Thursday, 7 November 2019

Ceisteanna (8)

Jack Chambers


8. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the new United Nations missions he expects the Defence Forces to undertake in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45727/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (19 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

I want to ask the Minister about the new United Nations missions he expects the Defence Forces to undertake in 2020.

On the previous issue, I will have to raise that with the Chairman of the committee, my party colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, who I think the Minister of State has smeared here today by saying he would not facilitate the White Paper review, and given the fact Minister of State is pinning the blame for the lack of outcomes from the White Paper on the Oireachtas committee and on the Members of this House. The failing in defence rests with the Minister of State. He has absolutely collapsed our Defence Forces. He has no confidence among the military community, and no one has any praise for any of the measures he has announced. Stop trying to project blame onto other people. I think it is a shocking smear on the Chair and I am sure he will respond to the Minister of State on that.

I have the correspondence to hand. I wrote to the committee and I had to wait a number of months to get into the committee.

Let us focus on Question No. 8.

I did not smear anybody. The Deputy should talk to his party leader and ask to see if he could become a member of the committee.

The clock is ticking. Let us move on.

As of 3 October 2019, Ireland is contributing 692 personnel to ten different missions throughout the world and also to a range of international organisations and national representations. The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 459 personnel, and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, in Syria, with 135 personnel. The UNIFIL mission in Lebanon continues to represent Ireland's largest overseas deployment.

Ireland deployed an additional contingent of approximately 106 Defence Force personnel to the UNIFIL mission following the departure of the Finnish-Estonian contingent in November 2018.

Arrangements are in place with the United Nations for Poland to partner Ireland in UNIFIL from November 2019. Ireland will reduce its contribution of troops in UNIFIL from 459 to approximately 340 personnel, and Poland will provide some 220 personnel. Hungarian personnel will also deploy as part of the Polish contingent.

Government and Dáil approval were received last June for the deployment of a contingent of the PDF to participate in United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA. The latter was established under UN Security Council Resolution 2100 of April 2013. The mission is tasked primarily with providing support to transitional governmental authorities in Mali in efforts to stabilise the country.

In September, two officers deployed to Bamako, where the MINUSMA force headquarters are located. An additional 11 personnel drawn from the Army Ranger Wing deployed with the German armed forces to Camp Castor in Gao, Mali, and are carrying out assigned tasks in accordance with the mission mandate.

The Department of Defence constantly reviews the deployment of Defence Forces personnel overseas. Ireland receives requests from time to time to participate in various missions and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. There are currently no requests for the Defence Forces to participate in any new missions in 2020.

As of 4 September, Ireland was contributing 651 personnel to UN missions and 27 to a range of international organisations and national representations. This compares with 761 in 2009 but is greater than the 426 personnel deployed overseas five years ago. Are there any other deployments in the pipeline? Opportunities to serve on UN missions, as the Minister of State knows, are popular with members of the Defence Forces because of the experience they offer and for financial reasons. We all know that, now more than ever, incentives are important in order to retain personnel in the Defence Forces. It is also important to note the Naval Service's role in the Mediterranean and the rescuing of refugees, which is important in a political context. Has the Department conducted any discussions at an EU level in order that the Naval Service may have a role in this regard in the future? Is there an examination of this for 2020? It helped to retain personnel when Operation Sofia ended, which had a negative effect in the context of retention.

I reiterate that, as of 3 October last, 692 personnel were on ten different missions: 441 in UNIFIL; 12 in Israel and Syria; three in MINURSO, in Western Sahara; 135 in UNDOF; 13 in MINUSMA; five in EUFOR, in Bosnia and Herzegovina; 20 in EUTM Mali; 12 in KFOR; and three in the Operation Sofia headquarters. The Department of Defence constantly reviews the deployment of Defence Forces personnel overseas, and Ireland receives requests from time to time to participate in various missions. These are considered on a case-by-case basis by the Department and the Defence Forces, having regard to the safety of the mission. Currently, however, there are no requests for the Irish Defence Forces to participate in any new missions in 2020.

I will meet Jean-Pierre Lacroix when he comes to Ireland at the end of November. He is the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations.

I will give the Minister of State another opportunity.

I will talk to him-----

The Minister of State is depriving Members of the opportunity to ask questions.

-----about the missions that are in operation and whether there are any other requests.

What is the optimum number of personnel we can have deployed at any one time, taking into account especially the retention crisis? Is there a concern that we cannot deploy as many as we have requested? This is often raised in the public domain. Can the Minister of State clarify the matter? Is there scope to provide additional numbers abroad if the demand is there? As we know, the UN missions tend to be overwhelmingly dominated by the Army. Are there any other new avenues of participation for the Air Corps or the Naval Service? As I mentioned, our role in the Mediterranean was very positive for the Naval Service. It would like to participate in that operation again. Operational involvement assisted with retention of personnel. Has the Minister of State been obliged to reject any requests for participation in UN operations in recent times because, following discussions with military management, he has not been able to provide the personnel requested by international organisations?

I will allow two further supplementary questions, one from Deputy Broughan and one from Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

The Minister of State has given an answer about the requests for this year, but have there been any further requests from the UN or European Union colleagues? President Macron, I think, and Chancellor Merkel recently spoke about northern Syria and protecting the Kurdish and Yazidi peoples there. Are we part of an international force to do that?

I hope the Minister of State will be able to answer my question in the positive. Can he reassure us that in 2020 there will be repeat of the cock-ups that occurred last year regarding personnel travelling out to and returning from UN missions whereby people were left waiting because the return of their loved ones was delayed by a week or so?

I will respond to Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question first. Much of that is totally beyond our control. The Deputy wants to blame the Government - that is what one does when in opposition - or blame me-----

I was not blaming the Minister of State for once.

-----but I assure him that I have spoken to Jean-Pierre Lacroix and our ambassador in Lebanon about this issue. If the deployment finishes on the first day of a given month, we should never specifically state that it will finish on the first day but rather that it will finish in and around that week because, crossing the border, very significant diplomatic incidents happen and problems and issues arise. On the most recent such occasion, I had to contact my counterpart in Lebanon directly, who was able to resolve the issue for me. When we go out on peacekeeping duties under the blue helmets we should be accommodated in every way. Unfortunately, the smooth running does not always happen.

To answer Deputy Broughan's question, there are currently no requests for the Defence Forces to participate in any new missions in 2020.

To answer Deputy Jack Chambers's questions, we have responsibilities at home and overseas, so in any overseas deployment or mission in which we participate we must consider our responsibilities on this island as well. More importantly, we must look at the security situation of any mission. That is my number one priority. It is also a priority for the Defence Forces, the Department and Government.