Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Priority Questions

Overseas Missions.

2:00 pm

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Question 2: To ask the Minister for Defence the role the operations commander of the proposed EU military operation in the Republic of Chad and the Central African Republic will have in the matter of the protection of civilians, particularly refugees in regard to human trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27834/07]

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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On 25 September 2007, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1778 establishing a multidimensional UN mission in Chad and in the Central African Republic, CAR, that will help strengthen security in the region.

Resolution 1778 (2007) decided that the multidimensional presence would consist of (i) a new United Nations mission in Chad and in the Central African Republic, to be known as MINURCAT, with a mandate focusing on the security and protection of civilians, particularly refugees, internally displaced persons, IDPs, and civilians in danger, and on human rights and the rule of law in eastern Chad and north-eastern CAR and (ii) troops deployed by the European Union with a robust authorisation to protect and support it. In its decision of 15 October 2007, the Council of the European Union agreed a joint action to launch the ESDP mission in support of the UN operation in Chad and in the Central African Republic.

More than 170,000 displaced Chadians and 236,000 Sudanese refugees live in camps in eastern Chad. These people have fled from Janjaweed attacks, widespread banditry and criminality and clashes between rebel and Government forces on both sides of the porous Chad-Sudan border. I visited Darfur in 2004 and saw for myself the great suffering being endured by the many Sudanese people in the Darfur region.

The operation on which the EU is engaged is designed to provide for the creation of a safe and secure area for refugees and internally displaced persons and to allow for the distribution of humanitarian aid. The nature of the operation is fully in accordance with Ireland's traditional policy of support for and participation in peace support operations, our close engagement in Africa and our support for the United Nations, which has authorised the proposed deployment of the peacekeeping troops.

The UN element of this operation is targeted primarily at supporting the civil administration in Chad and the Central African Republic to protect refugees and camps with the support of a UN police element and liaison officers.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Ireland was asked to provide the operational commander for the EU mission. In its decisions of 2 October 2007 and 23 October 2007, the Government decided to deploy Lieutenant General Pat Nash as operational headquarters commander of the EU force on this mission, together with up to 11 additional personnel to the headquarters of the operation. Dáil Éireann approved the deployment of Lieutenant General Nash and his personal support staff on 9 October 2007. The operational commander has been appointed by the European Union in the joint action and is responsible for the planning and, when directed, execution of the mission.

Lieutenant General Nash took up his appointment last month and is based at the operation headquarters in Mont Valérien, Paris. He has assumed immediate leadership in the planning and launch of the operation. The role of the operation commander is to manage and co-ordinate the overall military operation and to provide the military link between the operation and MINURCAT, the EU and the UN. The EU is planning to launch this operation as a matter of urgency. The intention is to have an initial operational capability on the ground next month with the operation fully functional in January-February 2008.

The mission of the EUFOR TCHAD-RCA is to contribute to establishing a safe and secure environment in the area of operation, in order to protect civilians in danger, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel through improved security, protect UN and associated personnel and encourage the return of internally displaced persons.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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The Minister of State has exceeded his time allowed of two minutes. The remainder of the reply will be put into the record of the House.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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The Ceann Comhairle is much more flexible.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Six minutes is allowed for each Priority Question. The Minister has two initial minutes and there are four minutes allowed for all the supplementary questions.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The fact that he has been to Darfur gives him a particular insight into this area.

The reason for my question is the recent reports of attempts being made to take 103 African children, so-called orphans, out of Chad, to be either fostered or perhaps adopted. It is a cause for concern that these children referred to belonging to a family. A total of 91 children referred to at least one parent in the family. The group consisted of 21 girls and 81 boys between the ages of one and ten. When the situation of child sex abuse and paedophilia is taken into account, this must be a matter of great concern.

I presume the Minister of State will reassure the House that with the Irish involvement in MINURCAT and the fact that the commanding officer is Irish, this area will be given a strong focus.

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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I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I can answer with a definite yes. We are all honoured that the operational commander is Lieutenant General Pat Nash, who is known to many of us in the House. He is an excellent Army officer.

I concur completely with the Deputy that the issue of trafficking of young people is regarded by the Government as one of paramount importance.

With regard to the MINURCAT mission and as I saw on my recent visit to Kosova, Ireland has an excellent record in working with communities and building trust. On the specific issue of the children, dealing with criminality and trafficking is primarily the responsibility of the Chadean Government. However, the EU operation in Chad and in CAR is designed to provide for the creation of safe and secure areas for refugees and internally displaced persons and to allow for the distribution of humanitarian aid. Implicit in this role for the EU mission within its area of operation and its mandate will be to intervene if such issues come to its attention. In the event of Ireland becoming involved, which I hope will be the case, we will need to note these concerns.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Is this one of the issues to be addressed by the reconnaissance mission? Will there be a report on this matter? Will any information about serious issues be made available to the House before a final commitment of participation in MINURCAT is made?

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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This will definitely be the case. We will be dealing with this issue in another question. I will be happy to deal with all issues relating to Chad. The reconnaissance mission is taking place and it will make a report. The Government is required to seek the approval of the Dáil for participation in this mission. I hope this will be the case but much work remains to be done. This could not be described as a safe mission and there are many issues to be considered by the reconnaissance mission. The House will be fully informed before its ultimate decision.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Question 3: To ask the Minister for Defence the projected cost of the Irish participation in the forthcoming EU mission to Chad and in particular the projected cost of the air transport element of the mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27976/07]

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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I have already provided the background information on this mission in my response to Question No. 2.

As the planning for the mission is currently ongoing, I am not in a position at this stage to provide detailed projected costs of possible Defence Forces participation in the EU operation. However, I can confirm that the costs will be significant. Given the isolation of the mission area and difficulty with the land routes — CHAD is landlocked and nearly 2,000 km from the nearest port facility — the deployment and sustainment of the operation will have to be mainly by air. In addition, the provision of suitably equipped sites, provision of airstrip etc., will be required. More information on the associated costs of participation in the mission will be available when the report of the reconnaissance mission is provided to the Minister for Defence. The Government will be advised accordingly when the formal decision on participation in the force is presented for consideration.

The financing of the operation will be dealt with in the context of the Estimates process, which is ongoing. All EU member states, irrespective of participation, will contribute to the common costs of the operation, unless they specifically opt out of doing so at Council. Common costs are payable, in accordance with EU Council Decision of 17 June 2002, through the ATHENA mechanism, which is responsible at EU level for the collection of member states contributions and disbursement of monies received in respect of operational common costs. Each troop contributing nation also meets its own nation borne costs while direct operational costs for members contributing personnel are met on a "costs lie where they fall" basis.

In the event that it is ultimately decided to participate with 350 to 400 troops in the mission, the combination of common costs and nation borne costs may make this the most expensive mission ever undertaken by the Defence Forces. I mentioned that earlier.

The Minister expects to bring proposals to Government shortly and, subject to the approval of the Government, to put the matter before Dáil Éireann before the end of November. Obviously, any decision to participate will be subject to the approval of Dáil Éireann in accordance with the Defence Acts.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I understand it is expected that the mission will cost approximately €60 million. Will the Minister of State confirm that this €60 million will not be taken out of mainstream funding for the Defence Forces? At present, there is major pressure on different elements of the Defence Forces for ongoing funding. Certainly the Defence Forces are not robust enough to make €60 million available at this time. Will the Minister of State confirm that provision will be made in the Estimates?

I asked also about the transport element of the mission to which the Minister of State did not refer in his response. Has any costing been made of the transport element of the particular mission? May I ask a question I put to the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, four or five weeks ago? Is it time to consider purchasing our own aircraft in order that we can have our own air transport capability? If this is not possible within the Defence budget perhaps we could look at our overseas aid budget so that it could be used by the Department of Defence, operated by the Air Corps, and for humanitarian purposes also. Will the Minister of State agree that our transport capability would help considerably in humanitarian cases of moving Irish aid?

The two questions are as follows. Will provision for the mission be made in the Estimates? Given the cost of leasing aircraft, would it be a good idea to consider purchasing our own aircraft?

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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I will take the questions in reverse order. On the issue of the aircraft, I understand that as part of the background planning for potential participation in the mission the Defence Forces are examining a range of strategic lift options for the deployment of Defence Forces personnel and their sustainment in the region. It is difficult terrain, as the Deputy will appreciate. The Defence Forces have standby arrangements in place in this regard, mainly involving commercial suppliers. Obviously discussions are ongoing with our EU partners. There are no plans to acquire large long-range transport aircraft for the Defence Forces. The costs involved, relative to the expected level of utilisation, would not justify the procurement of such an aircraft. That is the position of the Government on that matter. It will be expensive.

On the matter of costs, this whole issue is being dealt with as part of the Estimates process. The report of the reconnaissance mission and more information on equipment requirements, logistical support and transport costs is expected to be provided for the Minister for Defence in the coming weeks. The Government will be advised accordingly when the formal decision on participation in the force is presented for consideration later this month. The specific answer to the Deputy's question is that we do not have a figure for costs. We are still awaiting the evaluation. The House will be told about this specifically and will then decide on it — I hope we do. When going in there we will ensure the troops are well equipped and that every possible care and attention is taken with regard to their safety.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister of State examine the feasibility of having our own transport capability? While he said it would not be economical to have our own transport capability, I understand the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas aid, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is receptive to this idea. Certainly senior members in the Army are receptive to the idea of small transport planes that could be used for military and humanitarian purposes. Apparently there is a very strong case for that capability. Will the Minister of State ask the Minister to look at the issue seriously?

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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I will respond clearly as I would to any suggestion made in the House. I visited about 23 countries in Africa as Minister for overseas development on two occasions and my experience is that the Department of Foreign Affairs has used small aircraft in different situations in supporting the NGO effort. On the Defence side there are other supports through the UN. In Liberia I used some of the helicopters which were being used by the UN there. Of course I will be glad to pursue the suggestion the Deputy made. My gut feeling is that in analysing the costs it is better to use whatever commercial aircraft we can. We have a particular contribution to make with regard to our personnel. I have seen it in many places, such as Liberia and Kosovo. I have no doubt the same will happen here. We have to concentrate on what we are good at. Should we get a large aircraft? Is it cost effective? My feeling is that it would not be, but we can certainly make contributions elsewhere. The Deputy asked me to re-examine the matter and I will be happy to do that. This issue has been raised with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development.