Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Ceisteanna (7)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

7. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will provide a report on the deployment of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali; the work undertaken to date; and when the mission will come to an end. [38458/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Defence)

I am seeking an update from the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, on the deployment of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali and its work to date.

Government and Dáil approval was received in June of this year for the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to participate in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

MINUSMA was established on 25 April 2013 by UN Security Council Resolution 2100 to stabilise the country after the Tuareg rebellion in 2012. The role of the mission is to ensure security, stabilisation and protection of civilians; supporting national political dialogue and reconciliation; assisting in the re-establishment of State authority; the rebuilding of the security sector and the promotion and protection of human rights in Mali. 

Two officers deployed on 7 September to Bamako, where the MINUSMA force headquarters is located. They have since completed some initial training and have taken up their respective roles in the force headquarters. An additional 11 personnel drawn from the Army Ranger Wing, ARW, deployed with the German armed forces to Camp Castor in Gao, Mali, on 12 September 2019.

All deployed personnel are currently embedding with the larger German company and are carrying out assigned tasks in accordance with the mission mandate.

The ARW will deploy as a team to carry out surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. They will deploy as part of a larger intelligence surveillance reconnaissance company and, therefore, would not be deployed in isolation. The task force utilises technology via unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, and human sources, that is, personnel on the ground engaging with local people, to gather intelligence for the UN mission. The ARW will support this effort by providing personnel to undertake these tasks. While the Army Ranger Wing team will engage on a day-to-day basis with the individuals in the local population as part of their intelligence and information gathering remit, they will benefit from the security effort that is in place to protect the full company.

This MINUSMA deployment is for a period of 24 months from September 2019 to September 2021.

As the Minister of State will be aware, Sinn Féin did not support the deployment of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali. We voted against it in this House, as did others. We did so because we were being asked to endorse and become part of the UN's response to a coup in that state and to train Malian military to fight a civil war. This is a security peace enforcement mission that involves taking sides and Sinn Féin believes this undermines our neutrality. The mission in which the Army rangers are involved has a security-only focus. It does not involve any roadmap to peace. In Sinn Féin's view, the Defence Forces should be seen as mediators, continuing Ireland's proud role in supporting peace efforts in the region or anywhere else in the world, and not as one-sided enforcers. The deployment of personnel to act as enforcers rather than mediators changes the nature of Irish engagement with international politics.

Does the Minister of State receive regular updates on the mission and the security measures to protect Irish troops?

I am in receipt of regular updates. Officials from my Department are in regular contact with the military authorities and I receive military advice on the security situation in Mali at the time of deployment. As stated by Deputy Crowe, this is a UN mission but Ireland is partaking in the international community response to the shooting of innocent people on a daily basis in Mali. Peacekeeping is a core element of Ireland's foreign policy, derived from our commitment with the UN member states to building and strengthening global peace and protecting human rights and the rule of law.

That is exactly what members of the ARW are doing with MINUSMA in Mali. MINUSMA is the United Nations' response and provides support for the Malian Government in reasserting its authority in northern Mali. As I stated, MINUSMA was established in 2013 and has made a real difference on the ground in Mali. I had the opportunity earlier this year to sit down with the force commander to discuss the mission and Ireland's participation in it.

We should not be offering up our troops for deployment in counter-terrorism operations under the guise of conflict management. There was a coup in the country. It is a high risk mission which has involved over 200 fatalities to date. As it is considered to be one of the United Nations' most dangerous missions, we need to talk about it in the House. Large-scale deployments such as this, with a full combat role, should not be allowed to become the norm. It is a form of conflict management by the United Nations. We should be leading the opposition to it, rather than supporting it. I also have concerns about the intelligence roles played by the troops. Intelligence is gathered with others, but we have no control over how it is used. Again, this might have negative consequences.

As a malaria zone, the mission in Mali poses a significant risk to Irish troops. Will the Minister of State confirm whether soldiers serving there are taking Lariam? I do not need to remind him about the motion passed by the Dáil on the issue. Are our troops in Mali taking Lariam?

Deciding what anti-malaria medication is prescribed for personnel is a matter for military medical staff. In the past six decades Ireland has participated in Chapter VI and Chapter VII missions and played a vital role in promoting peace, stability and the protection of civilians. I have confidence in every member of the ARW who has deployed to Mali. I have seen them in action and met them individually. I know their capabilities. I would not be comfortable in sending them to Mali if I did not have the confidence that I have in them.

The Minister of State does not even know if they are taking Lariam.

That is a matter for the medical team within the Defence Forces. The ARW is well trained and equipped. Anything it has asked of the Government has been responded to. I know that it will do an outstanding job on this mission.