That Dáil Éireann approves the reports by the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, regarding service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2017 and 2018 respectively, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 7th February, 2019, in accordance with section 13 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to report to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence earlier this morning on Irish Defence Forces participation in United Nations missions in 2017 and 2018. In commending the motion, I will summarise some of the key aspects of Ireland’s involvement with the UN in 2017 and 2018. Irish Defence Forces personnel have served in peace support missions all over the world in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America, completing over 68,000 tours of duty. This commitment to international peacekeeping is a very practical expression of the values we hold dear as a nation and of our commitment to the UN and to multilateralism.
Ireland’s main commitments during 2017 and 2018 were to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, in the Golan Heights. The UNIFIL mission was Ireland’s largest overseas deployment during 2017 and 2018. From June 2012 to November 2018, Irish troops served as part of a joint Irish-Finnish battalion in UNIFIL. From 2015, a number of Estonian personnel were also deployed with the Finnish contingent. Due to other national commitments both Finland and Estonia withdrew from the Irish-Finnish battalion, UNIFIL, in November 2018. As an interim measure, an additional contingent of approximately 106 Defence Forces personnel were deployed to the UNIFIL mission to cover the backfilling of the Finnish contingent for a 12-month period. Ireland assumed the full duties and responsibilities of the Irish battalion in November 2018 and will continue in this role up to November 2019.
It has recently been agreed that a contingent of Polish armed forces personnel, together with a contribution from Hungarian defence forces, will join our UNIFIL contingent from November 2019 as part of a joint battalion. In 2018, for the first time, two Maltese personnel deployed to UNIFIL as part of the Irish battalion.
Ireland’s second largest overseas deployment in 2017 and 2018 was to UNDOF in the Golan Heights. The Defence Forces contribution to UNDOF comprised approximately 136 personnel over this period. Since its establishment in 1974, UNDOF has been a successful mission in supporting the efforts of the international community in the Golan Heights and the Middle East in general. In March 2018, the UNDOF headquarters returned to Camp Faouar on the Syrian side of the area of separation and the then Chief of Staff UNDOF, Colonel Michael Dawson, together with seven other members of the Defence Forces moved with the headquarters. The main Irish contingent, comprising a force reserve company of 130 personnel, completed their relocation to Camp Faouar in September 2018. Throughout 2017 and 2018, Ireland continued to contribute military observers and staff to various United Nations missions such as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation, UNTSO, the UN mission for the referendum in Western Sahara and the UN stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2017 and 2018, the Defence Forces were deployed on a number of other UN-mandated missions such as EU training mission, EUTM Mali, EUFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Operation Sophia and the NATO-led international security presence in Kosovo.
The Government is very aware that participation in peace support missions comes at a personal cost for individuals who must be away from families and friends for extended periods. I commend our Defence Forces personnel on their commitment and dedication to overseas service, without which, Ireland’s strong tradition of peacekeeping under the auspices of the United Nations, would not be possible. Our ability to protect the safety of our personnel is of paramount concern to me when considering participation in any mission. Ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and we continually review personal equipment and Defence Forces assets in order to ensure that personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles. The safety of our peacekeepers is of the utmost importance.
Ireland is making a very significant contribution in the context of the overall strength of our Defence Forces and the resources available for defence. The Government is committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces will continue to contribute in a meaningful way to overseas operations into the future. I commend the motion to the House.