Proposed Service by Defence Forces with United Nations in Mali: Motion

I move:

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 MINUSMA, established under United Nations Security Council Resolution 2100 (2013) and extended in subsequent Resolutions and subject to renewal of the UN mandate/authority for the mission thereafter.

The conditions, under which the Defence Forces may participate on overseas peace support operations are referred to as the "triple lock". The operation must be authorised or mandated by the United Nations; it must be approved by the Government; and it must be approved by way of a resolution of Dáil Éireann, where the size of a Defence Forces contribution is more than 12 personnel. MINUSMA, which is the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, is authorised under Security Council Resolution UNSCR 2100 of April 2013. The Government at its meeting of 11 June last, granted approval for Defence Forces, Óglaigh na hÉireann, participation in the MINUSMA mission. The proposed deployment, which is due to take place in September 2019, will be drawn primarily from the Army Ranger Wing and the deployment will total 14 personnel. Dáil approval will complete the triple lock and will allow for the required training and other preparatory arrangements to be put in place in the coming months in advance of a proposed September deployment.

There are currently no Irish troops serving with the MINUSMA mission in Mali. Ireland is however contributing military personnel as part of the UN mandated, EU Training Mission, EUTM Mali. Ireland has participated in EUTM Mali since its establishment in 2013 and currently contributes 20 personnel to the mission in a training and support capacity. The current instability in Mali represents a significant threat to the entire Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa and to African stability. Securing stability in Mali is important as it will contribute to the stability of the wider Sahel region. This region is a source of much criminality, including people trafficking and smuggling, giving rise to unregulated migration and threatens security in the region and beyond, including to the European Union. Significant atrocities have also been committed in the region, where the highest death toll is among the local vulnerable populations, with thousands killed in the past six months alone. Protecting the local populations and providing them with a safe and secure environment are among the primary objectives of this UN mission. Ireland has a key interest in contributing to security and stability in western Africa, which is a key focus of our development aid programme.

Development cannot progress in the absence of a secure, rules based, societal environment. As a committed supporter of UN action in this area, Ireland cannot remain aloof from this international effort notwithstanding the risks involved. Through the proposed Army Ranger Wing deployment, Ireland has the capacity to enhance the effectiveness of this UN mission and to contribute to security and stability in this key region in support of the UN, the EU and Ireland's development aid programme.

The MINUSMA UN mission is tasked primarily with providing support to the transitional governmental authorities in Mali in efforts to stabilise the country and return it to civilian rule in accordance with an agreed roadmap. The mission also has a significant role in the protection of civilians, the promotion of human rights and facilitation of humanitarian assistance. MINUSMA is mandated to protect civilians from the threat of physical violence and its mandate specifically links protection of civilians to stabilisation and efforts to counter asymmetric threats. In addition to collateral damage resulting from attacks against Malian and foreign forces, terrorist groups prey on civilians through targeted retaliatory acts, indirect psychological threats and societal pressures. When deployed to protracted conflicts, peacekeepers often face continued violence and hostile actors hampering their ability to operate. These challenges in Mali are particularly acute. This is a conflict marked by violent extremism, where attacks by terrorist groups have generally constrained the capacity of UN peacekeepers to protect local populations. In fulfilling its role as part of the MINUSMA mission, the day-to-day activities of the Army Ranger Wing will include engagements with local populations and gathering information and intelligence to support the UN's operations that will contribute to peace building activities.

The UN Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Over the years, the range of tasks assigned to UN peace operations has expanded significantly in response to shifting patterns of conflict and adapted approaches in addressing threats to international peace and security. MINUSMA is a United Nation's Chapter Vll mission, which means that the UN has charged the mission with the role of peace enforcement in an environment where peacekeepers face continued violence and hostile actors hampering their ability to operate. Chapter VII missions are increasingly normal for UN missions in Africa. The UN missions in Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo are all operating under the Chapter Vll mandate. Ireland has previously engaged in UN Chapter VII operations in East Timor, Eritrea, Liberia and Chad.

MINUSMA is the largest international UN mission, with a strength of over 16,000 personnel made up of military, police, mission experts and UN volunteers. It is also considered to be the UN's most dangerous mission and consequently the threat to Irish personnel deployed to MINUSMA must be regarded as the highest level of any operation. It is understandable that people would have concerns about Irish troops participating in this mission. Risks attach to every peacekeeping mission, whether it is UNDOF, UNIFIL or, in this case, Mali. Decisions to put our soldiers in danger are never taken lightly by the Government. Protecting our personnel is always of paramount concern. The military advice I have received provides assurance that there are significant and robust security measures in place to give the best protection possible for the deployed forces.

Irish personnel operating with MINUSMA will not be deployed in isolation and will deploy as part of a larger team when carrying out surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. Operating as part of a larger German company, they will benefit from the security effort in place to protect the full company. The majority of Irish personnel will be based at Camp Castor in Gao. Camp Castor is a base within a larger UN base. Three of the Irish personnel will also be based at the protected UN headquarters camp in Bamako. However, while such measures can mitigate the risks to the safety of personnel, they can never eliminate the significant threats that exist in a dangerous mission in these significant conflict zones with adversaries associated with ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The Army Ranger Wing is the special operations unit of the Defence Forces, Óglaigh na hÉireann. Its members are trained and equipped to undertake a range of specialist roles. Indeed, this mission is the type of challenge for which they train every day. The unit with which the Army Ranger Wing will embed while operating as part of the MINUSMA mission is also a special operations forces unit. As an elite military unit, it is the best of the best and can play a significant role in supporting this challenging mission. That said, the decision to deploy the Army Ranger Wing has not been taken lightly and involved a significant in-depth assessment and review by both civilian and military authorities in my Department. My decision to bring forward this proposal has been informed by advice prepared jointly by both civil and military elements of the Department of Defence. The Defence Forces have carried out reconnaissance, travelling to Mali and visiting the camp in Gao and force headquarters in Bamako, to see the mission at first hand so the proposed participation in MINUSMA could be properly considered.

When I visited Mali earlier in the year, I met the force commander and received a detailed briefing from him. More recently, I have received detailed briefings regarding operations, security and intelligence from the Defence Forces. The Chief of Staff, the deputy chief of staff for operations and director of operations have advised and briefed me on this proposal. The most recent occasion was just prior to bringing the proposal to Government. The general staff have advised that participation is appropriate and that they are satisfied with the significant and robust security measures in place, the force protection measures and the available medical facilities. The comprehensive briefings and advice that I have received, from both civil and military elements of my Department, have enabled me to bring forward this proposal.

On behalf of the Government, I am now seeking Dáil approval to arrange for the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to MINUSMA. This deployment is an essential contribution in strengthening the international presence in the Sahel in support of the UN mission and provides practical support for the G5 Sahel.

The Minister of State is two minutes over time.

I understand.

I will have to give the other speakers similar latitude.

The current instability in the Sahel region must be addressed as it represents a significant threat to regional and African stability and impacts on the security of the European Union. Ireland has a long and well respected history of participating in peacekeeping missions. We believe in, and take seriously, our commitment to making forces available for United Nations mandated missions. MINUSMA represents a mission where a gap has opened up that Ireland can fill. The members of the Army Ranger Wing have the necessary skill sets and are trained and equipped to operate in hostile environments such as Mali. The role envisaged for the Defence Forces team is within its competence and capability. Valuable experience will be gained by Army Ranger Wing personnel when deployed on this mission, which will further enhance their effectiveness in carrying out their national security role.

The MINUSMA mission is not without its challenges. Significant force protection and risk mitigation measures are in place to optimise the secure environment for deployed personnel. While the Army Ranger Wing team will engage daily with individuals in the local population as part of its intelligence and information gathering remit it will benefit from the substantial security effort that is in place to protect the full company. The timing is right for Ireland to contribute to this mission. Ireland deploying troops to MINUSMA, alongside over 50 other countries already contributing military forces to this crucial UN mission, is a positive gesture and one which I wholeheartedly support. I commend the motion to the House.

Fianna Fáil will support this motion. We are taking the advice of military management, which has carried out in-depth reconnaissance of precautions in this region. However, as the Minister of State indicated, we must be extremely careful and mitigate the risk to the 14 members of the Army Ranger Wing who are going there.

Fundamentally, we believe that Ireland can play an important role with others - I think the Minister mentioned 50 countries - in restoring peace to this hostile region and ending the human rights violations committed against innocent civilians. However, we have a number of concerns and issues around this deployment that I will outline these later. Hopefully, we can get clarity on them from the Minister of State.

First, I feel the need to point out that it is almost one week on from my party's motion on improving pay and conditions for the Defence Forces, a motion the Government, unfortunately, opposed. Today we see exactly why my party, many other members of the Opposition and others have been fighting so hard for improved rights of the men and women of our Defence Forces and their families. Today we see the unique nature of the work undertaken by our Defence Forces and why they deserve so much more respect and dignity than this Government has shown them. This debate gives me the opportunity to remind the Minister of State that there is already considerable cynicism within the general defence community regarding the optics of how our Defence Forces are paraded when it is politically convenient. The Minister of State needs to match his words with actual respect for the Defence Forces. Words ring hollow and action is what is needed in the area of improving pay, allowance and conditions for the Defence Forces. This is why he needs to move on the Public Service Pay Commission report and provide serious clarity on what is a very worrying backdrop.

In this context, it is difficult to comprehend how the Minister of State can maintain his callous and heartless position on Defence Forces pay when one examines the MINUSMA mission carefully. It is an extremely dangerous mission in a high-risk environment. Almost 200 lives have been lost since peacekeepers first went into the area in 2013. We know this region is a hotbed for terrorist activity and a recruiting ground for ISIS and Al Qaeda in addition to the ongoing civil infighting. This is the environment where we are considering sending the Army Ranger Wing, to which the Minister of State has refused to award allowances due even after court adjudications that ruled in its favour. As I said last week, this is a shameful situation to be in in 2019. The Army Ranger Wing, like the rest of the Defence Forces, cannot wait any longer. The Minister of State saw last week the resounding support that exists in this House for allowances to be restored without any further delay. The entire Defence Forces community will take a very dim view if the Minister of State rejects the will of this House and continues to treat the Defence Forces with a lack of respect.

Regarding Mali, we acknowledge the serious risk of contagion to Europe and beyond posed by the instability in this area as well as the serious human rights violations, the people trafficking and the significant loss of innocent life. We also take very seriously and value very highly the advice of military management, which has undertaken careful reconnaissance work in the region. For the record of this House, we need the Minister of State to outline how long it was there, the engagement it had and the level of mitigation for our deployment. The advice of military management is that our elite Army Ranger Wing can play an important role in restoring peace in this area. Its expertise is designed and high level of training is carried out for scenarios precisely like this one. This is why we have an elite Army Ranger Wing, that is, so we can protect the world's most vulnerable people. I also note the Defence Forces general staff is satisfied that robust precautions are in place to ensure the safety of our Defence Forces members.

This mission is comparable to previous deployments of our Defence Forces and in particular, the Army Ranger Wing. This includes the incredible work undertaken in Sierra Leone and over a decade ago in Chad where Irish peacekeepers played a key role in the protection of thousands of refugees and displaced people fleeing war, ensured the safety of UN officials and oversaw the delivery of humanitarian aid and food. The Army Ranger Wing specifically provided security during the construction of the Irish base and conducted key long-range patrols in specialist reconnaissance vehicles. It also engaged in destroying unexploded viable devices.

However, there are a number of areas that require clarification. We need more information on why we are engaging at this time. Could the Minister of State outline the diplomatic context and contacts he has had? What has changed? Why is there now an opening for the Army Ranger Wing when there was none previously? It has been said we will be operating as part of a larger intelligence surveillance reconnaissance company. What does this mean? Could the Minister of State provide information? I understand from research in the area that there is a significant German deployment in the area. How will that work? How will the Army Ranger Wing integrate with that German deployment? Could the Minister of State provide clarity on the cohort with which the Army Ranger Wing will be working? How will the Army Ranger Wing fit into the overall operation? It will be a smaller unit within a larger group. There has been some concern because a smaller unit is going. Could the Minister of State clarify whether that increases the risks for that unit compared to a larger deployment? Could he provide information on how that compares with other deployments of the Army Ranger Wing? How long is it envisaged that it will be posted on this mission? Is there an end date?

The Minister of State also needs to give us more information on the UN resolution we are going in under. I understand the existing resolution underpinned by this motion will expire in about a week and a half. The fact that we are voting on a resolution that has yet to be passed by the UN is unusual in the context of the triple lock and its integrity. Will that UN resolution mirror the current one because I understand the context and wording of UN resolutions can change every year? This underpins the priorities, focus and very nature of the deployment. The integrity of the triple lock necessitates that if there is substantive change to the resolution regarding MINUSMA, we need to debate this again because that would change the actual deployment so it is important that the Minister of State provides some background on any change in the resolution and how that would affect the motion on which we are voting today. We also need to ensure that this mission does not hollow out domestic security operations with the Army Ranger Wing already depleted despite the Minister of State committing to increasing its capability in the White Paper. These are important questions on which I would appreciate further clarification.

One thing we know is that the situation in Mali will not resolve itself. People will continue to suffer and die without international intervention. Women and children will continue to be the targets of awful atrocities until peace is restored. The easy thing to do would be to stand back and let someone else do it. That seems to be what some in this House will argue for. That is wrong and morally reprehensible. Ireland has a long history and tradition of peacekeeping and I continue to envisage Ireland as a country committed to an "active neutrality". We are world renowned for efforts in keeping and restoring peace in some of the world's most dangerous places and we in this House and beyond should all be very proud of this legacy. We need to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in some of the most underdeveloped countries in the world.

We have a responsibility to share with others who may benefit from the lessons of our experience of peace building on this island and peacekeeping on the international stage in the Middle East and Africa. When we have highly trained personnel with the skill and expertise to make a difference and play a key role in trying to bring about peace and protect basic human rights, it is right that we play a more proactive role. However, we must ensure that this deployment of the Army Ranger Wing is a safe one, that maximum assurances are given around the mitigation of risks and that the Minister of State clarifies some of the questions around the operation of the future resolution and the smaller deployment in the context of the larger integration within this UN mission because the most important thing is that when we deploy our troops, we have ensured that robust reconnaissance is adhered to and we protect our troops in the context of this deployment.

What we are being asked to do is allow a detachment of 14 soldiers from the Army Ranger Wing to be deployed to the African state of Mali as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, which was set up in 2013. We are being asked to endorse that and become part of the UN's response to a coup in that state. The force to which the detachment of 14 soldiers from Army Ranger Wing will be joining consists of 13,750 soldiers and police officers.

That is not all. It is supported by an international military force of 620 soldiers called the European Union Training Mission in Mali, EUTM, of which 20 soldiers are Irish. This was never brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas and was never endorsed by it despite the supposed triple lock. Twenty Irish soldiers are operating in Mali at the behest of the EU.

If that was not enough foreign military personnel in that African state, which is large compared to Ireland, the French have Operation Barkhane, which comprises a detatchment of 4,500 soldiers. All told, in excess of 18,000 military personnel of a foreign nature are deployed in this African country.

Before our troops embarked on this mission, some analysis or discussion of the history of Mali and the history of France in Africa and in the region now known as Mali should have taken place. Mali was established in 1960 after the rape of Africa by France, Belgium and other European countries whereby they ripped away many of that continent's mineral resources. These countries supposedly ended their imperialist adventure in Africa but they then decided that they had to reassert their influence. They started over again by ensure that all those mineral resources remained in their possession or in the possession of their fellow countrymen. Who owns the wealth of Mali? People might ask why I am talking about its wealth. It is the tenth poorest country in the world but it happens to be one of the biggest exporters of gold. That does not benefit the people living in Mali. It benefits other countries and international firms much more than Mali. There is not only gold but also phosphate, salt and other resources. That is the shameful history of European involvement in Africa and the division of nations that led eventually to the establishment of Mali in 1960.

It was not the end, however, because drawing lines on a map, as we have seen with Africa, often divided tribes and regions from each other. The Tuareg tribe was split between five different countries. That sowed seeds of division within Mali and we have seen the results. For decades, the members of the Tuareg tribe fought against the French. They fought against them before Mali was established. They fought against the French Foreign Legion and the French hated them for it and continuously put them down and slaughtered them. It was not only the Tuareg tribe; many other tribes were split, moved around and disconnected from their original heartlands. All of that led to civil war in Mali and other African states. Of late, those ingredients that led to civil war were added to by a mix of fundamentalist religious fanaticism and that, as well as the coup d'etat against the Government in 2012, is what has ripped Mali apart.

What is the role of France and the UN Security Council in all of this? They would have us believe, and they might be right to a degree, that they are there to stop international terrorism and put down uprisings. However, it is not a UNIFIL mission that Irish troops are being asked to participate in. This is a peace enforcement mission. That involves taking sides. This is breaching everything for which we stand from the point of view of our neutrality. It also undermines the proud tradition of Irish soldiers who have served abroad in defending peace when it has been established. There is no peace in Mali. If there was, the French battalions would not be sending in drones to attack villages and the like.

There are human rights abusers and Members are rightly standing up here and arguing against them. They can to be found on both sides. Those who took power in 2012 have also been indicted for human rights abuses and many of those who back the current Government are the same people who were human traffickers in the past and they are probably still engaged in that activity in the background. This is not an international force to try to keep the peace. In many ways, it is the exact opposite.

There are questions to answer. There should have been a context in terms of a debate on participation in this mission before the Minister of State even talked about sending Irish soldiers to Mali, but he sent them in any event. There are 20 already deployed there. They are being exposed to the impact of having to take Lariam. Another 14 soldiers are going to be deployed. The Minister of State has not addressed the issue of the prescribing of Lariam to our personnel despite the Dáil passing a motion that this should not happen. Will these soldiers be forced to take Lariam?

Can the Minister of State indicate when the UN will renew the mandate for this mission? Will it be exactly the same, will it change it or will it be worse than is currently the case? The information I have is that the UN is taking a decision at the end of the month. The Minister of State would not even wait until the end of month for that because he wanted some publicity from sending troops abroad. The logical course would have been to wait for that and then to have a debate.

The right thing for the Members to do is introduce a motion to withdraw the 20 personnel who have been deployed, not to deploy any more of our personnel and to use the good offices of the UN to try to change the nature of the force that is already there. We should be seen as mediators, which is the proud role Ireland would have in any peace efforts in that region or anywhere else in the world, not as enforcers. However, that is exactly what the Minister of State is doing. He is changing the nature of Irish engagement with international politics by having our personnel act as enforcers rather than mediators. This is totally contrary to what most people would believe represents our neutrality. This exposes us around the world such that if Ireland is not neutral in its dealings internationally, then it would sell its soul to try to get on to the UN Security Council to play with the big boys just because we seem to have been left out. We should adopt a different approach of focusing on the little boys and pull all of them together and create a bigger force in the world of countries which are at peace, can espouse peace and go around the world with a proper track record and help other countries. These would be countries which are non-alligned and understand the value of being neutral. That is not what the Minister of State has sought by putting this motion before the House.

The Labour Party has a long record of supporting Irish involvement in UN peacekeeping missions but we will not be supporting this motion. Central to our support for UN missions is the triple lock mechanism which requires any mission to have a UN mandate, the agreement of the Government and the agreement of the Dáil. This motion illustrates very clearly why the requirement for a Dáil debate and vote is so important. We need to open up the discussion on the issues relating to this complex mission and satisfy ourselves that sending members of the Defence Forces to participate in it is consistent with our support for human rights and for peace and reconciliation. Our conclusion is that it is not.

In July 2013, the UN Security Council unanimously approved that a large peacekeeping force be send to Mali. The force involves police as well as soldiers, most of them drawn from African countries. There is, however, also a substantial contingent from Bangladesh. The largest European contribution is 408 personnel from Germany, although there is a substantial French military presence in Mali operating separately from this UN mission but in partnership with the government of Mali. The MINUSMA mission is designed to prevent the return of armed elements in northern Mali, but not to take offensive military action against rebel groups. However, there is a very fine line about what counts as offensive military action when the threat is posed by guerrilla warfare and terrorism rather than conventional conflict. The UN mandate for this mission has included provision that the French will provide military support to the UN mission if required. That is a complicating factor and part of the reason for the Labour Party's opposition to this mission.

France's involvement relates to its post-colonial ties with Mali. It is also linked to French participation in global warfare against so-called Islamic militants.

From the perspective of the insurgent groups, there is little to distinguish UN peacekeepers from French troops when it comes to identifying who is involved in offensive action against them. However, that is not the main basis of our opposition to this mission. The Labour Party is opposed to Ireland's participation in MINUSMA on two specific grounds. First, we are concerned that this mission has been structured as a security-only solution to the conflict. The only endgame that seems to be envisaged is one where insurgent groups are defeated. This pulls the UN away from its traditional stance of neutrality into being a strong supporter of one side of the conflict, if not an active party on that side. This is a dangerous precedent. Sometimes peacekeeping has to involve peace enforcement but that must be even-handed in every conflict. We cannot support a circumstance in which the UN is perceived to be anti-Muslim or an uncritical supporter of the Government of Mali. It should be remembered that while elections have occurred in Mali, the range of civil and political freedoms enjoyed in that country are a far cry from the level of freedom and democracy in this country. Part of this mission should be about strengthening democracy for all people in Mali, including the people who are currently living under so-called Islamist insurgent groups. The mission should also recognise that some of those fighting in these insurgent groups may have legitimate grievances or may have been coerced into participation. In this context, the Labour Party cannot support Irish participation in MINUSMA due to the lack of focus on peace-building and reconciliation. Too much of this mission is focused on combating insurgents rather than finding a roadmap to peace. A security-only solution will not work. Peace-building efforts are required. In this context, I have a number of questions for the Government. What is its understanding of the endgame for this conflict? How will this UN mission lead not only to a reduction in violence but a durable peace? How will a lasting peace be built in ethnic communities that have been in violent conflict with one another? How will the legitimate grievance of various groups be dealt with and how will the voices of victims be heard?

I understand that the UN mission has contributed to the circumstances in which peace agreements were negotiated in 2013 and 2015 between the Government of Mali based in the southern city of Bamako and various ethnic groups in the north, including the Tuareg people. There is, therefore, a basis for overcoming decades old grievances held by ethnic minorities about their rights and autonomy within Mali. The participation of the Tuareg is particularly important to provide stability to Mali's extensive northern territories. Much of this territory is desert or semi-desert and much of it has never been fully under the control of the government since Mali's independence. Why did both the 2013 and 2015 peace agreements exclude other groups, including Islamist groups? There is no doubt that some of these groups have carried out atrocities but other ethnic groups have also been implicated in appalling violence. The French military objective of seeking the military defeat of Islamic militants, some of whom have links with al-Qaeda, is not a suitable objective for a UN mission. The UN's role should be genuinely keeping the peace, not providing policing and security so that the French military can pursue its goals. In this context, the second reason the Labour Party cannot support participation in MINUSMA is the failure to seek a fully inclusive peace process. We cannot support this mission unless and until there is a substantive push for new peace talks, which must include a genuine opportunity for the involvement of all sides to the conflict, including so-called Islamist organisations and people living under their control. While these organisations may refuse, we cannot allow the UN mission to take sides or to be used to advance the purpose of one side of the conflict.

It is worth recalling the chronology of this conflict. In 2011, there was serious drought and famine in west Africa. This created some of the conditions that led to a Tuareg ethnic rebellion in 2012 and a massive displacement of at least 350,000 people within Mali and to neighbouring states. The French became involved in a military action to support the Government of Mali and stabilise the country. In 2013, the UN mission took over from the French military to help stabilise the country. Two years later, the Government of Mali negotiated peace with militias and allowed more regional autonomy for the Tuareg ethnic group as part of that peace deal. Today, the people of Mali continue to suffer from violence carried out by a range of extremist groups, rebel factions and communal groups.

We need to get to the roots of the current crisis. Drought and famine conditions led to people taking part in violent uprisings. We saw the same pattern in Libya, Syria and other countries that experienced the Arab Spring uprisings. We need to recognise that these extreme conditions led people to join armed groups, including lslamist and jihadist groups, as they seemed to offer a way out of a dire situation. Whatever about the leadership of these groups, it is plausible that some fighters as well as others living in territory controlled by Islamic groups want an end to conflict and a return to normal life.

MINUSMA is an example of Europe being pushed to address issues in its own backyard rather than rely on the United States for military intervention. The conflict in Mali is an example of the kind of conflict that drives migration to Europe. Finding sustainable solutions must be part of the solution to a durable Europe-Africa partnership for the future. However, we must work to find a distinctly different European approach to conflict resolution, not blindly take up the American "war on terror" strategy which has left a disastrous legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan. The need for a different strategy is particularly relevant to Ireland's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. What is that seat for? Is it only posturing or does Ireland offer a different perspective that would provide new solutions to conflicts such as in Mali? From our history of conflict and our peace process and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, we should be in a position to offer something different. The Labour Party cannot support the participation of our Defence Forces in MINUSMA under the current strategy and we will vote against the motion.

People Before Profit will also oppose this proposal to send 14 more Irish troops, in this case rangers, to a deadly conflict and war that is raging in Mali for many reasons. Before explaining why we are opposing this planned deployment, I should note that our opposition to the Government's plan is not in any sense a criticism of our troops who may be sent to Mali if this House makes the decision to do so and in that regard, if Fianna Fáil backs the proposal, it seems they will be sent. I have absolutely no doubt about the bravery, courage, professionalism and heroism of members of the Defence Forces, the personnel who are already in Mali on the EU training mission and, for that matter, those who will be sent and rotated if this mission goes ahead. Our opposition is because the political decision being made is a big mistake. From the point of view of Ireland's neutrality, the safety of Irish soldiers and the impact on the war and conflict in Mali, we think there are dangers involved or, worse, that sending our troops would be counterproductive.

Members of the public need to know what is going on in Mali because they do not know a hell of a lot about it. The Minister of State's speech has not illuminated our understanding of the conflict, the historical situation in Mali that led to that conflict, the role of the different powers involved in military intervention as part of the UN mission and, as has been mentioned, the crucial role of France. The public is not being informed. I do not know the degree to which the rangers or members of the Defence Forces generally are being informed about what is going on. If they were informed, we would be in a better position to have a serious debate about this before the Government rushes off and sends troops into a deadly conflict in which terrible massacres of hundreds of people have been perpetuated by all sides in the past three months and 177 UN peacekeepers have been killed over the past three years.

We are sending our troops into a deadly situation. There has been no real explanation as to why this is happening, the context or what might come out of this endeavour. To put it in simple terms, this mission breaches our neutrality. Most people understand that our neutrality has something to do with our historic opposition to empire and colonialism. In so far as people have a view of the commendable and noble tradition of the Defence Forces being involved in UN missions abroad, it concerns peacekeeping. On both of those counts, this mission does not qualify. We are now involving ourselves with a colonial intervention. The French are backing the Malian armed forces and we are going to be involved on this mission, backing Mali and its armed forces. The French Army is a colonial force with a long history of trying to control this area and ruthlessly crushing opposition movements. As has already been mentioned, the Tuareg is the most notable of those movements. The colonial carve-up of the region was the ultimate cause of this conflict. The other cause is the desperate poverty in Mali. It is worth mentioning that as well. Half of the population lives below the poverty line, life expectancy is 55 as a result of malnutrition, access to clean water is lacking and adult literacy stands at 38%. That is despite Mali having considerable mineral resources. All of that desperate poverty is a direct result of colonialism and French colonialism in particular. We are effectively going into Mali and underwriting a colonial intervention to allow France to maintain its influence and control in the area.

That to which I refer is a very dangerous thing to do in the context of the welfare and safety of our soldiers. It is also dangerous to our reputation internationally as people who are not associated with imperial and colonial interventions, as well as to our neutrality. In any meaningful definition of neutrality, backing the armed forces of the Malian state in a civil war has nothing to do with that concept. It is a clear breach of neutrality. This is a serious matter because the lives of Irish soldiers are on the line. As has already been mentioned, we do not pay these soldiers properly and their allowances have been slashed. The result is that they are already at the bottom of the ladder in terms of public sector pay. The Government refused to restore those allowances and many members of the Defence Forces are living on family income supplement. We are, however, willing to send them into this deadly situation. It is a great tribute to the heroism, bravery and professionalism of our Defence Forces' personnel that many of them want to go on this mission. They want to hone their skills and try to do some good. The political context in which they are being sent, however, is dangerous for those troops and also flies in the face of our military neutrality.

There is a very simple question we should ask ourselves. Why have the Canadians pulled out of this mission having previously participated? If the Minister of State is concerned about understanding the nature of the conflict and protecting the welfare of our troops on this mission, has he had a conversation with the Canadian Government? If he has, could he please relay details of that conversation and the rationale regarding why Canada pulled out of the mission to the House? That would be very illuminating.

The other context relating to this issue is Ireland's desire to get a seat on the United Nations Security Council. It is interesting to note that we are competing with Canada for that position to some extent. Is coincidental that just as the Canadians pulled out of the mission, Ireland has rapidly stepped into the breach? We have done that without a proper public debate. Are Irish troops being put in danger by engaging in peace enforcement instead of our traditional role of peacekeeping because of a desire to get a seat on the Security Council? The UN was not terribly happy that Canada made a decision to pull out of its involvement in Mali. I suspect there is a connection and that is another important reason for us to not get involved in this mission. I do not think the timing is coincidental.

Nobody could suggest that what we are doing is not a serious departure from the traditional practice and understanding of peacekeeping. There is no peace to keep in Mali because a war is going on. It is a very bloody war with many massacres. The UN and the EU are now involving themselves with forces from a country, France, that has a definite colonial agenda. People in Mali know that. Those involved in the conflict have bitter experience of French involvement in Mali. Ireland being connected to that, even indirectly - though in reality it will be direct and will be perceived as such - is going to implicate us in the French role and agenda. There will be immediate damaging consequences for the safety of our personnel. Our reputation as a neutral state will also be damaged.

I do not state that we oppose this deployment lightly. If the troops are sent, then we have to exert pressure to ensure that their security will be protected as much as possible and that they are as well equipped as possible. Given all that I have stated, however, I do not think these troops should be sent at all. The Government is sending them into danger and doing so in a way that damages Ireland's international reputation as a neutral power.

We move on now to the Independents 4 Change technical group and Deputies Connolly, Maureen O'Sullivan and Pringle. They are sharing ten minutes. I call Deputy Pringle.

After last Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, the Government very quietly announced plans to send about a dozen members of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali to join a counterterrorism operation that is widely regarded as the most dangerous UN mission in the world. It is no accident that five of the deadliest UN missions since 2010 have been in Africa, with MINUSMA being the deadliest. Some 177 peacekeepers have been killed in the last five years, including 16 so far this year, by gun attacks, home-made car bombs and improvised explosive devices.

The MINUSMA mission was created following a UN Security Council Resolution in April 2013. It was given a mandate based on the security and protection of civilians but it has never managed to end insecurity. That insecurity has now spread to the centre of Mali, causing the UN to deploy a peace enforcement mission to deal with the consequences. The operative words are "peace enforcement". That has encroached on the meaning of peacekeeping and further blurring more than ever before the already blurred boundaries between peace and war. That is particularly the case when it comes to Ireland's involvement.

MINUSMA represents a new venture. Peacekeepers will rub shoulders with those directly involved in conflict, including the French army and the joint G5 Sahel force, which is itself involved in counterterrorism operations. According to Maria do Céu de Pinto there is a paradox involved in the use of the oxymoron "peace operations". These operations traditionally built on the principles of UN peacekeeping, including the consent of the parties, impartiality and the non-use of force, except in self-defence. Those principles are now, however, being increasingly transformed into enforcement operations.

MINUSMA's mandate of powers is to engage in direct operations, including joint operations with the Malian military. The mission is supported by advanced hardware such as short-range drones and attack helicopters. There has been an emerging pattern of increased aggressiveness and offensive operations in parallel with what Maria do Céu de Pinto calls an "essentially hybrid nature involving both elements of peacekeeping and enforcement". The International Red Cross believes that countries such as Ireland and France are a party to the conflict and it has been stated that the legal implications of UN peacekeepers losing their non-combatant status could be far reaching. That is not taking into account the fact that Ireland already has a small contingent of troops in Mali on a non-combat training mission. What happens to their mandate?

By breaching the principle of the impartiality peacekeepers, the UN makes it harder to cast itself as a mediator elsewhere. This is dangerous considering that there is already international suspicion of multilateral co-operation between countries, with the United States taking the lead on unilateral approaches to global conflicts.

It is not an accident that no Minister has since said a word in public to explain the decision to send troops to Mali. I distinctly remember that the Independent Alliance Deputies were very outspoken when it came to wanting to engage in a peace mission to North Korea and that they called for a free vote when it came to the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. However, there has been nothing since it emerged that a dozen Irish Defence Forces personnel will be sent to one of the world's most dangerous conflicts. The Government needs to be honest about its motive which, simply put, is France. It may be a way to gain favour with France over Brexit negotiations, it may be part of Ireland intensifying its campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021, or it may be part of the continuous moves to get rid of our neutrality agenda. It is less about peacekeeping in Africa and more about appeasing the West.

I admit that when I read this proposal on Ireland's participation in Mali, I was very conflicted. Like others, I am very proud of Ireland's peacekeeping troops, whose behaviour and reputation are exemplary. We know the role of Irish peacekeeping troops, some of whom have paid with their lives. In spite of the fact that the Government is going through the process of the triple lock, my concern is whether this is actually a peacekeeping mission mandated by the UN. We know about the extreme terrorism, the threats to local communities and the recent slaughter in villages. The question is whether we are getting caught up in a much bigger situation than peacekeeping. We may be getting caught up in the residue of a colonial issue stemming from French imperialism and France's historic role there, not to mention the very valuable resources in the area that drew France to it in the first place. I would want to be very much assured that the presence of Irish troops is not facilitating French interests in the area. If that were the case, it would completely undermine Ireland's role and reputation when it comes to human rights and development.

Mali is a very troubled state. We know about the Tuareg rebellion and the way in which it was exploited by Islamist extremists. We know about the military coup and how the violence has spread. We know the recent violence between the Fulani herders and the Dogon farmers and the reports that the Government there is arming the Dogon militia. The latest information is that there is much concern among people in Bamako that they do not want the G5 Sahel troops to be based there.

It is a dangerous mission, as are all missions. It is ironic that we are deploying troops at a time when there are so many questions over their pay. We all agree with our troops being there to support peace, security and stability and to protect civilians. However, there are questions over the Malian state. I do not think there is much confidence in its role in creating a peaceful, democratic country. There are concerns over what political process is to come. Ireland's troops in the Golan are keeping the peace. There is no peace in Mali to keep, especially when we do not know if the UN is going to resume that mandate.

Like my colleague, I thought carefully about this motion and read up on it, given that there is a UN mandate. This debate is extremely important because it is the third part of the trinity, namely, the UN resolution and authorisation by the Government and the Dáil. The Minister of State's speech gave us absolutely no background or context as to why he recommends that we send troops to Mali other than that we have to mind our friends, to paraphrase him, because we cannot stand idly by when our friends need us. At the very least, if we are going to ignore our neutrality, a proudly cherished policy going back to the 18th century, there is an onus on the Minister of State and the Government to explain why it is necessary. We have a war situation in Mali to which the Government is going to send 14 Army rangers. They are going to be changed every three or four months over a two-year period, so we are not just talking about 14 individuals.

This has crossed the boundaries of peacekeeping and entered into the area of enforcement. I find that most unacceptable as a woman, a mother and a Deputy. I took the trouble to read as much as I could about this but the onus is on the Government to provide that material to us and to explain why it needs to send special Army rangers to Mali. At the very least, as a country that has suffered at the hands of a colonial government, I would have thought that we would have a natural empathy and solidarity with the people of Mali. We ought to look at how we can use our neutrality and our voice in a more active, peaceful way. None of that has been explained.

The Minister of State has given us no background and has conveniently ignored the fact that in 2012, the French Minister foolishly and carelessly told us that France intended a full reconquest of Mali. David Cameron indicated his curious resolve in 2012 and 2013 to dedicate himself to dealing with the terrorism threat in Mali in North Africa. At the time, Mali, a landlocked state with a population of approximately 12 million, was a peaceful country. The Minister of State has conveniently ignored that Mali is very rich in raw materials such as gold, uranium, lots of oil, copper, phosphate, bauxite gems and so on. There is no clarity on that whatsoever. The Malian President was deposed, although he was not standing for re-election and had organised elections. For the first time, that Government had initiated a systematic mapping of the vast wealth under Mali's soil. Conveniently, there was a coup and the person who led it was trained in Bennington in America. Most of the people involved in the conflict since have been trained either by EU militaries or by America. We are standing here now without one word from the Government as to why our neutrality is going to be breached, with all the dangers it brings for the personnel we are sending out and for this country.

We are doing this while the soldiers on the ground in Ireland have had to find an innovative way of telling us that they are relying on family income supplement or that they have to sleep in cars because of accommodation problems. We have no problem sending out these 14 top-of-the-range Army rangers. Even if I were to agree that this is necessary, the Minister of State has to explain to us why it is so. He has to take us through the history and the resolution, which was to restore democracy. That in itself is ironic seeing as America and France were actively involved in overthrowing democracy and deposing the Malian President. Does the Minister of State think the Dáil and the people of Ireland deserve that information so that we can make our minds up as to what is necessary and what is not?

I will not be supporting this motion. I would ask Fianna Fáil to see sense, as the proud republican party that takes all the credit for the decolonisation of the country. We might ask it to reflect, show some solidarity and stand up for our neutrality.

I am sharing time with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. As Ruadhán Mac Cormaic wrote in The Irish Times on Saturday, the Government has quietly announced plans to send about a dozen members of the Army ranger wing to Mali to join a counter-terrorism operation, which Mac Cormaic states is highly unusual. This mission is widely regarded as the most dangerous United Nations mission in the world. I hope the Minister of State will listen to that. As I understand it, MINUSMA is made up of more than 15,000 military and police personnel from 50 countries. With an annual budget of $1 billion, it is the third biggest ongoing UN so-called peacekeeping operation. As Ruadhán Mac Cormaic noted, it is also the deadliest. In the past five years, 177 peacekeepers have been killed, including 16 so far this year, by gun attacks, home-made car bombs and improvised explosive devices. It is one of the deadliest of all time. This makes it clear that we are sending our troops into a situation that resembles a war rather than a peacekeeping operation. That is quite clear to anybody.

It has to be said that missions like these, however they might be justified, raise real and serious concerns around our neutrality. The Minister of State should listen to the last speaker and to other speakers. We have taken our heads out of the sand and opened our eyes and ár gcluasa freisin. I know that it is the Government's perception that this does not infringe on our neutrality and that the triple lock system guarantees against this, but that is not how those fighting in these disputes will see it, the people between whom we are trying to keep the peace.

They will not see that as Ireland being neutral. Islamist groups involved in this conflict have no interest in the finer details regarding Ireland's neutrality. They will see an elite wing of the Irish Army acting against them and, as a result, the Irish State will be considered their enemy. Apart from the peacekeeping aspect of the mission, this has wider implications for Ireland as a so-called neutral country. I put it to the Minister of State that we are blind to this.

I seriously question the appropriateness of becoming involved in conflicts of this nature, particularly in light of the news last week that 3,200 personnel left the Permanent Defence Force between 2014 and 2018. That equates to 34.7% of the average strength for those years, with 82% of these being premature voluntary retirements. The Minister of State has been asleep at the wheel or else he is so arrogant that he cannot see the issues or empathise with these good and dedicated soldiers and their families. We also heard that the personnel turnover rate in the Permanent Defence Force now stands at 9% overall, with a rate of 14% in the Naval Service, and that there were 256 discharges in the first four months of 2019. What is the Minister of State presiding over? Why does he not engage and get down to listening to the real problems? The 266 discharges in the first four months of 2019 were by far the largest number since the reorganisation of 2012. In April there were 86 discharges, a figure not previously matched in a single month. Has the Minister of State no concerns in this regard or does he not care? Is he not interested? Is the Government so arrogant that it cannot see this?

Clearly, the crisis we have at home is bad enough without adding to it by deploying members of our armed forces abroad in a move that may actually do serious harm to Ireland's declared policy of neutrality. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the position. I cannot support this deployment. I support the peacekeepers all over the world. They have done great work over the years. This, however, is not a peacekeeping mission. Many other Deputies have espoused the reasons that different countries' forces are deployed on this mission. However, those countries are not neutral and have never claimed to be. They are not standing idly by. They are involved on one side or another and are arming and supporting some of the militias. This mission is fraught with danger. It would far better for the Minister of State to get the Army to provide support to An Garda Síochána in dealing with the thuggery that goes on in the capital city and in dealing with murders that occur on weekly basis. If Army personnel were acting providing support in this way, it would allow them to be at home with their wives and families. They could use their expertise to keep the peace in order that people might sleep in their beds at night and to help prevent murders taking place every second day. There are armed vagabonds who are robbing and beating up older people throughout the country. The Army could certainly act as back-up to An Garda Síochána. The Garda is the first line, but we need the Permanent Defence Force at home and we need to ensure that their safety is respected also.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for the time to speak on this important issue. When I heard about the Cabinet's decision, my first thought was that this decision definitely seems to be more politically motivated than based on military ideology. I question the motivation behind it. Our Defence Forces have a very strong respectable reputation for peacekeeping around the world, a tradition of which I am especially proud. I respect any person who puts on a uniform of any type for the State and I respect the work they do.

We have had debates in which we spoke in support of our Army personnel and the fact that they are so underpaid. It is ironic at a time when the Cabinet makes a decision such as this deployment, we have still not properly or adequately addressed the issue of poor pay and recompense for our Defence Forces personnel. Those personnel have been treated very badly for many years.

Ireland has a proud tradition of helping out when needed. I question the decision to send elite Permanent Defence Force members to Mali at this time. Since 2013, I have observed what MINUSMA involves. It is a massive operation. It must be remembered that the mission is fraught with danger, with, tragically, 177 members of the 15,000-strong force having been killed. In anybody's terms, this is a massive loss of human life, causing suffering for those families affected, to whom we offer our sincere sympathies. To send members of our Permanent Defence Force out there at this time is dangerous. MINUSMA is not a normal peacekeeping mission. I would really like to know more about what motivated Cabinet to make its decision. I ask again whether the decision is really a politically motivated one. Is there more to this than meets the eye, particularly in the context of what the Cabinet considered before it signed off on the decision? It is obvious what will happen next. As a result of this decision, the Dáil will be obliged to approve the proposal in order for the troops to be deployed. I presume the Minister of State will be able to do that despite objections from Deputy Mattie McGrath and others who have concerns like those I harbour.

In recent days, I read about this matter by Stephen McDermott in and in the national newspapers. There is a lot of concern about this proposed deployment. We see it as perhaps endangering the neutrality for which Ireland is so highly regarded and respected throughout Europe and across the globe. I have grave concerns about it. Even if the triple-lock conditions are satisfied, if the Dáil passes the motion and if the deployment happens, I will continue to wonder about thought put into making this decision. Will the Minister of State make a clear statement on behalf of Government as to what motivated it to reach this decision? On behalf of the families and the people who work in our Defence Forces, will the Minister of State indicate when we can be sure that their pay and conditions, which the Government has tinkered with over a period, will be addressed? When can we say they will be treated in the same way as their counterparts in other countries, namely, with the respect they deserve? I ask the Minister of State to reconsider this deployment. I have grave concerns about it. I acknowledge the contributions that were made earlier and to which I listened. There are many more Members than Deputy Mattie McGrath and I who are concerned about this matter.

I respect all of the views across the House. First, I shall answer Deputy Healy-Rae's question on pay. The Minister for Finance is due to bring the report of the independent Public Service Pay Commission to Cabinet shortly.

While I respect all views across the House, for or against the motion, I must pick up on Deputy Catherine Connolly's point. She stated - and I shall paraphrase - that I look after our friends. If the Deputy takes the time to read my opening statement, she will see that I never meant such a thing. Deputy Connolly only entered the Chamber when I was concluding my opening remarks so I do not know how she could have known what I said.

Last year, Ireland celebrated 60 years of an unbroken legacy of providing forces to UN peacekeeping missions, which we have done since 1958. As a strong supporter of the United Nations, and in line with our commitment under the United Nations Charter, Ireland is committed to making Defence Forces personnel available for United Nations mandated missions. Over the past six decades, Ireland and its people have made some significant contributions to the United Nations. There is no doubt that this mission is another significant contribution.

Members posed many questions and I will try - in no specific order - to reply to them. I was asked if this will be a safe mission. This is not a safe mission. It is a very high risk mission but I have every confidence in the Army Ranger Wing of Oglaigh na hÉireann having the capability and capacity to participate on this mission. I have been given advice by the Department and by members of military management who visited the mission in Mali, spoke to the force commander and at first hand what is happening out there.

I was asked how Defence Forces will integrate with their German counterparts. I have no issue in this regard. Ireland has a proud tradition of integrating with many other like-minded nations. That is why we participate in battle groups and on peacekeeping missions with other countries. It is also why we bring personnel from other countries here to train.

Our troops will be in Mali for 24 months. The staff officers will be on six-month rotations and the Army Ranger Wing personnel will have four-month rotations

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked why Canada is pulling out of the MINUSMA mission. Canada's contribution of six helicopters and support troops was part of a one-year deployment. Canada is due to be replaced by Romania as part of a scheduled rotation at the end of July. Several other countries are rotating the provision of C-130 transport aircraft.

The MINUSMA mission was established in 2013 and we always showed an interest in participating in it. We have always asked the Defence Forces whether we could fit into this mission. Since 2013, military management and the Department have examined this mission and are of the view now is the right time. We talked about sending staff officers to the headquarters in Bamako but the general staff has concluded, following a recent and further reconnaissance visit to the MINUSMA mission, that all of the concerns we had have been addressed to such an extent that they can recommend our participation now.

The resolution has not been changed. The mission mandate is being renewed. There is a big difference between something being renewed and changed. There has never been a question of this mandate being changed. Nobody here this evening can quote anybody who stated that this mandate has been changed. The mandate is being renewed this month. There are no indications that it will change. It will be extended. Those are the indications coming from the United Nations.

I could go on here for the next hour trying to answer the questions.

The Minister of State cannot do so.

I can absolutely assure the Deputies that military management, the Departments of the Taoiseach and Defence and the Government have given this motion due and lengthy consideration.

The Minister of State should conclude.

The Army Ranger Wing has the capability and capacity to participate on this mission and I have full confidence that it will be able to do so.

I have confidence that the Minister of State is going to conclude. He is two minutes over his time.

I have one thing to say. Deputy Jack Chambers referred to the Army Ranger Wing adjudication. This was made in 2009 when his party was in government and could have paid the adjudication.

The Minister of State's party has been in government for eight years and has done nothing. It is sitting on its hands.

Deputy Jack Chambers will still back the Government.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 20 June 2019.