Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 April 2008

2:00 pm

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for Defence if he will report in regard to the Irish contingent to Chad. [13551/08]

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for Defence the proposed timetable for the deployment of the remainder of the Irish contingent with the UN mission to Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13557/08]

Photo of Jack WallJack Wall (Kildare South, Labour)
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Question 11: To ask the Minister for Defence the progress made with regard to logistical backup for Irish troops that will be serving with the UN mission to Chad. [13556/08]

Photo of Olwyn EnrightOlwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Question 14: To ask the Minister for Defence if, in view of the high cost of flights from Chad to Ireland, he will provide subsidised leave flights to Ireland, such as were provided for troops when deployed to Liberia, or affordable alternatives, for those members of the Defence Forces serving in Chad who are authorised to take leave during their deployment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13508/08]

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
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Question 23: To ask the Minister for Defence the timetable for the deployment of the remaining troops to Chad; the arrangements in place to transport these troops to their area of operation in Chad; the duties they will undertake while there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13572/08]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 25: To ask the Minister for Defence if he is satisfied that the deployment of Irish troops to Chad is in accordance with expectations with particular reference to adequacy of numbers, communications, supply and transport and medical; if he expects the position to remain so for the duration of the deployment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13577/08]

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Question 35: To ask the Minister for Defence the position on the deployment of Defence Forces personnel to the UN mandated mission to Chad; the number of troops already deployed; the amount of equipment already sent; when it is expected to have all troops deployed to the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13496/08]

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
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Question 46: To ask the Minister for Defence the discussions he has had with General Nash on the safety of Irish troops in Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10348/08]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 157: To ask the Minister for Defence if he is satisfied that the Irish troop deployments to Chad are adequately equipped and provided for in every respect including supplies, transport and communications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13772/08]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 161: To ask the Minister for Defence if he is satisfied that adequate preparation and training have been made available to the Defence Forces in respect of all overseas deployments including Chad and other locations yet to be considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13776/08]

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 propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 9, 11, 14, 23, 25, 35, 46, 157 and 161 together.

The European Union military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, EUFOR TCHAD/RCA, established under the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1778, was formally launched by the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 28 January 2008. Ireland will be the second largest contributor to the mission with 450 personnel. The aim of the mission is to protect civilians in danger, particularly refugees and internally displaced persons, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and protect UN personnel.

The mandate for this mission is robust and will be conducted under Chapter VII of the UN charter, allowing the use of all necessary force to ensure the success of the mission. The EU force is authorised to support the UN and to take all necessary measures within its capabilities and its area of operation to fulfil its functions. EUFOR is committed to conducting its operations in a neutral and impartial manner.

A total of 83 Defence Forces personnel are currently serving with EUFOR — 18 at the operational headquarters in Paris and 65 in Chad. A ship containing all the heavy equipment of the Irish battalion, which departed Dublin on 26 March 2008, is scheduled to arrive in Douala port, Cameroon, on 12 April 2008. To date, approximately 4,000 tonnes of stores and wheeled units have been consigned to Chad.

A team of 23 Irish personnel have deployed from Ireland to Douala port to receive the ship on its arrival. This team will organise the movement forward, by road, rail and air, of the Defence Forces cargo to the headquarters of the Irish battalion at Goz Beida in eastern Chad, a distance of some 2,700 km.

The advance group of the 97th infantry battalion, comprising 177 personnel, will fly to N'Djamena at the end of April 2008. Planning is ongoing at operational headquarters in Paris regarding the onward movement of these personnel to Goz Beida. The advance group's primary mission is to construct the Irish camp in Goz Beida. The main body of the 97th infantry battalion is scheduled to arrive in Chad towards the end of May. The Netherlands will deploy a contingent of 60 personnel with EUFOR, which will be fully integrated into the Irish battalion.

The 97th infantry battalion will contribute to establishing a safe and secure environment in their area of operation, in order to contribute to protection of civilians in danger, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel through improved security, protection of United Nations and associated personnel and encouraging the voluntary return of internally displaced persons, especially in the Dar Sila region.

The issue of the provision of subsidised leave flights to Ireland does not arise in the context of the EUFOR TCHAD/RCA mission as personnel will be on a four month tour of duty and will not be availing of mission leave.

Because of the nature of the operation and the mission area and environment, force protection will be a key consideration. The Defence Forces will deploy a full range of force protection assets including armoured personnel carriers. The military authorities have indicated that, while the level of risk is consistent with any operational deployment into a troubled African state, it is one that the Defence Forces has the capability to manage.

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.

There are no concerns about the supply of water available in Chad to meet the needs of the Irish contingent. The Defence Forces have advised that two wells have been drilled on the site of the Irish camp in Goz Beida and will be more then adequate to provide a water supply to the Irish contingent and associated personnel when fully operational. These wells can produce 3.2 cu. m of water per hour. The water will be treated by the Defence Forces water purification system which was used in the UNMIL deployment in Liberia and proved highly successful. As a contingency a continuous supply of first quality bottled water has been sourced and is already being positioned for the arrival into theatre of the advance and main body personnel. This supply will be used during the initial part of the camp build until engineer assets bring water on line. Thereafter a strategic stock of bottled water will be maintained in the Irish camp for any unforeseen contingency.

In the mission area each battalion will provide a role 1 medical facility at the battalion headquarters, which is Goz Beida in the case of the Irish battalion. Three role 2 facilities are available N'Djamena, Abeche and Birao in the Central African Republic.

The Minister for Defence visited the mission's operation headquarters in Paris and met with the operation commander, Lt General Pat Nash. He briefed the Minister on the current situation and the plans for recommencement of deployment of EUFOR troops to the mission area. The Minister for Defence also had informal discussions with Lt General Nash on his most recent visit to Dublin. Lt General Nash informed him that on the basis of the threat assessment undertaken, the size and composition of the force was based on a number of principles, namely, force protection, communications, mobility and fire power. Consequently he is confident that the force is adequate to carry out this mission.

The Defence Forces have deployed a suite of secure, robust, state-of-the-art tactical communications systems to the EUFOR mission. These systems have been deployed in appropriate quantities to support the effective conduct of operations. Regarding communications between Chad and Ireland, the Defence Forces' communications and information services corps is providing satellite communications and high frequency radio, e-mail and telephone access to the Defence Forces' networked management and administration information systems. All personnel will be provided with the facilities to make telephone calls to family and friends and will have access to the Internet.

In early February and on 1 April, fighting took place between Chadian forces and rebels, but EUFOR personnel were not involved. The Defence Forces have advised that the situation in the Republic of Chad is calm. Key enablers, particularly tactical and medevac helicopters and medical facilities, are in place, thus allowing the mission to proceed. The required logistical planning and preparation for the support and sustaining of Irish troops has been completed. Being satisfied that the capabilities required to support EUFOR's main force deployment had been established, Lieutenant General Nash, EUFOR operation commander, declared that the mission had achieved initial operational capability on 15 March 2008. This marked the start date of the 12-month duration of the operation as set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1778 of 2007.

When the full EU force is deployed, it will comprise 3,700 personnel. A total of 1,800 EUFOR personnel are already deployed in Chad, affording the operation commander and his staff the opportunity to plan for the follow-on deployment of three multinational battalions, including the Irish battalion. The mission is planned to reach full operational capability by mid to late May 2008.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. Will he update the House on the incident at Tissi, where there was an incursion into Sudanese territory by two French soldiers? There was one fatality while the remaining soldier was injured. It is disconcerting that, in border areas, maps are imprecise and there is no clear demarcation of borders. Will the preparations address this situation? Will there be precise maps and the clear demarcation of borders? The incident was unfortunate and it was obviously accidental that the troops crossed the border. While securing the border is not part of the mission, a danger exists and I would like the Minister of State's assurance that this issue is being attended to.

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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If the House will allow, I will revert to the Deputy with some details on that incident. As he is aware, the troops are present to protect the displaced people and refugees and must be careful not to become directly involved in issues that are the responsibility of the Chadian Government. EUFOR needed to ensure it did not become involved in the fighting in early April between the Chadian Government and the rebels, as it has no role in the protection of Chad's sovereign territory, as the Deputy stated. Incursions by rebel forces are a matter for the Chadian authorities and do not fall within the remit of the EU mission. Regarding the specifics of the incident in question, I will happily revert to the Deputy directly to ensure he has all of the information he requires.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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On Question No. 14 and the issue of subsidised leave flights to Ireland, I understand that personnel who will not be on the mission in Chad will be in its headquarters for six months. It is to them I refer. Provision was made for such personnel in Liberia. The figure I have been given for the cost of a flight from Chad is approximately €1,800. There may be alternatives. Resupply flights for the mission will be made and it should be possible to subsidise flights. After six months of 24-7 operations, the personnel would be strained. During the six-month period, they may want to return for some weekends or so on.

Recently, Members of the European Parliament visited Chad. It is of concern that, irrespective of whether we accept or admit it, there is confusion between the French force on the ground and the French forces that will be members of the EU force. The MEPs' report to the European Parliament will state as much.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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That is correct.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Deputy O'Shea referred to demarcation lines between the countries, but it is also important to have a clear demarcation between EUFOR and the historical French presence in Chad, which is supportive of President Déby, who is unpopular among many people. If there is any escalation in violence, we could be caught in the middle. It is important to avoid such a situation.

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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Regarding subsidised leave flights, particular arrangements were made in the context of Liberia because its members had a six-month tour of duty, whereas personnel on the Chadian mission will serve four-month tours of duty. As the Deputy stated, they will not be availing of——

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Some will be in the headquarters.

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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Yes. I will happily check the position concerning anyone who will be present for six months.

In my response to a priority question, I stated my agreement with the Deputies concerning the importance of identifying the distinct nature of the Irish contingent. We are being deployed in Goz Beida in eastern Chad and French forces are being deployed in a sector south of us encompassing the north east of the Central African Republic. In addition, a French battalion will be based in Abeche. Poland will provide the main contingent in Iriba, north of the Irish sector. From day one, we will identify ourselves by means of the Irish flag on vehicles and the use of emblems. Importantly, we will communicate with the local community via radio, leaflets, etc. This practice was followed previously and must be followed in this region. The information to date tells of a good response. We must work hard on this matter. I accept Deputies' comments and appreciate their opinions.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I wish to ask a number of questions in respect of Question No. 7 on the mission to Chad. Since there is confusion about whether this is a UN or European mission, it is important that the Minister of State clarifies the situation for the public.

Will the Minister of State revisit the EU term "battle groups"? The Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, shares my concern in this regard. The name may be changed at Government level.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That goes beyond the scope of the questions.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I will revert to the specifics of the question. Will the Minister of State guarantee, in so far as he can, that our troops will have enough equipment and proper clothing to ensure their safety is given the maximum priority? A number of families are concerned about this situation. I have a vested interest, as my nephew is being deployed to Chad.

The Minister of State mentioned "a neutral and impartial manner", which is how we want the mission to be implemented.

I have concerns regarding the role of the French and the Minister of State should respond.

I ask the Minister of State to ensure that our troops are given maximum support in respect of safety issues.

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 am happy to state the EUFOR mission to Chad is the most multinational military operation conducted in Africa by the European Union thus far. As the Deputy is aware, at least 17 EU member states will deploy, including France, Ireland, Poland, Sweden, Romania, Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Greece. France and Ireland will be the largest and second largest contributors with 1,300 and 430 personnel, respectively. On full deployment, the EU force will comprise 3,700 personnel. On 25 September last the UN Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution to establish a multidimensional UN mission in Chad. The multidimensional presence will comprise a United Nations mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, to be known as MINURCAT, which will focus on the security and protection of civilians. The important point is that this deployment is UN-driven, as well as having strong EU involvement, which is to be welcomed.

I, like other Members, had some concerns regarding the term "battle groups", which is somewhat off the beaten track. While I share the Deputy's viewpoint, we are stuck with the term. As the Deputy is aware, it does not describe the operation's purpose.

As for equipment and reassurances, I will reiterate what has been stated previously in this House. We are there to help humanitarian causes in the neutral capacity alluded to by the Deputy. The force may operate under Chapter VII, if required, and is fully resourced. The Government has confidence in the force's military leadership. Lieutenant General Pat Nash is involved at the highest level. It is also clear the Irish will have control over their own area of operation. While there will be French leadership at battalion level, the second in command will be Irish. Consequently, there will be Irish involvement throughout the chains of command. I held discussions with Lieutenant General Pat Nash when I attended an informal meeting of defence ministers in Slovenia. As an Irish Minister, I was proud to be there as he gave a good account of what everyone was doing. He kept everyone, both the Irish Government and our European colleagues, abreast of developments.

This is the present position. I have confidence in what has been done thus far. We are in a better position today than was the case last time this matter was discussed by the House. The Government will keep Deputies fully informed in this House.