Thursday, 7 February 2013

Ceisteanna (8, 10, 14, 20, 21, 27, 36)

John McGuinness


8. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Defence if he has any plans for the Defence Forces to undertake any mission in Mali; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6180/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mick Wallace


10. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Defence if Irish troops will participate in the European Union Training Mission due to be launched in Mali in mid-February; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6092/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Thomas P. Broughan


14. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the possibility of Irish Defence Forces personnel being sent to Mali as part of any EU led peace mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6085/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin


20. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Defence if there is any prospect of a Defence Forces mission in Mali; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6197/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Higgins


21. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Defence if he has any intention or plans of involving Irish forces in the current conflict in Mali. [6095/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mick Wallace


27. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Defence if any decision has been taken on the deployment of Irish troops to Mali; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6091/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pádraig MacLochlainn


36. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence if he will provide an update on Irish participation in EUTM Mali; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6119/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (26 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 10, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 36 together, all of which relate to Mali.

Is the Minister not also taking Question No. 9?

I will take Question No. 9 separately as it deals with EU battle groups, which has nothing to do with the issue of Mali, as I would have thought the Deputy might know.

I addressed the question of possible Defence Forces participation in the EU Training Mission for Mali in answering the priority question earlier. Force generation for the new mission, which was established by the Council of the European Union on 17 January 2013, is ongoing at EU level. All member states have been invited by the mission commander to provide contributions to the mission. While Ireland is positively disposed towards the mission, no decision has been made at this stage as to whether Ireland will participate in the mission. A number of important factors are under consideration such as participants, potential partners and, most importantly, how the issue of force protection, medical services and medevac will be addressed in Mali. A detailed threat assessment by the Defence Forces will be required. Discussions with partners and the EU on Ireland’s possible contribution to the mission are expected to be concluded shortly. Any participation by Ireland to this mission would most likely be limited to a small contribution of trainers and would be subject to Government approval.

The Minister is assuring us that if participation is to happen it will be in the area of training rather than in the area of force protection. Given that the mission is about teaching the Malian defence force members to respect human rights, does the Minister envisage challenges arising from participation in this mission were it to be agreed by Government and the Houses?

In the context of what I said earlier, we are now past the days when individuals are simply deployed on UN peace missions to train forces without taking what I would describe as a comprehensive approach in dealing with issues relating to the protection of civilians in conflict. The protection of human rights is an essential part of missions because it is now widely recognised that it is very important that these issues are properly addressed. In the event of our possible participation, the numbers will be small, but if we participate, we will contribute in providing trainers. We are discussing a mission whose overall objective goes beyond what I would describe as simple military training but extends into other areas, in particular the protection of civilians in conflict zones, the protection of human rights, the importance of human rights and the importance - if I could emphasise it - of not violating human rights.

Given the total lack of democracy in Mali at the moment and the ongoing discrimination and human rights abuses against Tuareg people in north Mali, is it appropriate for Ireland to be interfering? Should a small independent country, such as Ireland, not stay neutral and not send troops to support one side in a civil war, which is pretty unlikely to be confined to Mali? The French have been very eager to move in, but I am not sure we should be supporting this. France is probably the last country that could sort out Mali's problems, having created quite a few of them in the first place as a former colonial power. The French may have been invited in by the Malian Government, but it is a government brought to power by a military coup last year and not one elected by the Malians. The Malian troops are now trading atrocities and human rights abuses with the rebels. While I have no intention of standing up for the rebels either, I would like to see Ireland stay neutral and out.

I draw the Deputy's attention to what I said earlier, which is that our UN resolution is to provide for a UN mission, which it is, to train the domestic Malian forces so that they are fit for purpose and able to carry out their duties and able to protect that population effectively. It is not the role of Ireland to make decisions or engage in matters that relate to the particular government in an individual country.

I find the Deputy's concept of neutrality interesting. I am not sure what is the moral platform on which one stands back and watches people being brutalised, arms being cut off, women being raped - as has happened in northern Mali - and women being discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens while fundamentalists impose Sharia law and try to turn the population back to the 7th or 8th century, although I believe in the 7th or 8th century there was a more humane form of Islam than that which Sharia law, in its strictest fundamentalist terms, seeks to impose on populations. I see this as a human rights issue and a neutral state participating - as I have said, it is not finalised that we will participate - in a UN sanctioned mission whose objective is to ensure that human life is protected and that individuals are not victims of atrocities. I do not have any respect for a concept of morality where one stands back and watches people being killed, people having their limbs chopped off, women being raped and then pats oneself on the back and claims to be morally superior having simply watched it.

I am not talking about moral superiority and I do not approve of any of the violence on behalf of the jihad rebels at all. I am not a fan of war of any type. We have seen the disasters of interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Military intervention by outside forces exacerbates the problems. The past decade has demonstrated beyond doubt that such interventions do not necessarily solve crises, let alone deal with the causes of terrorism, but deepen them and generate new conflicts. More military interventions will bolster authoritarian regimes and their rhetoric further poisons community relations in the intervening states. It seems to be a price we have paid repeatedly. If Africans were left to solve their problems, the death toll would be lower at the end of the day.

The Deputy seems to be of the views that when there is a UN-mandated mission this State should not participate.

This State has an honoured tradition of participating in missions of a peacekeeping nature and missions that can contribute to conflict resolution and the protection of civilian life. It is particularly interesting that the Deputy fails to make any reference to the UN mandate. I do not know if he believes that our Defence Forces should ever participate in peacekeeping missions or that we should play no role in the outside world and never seek to provide any assistance to anyone. Not only is this a UN mission, but all 27 European countries, all of which are democracies, taking account of what is happening in Mali, recognise the need to contribute to the UN mission and to engage and try to provide the type of training necessary to ensure that the Malian army is properly trained, does not engage in human rights abuses and that civilians are protected. I believe we should give careful consideration to whether we participate in this mission. As I stated, no final decision has been made. On the basis of the approach taken by the Deputy, we would not participate in any UN missions in any location in the world. The reality is the only parts of the world which require UN peacekeeping or conflict resolution engagements are troubled parts of the world wherein, sadly and tragically, there is and has been violence and lives have been lost. The purpose of a UN mission is to seek to facilitate addressing that particular difficulty.

I am all for keeping the peace. However, I believe what we are seeing is a growing militarised European Union. The production and export of arms is growing in Europe, with countries becoming dependent on them and too often making decisions which promote their arms industries, which is worrying.

Last week, an interesting conference was held in Dublin. One of the participants at that conference was from the African Union. There is a general recognition that there are great difficulties in Mali and a need to provide assistance there to protect individuals. The Deputy appears to be of the odd view that the European Union is becoming increasingly militarised despite that every European Union state is spending less on its defence forces than was the case in previous years, is reducing the numbers within its defence forces and European Union member states of the United Nations are participating a great deal less in UN missions by providing troops to assist in such missions. The reality is that there is far greater participation in UN missions in Africa by African states and by states in other parts of the world. The Deputy is speaking not from a position of knowledge, but of presumption and perception, which is not borne out by the facts.

As I stated earlier, Ireland has a proud record of participating in UN missions. Our Defence Forces, where ever they go, enhance their reputation and that of our State. I believe it is appropriate that we give active consideration to participating in this particular mission.

Arms exports in Europe are growing.

The Minister's narrative might be convincing if there was any consistency in it when he decries human rights abuses, violence against women and so on inevitably attached to the word "Muslim" or "Islamic". Where is the consistency when this type of abuse is perpetrated daily in a regime like Saudi Arabia to which the European Union, the United States and so on sell arms weekly? There is no problem in that and no military intervention there, even when it is crushing a democratic movement in Bahrain, because that particularly brutal Islamist regime happens to serve the interests of the Western powers in the region. This exposes the claim that these interventions are prompted by humanitarian concerns. There is a nasty civil war going on in Mali but the Malian state and Malian military are not the good guys in this. The Tuareg people have legitimate national aspirations which they have expressed in four different rebellions since 1960. They are an impoverished nomadic people who have suffered badly at the hands of that rotten regime. Let us not forget that the French, who are leading the military intervention in Mali, also backed the dictatorship of Ben Ali until it was overthrown in the revolution of the people. Also, they happen to be sitting on a lot of gold and uranium.

The United States has forces in 35 countries in Africa. There is a scramble going on for the mineral resources of Africa and the Islamist bogeyman is being used as a justification for military intervention. Irish troops should not be involved in a 21st century scramble for Africa.

There are only four minutes remaining for supplementary questions. I ask the Minister to be brief.

I will be brief. I have no idea why Deputy Boyd Barrett is shouting at me. I am not responsible for all of the conflicts that are taking place in Africa, many of which are tragic. I am merely dealing with the issue raised, which relates to the United Nations resolution that trainers should be provided to the Malian armed forces. As I said previously, we are considering allowing a small number of our Defence Forces to participate in that mission.

I am annoyed because the Minister in his initial response to my question as to why Question No. 9 had not been grouped with these questions gave the rather disingenuous response that it was about battle groups when it also relates to military missions to Africa. The Minister knew precisely to what I was referring. The Minister is not being honest in terms of the manner in which he is dealing with the points being raised.

The point being made is that this is not some sort of good guy-bad guy conflict in respect of which we should be training the military of the Malian State because they are the good guys in this. Atrocities against the Tuareg people have substantially escalated - I accept there have been atrocities on all sides - since the French military intervention commenced. It is worsening the situation and will drive ordinary Malians into the hands of the more obscurantist elements. This is not simply an issue of good guy-bad guy. This is a nasty civil war, in respect of which the French have their own agenda. We should not be involved in the scramble by imperial powers in African countries because the losers will be the ordinary people of Mali and Africa generally.

There is only one and a half minutes remaining.

As the Deputy proceeds with his ideological diatribe, what he chooses to ignore is the atrocities taking place in northern Mali, which have been well depicted not alone in media articles but starkly on our television screens, including interviews with individuals who are the victims of atrocities and whose limbs were missing. We know that a fundamentalist group claiming to have links with al-Qaeda is engaged in substantial criminality in the region and is bringing individuals to stadiums, cutting off their limbs in front of spectators and then bringing in doctors to provide medical attention after the limbs have been chopped off.

If the Deputy believes that the United Nations should ignore things like this, that it is in the interests of the people living in that area that they be subjected to that sort of fundamentalist atrocity and wishes to be blind to the fact that there is a problem with fundamentalist Islam, that is his choice.

They chop heads off every Friday in Saudi Arabia.

I am dealing with the question I was asked, which was about Mali. I am dealing with Mali and I will continue to do so. If the Deputy wants to take a tour of every country in the world in which there are human rights issues that need to be addressed, we can do it on another occasion. My remit as Minister for Defence this evening is to deal with the issue raised of whether we will participate in a UN mission in Mali and is such warranted. A number of European Union states have taken the view they will participate. We are giving active consideration to participating. It is unfortunate that when the Deputy addresses areas of great international difficulty, he always has a blind spot whereby he ignores some of the atrocities committed in areas-----

I said atrocities were being committed.

-----he believes we should stand back and look at and do nothing about while the human misery is perpetrated and continues.

I had a blind spot there and missed the timing. We must move on.

Human Rights Watch has raised serious concerns about atrocities by Malian troops also.

I accept there are such reports which is a concern. This is why trainers may be able to address this. This is the importance of human rights teaching on dealing with people, so civilians are not brought unnecessarily into conflict. This is where the European Union, by participating in a UN mission, can make a positive contribution as opposed to sitting back and watching.

They should leave their guns at home.