Minister of State at the Department of Defence
Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D.
Seanad Commencement Debate
The need for the Minister for Defence to outline the policy now being implemented by his Department in relation to security matters in the Middle East.
Senator Catherine Noone
On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Defence, Mr Simon Coveney TD, I would like to thank Senator Noone for raising the matter of the policy now being implemented by his Department in relation to security matters in the Middle East.
The White Paper on Defence sets out Ireland’s defence policy framework for the next decade. It is based on a forward looking assessment of the security environment, reflecting the wider Defence and Security Policy framework and the increasingly complex nature of security threats in the world today and the need for a full spectrum comprehensive response.
A feature of Ireland’s policy response to these security challenges is continued strong support for the multilateral system of collective security represented by the UN in the maintenance of international peace and security.
Ireland’s approach to international security is characterised, inter alia, by our willingness to participate in peace support operations throughout the world and by our commitment to achieving collective security through the United Nations, in particular.
As of 01 December, 492 Defence Forces personnel are serving overseas. Some 359 of these personnel are serving in the Middle East in the following missions viz
· the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 198 personnel,
· the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) with 149 personnel and
· the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) with 12 personnel.
The 51st Infantry Group is the latest contingent of the Defence Forces which deployed last month to the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon. The Irish contingent comprising 198 personnel is based primarily in Camp 2-45 as part of a joint battalion with Finland. The joint Finnish/Irish Battalion is tasked primarily with patrolling, reconnaissance and occupying two static posts on the Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon while operating in close coordination and cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces in Sector West of UNIFIL’s area of operations. The Battalion implements Force Protection measures appropriate to the prevailing operational and security developments in the region. The Battalion has a wide range of capabilities affording excellent operational effectiveness whilst also providing extensive force protection capacity. I am advised by the Defence Forces that Commanders in the mission, at all levels, liaise with the Host Nation, the Lebanese Armed Forces and local stakeholders to ensure that all aspects of the mission, including Freedom of Movement, are achievable. Ireland will take command of the joint contingent in November next year and will deploy an additional 160 personnel approximately with the contingent. The security situation in Lebanon will continue to be kept under review by the Defence Forces and departmental officials.
The 50th Infantry Group, comprising 141 Irish personnel, serving with UNDOF are based in Camp Ziouani in the Golan Heights. The contingent comprises a Force Reserve Company and support elements. Their role includes the provision of a Quick Reaction Force which is on standby to assist with on-going operations within the UNDOF Area of Responsibility. The Irish Infantry Group is also tasked with carrying out patrols and convoy escorts as necessary. In addition, eight (8) Defence Forces personnel are also based in UNDOF Headquarters in Camp Ziouani, including the Deputy Force Commander, Brigadier General Anthony Hanlon.
The current Irish contingent, who deployed to UNDOF in September 2015, undertakes regular drills and exercises to ensure that all personnel are aware of the force protection actions to be carried out in the event of a deterioration of the security situation.
The UNDOF mission has faced a challenging time especially during the past year or so. The escalation of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has affected the mission’s area of operations. While the security situation in the UNDOF Area of Responsibility remains volatile and unpredictable, with ongoing fighting between different elements, I am advised that UNDOF has not detected any significant increase in violence or attacks on UN Personnel or facilities.
Following the significant events in August 2014 in the area of separation, there was a fundamental realignment of the UNDOF mission with a view to minimizing unacceptable risks to peacekeepers, while continuing to implement the mission’s mandate. Most UNDOF personnel are now deployed on the Israeli side of the area of separation. A number of enhancement measures were undertaken at Camp Ziouani since the relocation of the Irish Contingent in September 2014.
Ongoing threat assessments are carried out in the mission area and personal equipment and force assets are continually reviewed to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their role. In this regard, following a recent review of the locations in the UNDOF mission area occupied by personnel of the Irish Contingent, a Defence Forces engineering team was deployed in early September to undertake additional protective works. I am satisfied that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving in the UNDOF mission.
The decision by Government to send troops overseas is never taken lightly. The safety of all Irish Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions is always a concern to the Government and to the military authorities. Troops selected for overseas service undergo a rigorous programme of mission specific training. Such training, which is updated on an ongoing basis in the light of increased threat, has been designed to allow Defence Forces personnel to carry out their tasks and to provide for their protection.
The presence of the UNIFIL, UNDOF and UNTSO missions remains an important element in ensuring stability in the Middle East region. Ireland remains committed to supporting UN missions in the Middle East in support of international peace and security.