Dáil debates

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 53: To ask the Minister for Defence the number in the proposed deployment of Irish troops overseas on EU or UN missions; the extent of training and the availability of military hardware prior to the commencement of such missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34376/07]

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick West, Fianna Fail)
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Question 63: To ask the Minister for Defence when he expects members of the Defence Forces to deploy to Chad; the safeguards and procedures in place to ensure their safety while serving there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34021/07]

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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Question 71: To ask the Minister for Defence if all the security of supplies for Irish troops in the proposed mission to Chad have been addressed; if he has satisfied himself that appropriate supply lines will be in place to ensure the contingent will be able to access safe water, fuel and other crucial supplies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34149/07]

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Question 74: To ask the Minister for Defence the arrangements that will be put in place to provide medical services for the contingent of Irish troops due to go to Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34151/07]

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 76: To ask the Minister for Defence the expected date for the commencement of the Chad mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34428/07]

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Question 85: To ask the Minister for Defence the situation regarding the deployment of members of the Defence Forces as part of EUFORT Chad/RCA; the contacts he has had with his EU counterparts and the operation commander to ensure the necessary equipment and supports are in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34032/07]

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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Question 88: To ask the Minister for Defence if the budget for the Defence Forces will be adequate to fund the proposed Irish contingent for Chad, without resulting in cutbacks in other areas; the estimated cost of the mission; if additional funding has been sought from the Department of Finance for this purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34150/07]

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Question 90: To ask the Minister for Defence if he has received a full report on the loss of human life in the battles at Abongouleigne, eastern Chad on 26 November 2007; the implications for the planned Irish contingent in Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34164/07]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 92: To ask the Minister for Defence the position in regard to the proposed deployment of Irish troops to Chad; the expected strength and composition; the availability of adequate supply and transport facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34375/07]

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Question 93: To ask the Minister for Defence if it has been confirmed that the EU Mission to Chad will have EU standard medical support as sought by PDFORRA at its recent annual conference. [34423/07]

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Question 102: To ask the Minister for Defence if he will provide a breakdown of the €57 million required for the Army's humanitarian mission to Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34165/07]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 168: To ask the Minister for Defence when he expects the deployment of Irish troops to Chad to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34598/07]

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. 53, 63, 71, 74, 76, 85, 88, 90, 92, 93, 102 and 168 together.

Currently, a total of 414 Defence Forces personnel are serving overseas, full details of which are listed in the accompanying statement which will be available to the House.

Ireland has offered, through the United Nations standby arrangements system, to provide up to 850 military personnel, configured as a light infantry battalion, for overseas service at any one time. This figure equates to some 10% of Ireland's standing Army, excluding reserves, and demonstrates Ireland's commitment to the cause of international peace. This is the maximum sustainable commitment that Ireland can make to overseas peacekeeping operations. There are no plans at this time to increase the level of our commitment to the United Nations standby arrangements system.

Ireland receives requests from time to time in relation to participation in various missions and these are considered on a case-by-case basis.

In response to a request from the EU, the Government, on 20 November 2007, authorised the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the UN mandated EU operation in the Republic of Chad and the Central African Republic. Dáil Éireann approved the necessary enabling motion on 28 November 2007.

It was initially expected that a Defence Forces initial entry force to the new EU mission in Chad, comprising an advance party of approximately 50 personnel of the Army ranger wing and support elements, would deploy to the mission area this month. The main contingent comprising some 400 personnel, which is currently undergoing selection and concentration prior to detailed mission-specific training, was expected to deploy in February or March 2008. However, the deployment of the initial entry force has been deferred until the new year as vital enabling elements, such as helicopters, tactical aircraft and medical support associated with the launch of the operation, are not yet in place. This deferral may have a knock-on effect for the deployment of the main body of the force.

I assure the House that there is no question of the Defence Forces deploying in theatre without the required enablers being in place. The shortfalls in vital key enablers for the mission are being actively examined and addressed by the operation commander in consultation with the European Union Military Committee. As I indicated to the House on 28 November 2007, I expressed my concerns about these shortfalls at a recent Defence Ministers' meeting in Brussels. I urged my EU ministerial colleagues to take another look at the shortfalls and actively to support the mission, thus ensuring it is adequately resourced and capable of fulfilling its mandate.

The current situation demands that all options should be explored in an effort to overcome the capability shortfalls for this mission. This must be done expeditiously to re-enforce the credibility of European security and defence policy, ESDP, as an EU instrument. To this end, I wrote to my EU Defence ministerial colleagues last week appealing to them to consider constructively how they might be able to contribute to the successful launch and operation of this mission without further delay.

I assure the House that our ability to protect the safety of our personnel is of paramount concern when considering any mission. While no absolute guarantees can be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions, it is the policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately trained and equipped to carry out their mission. Troops selected for overseas service undergo a rigorous programme of training designed to help them carry out their peacekeeping mission and to provide for their protection. Pre-deployment training is updated in the light of up-to-date threat assessments. Prior to deployment on missions, training packages, including realistic mission readiness exercises, are conducted and validated to ensure units are thoroughly prepared. Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment. This equipment enables troops to carry out the mission assigned, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission.

A detailed threat assessment and reconnaissance was conducted prior to a decision being taken to participate in the EU mission to Chad. This informed decisions regarding the configuration of the contingent and its armaments and protection. The Irish contingent to be deployed to the new mission will be based on a mechanised infantry battalion group comprising manoeuvre elements and combat support and combat service support elements. Given the nature of the operation and the mission area and environment, the Defence Forces will deploy Mowag APCs and close reconnaissance vehicles, which will provide armoured protection, mobility, firepower and a communications platform.

As regards the security of supplies for Irish troops to be deployed to the mission, the Defence Forces have developed a comprehensive plan of logistics support for the planned deployment. All aspects of the supply chain, including the security of supplies, have been evaluated in the context of the planned theatre of operations and remain a constant planning consideration by the military authorities. All life support issues have been investigated, estimated and planned for. An integrated plan for water, fuel and other commodities is being prepared.

Regarding medical services for the personnel to be deployed to the mission, health care will be provided to EU common standards of health and medical support. All medical units deployed as part of Irish contingents on overseas missions are designed by the director of the Army medical corps based on the requirements of the mission and having regard to the availability of services that may be available from partner nations and other nations contributing troops. The proposed Defence Forces initial entry force, to be deployed in early 2008, will include one medical officer and two medical orderlies. In addition, the Army ranger wing unit will include several qualified medical personnel to augment the medical capability.

The main Irish contingent, to be deployed to the mission area at a later stage, will include a medical unit comprising two medical officers, one dental officer, 11 medical orderlies and one dental surgery assistant. The proposed medical deployment outlined is subject to change depending on the final assessment of the operational environment in which the troops will operate.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

It is estimated that the cost to the Defence Vote arising from the Defence Forces participation in this mission for 12 months will be some €57 million, including Ireland's €1.3 million contribution to common costs. The figure also includes costs of deployment of personnel and equipment, rotation and re-supply flights, overseas allowances, ordnance, clothing and catering, purchase of military vehicles, medical costs, communications and information technology, barrack expenses and engineering equipment. Provision to meet the additional costs of the operation has been made in the Defence Vote in the Estimates for 2008.

The Defence Estimate includes additional funding of €37 million for the proposed mission to Chad, the bulk of which will be expended on transport costs. This additional funding will ensure our troops in Chad will have the best possible equipment and facilities in what will be a challenging environment. The ongoing investment in modern equipment and facilities for the Defence Forces will continue in 2008. The major programme to provide modern accommodation and facilities for the Defence Forces, which has been ongoing over recent years, will continue in 2008.

I am aware of reports of clashes that have erupted in eastern Chad since 24 November 2007. I am advised that despite claims by the Chadian army and the rebels, there is no reliable confirmation of casualties. In regard to the threat posed to Irish troops proposed to be deployed as part of the EU force, it is assessed by the military authorities that the recent violence is the result of all sides attempting to influence the situation on the ground prior to the EUFOR deployment. While at least one rebel group, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, has declared that it considers itself in a state of war against the French, or any foreign army on Chad's territory, it is thought unlikely it will attempt to engage with EUFOR troops.

I assure the House that ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas. We continually review both personal equipment and force assets to ensure Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles. I am satisfied that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving overseas.

Members of the Permanent Defence Force Serving Overseas as of 07 December 2007
Number
1. UN Missions
(i) UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) HQ 7
(ii) UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) — Israel, Syria and Lebanon 14
(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)1
(vii) UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) FHQ1
TOTAL33
UN Mandated Missions
(viii) EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina)41
(ix) EUFORTCHAD/RCA (EU-led Operation in CHAD and the Central African Republic) HQ17
(x) KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) Framework Nation57
KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) HQ11
KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) 37th Inf Group204
(xi) ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan)7
(xii) AMIS (EU support to UN authorised African Union Mission in Sudan)3
Total number of personnel serving with UN missions373
2. EU Missions
(i) European Union Monitor Mission (EUMM) to the former Yugoslavia5
TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING WITH EU MISSIONS5
3. Organisation for Security and Co-operationin Europe (OSCE)
(i) OSCE Mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina1
(ii) OSCE Mission in Montenegro1
(iii) OSCE Presence in Albania2
(iv) OSCE Mission in FRY2
(v) Staff Officer, Higher Level Planning Group, Vienna1
Total number of personnel serving OSCE7
4. EU Military Staff
Brussels7
New York1
5. HQ EU Nordic Battlegroup12
6. Military Representatives/Advisers/Staff
(i) Military Adviser, Permanent Mission to UN, New York1
(ii) Military Adviser, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna1
(iii) Military Representatives to EU (Brussels)4
(iv) Liaison Office of Ireland, NATO/PfP (Brussels) 2
(v) Military Representative to NATO/PfP Co-ordination Cell/Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Mons, Belgium 1
TOTAL NUMBER DEFENCE FORCES PERSONNEL SERVING OVERSEAS414

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Does he agree that in a deployment of this nature, given the vastness of the area concerned, it would be highly advisable to make available helicopters for the rapid transport of troops and equipment from one area to another? Does he also agree it is absolutely vital in such situations to have adequate communications equipment and adequate numbers deployed to ensure troops are not left isolated or vulnerable. Unfortunate incidents have occurred in the past. Events at Srebrenica, for example, represent a classic case of underdeployment leading to tragedy. Will the Minister confirm that the officer commanding the deployment will be absolutely satisfied in advance that adequate logistical support is in place in terms of the availability of military hardware of all types?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to assure Deputy Durkan on those points. I agree that adequate equipment is necessary. As the Deputy observed, the vastness of the area makes air transport necessary, as well as effective communications. Troops can be easily and quickly isolated in a place of this magnitude. It is a hostile environment. I assure the House that the force commander will not deploy unless he is satisfied beyond a shadow of a doubt that sufficient logistical supports are in place.

It is a judgment for the Irish military as to what equipment is supplied with the troops. We will supply a large quantity of Mowag APCs and heavy mobility lift vehicles. We will also supply a large amount of construction equipment because there will be extensive building work to be undertaken, including airports, roads and so on. A detailed specification is available for that. I am glad Deputy Durkan has afforded me the opportunity to assure the House on these matters.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick West, Fianna Fail)
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We are correct to highlight the dangers associated with the mission, but we must be mindful not to overstate them and so cause unnecessary stress to the troops who will serve and their families. What reassurance has the Minister received as to the safety of Irish troops who will take part in this mission? What level of pre-deployment training will they receive? Will the Minister indicate the criteria considered before deciding on deployment contingents of the Defence Forces for overseas missions? What are the criteria for selecting troops for such duties?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I assure Deputy Collins that military personnel have travelled to Chad on reconnaissance work. They have studied the environment to ascertain what is required in terms of equipment, transport and communications. These are people of the highest expertise who have organised previous foreign missions. They know what is required and will ensure it is supplied. One cannot offer absolute guarantees but we are extremely mindful of the safety of our troops. I assure the House that everything possible will be done on our side to ensure the troops are entirely safe. I can speak for Lieutenant General Nash in assuring Members that he will not deploy unless the logistical supports that it is incumbent on other EU countries to provide are put in place.

Troops will take part in an intensive period of some ten to 12 weeks' pre-deployment training. Many of these troops have previously served abroad in Liberia or Lebanon and know what is involved. When considering whether to accede to a request for a mission, one of the criteria is the current level of commitment. We have a top level of 850 personnel and that cannot be exceeded. We also consider how well the mission is financed, how it ties in with our foreign policy and whether it has a clear political objective. The main consideration, however, is the risk involved to our troops. That weighs very heavily when we are deciding whether to commit to a mission.

The criteria for selection of personnel would include factors such as seniority, family circumstances, experience abroad and reports from commanding officers. A particular expertise would give personnel an advantage also.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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One of the questions in the group referred to the €57 million cost of the mission and if it will be at the expense of any existing activities of the Army. There is an additional sum of €37 million but a €20 million in saving specified. Will the Minister assure us this is a saving that would otherwise be spent on people here rather than coming from cutbacks in other areas?

On the logistical plan, I understand there is only 400 km of roadway in Chad, and I foresee extreme difficulty in keeping lines open. I hope the Ranger wing will plan for a camp when they go to Chad in January but are we getting ahead of ourselves when we speak about being ready to go in when we do not have the experience on the ground of the Ranger wing and the professionals with them? Is there a possibility, in spite of the information held by the Minister, that the mission could be beyond the capability of the supports that may be in place?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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We got €37 million extra for the Chad mission and supplied €20 million from within our own resources. If there was no question of us going to Chad we would undoubtedly have found other ways to spend that €20 million. Perhaps we would have got €20 million less from the Department of Finance.

I reassure the Deputy that the amount of money we will spend in upgrading equipment this year, in excess of €30 million, and the amount of money we will spend to upgrade buildings such as barracks and accommodation, at approximately €43 million, will at least equal the figure from last year. It may even exceed that amount so there will be no shortfall in that regard.

There is always a possibility of what the Deputy suggested in his final point and we cannot be completely sure until personnel are in theatre. That is the reason I replied to Deputy Durkan earlier by stating we need good communications and air support to take people out of danger quickly if the need arises.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am anxious to allow questions from two more Deputies before the time concludes. I will allow questions from Deputies Deenihan and Barry Andrews.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I read that Lieutenant General Nash may retire in May. Will the Minister confirm he will be there for the duration of the mission? Is there a possibility the duration of the mission could be extended after a year if so demanded?

With regard to water supply, I received reports from people who served in Liberia that the water supplied there by the United Nations was totally inadequate. The Swedes had a different system and I understand the Irish military personnel took water from the Swedes. Although the tents used in Liberia were air-conditioned, they were still very uncomfortable. I know people who lost a stone and a half or two stone in weight while there because of the humidity. Being in theatre in the middle of Africa will be much more challenging than Liberia.

I understand the Swedes had a much more comfortable accommodation unit. Is there a chance the type of accommodation used by personnel will be reviewed? Surely we are not taking the same tents to Chad?

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The EU reform treaty referendum will come up next year and as a member of the Joint Committee on European Affairs I have discussed the importance of the EU having some kind of shot in the arm in terms of public relations. Is the Minister cognisant of the importance of this mission in that if it is successful and effective, those of us advocating the reform treaty can indicate it as an example of the EU being effective? God knows what happened in Rwanda did not reflect any glory on anybody in this part of the world. Does the Minister agree that the mission is important in that respect?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I will answer the specific points raised by Deputy Deenihan in the first instance. I assure the Deputy that although Lieutenant General Nash's formal retirement date is in May, he is to be appointed for the duration of Ireland's participation in the mission. The initial deployment is for a year but it may be extended. That will be a decision for Government when we come to the end of that year.

On the issue of tents and the conditions, I was in Liberia twice and I assure the Deputy it was pretty warm outside the tent, whatever about inside the tent. We have learned certain lessons. There is also provision for bottled water to back up the water supply and we are working on that issue.

In response to the comments of Deputy Barry Andrews, it will be devastating for the credibility of the EU if we cannot put the mission together. A couple of months ago at a defence ministers' meeting in Brussels we agreed to put in place a system whereby up to 90,000 troops can be deployed by the EU at three months notice with sufficient back-up. If, after three or four months, we cannot deploy 4,000 troops with sufficient back-up, I cannot see how we will be in a position to deploy 90,000 troops in two years. It will have a devastating effect on the credibility of the EU if we cannot quickly put the mission together.