Wednesday, 11 October 2006
Overseas Missions: Motion.
Willie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
I thank all Members for their contributions and for recognising the importance of the contribution of Ireland and the Defence Forces to international peace and security. I am particularly grateful for the kind words and compliments from Members regarding the manner in which the Defence Forces have discharged such missions. This debate reflects the high regard in which the Defence Forces are held as peacekeepers and the warm regard which the people have for the Defence Forces. This is recognition of the important role they play in the community they serve, both here and abroad.
I will respond to some points raised by Members. Deputy Timmins rightly sought assurances regarding the equipment and training the troops will receive before going to Lebanon and I am happy to provide such assurances. The Deputy also referred to the enormity of the physical damage, a point with which I concur. Approximately 30,000 buildings have been destroyed and as estimates of the damage come to between €3 billion and €6 billion, an enormous rebuilding job remains to be done. Deputy Timmins also asked whether, on the conclusion of the mission to Liberia next year, the troops involved will be redeployed to UNIFIL II with the same mandate or with a different role. I cannot say at present. It will depend on both circumstances in the Lebanon and on demands on our resources elsewhere in the world at that time.
Deputy Coveney referred to the possibility of our troops being asked to disarm Hizbollah. As he rightly noted, this will not happen. The disarmament of Hizbollah is the clear responsibility of the Lebanese Government and the United Nations has expressed the view that such disarmament can only take place within the context of an overall political settlement.
Deputy Costello questioned the Irish troops' role overseas. As I noted, the two major outstanding problems — apart from the volatility of the situation — are the destruction of property and infrastructure and the quantity of unexploded ordnance. The most recent estimate suggests that 350,000 unexploded pieces of ordnance remain in part of Lebanon, which is quite scary.