had been arrested as a result of the mission. Most of them were lower down the food chain, just the ordinary lads in the boats. The warlords do not mind if they go into the sea as well. Only one of arrests involved a leader of a people smuggling ring, an Eritrean. These are the people who must be caught. There must be covert surveillance on them, perhaps not by our rescue mission personnel but by other nations. The naval ships in the operation have been successful in destroying 452 boats that had been used in smuggling operations.

I have serious concerns about this, about the way countries in the Middle East are being manipulated and about the Saudis, Israelis and many others. I also have serious concerns about the ongoing persecution of Christians and some minority Muslim groups in the Middle East. I found it almost impossible to have a debate on this in the House in the last two and a half or three years after I visited Lebanon with Deputies Grealish and O'Keeffe and Senator Rónán Mullen. Thanks to the Ceann Comhairle, it was raised as a Topical Issue on the evening of Holy Thursday. It was a very appropriate evening when one considers the history of the Middle East.

There are huge issues involved here. This is a neutral country and it must remain so. Our troops and the Naval Service, who do sterling work that is recognised worldwide, must be protected and kept on humanitarian duties. There is another debate about the implications of the use of Shannon Airport, but this motion could have massive implications for our troops, the Naval Service and the nation. We could become the victims of ISIS or other groups so we must be very careful not to be sucked in. We voted for the Lisbon treaty, and I was a member of the Fianna Fáil Party when the matter was put to a vote for a second time. This is the fruit of that. Now we are being coerced and bullied by the Europeans who were not very good to us when we lost our way financially. They penalised us, pilloried our people and made paupers of us. They gave us no hope. They let the rich bondholders, who had insurance, off the hook. Here, again, we have rich, very powerful people and nations manipulating the situation.

As Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan said, we are serving vested interests rather than the humanitarian interests of saving lives and trying to stop and prevent the slavery, intimidation and rape of these unfortunate people. It must be bad when they go onto these dinghies. They are sucked in by the warlords and, as I mentioned, thousands of them have perished. We must be very careful. We are playing a dangerous game here. I am disappointed that this is being rushed through, and I raised that fact at the Business Committee meeting this morning. It was agreed, reluctantly, to give each group ten minutes to speak, instead of five, on almost the last day of the session. That is not good enough. The Chief Whip tried to assure us earlier that this is only until Christmas and that it will take two months to put in place.

There are some people in the Army - I will not mention any names - who have become tired of being peacekeepers. They want more action. What business do they have in countries such as Afghanistan? Perhaps they are the tail wagging the dog here. They have become hungry for action. We cannot do that. Ours is a neutral country and it must remain neutral. Our Naval Service and peacekeepers are recognised for peacekeeping all over the world. We cannot allow them to be sucked into situations. We cannot become puppets for the big boys in Europe and elsewhere. This is a small, island country with a proud record. We cannot be aligned with these people. Our nearest neighbour across the pond, Great Britain, with which we have had many difficulties over the years, is leaving Europe. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket. The game is too dangerous. There is too much corruption and big money. There is too much of what is bad and anathema to me and the people I represent going on over there.

I visited the refugee camps in Syria. They contained only old ladies, grandmothers, some mothers and small children. Where are all the men? We cannot sleepwalk into allowing undesirables into this country, but it is happening under our noses. The Government might not wish to see it but the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and other associations have said that they are coming to this country unnoticed. That is my worry. I have no problem with taking in refugees - women, children and the old - on a humanitarian basis, but we must wake up and smell the coffee. There are people coming into this country and we will be the next to be attacked. If we take the action proposed here, we will give them an excuse to attack us. They will say that we got involved and did not fulfil the mission we had, which was to rescue people, but got war hungry and were influenced by the warmongers and the people who make the most money from these unfortunate conflicts, mainly the Saudi Arabians, given the amount of guns and everything else sold.

We see what is happening in Qatar. This all part of a big game involving money, power, oil and munitions, which is now about destroying Christianity in the Middle East and certain Muslim sects that hold different views. This is a serious problem which also affects Ireland. All of us have constituents who are worried. While they may not be experts, they see what is happening under their noses. We are not dealing with the many crises in the world.

I urge caution regarding this proposal, which I will vote against. It is shambolic that the House voted on the issue before this debate but that is the way the Government wants to proceed. We will regret this move. Army and Naval Service personnel will become targets when they cease acting as humanitarian rescuers and assume the power to stop, arrest and demobilise certain vessels. The time to do this is before refugees board the ships. Undercover operations should be used to isolate and get rid of warmongers who do not care about loading 200 people into a boat that cannot accommodate 40 or that these people are pregnant women, mothers and children.

We must stand up for our neutrality, which is close to our hearts. We have fallen into European treaties. I canvassed on some of them, including the second referendum on the Lisbon treaty, and more fool me. We are now reaping the rewards as we will be kicked out if are not good Europeans. Europe messed with us when we needed it. Europe is not our friend and we must say that. Ireland is a proud, sovereign country which must, above all, protect its citizens from those who want to come here and kill us. We have seen attacks all over Europe. For the first time, armed police are needed at GAA games, which we all love, and other sporting events. People are being body searched at these events, and about time.

We are peace-loving people who have no truck with warmongers. We should mind, salute and support our troops and Naval Service personnel. Young soldiers and sailors cannot afford to live on the wages the Minister is paying them. They and Defence Forces veterans are being treated disgracefully. We must look after our own business. This is our patch and we should look after it and let the warmongers go to hell or wherever else. They are creating enough hell for other people and do not care.

I will share time with Deputy Seamus Healy.

The Green Party will not support the call for Ireland to join Operation Sophia. We do so reluctantly because we wish to support the Naval Service in everything it does. It has done a remarkable job in recent years. Under this proposal, the Naval Service would shift from a humanitarian rescue mission to a peace-enforcement-type mission. This would be contrary to our interests and tradition as a neutral nation and would change our approach in a way that undermines the wider peacekeeping efforts we must undertake. Ireland brings a particular role and benefit to humanitarian peacekeeping missions. Losing our reputation in this area and moving away from our peacekeeping tradition is not in the interests of Europe, Ireland or those whom we seek to protect.

During my time in government, I had the great honour of visiting the headquarters of the United Nations mission in Chad, which was a joint mission involving European and non-European armies. It was an incredibly complex, dangerous and difficult mission which the Defence Forces carried out with great professionalism and skill. Our military showed great intelligence as regards its position. The Defence Forces headed the mission and an Irish officer was appointed its chief of staff. Other countries realised that we were neutral and they had a sense that Ireland does not have a colonialist or imperialist past. This gave us great strength and is a great resource which we must and can deploy.

This is a particularly sensitive time in terms of Europe regaining its confidence and seeking greater co-ordination. However, I fear that certain countries and interests in Europe are pressing for greater European military integration, which is not the correct approach for Ireland or Europe. We can see signs of this trend everywhere. At the Committee on Budgetary Oversight last week, we learned from the vice president of the European Investment Bank, EIB, of a drive by the European Council - the Taoiseach last week reported to the Dáil on its recent meeting - to have the EIB take a role in lending to the armaments industry. This conflicts with the tradition of the institution and threatens its ability to raise green bonds and engage in low interest rate lending. This drive by certain European countries or authorities is only one example of a post-Brexit trend involving certain countries seeking to strengthen Europe through military operations and other means. This is not in our interests or part of our tradition and we should shy away from it.

None of us is blind to the tragedy unfolding in Libya. The country is experiencing a major humanitarian crisis as people migrate from other countries to use it as a leaping off point on their journey to Europe. These people are experiencing horrendous conditions and no one wants to stand idly by as they are caught in a pincer between the countries they are fleeing and the marine border with Europe. The issue is extremely difficult and Ireland has adopted the correct approach by engaging in a humanitarian rescue mission. If we join a peace enforcement mission, even if it only involves providing logistics support, we will be connected to a military operation. The front-line military aspects of a mission account for only a fraction of the massive logistics exercise required. Once we join such a mission, I fear we will become part of what caused the problem in the first instance. France, Britain and the United Stations showed incredible recklessness and disregard for recent and distant history when they bombed Libya into its current anarchy. Ireland should be especially cautious for this reason. Admittedly, the position in Libya is extremely difficult because the country is experiencing anarchy. No one knows, for example, if a coast guard vessel belongs to the Libyan Government or is involved in a pirate operation. No one denies that these extremely difficult circumstances require a sensitive intervention to support refugees who are in danger of drowning. At the same time, we must not impose further military solutions given that military actions partially caused the entire problem in the first instance.

The Green Party does not agree with Ireland becoming involved in Operation Sophia. We concur with the conclusions of the various international reports cited by previous speakers, including the report from the House of Lords that makes the case for non-military intervention. This is the correct advice and Ireland can and should be part of such a humanitarian mission. We are sceptical and nervous because we are seeing an increasingly militarised response to the problem. We are proud of the Defence Forces and their tradition of peacekeeping. We should stick to our strengths. Europe and the rest of the world benefit when we stand as a neutral voice with a proud tradition of peacekeeping. I am nervous that we are stepping away from that. This is part of a wider trend about which we must be careful.

The Naval Service is participating in Operation Pontus as part of a bilateral agreement with the Italian Government. Operation Pontus is a purely humanitarian mission rescuing migrants at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean. To date, the Naval Service has saved approximately 16,800 migrants. The Government's proposal to participate in Operation Sophia, which is supported by only eight of the 27 European Union member states, is an attempt to abuse the legitimate concerns of the public about the continuing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and drag this country into a military role. I agree with the Peace and Neutrality Alliance that involvement in Operation Sophia would be a further breach of neutrality.

The country's neutrality has already been breached by allowing the US military's use of Shannon Airport.

We are repeatedly told that the integration of the Naval Service's operation in the Mediterranean into Operation Sophia will be an extension of the former's excellent humanitarian mission and reputation. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the priority of the current Operation Pontus is rescue, the priority of Operation Sophia is to force refugees back into the claws of the Tripoli Government. Under Operation Sophia, refugee boats are being confined to Libyan coastal waters by military force where they can be recaptured and returned to Tripoli.

The flight of desperate refugees across the Mediterranean from Libya and the rest of north Africa is reminiscent of the Famine. During its ten years from 1845 to 1855, 2.1 million desperate Irish people fled across the high seas in the hope of finding a better life abroad. Imagine if those 2.1 million people had been stopped and forced to return to Ireland. That is what Operation Sophia is now doing in the Mediterranean.

Libya has been in chaos since military aggression, including bombing by Britain and France, overthrew the Gaddafi regime. There are now three unelected Libyan governments involved in a civil war. This British and French-created chaos has given free rein to traffickers and smugglers preying on people attempting to escape. Integration into Operation Sophia involves allying Ireland with the navies of Britain and France and one of the three warring governments in Libya.

Refugees International speaks of the ongoing violence and chaos in Libya, a country that lacks an asylum system and where the rule of law is absent. Libyan refugees are being confined to hell-on-Earth detention centres. Non-Libyan refugees, of which there are many, are being placed in transit camps prior to repatriation to the countries from which they fled. There is no right of asylum in Tripoli.

If the transfer to Operation Sophia goes ahead, it will be used in future as a precedent to justify the further erosion of Irish neutrality. The excellent reputation of our soldiers and sailors abroad will be sullied by association with human rights abusers. Above all, the Irish people will be made complicit in the vicious oppression of deprived peoples. Tá mé go láidir i gcoinne an rúin seo.

That concludes the debate. Sin deireadh dhíospóireacht an tairisceana seo. Tá leasú amháin os ár gcomhair ag an Teachta Ó Snodaigh. An bhfuil sé ag brú an leasaithe sin?

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 39; Níl, 78; Staon, 0.

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breathnach, Declan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Louise O'Reilly; Níl, Deputies Joe McHugh and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the motion be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 80; Níl, 38; Staon, 0.

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breathnach, Declan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Joe McHugh and Tony McLoughlin; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Louise O'Reilly.
Question declared carried.