Dáil debates

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

Priority Questions.

Defence Forces Training.

1:00 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Question 55: To ask the Minister for Defence the application or recruitment procedure for the training courses delivered to foreign soldiers at the Defence Forces training centre, Curragh Camp, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the criteria taken into consideration when deciding whether to include soldiers from the countries in question in this training. [38432/05]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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A prospectus of courses is prepared each year in a brochure format that is distributed to embassies. Candidates are then considered on the basis of applications received through the respective embassies. To date, it has been possible to accept all applications from foreign states for places on the courses for which they applied. The extensive body of experience gained by the Permanent Defence Force during its involvement in various United Nations peacekeeping operations over many years is well reflected in the training courses provided by constituent colleges of the Defence Forces training centre, namely, the military college, the combat support college and the combat service support college. The United Nations Training School Ireland, UNTSI, is itself a constituent school of the military college. The courses of training reflect the latest international military standards and doctrine. The quality of training programmes devised and provided by the Defence Forces is clearly evidenced by international interest shown as regards participation.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister for Defence does not like answering my questions. He is hiding to avoid discussing the political and moral——

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister is in RTE.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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He is definitely hiding. Is the Minister of State aware that more than 460 foreign soldiers have received military training in the Curragh over the past ten years? I presume the majority were trained within the parameters of our neutrality and at the behest of the UN, which is laudable. However, the list the Department supplied in response to a number of valid parliamentary questions highlighted that the countries of origin of these soldiers include Israel, Russia and many NATO countries. Outwardly, it appears no safeguards are in place to ensure complicity in human rights abuses or to prevent breaches of neutrality. Are safeguards in place? If so, what are they? Is the Minister aware UN resolutions are regularly ignored by Israel and Russia and their forces have been involved in arbitrary detention, torture, disappearance and extrajudicial execution? For example, the Russian federal forces were responsible for approximately 450 abductions last year in Chechnya.

Even if the numbers from these countries who are trained is low, does the Minister of State agree any part played by this State in these atrocities is too big a part? Does he further agree that instead of lending these countries legitimacy or meeting their needs, we should boycott their military organisations, particularly those of Israel and Russia?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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All the countries involved have diplomatic relations with Ireland and they are all members of the UN. The participation of the members of the military forces of other nations has the marked advantage of building useful international links as regards the potential interoperability and familiarity between our Defence Forces and the military of other states with which they may well undertake international peacekeeping duties in future. It involves technical and academic military training arranged on an ad hoc basis and it has no implications for our policy of military neutrality.

Taking a different perspective, this gives us an opportunity to get know to military people in other countries. I met, for example, a member of the Zambian army who had been trained in the Curragh during my tenure in the Department of Foreign Affairs. He very much appreciated the quality of training he received. That training stayed with him and he brought it back to his own country to help build capacity there. It is a normal procedure. We interact with military personnel from other countries with whom we could undertake joint international peacekeeping operations. It is nothing more complicated than that.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Much of the training is laudable and welcome and it probably falls within the parameters of neutrality. However, will the Minister of State offer a guarantee that no country whose military is involved in breaches of international law will receive training in the Curragh Camp or elsewhere in this jurisdiction? Does he agree the participation of NATO members in training at the Curragh compromises our neutrality? The list mainly comprises NATO countries but the military of Zambia and other non-NATO countries have received training, which is welcome. However, I do not see us partaking in peacekeeping missions with Israel in the near future until it addresses its human rights record and its abuse of the Palestinian people.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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Obviously, we have a very strong position on protecting human rights and these issues have been raised in the House in recent days in regard to Shannon, etc. We have accepted all applications from foreign states for places on the courses actually applied for. It involves military training arranged on an ad hoc basis, so it is not that rigidly structured. Suffice it to say, I will ask the Minister to take on board the Deputy's views on torture, human rights, and so on.