Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Question 37: To ask the Minister for Defence if he will provide assurances that any decision taken on whether to commit Irish troops to a new EU peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo will satisfy the triple lock mechanism; when a UN decision on this mission is likely; when a Government decision will be made; when Dáil Éireann approval will be sought; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12077/06]
Following a request from the United Nations, the EU is examining the provision of a supporting operation, under an EU flag, for MONUC, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Various options for the mission are being considered within the EU, which has indicated that it is positively disposed towards supporting MONUC. Fact-finding missions to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to the United Nations in New York have been undertaken.
The main purpose of the mission is to be available to support MONUC during the upcoming election process. The EU will not substitute for MONUC, but rather will provide a supporting role in the event of unrest during the election period. The current plan is that a protection force, possibly up to 400 troops, will be located on the ground, probably in Kinshasa. Outside of that, there will be an over-the-horizon force, either in Europe or possibly in a neighbouring state, ready to deploy should it be required. Total numbers could be approximately 1,500.
Germany will provide the operational headquarters for the mission, which will be based in Potsdam. The force headquarters, which will be supplied by France, will be based in Kinshasa. Germany and France will together provide approximately two thirds of the force. The mission is in the initial planning stages. The specific structure, organisation, tasks and roles of the force and the contributors to it have yet to be fully elaborated. This should happen over the next couple of weeks.
Ireland is positively disposed towards the proposed mission and supports a positive response from the EU to the UN. In this regard, Ireland wrote to the chairman of the EU military staff confirming that Ireland was prepared to offer up to ten headquarters personnel for the mission subject to national decision-making procedures, which will be adhered to. Our proposed contribution is well in line with that of other contributing member states and has to be looked at in the context of our existing major commitments to peacekeeping operations in Africa and the Balkans.
I assure the Deputy that any contribution will satisfy the requirements of the Defence Acts in terms of participation. Discussions are ongoing in the UN on an appropriate mandate for the mission. As the proposed offer involves fewer than ten troops, Dáil approval is not required in this instance. I cannot state specifically when the UN Security Council resolution will be passed or when a Government decision will be made. However, I expect this to be in the next few weeks, given that the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo are due in June. I understand that Germany, which will lead the force, expects to deploy at the end of May or the beginning of June.
The Minister and everybody else is aware that the security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely volatile. It appears the country has been in the grip of civil war and subsequent humanitarian disaster since the 1960s. The elections scheduled for June have been postponed a number of times due to security concerns. There is no doubt that any mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo for Irish troops would be extremely dangerous. Is the Minister assured that our troops have the necessary training and experience for this? He referred to this partially in his reply. Do the troops have the experience to deal with the situation in the country? I do not mean this as an insult to Irish troops. However, I recall that three years ago French authorities rebuffed an offer by the Irish Government to send Irish Rangers to join the UN mission in the Congo to help stabilise the State. Will the Minister provide reassurance on this point? What is the envisaged length of time for the mission?
I will answer the Deputy's last question first. If Irish troops are committed, it is envisaged that the mission will last approximately four months. I appreciate the Deputy's comments regarding the security situation on the ground. The Deputy will appreciate that a heavy force is already in the Democratic Republic of Congo. MONUC consists of almost 17,000 appropriately armed troops.
The United Nations has requested the EU to supply a force, of a rapid reaction type, to help during the election period. That would be available to help if disturbances occured during the election period. The force will consist of two elements, 400 troops on the ground based in Kinshasa and more than 1,000 troops based either in a neighbouring state or somewhere in Europe, which can be called upon if required. We have written to the EU military council to make an initial offer of up to ten officers, who would be based in headquarters. That would either be in Potsdam or Kinshasa. The offer is being considered and we have received a reply stating the appropriateness of the offer.
Approximately 1,000 troops will be provided by France and Germany and 500 will be provided by all the other countries. Our offer is well in line with proposals made by other countries, though I will not go into detail on those.
The safety of our troops always weighs heavily on me and the Government when a request is made for their deployment overseas. We and the military authorities are satisfied that Irish troops are sufficiently trained and have sufficient force protection assets such as body armour to ensure they will be safe in the Congo. This was carefully weighed when we decided to respond positively to the EU request.
As our defence and peacekeeping operations expand is the Minister confident the triple lock mechanism will be maintained? I have concerns that, due to the length of time UN, Government and Dáil decisions, required for the triple lock, take, the Government may in future try to subvert it by sending troops on missions without the conditions having been satisfied. I and the Labour Party regard the triple lock as a vital mechanism and we are determined that it should be maintained.
I am delighted Deputy Sherlock takes that view because I also believe it is a vital mechanism and should be maintained. Deputy Gormley agrees, meaning there is virtual unanimity in the House that it should be so, and I assure him that every time Irish troops are committed abroad the requirements of the triple lock will be rigidly adhered to. The first element of the triple lock involves a Government decision to commit troops abroad. The second part is a UN resolution. The third element is a Dáil motion, which only applies when more than 12 troops are committed. In this case we have offered ten and if it is accepted we do not, strictly speaking, need a Dáil resolution under the Defence Act 1954, I will recommend to the Government that the proposal is discussed in the House.