Dáil debates

Thursday, 16 November 2006

4:00 pm

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Question 8: To ask the Minister for Defence the number of members of the Defence Forces currently serving on UN authorised missions overseas; the number of these missions; the number serving on each; the expected duration of each of these missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38240/06]

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 45: To ask the Minister for Defence the number of personnel currently serving overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38155/06]

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Question 222: To ask the Minister for Defence the number of Irish troops currently on missions overseas; the mandate associated with each mission; the number of personnel and the number of years that Irish troops have been involved in such missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38260/06]

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 45 and 222 together.

Ireland is currently contributing 826 Defence Forces personnel to 19 different missions throughout the world. Full details of all personnel currently serving overseas on UN mandated operations, observer missions or undertaking representative or staff postings are listed in the following tabular statement.

The main overseas commitments are to the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, with 320 personnel; the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, led international security presence, Kosovo Force, KFOR, with 211 personnel; the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 164 personnel; and to the EU led operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, EUFOR, with 59 personnel. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with the United Nations, UN, the European Union, EU, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE. Staff are also deployed at the organisational headquarters of the UN, EU, OSCE and NATO.

A contingent of the Permanent Defence Force was deployed for service with UNMIL in December 2003, comprising a motorised infantry battalion of 430 personnel. The main Irish contingent operates as the force commander's rapid reaction reserve. The role of the Irish personnel is the provision of an immediate response capability, deployable in sufficient strength and with the required level of force, to provide a swift and decisive military reaction in any crisis situation. The contingent undertakes regular daily patrols within Monrovia and is available to the force commander to provide support in the event of a breakdown of law and order or further conflict. Ireland will complete its participation in UNMIL in May 2007 and the 96th Infantry Battalion, which is currently being deployed to UNMIL, will be the final Defence Forces deployment to the mission.

KFOR was established in June 1999 to support the maintenance of civil law and order within Kosovo so as to develop a climate of safety and security, which will enable the transfer of increased responsibility to the civil authorities. Ireland has participated in KFOR since August 1999. The Irish contingent currently comprises an APC mounted infantry group of 211 personnel, including a number of personnel in staff posts at various KFOR headquarters. Having regard to the fragility of the peace in Kosovo and subject to ongoing assessments of the position on the ground, Ireland has decided to maintain a continued presence in KFOR in 2006-07. Ireland will take on the role of framework nation for the multinational task force in which it participates in August 2006 for a period of 12 months.

Operation Althea, EUFOR, is an EU military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ireland has participated in SFOR since 1997 and has 59 troops stationed in the region as part of an Austrian-led multinational task force. We provide personnel for the headquarters, military police unit, verification teams and a national support element. Ireland currently acts as the framework nation for the military police platoon. Discussions on down-sizing this mission, which is expected to commence early next year, are ongoing at EU level. I have discussed the position in Lebanon.

Members of the Permanent Defence Force serving Overseas as of 10 November 2006
1. UN Missions
(i)UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) HQ6
UNIFIL 34th Inf. Group158
(ii)UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) — Israel, Syria and Lebanon 13
(iii)MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) 3
(iv)UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) 4
(v)MONUC (United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo) 3
(vi)UNOCI (United Nations Mission in Ivory Coast)2
(vii)UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) FHQ 4
UNMIL 95th Inf Bn 316
TOTAL 509
UN Mandated Missions
(viii)EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina) 59
(ix)KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) 211
(x)ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) 7
Total number of personnel serving with UN missions 786
2. EU Missions
(i)European Union Monitor Mission (EUMM) to the former Yugoslavia 6
(ii)EU support to UN authorised African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) 3
(iii)ACEH Monitoring Mission (AMM) 1
(iv)EUFOR RD Congo (support mission to MONUC) 7
TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING WITH EU MISSIONS 17
3. Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
(i)OSCE Mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina 1
(ii)OSCE Mission in Montenegro 1
(iii)OSCE Presence in Albania 2
(iv)OSCE Mission in FRY 2
(v)Staff Officer, Higher Level Planning Group, Vienna 1
Total number of personnel serving OSCE7
4. Head of Military Staff (Brussels) 1
5. EU Military Staff (Brussels/Mons) 5
6. EU Military Staff (New York)1
7. Liaison Office of Ireland, PfP (Brussels)
8. Permanent Representative to EU (Brussels) 3
9. Military Representatives/Advisers
(i)Military Adviser, Permanent Mission to UN, New York 1
(ii)Military Adviser, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna 1
(iii)Military Representative to Partnership Co-ordination Cell/Supreme 1
Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Mons, Belgium
10. Appointments — UN HQ (New York)
Officers seconded to DPKO (Department of Peace Keeping Operations) 1
TOTAL NUMBER DEFENCE FORCES PERSONNEL SERVING OVERSEAS826

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Minister provide a breakdown of the total number of officers and other ranks serving overseas? Deputies discussed threat assessment, injuries and so forth in response to one of my previous questions. Will the Minister indicate the number of personnel serving overseas in support services, specifically the medical corps? Will he also provide a breakdown according to profession? How many doctors, dentists, paramedics and other support personnel are serving overseas? Are difficulties being experienced in recruiting any of these personnel, particularly in dentistry?

This week, I read with interest a report in one of the newspapers that Sweden, the framework nation in the Nordic battle group, has reservations about Ireland's requirement to secure triple lock approval. Did the Minister see the report and will he comment on it? Will he also comment on Ireland's proposed role as the framework nation in KFOR?

The Minister may also wish to comment on calls made for him to sign up. I do not refer to signing up in the Defence Forces but in response to his excellent presentation on——

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Is it to sign the new book in Limerick?

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I understand that following his appearance on "The Late Late Show" news networks from around the world want the Minister——

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Seán South of Garryowen.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Maybe the Minister will give us a verse.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The matter does not arise on these questions.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate the Minister on his performance.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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Ireland currently has 826 troops serving overseas. This figure consists of 168 officers and 658 non-officers. I understand five doctors are currently deployed overseas. While I do not have figures on the number of dentists, I understand none is serving overseas. The answer to the Deputy's question on whether we are having difficulty recruiting a sufficient number of doctors is an unequivocal "Yes". I will deal with this matter in some detail in a later question.

On Sweden's reported reservations about Ireland's triple lock requirement, I read the report and do not agree with it. I have not received queries from Sweden in this regard and, in any case, they would not matter because we must operate the triple lock mechanism under the law which states we cannot deploy personnel abroad without it.

On acting as framework nation in Kosovo from August 2007, this new responsibility will contribute significantly to the development of the Defence Forces, improving their capability and heightening their profile as a professional, well organised force in the international peacekeeping community. This is the reason Ireland will assume the role, which will require the deployment of an additional 50 to 60 personnel for a short period.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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With regard to the memorandum of understanding between the members of the Nordic battle group, is it not the case that it does not include a reference to Ireland's requirement for a triple lock or UN mandate? Will the Minister lodge a copy of this document in the Oireachtas Library? Will he arrange for a discussion on it given that it has far-reaching consequences?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I have consulted my officials about making the document available and will be pleased to do so if there are no barriers to publication. A memorandum of understanding would not usually refer to the requirements of contributing members. It simply outlines details of how the various contingents will operate together, who will perform what function etc. It is not supposed to refer to the legal, political or other requirements for participation. Sweden is the framework nation of the Nordic battle group and the Swedish Government has known throughout the process that Ireland has a triple lock requirement. I have advised it of this matter and it accepts that the law here states that troops cannot be deployed on a UN peacekeeping mission without each of the three requirements of the triple lock mechanism being met.

The Nordic battle group will be on stand-by for the first six months of 2008. If the European Union were to decide in February or March 2008 to deploy the Nordic battle group, in which we have an explosives contingent consisting of 80 to 100 troops, the legal position would be that Ireland would not be able to deploy troops if each of the three triple lock requirements were not met. That position will continue.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Minister referred to difficulties experienced in filling positions for overseas appointments. Does he agree that the problem would be alleviated if the Reserve Defence Force were allowed to serve overseas? Will he indicate when they will be permitted to serve abroad?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I agree that if the reserve Defence Forces, particularly doctors, engineers and other professionals, were to serve overseas, it would significantly alleviate the problem. Various difficulties are encountered in trying to get release from employment and these require deals to be done with IBEC etc. The target set down in the White Paper was to have reserve Defence Forces serving overseas by the end of 2009 when the period covered by the White Paper was coming to an end. We are still on target to achieve this goal.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I share Deputy Callely's view on the Minister's performance. As I told him the other day, he is being talked about positively in Tallaght. He is better known in Tallaght than one of Deputy Timmins's colleagues.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Is he better known than the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow Deputy O'Connor to ask a question.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy O'Connor looks after internal matters.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We have discussed at length the contingents that have served abroad. Constituents of mine have pointed out that when Irish troops serve abroad they get involved in charity and community works. Does this impact on the Minister's office? Can he provide assistance in this regard?

During the week, I was asked by someone from Templeogue to explain the reason the Department and Defence Forces do not use the expertise of those who have served abroad. The first contingent of troops went to Lebanon in 1978. This former soldier asked me why the expertise that is still available is not being used by the Army to assist those going abroad on these dangerous missions.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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The expertise is available. Of the 826 personnel abroad currently, two thirds have been abroad previously, a considerable reserve of expertise. I cannot remember the Deputy's first question.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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When is the UN contingent being dispatched to Tallaght?

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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We want to know about the decommissioned bus.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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It was a serious question. I am told by Army personnel who have been abroad that they are interested in getting involved in charitable and community work when they arrive. Are there any plans to assist those who wish to do this?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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They become involved with community and charitable work with local groups and people. There have been instances in Kosovo and Monrovia where that happened and we give the Army every encouragement to continue with such work. That is why the Army has such a great reputation in international peacekeeping circles.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Will the Minister give the numbers of men and women who are serving abroad on the various UN missions? Are the command areas evenly distributed? Is there an overlap? If someone goes to Kosovo, can he then go to Liberia on a further mission?

What about the countries operating battle groups? The memorandum of understanding does not include any specific references to the triple lock. Would it be useful to review the situation so the memorandum includes a statement on our legislative requirements before deployment abroad on a mission? Instead of advising Sweden and Finland on a personal basis, there should be a formal arrangement in the memorandum in writing.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am alarmed about the level of medical support for the large number of troops serving overseas. There are five doctors but not a single dentist. What arrangements exist for those who require dental treatment while overseas? The Minister did not answer the question about paramedics involved in overseas missions. I could make some positive suggestions on incentives we could put in place to encourage the medical professions, doctors and dentists, to participate in our overseas missions.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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The breakdown between men and women reflects the general numbers of women in the Army.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Around 5%.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, it is in that order but I will get exact figures for the Deputy. There is no barrier to prevent a person who goes to Liberia from then going to Lebanon or Kosovo. There is an overlap.

I see no reason why the memorandum of understanding should require a reference to the triple lock because the triple lock is the law and that takes precedence over any memorandum.

I am sorry we did not get on to Deputy Crowe's question about sick leave but we are now providing incentives to recruit more doctors and dentists into the Army to provide frontline services. We are also providing for more tracking of people who have received treatment through computerisation, even when we must bring in civilian doctors to treat them.

On dentistry, Lebanon, for example, is a joint Irish-Finnish operation so there are medics from both countries.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Dentistry would be cheaper in Finland.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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There are facilities for all medical and dental ailments and the same applies in all overseas missions, the expertise is available. If Deputy Callely has any other incentives we could offer to recruit doctors and dentists, because we badly need to do this to provide frontline services instead of bringing GPs in from outside, I would be delighted to hear them.