Dáil debates

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

4:00 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis na Teachtaí Gormley, Finian McGrath agus Joe Higgins.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo agus go bhfuil an Rialtas sásta an rún seo a phlé sa Teach inniú. Níl ach 65 nóiméid i gceist. Ní leor sin agus sinn ag plé beatha 150 fir agus mná Éireannacha agus a gclann. Ba chóir go mbeadh an díospóireacht seo sa choiste, áit ina mbeadh níos mó ama againn na ceisteanna seo a chíoradh i gceart agus baint go mion leis na sonraí atá i gceist. Caithfimid déileáil leis an méid atá os ár gcomhair agus is trua nach bhfuil ach 65 nóiméid againn.

According to the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, since 1958 the Defence Forces have provided 70,000 soldiers for tours of duty overseas in 40 countries. Some 85 members of the Defence Forces have died overseas and many more have been injured. It is always important that overseas missions are fully scrutinised before the deployment of Irish soldiers. It is particularly important in the case of UNIFIL, given the threat posed to the personnel by Israel which last summer demonstrated again its willingness to kill United Nations personnel with impunity. Last July Israeli shelling resulted in the deaths of four UN observers despite the fact that UN peacekeepers had warned Israeli soldiers ten times to stop the shelling. This is not the first time Israel has shown absolute disregard for the lives of UN staff. In 2002 Israeli occupying forces in the West Bank killed UN Relief and Works Agency project manager Mr. Iain Hook. The direct threat posed by Israel to members serving with UNIFIL must be recognised and the Minister has not done this.

Sinn Féin had hoped the resolution extending the UNIFIL mission would provide for deployment on both sides of the border and give UNIFIL a mandate to monitor Israeli activities. Unfortunately and foolishly, the mandate does not extend to this. The mission is in south Lebanon alone. However, given that the Lebanese are supportive of the UN mission, Sinn Féin also supports it but we are concerned about some aspects of the expanded mandate. The Department of Defence briefing notes state the role of UNIFIL is to to be "considerably more robust" but claims that it still operates under Chapter VI of the UN Charter. Chapter VI covers traditional peacekeeping tasks such as monitoring, patrolling and observing. However, according to a senior US State Department official, the resolution expanding UNIFIL's role has all the characteristics of a Chapter VII resolution. It walks, talks and acts like a Chapter VII resolution. Chapter VII allows for enforcement by military means. The Minister must clarify whether the more robust role of UNIFIL II strays into the arena of Chapter VII. Although he addressed some of these issues, I would like him to go further in ensuring we are not straying into the arena of Chapter VII.

While Ireland has a proud record of involvement in peacekeeping missions overseas, including Lebanon, where Irish members have been stationed since 1978, it is important to remember that there have been mistakes and we should avoid repeating them. During the years there have been reports of discrimination or differential treatment by UNIFIL of Muslims versus Christians. Some former members informed me that at times the Israeli-backed Christian militias were given a free run in UNIFIL-patrolled areas, while some members of the Muslim population were treated poorly. I hope that will not be the case on this occasion. I am aware that it was not the case in most of the regions in which Irish soldiers served in the past and I understand they were quite good in ensuring that discrimination did not occur.

The Minister for Defence must monitor the operations of the new UNIFIL force to ensure that it operates at all times in a manner above reproach. This is particularly important in light of the new, robust UNIFIL mandate to which the Minister referred. We must be vigilant in respect of attempts to co-opt the UNIFIL force into serving the ends of interested countries and their foreign policies and we must ensure that such corruption of the mission is not allowed to happen. Given the nature of the mandate, I ask the Minister to make a commitment that the House will return to this issue in six months to discuss how UNIFIL ll is progressing.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.