Thursday, 20 September 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
To ask the Minister for Defence if he will provide an update on the Irish peace keeping mission in Lebanon and the number of personnel involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39667/12]
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, mission is the main overseas mission in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed with a total of 356 personnel. Brigadier General Patrick Phelan was appointed deputy force commander UNIFIL in April 2012.
The 106th infantry battalion, comprising some 332 personnel, deployed to UNIFIL in May 2012. The Irish battalion has been working alongside a contingent of 170 personnel of the Finnish armed forces as part of a joint Irish-Finnish battalion with effect from 1 June 2012. Both Ireland and Finland previously served together in the Lebanon mission in 2006-07 and more recently in the UN operation in Chad. A further 16 personnel are deployed to the force headquarters in Naquora and eight personnel at the UNIFIL sector west headquarters in Shama.
The joint Irish-Finnish Battalion is based in a sector west of UNIFIL’s area of operations, currently centred on the major towns of Tibnin and Bint Jubayl, and with two posts on the "Blue Line", which separates Lebanon and Israel. The battalion is tasked primarily with patrolling and occupying static posts while operating in close co-ordination and co-operation with the Lebanese armed forces in sector west of UNIFIL’s area of operations. The battalion’s mission is progressing well.
Following a review of the UNIFIL mission deployment by the force commander, the battalion is currently in the process of moving the Irish-Finnish battalion headquarters from current UN post 6-5 to UN post 2-45. UN post 2-45 is located south of Tibnin close to At Tiri in the centre of the Irish-Finnish battalion’s area of operations and closer to the observation posts manned by Ireland and Finland on the Blue Line. With this relocation, the battalion will be able to provide a more rapid response capacity to reinforce these posts should that be required. The move is expected to be fully completed during October 2012.
The security situation in the area in which the Irish-Finnish battalion operates remains calm but tense. The battalion implements force protection measures appropriate to the prevailing operational and security developments in the region. The security situation in Lebanon will continue to be kept under review by the Defence Forces.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I ask him to join me in thanking and commending our troops in the Lebanon for their peacekeeping role, particularly the 356 soldiers there. They are doing excellent work.
Is the relationship between the Irish troops and the local community there still as strong as it was ten years ago? Does the Minister of State share my concerns that not enough has been done about the peace on the borders of Lebanon and in the Middle East in general? That region seems to have gone off the political agenda from a European and an Irish perspective. Does he accept that the more political instability there is, the more at risk our troops are in the Lebanon? Does he accept that politicians in Ireland and in the EU in particular have got to get off the fence on this issue and support in a practical way UN resolutions?
Does the Minister of State accept that the elephant in the room is violence, mayhem and the lack of movement in the EU and US in resolving the Palestinian issue? Their need for a state is hindering the development of peace in the Lebanon area. Does the Minister of State agree with the PLO envoy to the United States when he said yesterday that Palestinians have repeatedly recognised Israel's right to exist? Does the Minister of State accept that an end to military occupation of Palestine will lead to peace and security in the Lebanon and the Middle East and more safety for our troops?
I am not aware of the last statement made by the Deputy. I will not comment on it without seeing it for myself. I commend the troops out there. I visited Lebanon on St. Patrick's Day and I assure the Deputy of the strong relationship with the local community. It has always been there and remains strong. When I was there, I was told the good relationship with the local community goes back 20 years, as long as the Irish troops have been visiting Lebanon. I assure Deputy McGrath that it still exists. I visited the mayor and met local community leaders. The security along the blue line is extremely strong thanks to the Irish Defence Forces. I visited the two outposts. Political instability is of great concern to the Irish Government and the Defence Forces in Lebanon. It is closely monitored by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, and the political implications of any operations are also taken into account.
Does the Minister of State accept the strong relationship with local communities in Lebanon and the Middle East is due to Ireland impartial history of not being involved in military alliances? Does the Minister of State accept my concern that 11 foreign ministers want to remove the national veto on security matters and are talking again about a European army? Why is there no outcry in the West and in Europe when innocent civilians, Palestinians, Arabs or eight Afghan women, are killed in NATO bombings? There was not a squeak out of anyone in the West. Are they second class citizens? I ask the Minister of State to speak out against this. It is unacceptable that eight Afghan women, who were out picking pines, can be blown to smithereens and no one says a word.
No one is a second class citizen and everyone is treated in a fair manner. It is not right or just to see what is happening at this point. The close relationship with the local community exists because of peacekeeping measures carried out by the Irish Defence Forces. The job of the Irish Defence Forces is to undertake peacekeeping in the area. The personnel have a connection with the local community through visiting local markets and working with voluntary organisations. They are involved with the homeless community and a children's care centre. The Irish Defence Forces regularly raise much-needed money on a voluntary basis for the local community. I commend the Irish Defence Forces. We cannot forget the families of the troops left at home. The troops go on a six month stint and some may not come home. The families and relatives of those who are serving must be commended.