Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo bhród a chur in iúl as an obair atá Fórsaí Cosanta na hÉireann tar éis a dhéanamh thar na blianta leis na Náisiúin Aontaithe agus thar ceann na Náisiún Aontaithe. Is obair ríthábhachtach é agus tá siad tar éis clú agus meas a tharraingt ar Éirinn atá as cuimse don oileán beag sin. Tá sé tábhachtach go leanfaimid leis an obair sin agus go ndéanann muid é sin seachas bogadh i dtreo airm Eorpach ar aon bhealach.
The Irish Defence Forces have been involved in UN operations for many generations and their contribution constitutes a very honourable tradition. The reputation and goodwill they have brought to Ireland is well beyond the size of the country. We should never do anything that would endanger this, and I will return to the specifics on this.
The report details a number of areas in which Irish troops are still involved in UN missions. UNIFIL in Lebanon is one of these, and it is one with which Ireland has been longest associated. As I said, it stands to our credit and, in particular, I credit those soldiers who have stood as peacekeepers in the face of provocation, often by Israeli soldiers and others in the area. Regrettably, Irish soldiers have died in the course of their duties in the area in question.
There are other areas where Irish soldiers are still helping the UN, including the Golan Heights, which the Minister of State has visited. Another area, and a mission about which I have concern, is in Western Sahara. One of the problems I have with the mission there is that it does not have the same human rights role as other UN missions. Only recently, I was contacted about a delegation from one of the committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas visiting Morocco. I stated that my party could not take part in such a delegation if the visit did not have a component of reaching out to talk to representatives from Western Sahara and some type of connection with the Irish soldiers who are still stationed in the area. Regrettably, it could not be accommodated so we will not be taking part in any such delegation at the behest of the Moroccan Government. I do not think we should do so unless an outreach to Western Sahara is a component of it. The President has done this in the past by meeting representatives from Western Sahara.
There are other areas about which I have major concerns where the missions are basically sponsored by NATO, such as that in Afghanistan. I do not think Ireland should play any role in it. In terms of the mission in Mali, I have major concerns about the exact nature of the role involved. Some of these missions have some type of UN imprimatur, but it is not in the proud honourable tradition of UN missions we have been involved in, such as that in Lebanon.
Other issues, which I do not have time to discuss and on which the Minister of State and I have argued previously, include the move towards sending Irish troops on European missions by means of the European battle groups rather than as part of UN operations. I hope this will not come to be in future.