Dáil debates

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

4:00 pm

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)

Yes, this refers to cluster bombs, cluster bomblets etc.

I will explain the purpose of the Irish-Finnish contingent. The Finnish contingent consists of engineers who will rebuild the infrastructure. Any ordinary use of language would describe that activity as being humanitarian. In addition, the Finns will clear unexploded ordnance in their area of operations. Essentially, the Finnish contingent is an engineering unit and it will require protection. The Finns will need troops to perform reconnaissance and to check out the safety of an area.

At present, 677 troops are serving abroad. As the maximum to which we are committed is 850 troops, not much capacity remains. We did not have sufficient capacity to put together a full Irish contingent. We examined how we could contribute usefully and this is what we came up with. The Finns are delighted with it and the United Nations stated that it fits in perfectly with its plans and it will be a successful mission. The work the Irish troops will perform there is both real and valuable. In addition to the work they will undertake with the Finns, the Irish contingent will remain as an asset of the overall force commander in the Lebanon. He will be able to call upon the Irish troops to perform any other task he may wish to assign to them. I refer to tasks such as escort duties, patrolling etc., within their area of operations.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh and other Members referred to the possible danger to our troops. When taking such a decision, all Ministers for Defence, of whatever political persuasion, are always conscious of the danger to the troops. I agree with Deputy Gormley that this mission has the potential to be extremely dangerous. However, both the Liberian and Kosovan missions were extremely dangerous initially. From my perspective, this mission is not necessarily any more dangerous. However, it must be monitored as it progresses.

We have trained and equipped the troops to the maximum degree possible to try to ensure their safety. Moreover, our troops have considerable experience in peacekeeping operations and peace enforcement operations.

As to whether the mission falls under Chapter VI or Chapter VII, it is a Chapter VI mission and is described as such. In general, Chapter VI missions occur when a ceasefire is in place, which is the case at present. Basically, Chapter VI missions consist of monitoring to ensure that no one tries to break a ceasefire, that there are no arms transactions etc. and there is no training of illegal militias etc. It simply consists of keeping an eye on the situation. In Chapter VII missions, people must engage in what is called peace enforcement. They are obliged to use force to compel people to separate from each other, or to get in between opposing armies.

This is a Chapter VI mission. A ceasefire has taken effect and, essentially, this will be a monitoring operation. However, at some stage, I presume the Lebanese Government must discharge its obligation to disarm Hizbollah. In that case, UNIFIL II will play a supporting role and will support the Lebanese army and Government. The resolution contains wording to the effect that they are entitled to use all force to ensure that no one interferes with the discharge of their mandate. While this might have a Chapter VII ring to it, it is really a Chapter VI mission.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also asked whether I would return to the House in six months time to discuss progress. Such matters are always kept under regular review anyway. If a debate is needed, or if the situation changes materially during the coming months, I expect the Whips will facilitate a debate in the House on the matter. In any event, the Government will be obliged to act.

Deputy Gormley referred to the activities of the Israeli army. There is currently a United Nations investigation into the use by the Israeli army of cluster bombs and I anxiously await its outcome. Deputy Joe Higgins voiced his opposition to the mission. He envisages the solution in terms of the working classes of Lebanon, Palestine and Israel all coming together. Although that may be great, while we wait for the working classes to do so, we must go in to secure the situation, which is the purpose of this proposal. I commend the proposal to the House.

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