Dáil debates

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

3:00 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick West, Fianna Fail)
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Question 74: To ask the Minister for Defence the number of Irish Troops currently serving on missions overseas; their location; when he plans to downsize the Defence Forces' participation in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1914/10]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 109: To ask the Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself that all overseas deployment of the Defence Forces under the aegis of the EU and UN is of sufficient strength to ensure its ability to deal with unforeseen events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2069/10]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 261: To ask the Minister for Defence the position regarding the various EU or UN overseas missions in which members of the Defence Forces are participating or intend to participate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2603/10]

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. 74, 109 and 261 together.

Ireland has offered, through the UN stand-by arrangements system, UNSAS, to provide up to 850 military personnel 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.

Ireland currently contributes 758 Defence Forces personnel to 11 different missions throughout the world. Full details of all personnel currently serving overseas are listed in the following tabular statement. The main overseas missions, in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed, are the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, MINURCAT, with 419 personnel, the NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo with 236 personnel and the EU-led operation, ALTHEA, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with 44 personnel. Other personnel serve as monitors and observers with the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE. Staff are also deployed at the organisational headquarters of the EU, OSCE and NATO.

As outlined in the budget in December 2009, it has been decided that the Defence Forces commitments to overseas peace support operations will be scaled back in 2010 as one of the budgetary expenditure reductions. The operations where Ireland will reduce its commitments will be KFOR in Kosovo and Operation ALTHEA in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In April 2010 at the next rotation, it is planned to draw down Irish personnel from KFOR from the current 236 personnel to approximately 50 and to retain a small residual component post-October 2010. In July 2010, at the end of the next rotation to Operation ALTHEA, Ireland will reduce its current contribution of 44 personnel to approximately five.

Regarding MINURCAT, the Government is committed to retaining the Defence Forces presence in Chad beyond 14 March 2010, subject to renewal by the UN Security Council of MINURCAT's mandate beyond that date. I will bring proposals to the Government in due course seeking formal approval for the Defence Forces continued participation in this mission beyond 14 March 2010.

The strength of all overseas deployment is assessed in line with the prevailing security situation in the mission area. I am satisfied that the Defence Forces are self-sufficient in large troop deployment missions in terms of force protection and security and are integrated into the overall force protection and security plans of all other missions. The Defence Forces conduct a threat assessment on mission areas and all deployment meets the requirements of security and force protection for all personnel integrated into the overall mission requirement. Members of the Permanent Defence Force Serving Overseas as of 1 January 2010:

1.UN Missions
(i)UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) HQ8
(ii)UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) – Israel, Syria and Lebanon12
(iii)MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara)3
(iv)MONUC (United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo)3
(v)UNOCI (United Nations Mission in Ivory Coast)2
(vi)MINURCAT (United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad) - HQ13
MINURCAT (United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad) - 101st Inf Battalion 406
TOTAL447
UN Mandated Missions
(vii)EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina)44
(viii)KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) - HQ20
KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) 41st Inf Group216
(ix)ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan)7
TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING WITH UN MISSIONS734
2.Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
(i)OSCE Mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina2
(ii)OSCE Mission in Belgrade - Serbia1
(iii)Staff Officer, Higher Level Planning Group, Vienna1
TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING OSCE4
3.EU Military Staff
Brussels7
4.Nordic Battlegroup HQ Staff - Sweden4
5.Military Representatives/Advisers/Staff
(i)Military Adviser, Permanent Mission to UN, New York1
(ii)Military Adviser, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna1
(iii)Military Representative 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. Belgium1
TOTAL NUMBER OF DEFENCE FORCES PERSONNEL SERVING OVERSEAS758

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. We are all proud of the work our Defence Forces do out foreign. It gives a positive image of this country despite the internal turmoil we are experiencing here. Perhaps the Minister can indicate the factors that he or his officials can take into consideration when considering involvement in a mission such as one in Haiti, if one were in the offing. Specifically, in terms of personnel and cost savings, what are the effects of Ireland's intended reduction in the KFOR and ALTHEA missions? Do we intend to maintain any Irish troop presence in Kosovo or Bosnia-Herzegovina? Have the Minister and his officials examined the estimated cost of the withdrawal of Irish troops from the UN mission in Chad, as recommended in the McCarthy report? Do we have a figure for that? How much money has the UN given to Ireland in reimbursements since March 2009?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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The factors taken into account when considering participation in a mission include whether a peacekeeping operation is the most appropriate response, how the mission relates the priorities of Irish foreign policy, the degree of risk involved, the extent to which the required skills and characteristics relate to Irish capabilities, the existence of realistic objectives and a clear mandate, with the potential to contribute to a political solution, and whether the operation is adequately resourced, in the context of the level of existing commitments to peacekeeping operations and security requirements at home. I will respond to the other questions asked by Deputy Deenihan. The scaling down of the operations in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina will save €7 million in 2010 and €13 million in a full year. We will not adopt the McCarthy report's recommendation that Irish troops should be withdrawn from Chad. I understand that if we decided now to withdraw from Chad, the UN would be liable for the cost. It would not cost us anything. Our involvement in Chad costs us €16 million, in gross terms, per annum. Our rebate from the UN is over €8 million, which means that our net cost is almost €8 million per annum. The amount received from the UN in the period in question was approximately €3 million.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I am sure the Minister will agree that overseas missions are the lifeblood of any defence force. If we want to develop the Defence Forces, they will have to get overseas experience. It has been proven that the Defence Forces will suffer if they do not get such experience. I would like to ask the Minister a few simple questions. How will the embargo on recruitment affect Ireland's involvement in overseas missions? I understand there will be some recruitment in 2010. Perhaps the Minister might confirm what form it will take. While I accept that the Minister announced 40 promotions today, the general moratorium on promotions is having an effect on command structures. Personnel are not being appointed to the upper ranks where they are critically needed. We also have an issue with our medical corps.

Many recommendations have been made with regard to the appointment and restructuring of the medical corps, but they do not seem to have been implemented. There are significant problems with medical backup services and medical evacuations, especially in places like Chad. It is a substantial challenge. Perhaps the Minister will answer the questions I have asked about the moratorium on recruitment and promotions.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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When these wind-downs have taken place, the number of personnel working overseas will fall from 758 to 480. There will continue to be a substantial number of people based overseas. I have been informed that if the proposal I have submitted to the Minister for Finance is accepted - even partially - we will continue to be in a position to send troops overseas. Our capacity to send troops overseas will not be affected. I accept that the Department now has to operate within a much tighter budget, due to the state of the public finances. I assure the Deputy that we will be recruiting in 2010, in order to maintain a figure of 10,000 personnel in the Army. I was also asked about the extent to which operational structures will be affected by the moratorium. It is obvious that the moratorium will have an impact on such structures, although it will be alleviated to some extent by the 50 promotions - broken down between 13 officers and 37 non-commissioned officers - for which we are providing.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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That is not right. The Minister announced 30 today.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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The 50 figure will be broken down in a 37:13 ratio. I take it the Deputy welcomes that.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Of course. I welcome the other ten as well.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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The effects of the moratorium will be further alleviated by additional concessions which I am hoping to secure from the Minister for Finance. We will come to a separate question on the medical corps in due course. I emphasise that we take every precaution to secure the safety of Irish troops when they go abroad. We ensure that they have access to level 1 medical facilities, at least. They are tested before they go and after they come back. They are immunised against known diseases. They have their own water purification and sanitation facilities. We talk to others who will be involved in the collective mission to ensure that the health of all our troops who participate in foreign missions is properly secured. We are never slipshod about that.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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In response to an earlier question I asked, reference was made to the promotion of nine officers and 27 personnel from other ranks.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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Today.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I presume that is very accurate.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad we have-----

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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It is the Minister's own information.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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-----a happy Chamber.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Absolutely. I saw the answer to my parliamentary question in one of today's newspapers.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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One should never ask a question to which one does not know the answer.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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It was not a very good introduction to Question Time - I will put it like that.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I thought I would volunteer some information that is not in the newspaper to the Deputy. I refer to my announcement that the 50 promotions will be split in a 37:13 ratio.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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That is not exactly in accordance with the Minister's previous remarks. The number of personnel in the Defence Forces is at its lowest level for 40 years. I think it is now below 10,000. The Minister might have the accurate figure. It might be 9,956. That is what it was-----

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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The figure is 35 or 36 below 10,000.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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That would be it. I know my facts fairly well. Is the Minister aware that people are lining up to leave this year? Is he sure that the number of people who will be allowed to be recruited will be equal to the sum of the number of people who have left already, thereby bringing the figure below 10,000, and the number of people who are getting ready to leave? Does he have any indication of the numbers who will be retiring from the Defence Forces over the next 12 months? Is that information available to the Minister? I get the impression that many people who are under pressure because of what is happening will shortly decide whether to stay or leave.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have the specific information sought by the Deputy. I am operating on the basis of the normal annual fall-out, which is between 530 and 540. It may have been slightly over 540 last year.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Will the Defence Forces recruit that many people this year?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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It is good that 530 people will be recruited.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy suggested that people are leaving as a consequence of financial pressures, etc.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I did not use the word "financial".

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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People are leaving for various reasons.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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There are also a number of reasons that might compel people to stay. They might be tempted to stay because it is not easy to find a job at the moment. I have received the approval of the Government to maintain a complement of 10,000. We are in discussions with the Department of Finance about that decision at the moment. I intend to avail of it fully.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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It is obvious that fewer members of the Defence Forces will be on overseas duties in the medium term. I suggest that the additional troops who are to be kept on the home front should have a role in promoting physical activity and fitness and supporting the delivery of physical education in our schools, issues about which we spoke earlier. What is the political situation in Chad at the moment? Has there been any change in the milieu in which the troops are operating? I have previously raised with the Minister the reports of rape in camps in Chad. Does the Minister have any further information on that?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate Deputy O'Shea on his ingenuity in seeking a further response to a question he raised earlier.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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There was obviously help from the Chair.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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A helpful Chair is essential. I have already given the Deputy a concession in arranging for my officials to meet the people concerned and we will see if anything arises from that meeting.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Could Deputy O'Shea and I also be invited to the meeting?

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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They are more than welcome.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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That is very kind of the Minister.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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Two concessions in one Question Time is not bad.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is thawing out.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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In regard to Chad, I have no information that the situation has changed in any material way. There is ongoing low level criminal activity in camps but it is at nothing like the level that obtained prior to the arrival of the United Nations. We must consider a number of factors in deciding overseas missions. We obviously must have regard to the financial situation and the need to work within tight constraints. If the mission is led by the UN, we are entitled to a rebate, and this will certainly be one of our considerations when deciding to sign up to future missions. The UN also sanctions certain missions organised by other powers, in which case the costs are paid where they fall.