Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2016: Motion (Resumed)
I echo the sentiments of the Minister of State to the effect that 2018 is an opportune time to acknowledge the six decades of commitment to Irish Defence Forces participation in UN missions. Our tradition of peacekeeping is rich and proud. Ireland has always been a staunch supporter of the United Nations peacekeeping philosophy and has played a primary and active role in keeping vulnerable people safe around the world.
In 2016 alone, our forces were involved with the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, a United Nations disengagement observer force in the Golan Heights and a UN truce supervision organisation in Syria, Golan and Israel. Our troops also took part in the UN mission for the referendum in Western Sahara, a stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo and as observers to the Ivory Coast. We had people in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Mali and, while not UN mandated, we continued to lead in the protection and rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean.
We are present at all levels of the Defence Forces, from troops to military advisers, in many of the conflict and post-conflict theatres around the world.
Our record is superb and our international reputation is as good as that of any other country. I am proud that we have Defence Forces representing Ireland which promote, protect and deliver peace in some of the most dangerous and vulnerable places on Earth. We are proud of our Defence Forces' relationship with the United Nations for 60 years and I know we will continue to experience that pride for another 60. However, the men and women who serve in our Defence Forces are not fatigue-wearing superheroes. They are ordinary individuals who have families and commitments and many of them are suffering through financial hardship. That needs to be remedied.
It would be remiss of me not to state that, along with rightly commending the Defence Forces on their work, commitment and excellence on these missions, the Government needs to improve the conditions of serving personnel. The Government needs to improve their pay and to ensure that the standard of barracks accommodation and quarters is of an acceptable level. The Minister can start this process by enforcing the European Committee of Social Rights ruling which upheld the entitlement of the Irish armed forces to better collective bargaining and negotiating rights. The work of the Defence Forces is unique. Peacekeeping missions abroad are not the average day's work for the vast majority of people but it is the job of these workers. Defence Forces personnel should not have the unique nature of their work used as a reason to not allow them bargaining rights to improve their conditions. We need to review the allowances Defence Forces personnel are paid for their overseas tours of duty. These tours take them away from their families and loved ones for months at a time, at great sacrifice to themselves and their families; they put them in harm's way and in very real and, sometimes, mortal danger and, as the Minister said, they make us very proud of our Defence Forces.
Let the 60th anniversary of our work with United Nations be the real starting point for the Government to modernise its approach to our Defence Forces personnel. Let us value them with more than statements and platitudes in the Dáil. After all, such things do not protect our men and women when they are abroad and they do not pay their light and heat when they are at home.