As part of its response to the global Covid pandemic, the United Nations Secretary General in April of this year, directed the suspension of all rotations and leave for military personnel serving in United Nations missions until 30 June. 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.
On foot of the subsequent efforts of the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the Department Foreign Affairs and Trade, rotations to UNDOF, MINUSMA, KFOR and EUTM Mali, and the MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were successfully concluded.
UNIFIL is our largest mission and involves the rotation of a significant number of personnel in two stages and is a complex operation. Personnel deployed to this mission who were due to return in May experienced delays of between 4-6 weeks following the end of their due rotation dates due to the UN moratorium on rotations. The next rotation of troops to UNIFIL will take place in November.
Defence Forces personnel are due to rotate to the UNDOF mission this week on flights organised by the UN. The UNDOF contingent is operating in a very challenging region where there can never be complete certainty on transit routes and where the administrative procedures relating to the transit of military personnel cut across a number of jurisdictions. Troops have been in quarantine prior to departure and will quarantine again on arrival at the UNDOF mission.
A number of individual appointments will also rotate during the period October to December 2020. In addition, a small number of Defence Force personnel are due to rotate to the KFOR mission in Kosovo in October and to MINUSMA in MALI in December 2020.
Personnel rotations, even in normal times, are complex involving diplomatic clearances for overflights, landings and transit which can result in delays given the lead times for securing such clearances. Covid 19 and the restrictions imposed by the UN to ensure the health and safety of both peacekeepers and the host State population, together with the restrictions imposed by host States have added significantly to this complexity.
I am highly conscious of the impact delayed rotations have on personnel and their families and I and my Department together with the Defence Forces will continue to make all efforts to ensure the on-time rotation of personnel insofar as is practicable.