UN Missions: Motion

The purpose of the meeting is to consider the motion referred to the select committee by Dáil Éireann on 16 April on reports by the Minister with responsibility for defence on service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2017 and 2018, respectively. I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe, and his departmental officials, whom I thank for the briefing material provided. The proposed format of the meeting is that we will hear the opening remarks of the Minister of State before opening the discussion to the floor for questions from members.

I remind members and those in the Visitors Gallery that their mobile phones should be switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference with the recording and broadcasting equipment in committee rooms, even when left in silent mode.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I call the Minister of State to make his opening statement.

I am pleased to report to the select committee on Defence Forces' participation in United Nations missions in 2017 and 2018. The reports were laid before Dáil Éireann on 7 February 2019. The following motion is before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence for approval:

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 7 February 2019, in accordance with section 13 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006.

In commending the motion I will outline some of the key aspects of Ireland’s involvement with the United Nations in 2017 and 2018.

Irish troops were first deployed on UN peacekeeping operations in 1958 and not a day has passed since without Irish participation in UN peace support operations. This is a unique record, of which we can all be very proud. Defence Forces' personnel have served in peace support missions all over the world, including in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America, completing more than 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 our commitment to the United Nations and multilateralism. There are some 670 Defence Forces' personnel, of whom approximately 5% are female, serving overseas in nine missions around the world. Ireland has a battalion, comprising some 460 troops, with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL. We also have a company with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, mission on the Golan Heights, with other significant postings in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. For these Irish men and women, service with the United Nations is rightly regarded as noble and important.

Ireland’s main commitments during 2017 and 2018 were to UNIFIL and the UNDOF mission on 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 with UNIFIL. From 2015 a number of Estonian personnel were deployed as part of the Finnish contingent. Owing to other national commitments, Finland and Estonia withdrew from the Irish-Finnish battalion with UNIFIL in November 2018. As an interim measure, an additional contingent of approximately 106 Defence Forces' personnel was 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 and a contribution from Hungarian 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. The Defence Forces have had an ongoing relationship with the armed forces of Malta since 2009, providing both cadet and officer training. To date, 38 Maltese cadets have completed their training in the Defence Forces training centre. Partnership with other states committed to UN peacekeeping has become an increasing element of our overseas peacekeeping operations. Working with other such states is critical to overcoming the new and ever emerging challenges we face.

My last visit to UNIFIL was in March. With my Secretary General and the Deputy Chief of Staff Operations, I saw at first hand the commitment of Defence Forces' personnel to the UNIFIL mission. I was impressed by the strong relationship forged between our personnel and the local communities in which they served. Liaison with the local population and the provision of support and humanitarian assistance is one of the hallmarks of Ireland’s approach to involvement in peace support operations. This is something I was proud to highlight in my address to the UN peacekeeping conference in New York later that month, when I spoke about the necessity of all peacekeepers being trained to engage proactively with the local population, including women, and to deliver more effective peacekeeping operations on the ground.

Ireland’s second largest overseas deployment in 2017 and 2018 was to UNDOF on the Golan Heights. The Defence Forces' contribution to UNDOF comprised approximately 136 personnel in this period.

Since its establishment in 1974, UNDOF has been a successful mission in supporting the efforts of the international community on the Golan Heights and in the Middle East region. 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 of 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. The security situation in UNDOF's area of operations is reviewed continually by the United Nations and the Defence Forces. The continued presence of the UNDOF mission remains an important element in ensuring stability on the Golan Heights and in the Middle East region and is supported and welcomed by Syria and Israel.

Ireland continued to contribute military observers and staff to various United Nations missions such as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation, UNTSO, throughout 2017 and 2018. In addition, a small number of Defence Forces' officers continue to serve with MINURSO, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, and MONUSCO, the UN stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The United Nations has come to rely increasingly on regional organisations, including the African Union, the European Union and NATO, to provide forces to implement and support UN Security Council resolutions. In 2017 and 2018 the Defence Forces were deployed on a number of such UN mandated missions.

Ireland has participated in the EU training mission in Mali, EUTM Mali, since it was launched in 2013. At present, 20 Irish Defence Forces' personnel are deployed to EUTM Mali. I was delighted to visit the mission in January, with the Taoiseach, the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff. The objective of the mission is to improve the capacity of the Malian armed forces to maintain security in Mali and restore the authority of the Malian Government and the territorial integrity of the Malian state.

In July 2017 Government and Dáil approval was secured for the deployment of a Naval Service vessel as part of the EU naval mission Operation Sophia. Participation in Operation Sophia represented the first involvement by the Naval Service in a multilateral security operation under a UN mandate. In February 2018 the Government approved a further Naval Service contribution to Operation Sophia. It involved a total of two Naval Service vessels deployed consecutively during the year from April to October 2018. In addition, five members of the Defence Forces were deployed in the operation headquarters over the course of 2018. The objectives of Operation Sophia have been not only to disrupt the activities of smugglers and traffickers but also to prevent loss of life at sea and reduce the suffering and exploitation of migrants by countering and challenging the criminal organisations engaged in such activities.

Other UN mandated missions in which Defence Forces personnel were deployed in 2017 or 2018 and are still serving are the EU-led mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, EUFOR, and the NATO-led international security presence in Kosovo, KFOR.

The year 2018 was particularly significant for United Nations peacekeeping. The United Nations celebrated the 70th anniversary of UN peacekeeping operations and Ireland marked its own significant milestones as a long-standing contributor to UN peacekeeping. In March 2018 my visit to Irish troops in Lebanon coincided with the official UN commemorations in Naqoura to mark the 40th anniversary of the UNIFIL mission's establishment. It was an occasion on which to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of UN peacekeepers who had served together with local communities for peace and security in south Lebanon.

Separately, in June 2018, I hosted an official State ceremony in Dublin Castle which was attended by President Michael D. Higgins and the Taoiseach to mark the 60th anniversary of Irish involvement in UN peacekeeping operations. The Government was also very proud to mark this significant anniversary internationally, when we hosted a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York in July 2018. The ceremony allowed us to recognise the contribution of Irish men and women from the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána and the wider public service to international peacekeeping. In addition, in December 2018 the 60th anniversary of Ireland's deployment with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, UNTSO, was marked with a commemorative ceremony held in UNTSO headquarters in Jerusalem.

Participation in peace support missions comes at a personal cost for individuals who must be away from families and friends for extended periods of time. I commend Defence Forces' personnel for 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 health and safety of our personnel is of paramount concern when considering participation in any mission. Ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and we continually review personal equipment and force protection assets to ensure Defence Forces' personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles. The safety of our peacekeepers is of the utmost importance.

Ireland’s contribution, on aggregate, to overseas missions of 1,639 personnel, or 18% of Defence Forces' strength, in 2017 and 1,696 personnel, or 19%, in 2018 is a significant contribution in the context of the overall strength of the Defence Force and the resources available for defence. I assure the committee that the Government is committed to ensuring the Defence Forces will continue to contribute in a meaningful way to overseas operations. I commend the motion to the committee.

I thank the Minister of State. Before I open the floor to other members, I acknowledge the role of the Defence Forces in UN peace missions. I acknowledge their professionalism, the very high standards to which they operate and the way in which they are an example to others. I thank the Minister of State for the additional information he sent. He has outlined the way in which the Defence Forces engage with local communities, the humanitarian work in which they are involved and the way in which this aspect of peace and conflict resolution is part of A Better World, our new policy.

It is a pity we are dealing with two reports at the same time. They roll into each other, but there is a slight difference when we look at the figures. In 2017 the contribution to UNIFIL was 379 personnel, while in 2018, it was 106. Was there a reason for this?

I have a question about missing contributions not mentioned by the Minister of State. Earlier this year, in reply to a parliamentary question, he said one member of the Defence Forces was on secondment to the UN Office of Military Affairs in New York. This is not mentioned in the report. He also stated that as part of Ireland's participation in Partnership for Peace, a member of the Defence Forces was serving in the role of gender adviser to NATO's Secretary General's special representative on women, peace and security, but this is not mentioned in the report. Neither are the Defence Force' personnel serving as military advisers, representatives and staff officers with the OSCE, the European Union, the United Nations and NATO's Partnership for Peace. That is what the Minister of State said and I hope I am not making it up.

My next question is about the new headquarters which I assume has been set up at this stage as it was announced in 2017. There is strategic level operational planning and conduct of the European Union's non-executive military missions. They are the training missions in central Africa, Mali and Somalia. Are Irish troops committed to them on an ongoing basis, rather than on a one-off basis?

The Minister of State mentioned Operation Sophia. We have had the argument about it being the wrong operation. Operation Pontus was the more humanitarian one. The Minister of State mentioned two vessels being used in 2018 and only one in 2017. This has to do with the changes made. How many personnel were on board the vessels? In overall terms, approximately 620 soldiers or Naval Service' personnel are on duty overseas with the United Nations. They are very laudable duties which bring a lot of respect to the country through the work the personnel have done during the years. I am trying to figure out whether more Irish personnel were deployed overseas than are included in the figure of 600. A question came up previously and I cannot remember whether it was answered. It is about whether there is a maximum number of Defence Forces' personnel who can be serving overseas at a given time, given the size of the Defence Forces.

I have been told in the past, although I never got any confirmation, that there was a certain percentage that could be reached but not exceeded.

We have seen the chaos during changes of personnel when one detachment was coming back from and another going to Syria. Will the Minister of State assure us that when we come back for the report on 2019, all of that chaos for families who are waiting for people, and chaos for soldiers waiting to be deployed or to come back, will not happen again, not just in the Golan Heights but also in Lebanon or for other deployments?

I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. I have two questions. The first is in regard to the importance of Irish Defence Forces personnel and their excellent reputation in contributing to the campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council. It is very important that we get back on the Security Council and we are in a serious struggle with two other major players. I would like an update on that issue. Second, the Minister of State might outline his engagement with the UN in regard to the role of Irish troops in peacekeeping missions and their reputation and contribution to peace and security, including their engagement with local communities.

In response to Deputy Ó Snodaigh's on deployment overseas, in 2017, we had 376 members of the Defence Forces and in 2018 we topped that up by a further 106, which brought it to over 400. It is not that there was a drop from 376 to 106. It was a joint Irish-Finnish mission and the Finns gave us five or six months' notice that they were withdrawing. At the time, I spoke to my Department, the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff Operations as to what were our options. We decided we would increase our personnel by a further 106 for one year only, from November 2018 to November 2019, a timeframe which gave us an opportunity to seek a partner. The officials in my Department spoke to a number of countries, including the Czech Republic. We had a long conversation with them and thought we would have had them over the line but, unfortunately, it did not happen. We then spoke to Poland's armed forces and its department of defence. I spoke to the Polish minister on two occasions and my officials met Polish officials, and the Poles are joining the Irish personnel in November of this year. A number of Maltese officers who trained in the cadet school at the Curragh training camp are also part of the Irish personnel. Therefore, we will reduce our numbers by a little over 100 in November of this year.

The Deputy asked how many personnel are on the ships and the answer is approximately 50, although it could be two or three more or less.

Is that 50 on each?

Yes, 50 on each, and that would include officers right through the ranks.

The Deputy asked about our commitment to overseas missions. The White Paper on Defence 2015 states we would have up to 850 personnel on overseas peacekeeping missions. The Deputy spoke about other people whom we have overseas but I am here today to talk about UN peacekeeping operations and UN-mandated missions. Of course, we have other personnel overseas on smaller missions with one or two officers and we have a number of people in Brussels. That has always been the case.

The Deputy spoke about the planned rotation of deployments to and from UNDOF. In October 2018, there was a delay of personnel coming home and also a very short delay in April 2019. I am very much aware that personnel and their families very much look forward to getting home on the scheduled date. On my own behalf and on behalf of the Defence Forces, I accept these delays are regrettable. However, this is totally out of our control as it is handled by the United Nations. In recognition of the long delay in October 2018, which was ten days or perhaps even longer, I decided we would give personnel an ex gratia payment of €1,000. The delay in April of this year was for only a number of days.

There are a lot of moving parts when flights are being organised and it is not just a case of booking a flight and assuming everything is okay. People are in a very difficult part of the Middle East and there are political pressures, border crossings and a number of other factors involved. I have spoken to the Chief of Staff on this issue. The position is that we should not be saying that they will be home on 1 June, or whatever other date. We must have latitude. It is more a case of saying we expect them home on 1 June but there might be a delay of two, three or four days. However, this is totally out of our control. With regard to the last delay in April of this year, I assure the Deputy that, with the officials of my Department, members of the Defence Forces and the Irish ambassador to the UN, H.E. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason, we were working around the clock trying to get these personnel home and back to their families, although I can understand the frustrations people have.

The Deputy also spoke about EUTM Mali. We have been participating in EUTM Mali since the start of the mission in 2013.

In response to Deputy McLoughlin, Ireland is going for a seat on the UN Security Council. That campaign was launched in 2018 and members of the Defence Forces, including the Chief of Staff, and also, if memory serves me, the Secretary General of my Department, were there for the launch of the campaign, along with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I have had many bilateral meetings in recent months and have taken any opportunity to go to New York to meet different countries, in particular at the UN peacekeeping conference in New York, as well as the UN peacekeeping conference in Canada. In total, I would say I have had 25 or 30 bilateral meetings with a range of countries. As Minister of State with responsibility for the Defence Forces, it is good to be able to talk about the great work members of the Defence Forces do overseas, which is very well recognised. As I said in my opening statement, we are a country that has committed to blue hat missions since the day United Nations missions started, and Ireland has been one of the biggest troop contributing countries in Lebanon. That is very much recognised, not just across Europe but right across the world. People really appreciate what a small country like Ireland can do.

In March 2010, on my visit to UNIFIL, I changed my programme in that I wanted to get out into the local communities and talk to the local people.

A Minister normally gets to meet the troops and perhaps the local mayor but does not get an opportunity to get out on the ground. I stayed on in Lebanon for an extra day and a half. That fund is administered through Irish Aid and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with involvement from members of the Defence Forces. Money is invested into local communities, including in water-sewerage projects, sports facilities, libraries, schools, hospitals, orphanages, etc. I visited up to seven or eight different projects from early in the morning to late at night and the following day also. It is important for me to get first-hand knowledge and experience, and for me and the members of the Defence Forces to get out into the local communities. While peacekeeping missions have changed completely, getting out into the local community is still as important as ever.

There is a range of different threats. I spoke people in the Lebanese community who remember the first Irish Defence Forces members going out; they were only young children at the time. They would say that the Irish Defence Forces are always very welcome and will continue to have a welcome from the Lebanese people. It is vital for us to engage with the local communities and work with them in every way possible.

I call Deputy Jack Chambers, who will be followed by Deputy Barrett.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending. I also acknowledge the excellent work of our troops when they are abroad on UN peacekeeping missions. I acknowledge the various documents the Minister of State has supplied.

Vice Admiral Mellett outlined his concerns about the difficulty in filling positions on some of these UN-mandated missions. I ask the Minister of State to update the committee on the retention crisis and on the capability to fill certain positions and deploy personnel. Has his attention been brought to the difficulty whereby certain people in the Defence Forces have been effectively instructed to go on overseas missions when they may have just returned home and have found it difficult to leave again owing to family commitments and so on? I do not know if this matter has been brought to his attention.

As Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned, we had the second incident of the Department of Defence not properly fulfilling its commitment on the co-ordination of flights for returning troops. It was unusual for this to happen twice this year. Has it ever previously happened twice in one year?

There are reports in some of today's newspapers indicating that certain members of the Defence Forces are expressing concern about the serious cost for soldiers deployed overseas taking annual leave. It is costing between €800 and €1,000 for them to return home. Is the Department examining the cost implication of potentially subsidising members of our Defence Forces who are serving our country and the United Nations well abroad? Is it examining the cost implication when taking their legitimate entitlement to holidays?

In terms of Partnership for Peace and the ongoing examination with NATO of Defence Forces, have any capability gaps been outlined to the Minister of State on our capacity to fulfil our international obligations? Has that been discussed at a domestic level or at any of the defence bodies like the UN or others abroad?

On the capability drain, I am informed that the ongoing retention crisis is leaving units with limited or inexperienced instructor staff for essential weapons or vehicle skills required for overseas deployment. This has resulted in people with certain skills being mandatorily selected having only returned from overseas within the previous 12 months. Is that a concern for the Minister of State and what is he doing about it? This drain in experience is having knock-on consequences for remaining soldiers who are now seeking to leave. Some of the latter are avoiding taking certain courses because they know they will become the next flogging horses if they are being deployed. That concern has been expressed to me where the capability gaps and the skills shortages are further undermining morale in the context of UN-mandated missions. While the majority want to go, some are being turned around on an ongoing basis. For example, a lack of vehicle gunnery instructors is having a knock-on effect on the capability to train crewmen. This is compounded by a lack of suitable ammunition to conduct range practices in order to enable personnel to qualify in the use of weapons systems. Is the Minister of State concerned that stocks of ammunition are being withheld for use in overseas missions readiness exercises?

Someone close to Government - I am not sure who - informed The Irish Times and other outlets about the report from the pay commission. The Oireachtas deserves getting that information before it is leaked to the various newspapers. When does the Minister of State expect the report to be submitted to Cabinet? When will he provide some hope or prospect to those in our Defence Forces who need support of Government on pay and conditions?

The last question is not really relevant to the report with which we are dealing. We will see if there is time for that to be covered.

In the context of leaks to newspapers----

We are here to discuss the report.

I will deal with that issue in two seconds.

Okay. Once it is short.

If Deputy Barrett does not mind, may I answer Deputy Jack Chambers's questions because he covered quite a bit of ground?

On pay, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, had not received the pay commission report on Tuesday when I talked to him. I believe Deputy Jack Chambers stated that the story was leaked on Monday.

I read the newspaper, as did the Minister of State.

I did not see that.

I did not see it.

I did not see it. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform had not received the report on Tuesday. If the Deputy is stating that there was something in the newspaper on Monday, it was not leaked by the Government.

Has the Minister of State seen the report?

When I spoke to the Minister on Tuesday, he did not have the report. The Deputy is stating that here was something in the newspapers on Monday. He has accused the Government of leaking.

On Tuesday morning.

The Minister did not have the report on Tuesday. He could not have leaked the story on Monday if he did not have the report.

I thank the Minister of State. He was supposed to take two seconds.

Could the Minister of State give the committee-----

No. Sorry, we are going back to Deputy Jack Chambers's questions on UN report, which is what we are here to discuss.

With respect, the pay commission is closely related to what we are discussing.

We are talking-----

We have serious skills-----

We have serious skills and capability gaps around-----

That is fine. The Deputy got the reports on the UN missions. That is what we are here to discuss.

I think I have answered the question.

I ask the Minister of State to answer those questions please.

The Deputy referred to some of the gaps in overseas deployments. I have asked the Chief of Staff to provide me with an analysis of where the gaps lie. As I have stated on numerous occasions, before the Government makes a decision on any overseas mission, it must ensure that the Defence Forces have the capability and capacity to participate. The Chief of Staff has not informed me that the Defence Forces are unable to participate in any mission. Of course, people are often required to go on back-to-back overseas missions. They might have had to go on missions because they were ordered to do so. That is the nature of the work they commit to doing when they join the Defence Forces.

I know of cases where people who have been unable to go on missions for personal or other reasons have been accommodated. The Defence Forces military management has not told me that it is unable to participate in mission "X" for some reason. I have not been told that.

When the Finns pulled out of UNIFIL, I had a conversation with my officials and military management about whether we would be able to backfill for 12 months. I was told we would be able to do so for not more than 12 months. We will do that from November 2018 to November 2019. As I stated to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, my officials and I had conversations with other contributing countries that participate in UN missions about whether they would be interested in participating in UNIFIL alongside the Irish. Poland has decided that it will do so and will join us in November. Some Polish military officials have visited Ireland and met members of the Defence Forces on the operations side. My officials have spoken to Polish officials on the civil side as well and that conversation will continue. All going well, Poland will join us in November 2019.

Our capability to fulfil our international obligations was mentioned. We are able to fulfil our international obligations. If we are unable to participate in a mission, it is up to military management to inform me about that. What I do not want is for us to participate in a mission for which we do not have the resources or personnel. If we do not have the resources or personnel, I want to know about it because then we will not participate. It is as simple as that. I will not put any Irish personnel in harm's way if we do not have the capability, capacity or personnel to carry out that mission.

I have stated on numerous occasions that I face challenges with retention. We almost have full employment and since God was a boy, recruitment and retention have been issues for the Defence Forces in times of full employment. The same issue arises elsewhere. My European colleagues have told me that they face the same issues regarding recruitment and retention. Holding on to personnel is a significant challenge for them because so many other opportunities are available. Regarding attracting young people into the Defence Forces, it is very easy to say the issue is one of pay. Pay is one element but young people now have so many opportunities that the Defence Forces is not as attractive a prospect as it was ten, 15, 20 or 30 years ago. That is the nature of the period in which we live. Hopefully, that will change over time.

As to whether I can confirm that we will have no delays in return flights, I will be honest with the committee and say I cannot do so. However, I have spoken to the chief of staff to ensure we do not announce definitive dates for return flights. Previously, we said personnel would return from an overseas deployment on the first day of a particular month. I do not want to say they will return on the first day of the month if it transpires that they do not come back until the seventh or eighth day of the month. I would rather say they will return around a certain date until everything is fully confirmed but, unfortunately, on the most recent rotation or the previous one, the personnel were ready to leave the camp but were told that there was an issue regarding border crossings or some reason. That is the way it goes. I spoke to the Lebanese minister for defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This is something we do not want to see happening. We want to sort out these issues and get our personnel back home. We understand the frustration of people stranded over there who expect to come back and the families over here who expect them to come back. However, families who phone me also understand the position. They have contacted me directly. Once one explains to them, they understand the situation fully. They understand the nature of the game we are in. Someone joining the Defence Forces is not going into some ordinary nine-to-five job. He or she is not just going from "A" to "B" and going out and coming back at particular times. Unfortunately, life does not work out like that in any army anywhere in the world. Since we returned to Camp Faouar, it has complicated the rotation process because personnel have to transit through Syria and Lebanon. I think people will accept that we are dealing with a very difficult part of the world.

There are challenges involving instructors in the Defence Forces. I have noted that and we are trying to address that problem through the gap analysis. I do not want us saying that we were able to do "A", "B", "C", "D" and "E" if we are unable to do them. If we are unable to do something, we should say it. Whether it is providing aid to the civil power or civil authority or something else, we will continue to do what we are able to do. The most important issue in respect of military management asking members of the Defence Forces to do a particular job is the safety of the personnel. That is paramount to me, the Department and military management. We participate when we are able to do so and we do not participate when we are unable to do so. It should not be a case of saying that the Government says that the Defence Forces must go to a particular place. The Government does not do that. It will only ask whether we can carry out that mission. If we cannot do it, I want to know about it.

It has been said that people are being flogged to go overseas. Nobody is being flogged to go overseas. People volunteer to go overseas. There are people who are detailed to go overseas. I want to address that issue. If there is a specific reason they cannot go overseas, there are options available. Was there anything else?

What about the issue of holidays?

I did not see the report in question in the newspapers. Deputy Chambers is saying that members of the Defence Forces-----

The Minister of State can explain if he wishes.

They pay their-----

They are finding the cost of taking their annual leave when on a mission very difficult in certain circumstances. Has consideration been given to providing a subsidy to allow them to take their annual leave with their families?

The report should have asked the question-----

I am only asking-----

I understand that. This is what annoys me about reporters. They only take one side. Did they ask whether members of the Defence Forces receive the overseas duty allowance while they are home on leave for three weeks? I am not being flippant. Members of the Irish Defence Forces take three weeks' leave. I do not mind where they go - they can go to Cyprus, Spain or Australia or come back here - but while they are on leave, they continue to receive the daily overseas duty allowance even though they are not there. That is right and proper because they are on leave. That is the way it is. Some people choose to come home while others go to Cyprus or other destinations. I did not see the article in question but perhaps it should have stated that they continue to receive the allowance or perhaps whoever gave the story to the newspapers should have provided the full story, which is that they receive the full overseas duty allowance while at home.

I have one other question on the Partnership for Peace analysis. Have any gaps been identified?

I am sorry, what is the question?

I am referring to the analysis that is part of the Partnership for Peace programme. As the Minister of State is aware, there is an ongoing examination of our capability through the Partnership for Peace and NATO.

No, there is not.

There is. Is the Minister of State not aware of it?

I will come back to Deputy Jack Chambers on that issue.

I call Deputy Barrett.

Like everything else, we become a little complacent in seeing our troops go off on peacekeeping missions if they are going to the same place regularly. It is important that we respect and appreciate fully the important role this country plays in peacekeeping missions. For that reason, I want to ask the Minister of State about the fact that we seem to have been turning over the same missions for some years now. I was Minister for Defence some years ago and we were doing the same thing then, more or less. Have we reviewed the role of the United Nations? Could we look at different areas or different responsibilities for our troops so that they can get some variation in experience? It becomes monotonous to see another 600 troops regularly going off to the same place. I am sure there are many other missions we could look at in fulfilling our duties as peacekeepers. Whether we are sending 600 or 700 soldiers abroad annually, or whatever the figure is, it is important that we stand back for a while and take stock.

I ask the Minister of State to send a report to this committee, therefore, reviewing what we have been doing over the past ten years in peacekeeping and other missions. We will then be able to look at what we have been doing rather than just turning over the same missions year in and year out. The Minister of State might tell me that is impossible but I think it should be done. Familiarity breeds contempt, as the famous saying goes, and that seems to describe what we are doing in sending another mission to the same place to do the same thing. I am sure there are plenty of other areas in the world where our expertise in peacekeeping and peacemaking could be valuably used.

That is why I am asking for a review of all of our activities and why we are going to the same places for the past 20 years or however long it has been. I get the impression that the dynamism has gone out of this approach to peacekeeping and peacemaking. The Minister of State can tell me if I am dreaming or if it might be possible for us to take an overall look at all of the operations undertaken. If it is possible, perhaps we can then spend some time with the Minister of State reviewing the missions, learning from them and making suggestions as to other areas we could consider, rather than just repeating the same thing. Are my ideas and suggestions practical?

I have a few practical questions following on from Deputy Barrett's contribution. On the mission to Western Sahara, the idea behind participating in it was that we were part of the infrastructure for the referendum. There does not seem to be any sign of that referendum happening. Why are we then remaining as part of that mission? Reference was also made to a plan to phase out peacekeeping troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Does that plan cover Kosovo as well? If that were the case, then that would free up some of our troops for what Deputy Barrett mentioned. I ask the Minister of State to deal with those questions now and then I will call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

We are hoping that the referendum in Western Sahara will happen and pulling our troops out now would give a very bad impression. It might appear we had given up on democracy, so I believe we should continue our participation in that mission.

How confident is the Minister of State that the referendum is coming?

I wish I were more confident. I will put it that way but that question may be more relevant for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Yes, that is fine.

We have only a small contingent in Kosovo, where we have reduced our numbers significantly in recent years. We are, however, still committed to that mission. Turning to Deputy Barrett's question, I am happy to provide a review of the missions we have undertaken in the past 15 or 20 years, the rationale for participating in those missions and the numbers of troops committed. Off the top of my head, the main missions in which we have participated were in Liberia, Chad, Ethiopia, the Golan Heights, Kosovo and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

We pulled most of our personnel out of the UNIFIL mission during 2008-2010 and committed ourselves to Chad. We returned in strength to the UNIFIL mission in 2011-2012. In 2013, we participated in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF. We have been there since and Irish troops have returned to Camp Faouar in recent months. We keep all missions under constant review in respect of whether we can participate. I agree it is not ideal that we continue to stay in one mission area for a long time and we have participated in UNIFIL since the day that mission began. Personnel from the Defence Forces remained at UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura even after we pulled out our main body of troops. I will have compiled a review of all of our peacekeeping missions and will submit it to the committee as soon as possible.

It is correct to state this is about peacekeeping and peacemaking. As the Minister of State with special responsibility for defence, I respect and appreciate fully the work of the Defence Forces. I have been honoured to help Ireland's efforts to get a seat on the United Nations Security Council over the past year. Whenever representatives from other countries come here for bilateral meetings or round tables, they always refer to Ireland's participation in UN peacekeeping duties. A small country like Ireland is a tiny dot on the world map, but reports from representatives of other countries help us realise that the size of our footprint on that map is amazing. We keep all missions in which we participate under constant review, as well as new missions in which we might participate. It is important for our personnel that they are challenged in different missions in different areas. I do not suggest we will ever become complacent in participating in any mission but it is good to have a change. That was one reason we participated in the mission in Chad. I had the honour of visiting that mission as part of an Oireachtas trip when I was a member of the defence committee. Chad was then a basket case but the improved situation there now demonstrates the great difference peacekeeping and peacemaking can bring about. It will take some time to get that review completed but I will try to get it to the committee in the next four to six weeks or so.

It would be a good idea to review what we have been doing for the last number of years. I am not for one minute suggesting that we are not doing useful work-----

No, that is fine.

-----or participation.

What other possibilities might there be for the Defence Forces to play a role, whether it is a large contingent or 100 personnel going somewhere overseas? We have built up considerable expertise in peacekeeping over the years and we should protect and use that great resource very carefully. We should also review any other opportunities that may be available.

A number of questions arise from some of the Minister of State's answers. He mentioned the 2015 White Paper which provides that up to 850 members of the Defence Forces could serve overseas at a given time. According to his statement, however, there is an aggregate number of 1,639 personnel on overseas missions. I presume that is due to rotations and shorter journeys. This is not a criticism. We have debated previously the numbers serving in the Defence Forces. Is there a difficulty with ensuring we contribute close to the maximum number possible for UN missions? These missions are a laudable part of the role of our Defence Forces and many of the members I have met have a desire to go on them. That role should continue.

The Minister of State corrected the point I made regarding the 106 UNIFIL troops. It was great that we were in a position to fill the gap when the Finns pulled out of the mission. When the Poles take over the role previously carried out by the Finns in November, 106 Irish troops will no longer be required. In addition, 100 troops may be freed up if Operation Sophia is not continued. When one also takes into account the shortfall of 230 troops, these figures suggest that of the 850 members of the Defence Forces that we could have available for UN duties overseas, we will have 436 available. Is there a demand for other UN missions? I would like to get some idea of where Irish soldiers and Naval Service members may be sent. In that regard, Operation Pontus was very laudable.

Earlier this year, there was talk of the ranger wing being sent to Mali. The Government indicated at the time that it was considering this possibility. This is not a blue hat mission but a training mission and one of those of which I have been very critical. Originally, seven members of the Defence Forces were sent to Mali. The figure then increased to ten members and now stands at 20. The Dáil has never given its assent to the Mali mission, despite the triple lock. A debate is required in the Dáil and the triple lock is supposed to apply when 12 members or more of the Defence Forces are sent on an overseas operation. That commitment was given during the debate on the Lisbon or Nice treaty when the Irish people changed their minds. Can we have a debate in the Dáil on the Mali mission, which is a dubious one, given that 20 personnel are serving on it, albeit in a training?

When will the Minister of State introduce an overseas establishment for officers and NCOs to allow vacancies to be filled when people are overseas? Has he considered that possibility? It can be slightly misleading when 700 personnel overseas are counted as part of the strength figures that are given. Those who are left behind must plug the gaps and are effectively double-jobbing, which has an impact on morale and stress levels. Has the Minister of State considered introducing a policy for personnel to act up one rank to fill overseas gaps?

In the context of the UN, has the Minister of State changed his position on engaging with military management on awarding distinguished service and gallantry medals for the heroes of Jadotville?

There is an overseas establishment for all ranks above captain.

Anyone who looks at my record on acknowledging what Defence Forces personnel did at Jadotville will see that I was the Minister who brought a motion to Cabinet with the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, to acknowledge their gallantry and contribution at the time. It was only right and proper to do so.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to a figure of more than 1,000 Defence Forces members on overseas missions. Each mission is of six months' duration. If there are 300 or 400 personnel on a mission, that number is doubled straightaway, as is the case with UNDOF where the numbers double in any 12-month period. One of the reasons I was happy that the Defence Forces were able to backfill for the 106 Finnish troops concerns retention. People who join the Defence Forces want to go overseas. In saying that, ensuring the safety of our personnel is paramount to me, the Department and military management. People want to go overseas and we try to accommodate that as early in their service as we can but that is not always possible. The same applies to Operation Sophia. The change to Operation Sophia does not mean we will not participate in other naval missions. I will consider requests to participate in any such future missions. We normally participate in only two large missions at any one time. The amount of work involved in mission readiness is huge and these missions involve not only the personnel being deployed overseas but many others, as well as the assets of the Defence Forces. I would not be satisfied if we were participating in three or four different missions. I would prefer to continue with two missions and ensure personnel are fully trained and we have the capacity to perform our duties.

The EUTM Mali, as a training mission, does not require Dáil approval under the 2006 Act. The Deputy also mentioned the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA. This matter is under active consideration at the moment and I will table a motion in the Dáil if we decide to participate. All Deputies will then have an opportunity to vote on that participation, which will only proceed with Government and Dáil approval.

Is the Minister suggesting that Defence Forces personnel will not serve in either the Golan Heights or in Lebanon?

If we participate in MINUSMA, the number of personnel involved will be small. It will not be in the hundreds but, irrespective of the number, I will bring any such proposal to the Dáil and the Government for approval.

I also asked about other requests from the UN to participate in other missions or to increase our deployment to UNIFIL or the Golan Heights since we are already established in those missions.

I meet the UN Under-Secretary General, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, regularly.

It is not a criticism. It is just a question.

There is no other request for us to participate in a mission. The UN is always seeking countries to participate, of course, but it is quite content with the contribution that a small country like Ireland is making to UN-mandated missions.

I asked about the gaps. The Minister of State said that there was an overseas establishment above the rank of captain, but the issue around the gaps relates to captains and non-commissioned officers, NCOs, such as corporals and sergeants. As such, the Minister of State's response did not answer my question. I want to know about those particular ranks.

What exactly was the question?

Instead of detailing people, when will the Minister of State reintroduce the policy of personnel acting up to higher ranks to fill overseas gaps?

I said to the Deputy-----

The Minister of State said "above the rank of captain", but I am asking about personnel at or below the rank of captain. Is the Minister of State considering this issue?

When I get the gap analysis from military management, I will consider its details and the issue raised by the Deputy.

On the matter of Jadotville, while I acknowledge that the Minister of State brought a motion or the like to the Cabinet, will people get the awards as recommended by Commandant Pat Quinlan? That is what the families want.

There is a medals board that makes recommendations to me-----

-----concerning the Military Medal of Gallantry and the Distinguished Service Medal, DSM. No individual recommends them. Rather, it is up to the medals board. This issue has been dealt with time and again. As I have often stated, if anyone has further information that I could give to military management, the medals board will consider it, but I cannot say who deserves a medal. It is for the board to do that, and the board has sat time and again - I am unsure of the exact dates as I do not have the file with me - to consider this. In light of the contribution that the personnel in question made in Jadotville, though, I wanted to recognise the group as a whole. That is one of the reasons I brought the motion to the Cabinet. The Government was good enough to support me in that.

That concludes our meeting. I thank the Minister of State and members for their contributions, and I thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending and dealing comprehensively with the committee's questions and observations.

May I make a brief suggestion? We have been discussing service by the Defence Forces with the UN in 2017 and 2018, respectively. I suggest that we should not be dealing with two years where a matter like this is concerned. We should deal with it on a yearly basis.

That is noted.

It is not proper that-----

I will revert to the committee with the review of and report on all of the missions that we have participated in over, say, the past ten years. Is that period okay?

Would that do Deputy Barrett?

I thank the members.