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.