Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Ceisteanna (6, 17)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

6. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of Defence Forces personnel on the UNIFIL operation whose return here has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic; the efforts underway to resolve the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7081/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

17. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if clarity will be provided to Defence Forces personnel serving on UN missions overseas on when they will be returning; and his plans to ensure a timely rotation. [8203/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 17 together.

As part of its response to the global Covid pandemic, on 5 April, 2020 the United Nations Secretary General directed the suspension of all rotations and leave for military personnel serving in UN missions until 30 June, effective immediately.

The UN direction impacted over 100,000 UN uniformed personnel from over 120 countries serving world-wide, including Ireland and Defence Forces personnel serving with UN missions. The suspension was based on the protection of local communities as well as that of the peacekeepers during the Covid pandemic.

The UN directed that only in certain very limited and extenuating circumstances would any exemption be allowed. This was only where a rotation was vital to maintain a critical operational capability and where the requisite quarantine requirements for incoming and rotating contingents required by the UN and the host state can also be guaranteed. Any such exemption was subject to a decision by the UN Headquarters in New York on a proposal from the Force Commander.

Immediately upon the direction of the UN Secretary General, the Defence Forces, the Department of Defence and the Department Foreign Affairs and Trade engaged with the UN in the mission areas and at UN Headquarters, though both informal and formal contacts to ensure that the rotation of Irish personnel would be achieved as close as possible to the scheduled dates.

On foot of these efforts, rotations to UNDOF, MINUSMA, KFOR and EUTM Mali have been successfully concluded to date. The Department and the Defence Forces are currently progressing options to rotate 2 personnel deployed to the MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

However, from the outset, the key focus has been on UNIFIL. As our largest mission, it involves the rotation of a significant number of personnel in two stages, is thus more complex, and requires approvals and permissions from both the UN and from the Host State, not least in terms of their health status and that of the local population in a time of a global pandemic health restrictions.

In accordance with the process laid down by the UN Secretary General, a submission was made by the Defence Forces through the Senior Irish Officer to the UNIFIL Force Commander seeking an exemption. The Chief of Staff both wrote to and spoke to the Force Commander. In tandem with this, the Department of Foreign Affairs through our Permanent Mission in New York engaged with UN Headquarters at senior level.

I can now advise that the UN has agreed to an exemption of the suspension for Ireland which will allow Ireland to rotate its full contingent to UNIFIL during the UN moratorium. The first rotation has now been confirmed by the UN for 21 June and the second for 29 June.

As the dates for the rotations have now been confirmed by the UN, I hope that this will now ease the impact of the delayed reunion with families. The confirmed dates have been communicated by the military authorities to Defence Forces personnel coming home and those going out to Lebanon to commence their deployment.

In accordance with agreed arrangements, the United Nations will be responsible for making the transport arrangements for the rotation of UNIFIL troops in June.