Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (34)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

32 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he envisages increasing the strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps given Ireland's likely commitment to overseas peacekeeping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3392/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force, comprising 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army. Ireland's commitment to collective security is pursued through the UN, which has the primary role to play in the maintenance of international peace and security. Ireland has a long record of participation in UN international peacekeeping, monitoring and observer missions and it is the Government's intention that the Defence Forces will continue with involvement in appropriate international missions of this nature.

In October 1998 Ireland signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations on the UN standby arrangements system, UNSAS. Through the UNSAS, Ireland offered to provide up to 850 military personnel for overseas service at any one time to meet peace support and humanitarian commitments, whether UN or NATO led. A similar commitment was made in an EU context in 2000. The figure of 850 equates to some 10% of the Army and is not an inconsiderable commitment in this regard. This level of commitment was envisaged within the overall strength levels provided for the Defence Forces in the White Paper.

Ireland's commitment under UNSAS does not entail an obligation to participate in any particular mission. Requests for Defence Forces personnel to serve on overseas missions are considered on a case-by-case basis in the prevailing circumstances, within the context of UNSAS. Any decision to dispatch a contingent of 12 or more members of the Defence Forces to a specific mission must have a UN mandate, a Government decision and Dáil approval. Our commitment of 850 troops to UNSAS is the same commitment as might be deployed on EU or NATO led, UN authorised operations.

There are no proposals to effect any increase in the strength of the Defence Forces. It is my intention to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces.