Thursday, 13 July 2017
Naval Service Deployment: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to address the deployment of the Naval Service to Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean. Following a Government decision, the Dáil today approved Defence Forces participation in the UN-mandated EU naval mission, Operation Sophia. The Dáil decision completes the final part of the triple lock procedure, as Members are aware. Earlier this year, following discussions with the Defence Forces general staff, I asked the Deputy Chief of Staff, General Brennan, and the Naval Service Flag Officer, Hugh Tully, to visit the Operation Sophia headquarters to meet with its commanding officer and report back to me. The subsequent advice and recommendation I received from the Defence Forces general staff was that Ireland should participate in Operation Sophia. The mission operates in the southern central Mediterranean. The Government approved participation on Tuesday and the required Dáil mandate to participate in this UN mandated mission was given this afternoon. The Government decision is for the Naval Service to transfer to Operation Sophia at an appropriate juncture and the preparatory work for this to take place, which will take place over the coming months, can only be commenced now that the triple lock procedure has been completed. The Government decision mandates Ireland’s participation in the operation until December this year.
The EU naval operation against human smugglers and traffickers in the southern central Mediterranean was launched as a common security and defence mission in June 2015. In October 2015, the mission was given the name Operation Sophia. The mission is named after a baby born to a Somali refugee on board a rescue vessel and is intended to be a way of honouring the lives of the many people being saved and protected in this way. It is also intended to send a message to the world that, by fighting smugglers and criminal networks in this way, we are protecting human life. Operation Sophia’s mission is to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers. The objectives of the operation are not only to disrupt the activities of smugglers and traffickers but also to prevent further loss of life at sea and to reduce the suffering and exploitation of migrants by countering and challenging the criminal organisations engaged in such activities. Together with other EU member states, Ireland must continue to play its part in managing the increasing numbers of migrants arriving via the central Mediterranean route. The UN migration agency has reported that 95,768 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea in the first six months of 2017, almost 85% of whom arrived in Italy. There have been 2,169 deaths recorded in this period. Irregular migration into Europe on the central Mediterranean route increased by 18% in 2016 and by a further 19% in the first six months of 2017 compared to 2016. Libya is the main country of departure for these migrants. The migratory flows from Libya into Italy and the continuing loss of life in the Mediterranean is an issue of serious concern. There is a need for solidarity among EU member states in addressing these issues and Ireland must play its part.
Operation Sophia is one element of a comprehensive approach to addressing the migrant crisis. The mission also provides capacity building and training to the Libyan coastguard and navy and contributes to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2292, which imposes an arms embargo on Libya in an effort to prevent the flow of illicit arms and related material into that country. In relation to disrupting people smuggling and trafficking operations in the Mediterranean, Operation Sophia is being implemented In a number of phases. The first phase, to support the detection and monitoring of migration networks through information gathering and patrolling in accordance with international law, is complete. The first phase, to support the detection and monitoring of migration networks through information gathering and patrolling in accordance with international law, is complete. The mission is currently at phase 2, part (i), and involves the targeting, seizure and diversion of the vessels of human smugglers and traffickers on the high seas. There are no proposals currently to move to the next phase, phase 2, part (ii). Moving to this phase, which relates to operating within Libyan territorial waters, requires a further UN Security Council resolution and-or the consent of the coastal state. Similarly, there are no proposals to move to the third phase which would involve taking all necessary measures against vessels including disposal or rendering them inoperable. Ireland will only participate in those aspects of Operation Sophia which are authorised in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, and Ireland will declare caveats to this effect should the Dáil approve this motion.
It is understandable that some have concerns about participating in this mission. I am aware of the concerns raised in a report by the United Kingdom House of Lords which was published yesterday which questioned the effectiveness to date of the Operation Sophia 3 mission. However, a recent EU strategic review of Operation Sophia determined that the prominence of Operation Sophia on the high seas off Libya continues to hamper the human smugglers’ business model and is having a deterrent effect in supporting the arms embargo.
It is important to note that this mission is only one part of the EU response to addressing the causes and not just the symptoms of the crisis. Irish troops are contributing to the EU’s efforts as part of EUTM Mali. The EU also has a training mission in Somalia and EUFOR Chad, where we led and had troops previously. All of these are CSDP missions with a UN mandate. In May 2015, Ireland provided €1 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Libya. Ireland also supports the humanitarian response in Libya through contributions to the European Commission and to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund. Assistance is being provided to internally displaced persons, returnees and other vulnerable groups. In total, the European Commission has allocated almost €20 million in humanitarian aid to Libya since the current crisis started in mid-2014.
One of the root causes of the conflict in the region is the Syrian civil war. Since the Syria crisis began in 2012 Ireland has provided over €76 million in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict. Our funding supports those inside Syria and refugees across the region, including Lebanon and Jordan. We have also provided €33.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Somalia since 2012.
I want to restate that Ireland is fully supportive of the comprehensive EU approach to the migration crisis including the current deployment and Operation Sophia. Ireland contributes to its costs through the financing structures of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. This is the third year of our participation in Operation Pontus under which an Irish naval vessel has been deployed to the Mediterranean to undertake humanitarian search and rescue tasks as part of a bilateral arrangement with the Italian authorities. Overall, over 16,800 migrants have been rescued since Irish Naval Service vessels deployed in the Mediterranean; demonstrating clearly the value of Ireland’s response to the migration crisis.
The Government and I believe that Irish people are extremely proud of the Naval Service contribution to this mission. Transferring to Operation Sophia will result in the redeployment of Irish Naval Service vessels from primarily humanitarian search and rescue operations, to primarily security and interception operations. The Naval Service vessel will, however, continue to be available to respond to requests from the Italian maritime rescue co-ordination centre or other relevant authority, in terms of any vessels at risk in its area of operation. While the focus of Operation Sophia is primarily on security and interception operations, more than 36,600 persons have been rescued by vessels operating under this mission since October 2015.
I should also state that it is the duty of all maritime ships, including naval vessels, to render assistance to other vessels in distress in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In addition to the continued presence of Operation Sophia assets in the region, a daily average of more than 50 merchant vessels and up to ten non-governmental organisations are operating in the central Mediterranean and are actively involved in search and rescue activities. The processing of migrants in accordance with international law and respect for human rights is a fundamental aspect of Operation Sophia. Accordingly, very close working arrangements with UN Higher Commissioner for Refugees and International Organisation of Migration have been put in place both in planning, training and conduct of the operation.
There are specific benefits for Ireland in joining Operation Sophia. We will form part of a broader multilateral operation in which 25 other member states are participating. The Naval Service will have access to air support and intelligence which it did not have previously and this will enhance the security of deployed personnel and assets. Ireland will be making a contribution to addressing some of the root causes of migration and human trafficking. There will be a more proactive role for the Naval Service, in that it will be authorised to seize the boats of smugglers on the high seas and destroy them so they cannot be used again in such a way.
The sharing of intelligence with other EU naval forces will also be an important aspect of the mission and will assist in addressing the complex issue of illegal migration. Participation in Operation Sophia will help to build Naval Service professional capacity across a range of skills and enhance capability in interoperability with other international naval forces. Ireland has a long-standing commitment to peacekeeping and conflict resolution worldwide. Our Defence Forces have made a huge contribution to Ireland’s image abroad, through their professionalism and competence in the many missions that they have been involved in since joining the United Nations in 1955. Currently, over 650 members of the Defence Forces are serving overseas in various parts of the world, including 71 Naval Service personnel.
Threats to international peace and security are complex, multidimensional, interrelated and transnational in nature. The ever-changing complex and intertwined nature of threats to our citizens, individual states and to international peace and security must be acknowledged. No country acting alone can address such challenges. The best approach for Ireland continues to be to ensure that the countries on the borders of the EU, and beyond the European neighbourhood are stable, secure and prosperous. Our membership of the European Union and the United Nations allows Ireland to deepen and sustain democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights through, among other things, participating in overseas peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions, which in turn will make Ireland more safe and secure. Naval Service vessels will now be redeployed to support EU efforts to disrupt the practices of those illegal and criminal elements engaged in people trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable populations.
From an operational and logistical perspective the timing of the transfer of Naval Service operations in the Mediterranean to Operation Sophia, Government has directed that this will take place at an appropriate juncture which I, as Minister of State with special responsibility for defence, will decide, based on the advice of the Department and Defence Forces.
Those criminal networks engaged in the exploitation of migrants must be dismantled. It is not acceptable that so many lives are being lost and so many vulnerable people exploited year after year. By participating in Operation Sophia, Ireland will be joining a mission that has 25 EU member states as contributors and naval vessels from six other member states, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Belgium and the UK, addressing some of the root causes of migration and human trafficking.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House to outline the matters relating to the Government's decision. I was visiting the Italian Senate when the foreign affairs representative for the European Union outlined that it was closing down Operation Mare Nostrum, a naval rescue mission carried out predominantly by the Italian naval service, covering a vast area of hundreds of thousands of square miles. This was being done because migrants were being rescued in the middle of the Mediterranean, which was encouraging migration and the operation of traffickers. In 2013, after one year of the operation, it was scaled down and renamed as Operation Triton, which only lasted one year. It only had two ships and a vastly reduced area of operation of 10,000 square miles in the Mediterranean. With regard to the Commissioner's objective of trying to slow migration from North Africa and whether it was a success, it was only when 1,000 migrants drowned in the space of a week that the EU saw the error of its ways. There were no rescue vessels in the Mediterranean but the traffickers were not stopping and the people in the boats did not realise there might be people to rescue them.
The EU's track record in operating in the Mediterranean is built on trial and error, with the error costing the lives of thousands or unknown tens of thousands of unfortunate migrants coming from North and central Africa and beyond in the hope of trying to improve their lives. It is part of a broader problem. It is not just about Syria and these are economic migrants in many cases, which the EU is not particularly interested in. Many of the problems in the home countries are caused by the EU's trade policies. For every €1 given by western countries in aid, they take €3 because of trade policies that force governments to accept unfavourable trade agreements that damage industries in African countries. It is a major problem and this is a Band-Aid on an open sore that will not be fixed by this reorientation of the policies of EU countries under this United Nations-mandated mission.
Listening to the head of policy on security and foreign policy saying the Mare Nostrum operation was being closed because it only encouraged people to come to Europe because it rescued them, one must wonder about the wisdom of this manoeuvre, which is meant to apprehend boats. If there are people who need to be rescued, that will be done. There should be careful monitoring by the Irish Government so we are not sucked into another version of Operation Triton, which was a scaled-down rescue mission. The Irish Government rescued people purely on humanitarian grounds in the last number of deployments by the Naval Service, which is to be commended by all people in this House.
I wonder about the EU's reorientation in this matter. I know the EU's long-term objective is a concern of many Members is this House and Fianna Fáil is very supportive of the triple lock and this is a UN-mandated mission. The devil is in the detail when it comes to the EU's long-term goal. It is giving most of the assets to support this mission. In no less grand a venue than the Italian Senate, Ms Mogherini stated that while in her position as head of the EU's foreign service and security arm, the EU would replace the United States in operations on its own borders. There is somebody in the position of developing and creating policy for security in the EU's area of operation who is wishing to replace the United States in that respect, so one must wonder about the concerns of citizens in Ireland around the less than wholesome objectives by our European colleagues.
I do not doubt the Minister of State, the Government and the Irish people's commitment to assisting people who find themselves in this desperate position, but the EU is not that committed. Unfortunately and as a result of geography, the Italians are left bearing a major burden. The Minister of State pointed out that nearly 100,000 people were rescued so far this year. At the last count, quite some time ago, there were 96,000 unaccompanied minors rescued by EU and UN boats in the Mediterranean left in Italian refugee centres and can no longer be traced. It is a disgrace in itself.
There is the matter of our EU trade policies with African countries, as well as the reorientation of this mission to try to stop smugglers. It has the accidental side-effect of rescuing people because if there are people in need of rescue, that will be done. When these vulnerable people arrive on European soil, including girls, boys and women, they are left at the mercy of less than scrupulous individuals around Europe because the EU has no better policy than just to land them on Italian shores. The overall approach is then of concern. The Naval Service's rescuing of individuals in the Mediterranean in any circumstances is to be welcomed but it is a Band-Aid, as I stated, on an open sore caused by everything from a lack of credible and fair trade policies to the fact we are now orienting to go after smugglers. That is important but for those who find themselves in Libya and the north coast of Africa, as well as the refugees coming from Syria and fleeing trouble, the EU's solution is to send them to Turkey, a country with a less than commendable record - an atrocious record, really - when it comes to human rights there and beyond its borders. Every life to be saved by the Naval Service on this mission must be commended. It is done under the auspices of the Government and the Irish people and they welcome such action.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to debate the UN mandate for Operation Sophia. I am aware the proposal is subject to the triple lock mechanism and it must be mandated by the UN, the Cabinet and the Oireachtas. I am shocked it has only recently appeared on the Order Paper and is being rushed through the Oireachtas with little time for full debate at this 11th hour. I am further shocked that once again we are calling on the Defence Forces - in this case the Naval Service - and the people who will always do as they are asked at a time when young men are sleeping in ships in Cork because they have nowhere to live. This is a time when young officers are thrown from one end of the country to the other with little or no notice. It is a time when pay deals have been agreed with all the other uniformed services but because our Defence Forces cannot strike or take industrial action, they have been left outside the fray. I am shocked we are doing this to such people. It is pretty God-damned disgraceful that at this 11th hour we are now talking about putting our men in this position.
I want a commitment today that the sailors who go to the Mediterranean will immediately receive full UN pay and not be left sitting for the next two years, as they were when they first went out there. The mission is now being changed and this represents a marked departure from the current humanitarian mission. As we know, Naval Service operations in the Mediterranean have been based on a bilateral agreement with Italy and since 2015, the Naval Service has saved approximately 16,000 migrants in the southern Mediterranean who were trying to get to Europe from Africa or other locations.I have visited them. I have gone out to Sicily to witness at first hand what goes on out there. Our navy has been involved in a humanitarian mission and has been courageous and compassionate. The Minister of State can be proud of the work of the Defence Forces out there. I know he has voiced this on a number of occasions.
However, I wonder about the part being played in Operation Sophia. We are entering a new domain which may call our neutrality into question. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State dealt with this issue this afternoon. The aim of Operation Sophia is described as the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the southern Mediterranean by efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels used or suspected of being used by smugglers. I was in Pozzallo not so long ago as part of the COSAC commission. We looked at what the Italians are suffering. I question the fact that the Dublin Convention seems to have been set aside because I would expect that migrants who finish up on Irish ships are on Irish soil and should be landed in Ireland, not in Italy. That is something the Minister of State might deal with here as well.
Operation Sophia focuses on smugglers rather than on rescuing migrants even though saving lives can be part of the mandate. Effectively, we are moving from a search and rescue mission to what I would call a "seek and destroy" model where the smugglers are concerned. I support that because I have seen what these people are doing out there. We must stop the migration crisis and one thing we must do is take the smugglers out of the equation. Operation Sophia is now in phase 2. It may involve a more combative approach to tackling the human trafficking, including possible action just off the coast of Libya. We need to be up-front about this. I know it will not happen automatically and would require UN and EU approval. However, given the increased flow of migrants across the Mediterranean this summer, it is easy to see how EU governments could decide that such an operation is required. I find it ironic and concerning that we are rushing this decision through the Oireachtas during the very week that the UK cross-party House of Lords inquiry noted that while lives have been saved, Operation Sophia has failed in its core mandate of stopping the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks. Given the number of people still trying to leave Libya, this raises the issue of the chaos and violence that exists there. I agree with the findings of the UK inquiry, which believes that any meaningful EU action against people smuggling networks inside Libya first requires a unified government that is able to provide security across the country. At a recent high-level meeting in Brussels, that issue came up, namely, that we must now deal with the Libyan Government. We must get a solid Libyan Government in place to stop these traffickers.
I am on record as being a staunch defender of the Defence Forces and the Minister of State knows that. In this case, we are over-extending ourselves in terms of resources. I keep hearing about recruitment. Only yesterday, I spoke about how 60 members are leaving the Defence Forces per week. Are we putting people to sea to go to the Mediterranean who were only recruits a couple of months ago? Will we find ourselves in a situation where Irish ships at home will not be able to put to sea for lack of officers because they are all tied up in the Mediterranean? I am glad the Minister of State is shaking his head because I want assurances.
The Minister of State and I know that the Defence Forces are severely lacking in resources so I need assurances. Whether he likes to admit it or not, the Minister of State is presiding over the Defence Force which are falling apart. The study by the University of Limerick has shown that the Defence Forces are falling apart. We have two senior officers in Donegal. The Naval Service has been unable to put to sea because it lacked engineering officers. Has the Minister of State done something about that? I do not believe we have the capacity to do this job. I think we are overreaching ourselves.
Leaving aside the issue of our neutrality, which I believe may be compromised, I am seriously concerned. I look at statements from sailors, one of which states:
They throw money at new ships and they won't pay the men serving on them. They say they can't pay us but they're building new ships. Who's going to man these ships?
I could go on. There are lots of statements. The Minister of State has seen them. He can throw his eyes up to heaven. What about these young men and women? Is that a way to treat them? I got a request last week for a food parcel for a soldier. Is the Minister of State telling me he can throw his eyes up to heaven and dismiss that?
The Minister is sitting there throwing his eyes up to heaven. Damn it to hell, I have never been treated with such disrespect. I have respected the Minister of State every time he has come to this House. It is damned unfair of him to sit there and throw his eyes up to heaven when I bring him real facts. The Minister of State knows the facts that are coming down the road. He is presiding over the Defence Forces which are falling apart. He is sending them out to the Mediterranean. What will he do when they come back? He will pin a few medals on their chests. Will he give them the money? Will he pay them the full UN rate when they go out there? I am really disappointed. I have always held the Minister of State in high esteem. He sits there and throws his eyes up to heaven and now he is playing with his phone while I am trying to point out serious facts. I have treated him with respect every time I have seen him and he sits there and dismisses me as if I was something on the bottom of his shoe. Be like that. This is an outrage and a disgrace. How dare the Minister of State treat me like that.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As we have heard, since they were first deployed in the Mediterranean, Irish Naval Service personnel have saved a total of 16,806 people. That is more than every man, woman and child in a town the size of Malahide, Leixlip or Tullamore. Just picture that and try to imagine what might have happened to these people if the Irish navy had not become involved in this mission - if we had listened to all the people who said that it could not or should not be done. Luckily, the former Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, did not listen to them and those people were rescued by Irish personnel.
The question I often ask myself is why anyone would take the risk of boarding an overcrowded vessel with
We must shift our focus to disrupting the business of human traffickers and bring this heinous crime and practice to an end. It is the advice of the Defence Forces general staff that the redeployment of Naval Service vessels to Operation Sophia will contribute more effectively to disrupting the practices of those illegal and criminal elements engaged in people smuggling and also in countering the risk to life posed to migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean in unsafe and unseaworthy vessels. This must be our priority. It is important to remember that Ireland will only participate in operations which are authorised under UN Security Council resolutions. It is also important that we work hard to address the overall refugee and trafficking issue and indeed the underlying conflict but that does not mean that we should put off acting until this has been done.
In conclusion, I have always been immensely proud of the Irish Defence Forces, including the UN veterans. l would like to pay particular credit to the members of the Irish Naval Service who have worked so bravely and professionally in what must be very difficult and emotionally challenging circumstances.I urge the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to keep this in mind in upcoming discussions on pay and conditions in the Irish Defence Forces. Military service is unlike any other profession and Defence Forces' personnel deserve to have that difference recognised and remunerated accordingly.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I start by noting that it was bad form for the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, to treat Senator Craughwell as he did. There is probably no one else who comes to the House with as much passion and commitment on the issues affecting Defence Forces' personnel and their families than Senator Craughwell. Perhaps the Minister of State will reflect on that. I understand that debates can become heated, but what happened was not warranted.
Speaking of disrespect, it is a great pity that the House is coming to discuss the issue when it has already been voted on. Sinn Féin is opposed to this change of operational status but the decision has already been made. It shows a degree of discourtesy to the input Members of the Seanad should have on important matters like this. While I understand the protocols and procedures in place, it is worth pointing out that the Seanad should have a greater say in such an important decision. Not only will it affect the State's neutral status, it contains, as Senator Craughwell rightly outlined, potentially dangerous impacts for Defence Forces' personnel. The implication for them is the danger they may be put in as Operation Sophia proceeds beyond its initial phase to phases 2 and 3. It is obviously those aspects of the suggested operation which have caused our party the most concern, given the potential nature of it.
This is an EU military mission under the guise of the Common Security and Defence Policy. The primary stated objective is to target and stop gangs using vessels for human trafficking, mainly from Libya. It has, however, a much wider remit than that. Phase 2, which is under way, includes the training of Libyan coast guards to capture refugees who are fleeing their war-torn countries and throw them into so-called "detention centres".
It has a third phase which mandates participating countries to take military action in Libyan waters and on Libyan soil if necessary. As I should have said at the start, I commend the Naval Service personnel who have been phenomenal in rescuing so many poor people in Mediterranean waters. What can one say without appearing almost glib? We know the tragic circumstances in which the refugee population finds itself. With the best will in the world and notwithstanding the substantial difference our Naval Service has made, people continue to perish and will continue to perish as a result. The EU's time would be much better spent reflecting on the "Fortress Europe" approach to the migrant and refugee crisis. The State would be much better served if we reflected on the provision we are making available here to support the relocation, rehousing and resettlement of people in this jurisdiction. I have very real concerns.
The detention centres to which I have referred have been documented and proven to violate the human rights of those imprisoned within them. The Libyan coast guards who are being trained have been guilty not only of abusing refugees but also of firing live rounds into overloaded refugee boats. Pushing refugees who seek asylum into such centres by military force is a human rights violation and morally disgusting. We should play no role in that.
Current Naval Service missions in the Mediterranean Sea operate under a purely humanitarian search and rescue remit. Over the past two years, Naval Service personnel have rescued some 16,000 people in the south of the Mediterranean Sea. This is outstanding work of which we can and should be rightly proud. However, that is as far as our intervention must go. We cannot allow the EU to undermine Ireland's neutrality and must stand against any further militarisation of the EU or forerunner to the creation of an EU army. Operation Sophia is a miliary response to a humanitarian problem and it will solve nothing. We must continue our search and rescue missions and increase significantly the relocation and settlement of refugees in Ireland. Unfortunately, we are too late in the game on this. I hope, however, that as it progresses, it will be known and recorded that at least some voices dissented.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I regret very much that we did not have the opportunity to debate this before the motion passed in the Dáil. It is a very important discussion and decision. It is also important to be clear that a new decision has been taken today. In case a false impression be given, this is not the continuation of the very important humanitarian missions we have seen and the pride we have all taken in ships like the LE Niamhand the LE Eithne. What we are seeing today is a change and a new policy. As Senator McFadden rightly said, Irish ships have rescued and saved the lives of over 16,800 people. During the period when there was an Irish ship operating at any given time, the EU operation with six to ten ships saved approximately 34,000 people. With one ship operating at a time, the Naval Service rescued 50% of the number of people rescued by all EU ships combined. It is a stark reminder. The priority of the Irish ships was humanitarian search and rescue with the result that they were five or six times more effective than the EU mission. We should be very clear on that.
The Minister of State's own speech in the Dáil made it very clear that there is now a new hierarchy. He said, "Transferring to Operation Sophia would result in the redeployment of Irish Naval Service vessels from primarily humanitarian search and rescue operations, to primarily security and interception operations." The new priority is securitisation. Humanitarian concerns and the search and rescue missions of which, having seen the pictures, we are so proud and for which we have rightly applauded Naval Service personnel, go down the line and are no longer the primary concern according to this mission. It is very important and clear to note what is happening today and it does not blunt our rightful pride in the work we have done previously on search and rescue. It is clear that the focus will be on security with some potential for rescue.
On the success of Operation Sophia, I will not enumerate the details which were set out in the Oireachtas. We have a House of Lords report, however, which points very clearly to the fact that this has not been successful. Research from Goldsmiths, University of London and Oxford also points to the fact that it has not been successful in its stated aim of disrupting trafficking practices. Rather, the operation has simply led to changes in practice. Business, including the abominable business of human trafficking and smuggling, is very adaptable. We now see people in less safe boats who still face danger. The mark of the lack of success of Operation Sophia is that in 2016 we saw a 42% increase in deaths in the Mediterranean. That is the mark. It shows us that the operation is not working.
What is gained by today's motion? Perhaps there will be some new professional experience for Naval Service personnel, although some of the other proposals put forward might be a better way to contribute and recognise them. I refer to the proposals put forward by Senator Craughwell. There may also be some very short-term brownie points from the EU. We keep mentioning the EU 25 but we are in a group of hundreds of nations. Ireland is part of the UN. There is a bigger picture. It is not simply throwing its weight in behind Europe. While there will be some short-term brownie points from Europe, we have to ask what is lost through today's motion.Lives are lost because they are no longer given the same priority. At a European level we are pandering to the narrative of "fortress Europe" as opposed to the narrative of a Europe of freedom and rights and a Europe which can stand and hold its head up as a crucial beacon for democracy and human rights in the world. We subscribe to that narrative. We had a bilateral agreement with Italy. I know what the Minister of State will say about this. We are pandering to the threats to withdraw that bilateral agreement. We are pandering to the borders which have been put up between Italy and Austria. If Europe really wishes to tackle the migrant crisis, it needs to face up to the internal barriers which are being put up between its nations. We all need to take responsibility in respect of migration.
I will mention a very important point. The root cause of illegal migration is not boats. Let us be very clear on that. I was quite concerned by parts of the Minister of State's speech. He spoke about going beyond humanitarian activities and said that with this mission, Ireland will now address the root causes of migration and human trafficking. Neither boats nor traffickers are the root causes. The root causes are issues such as climate change, conflict and the deep economic equality which Senator Mark Daly described and which is caused by our trade policies, among other causes. These are the root causes. Ireland has an outstanding reputation in seeking to tackle these causes through our development programmes. We are now subscribing to a narrative of militarisation rather than one of community-building, peace-building and working for equality.
In terms of Europe's future, this is not the way to go and we should not pander to this approach. We have been, and will be, told that Ireland needs to play its part. Ireland has been playing its part. What is Ireland's part? It is a unique role. We have a role greater than almost any other nation in terms of the level of rescue work which we have done. We have a unique role in peace-building, a role which is internationally recognised and is respected around the world. Ireland is a country which is recognised as an honest broker which operates on its own and which has a different history from many of our European neighbours. As much as we respect and work with our neighbours, Ireland has had the experience of being a colony rather than a coloniser. We have a different history. This has meant that Ireland has been asked to intervene and support the peace process in Colombia. It has meant that Ireland has been called on to do the work of peace-building around the world. Ireland's own peace process have recognised the complexity of peace-building.
This is a vital point. I have been saying it in this House and I feel I will be saying it again. Peace-building is not the same as securitisation. In many cases the language of militarisation and securitisation can be at absolute odds with the vital work of peace-building, which we need now in Europe and the wider world. I question our international credibility if we are seen as simply another among the EU states. Ireland wants, and has been lobbying very heavily for, a place on the UN Security Council. That poses a question. Will we simply be representing Europe and Europe's interests, military or otherwise? Will we instead be seeking a place on the UN Security Council knowing that we can stand as a hugely credible independent actor which punches above its weight? We are swapping our unique role, our unique ability to punch above our weight and the unique contribution and bridge-building that Ireland can bring to be part of a flotilla. That is really regrettable. I wish that instead we had pursued a complementary role with our own missions, working in the bilateral way we have done thus far. I do not mean that to denigrate the EU states which may continue with Operation Sophia. It would have added more value.
I have two final points. They are very important. There are questions around peace, neutrality and Ireland's role. The Minister of State stated that "Ireland will only participate in those aspects of Operation Sophia which are authorised in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions". Does he anticipate that aspects of Operation Sophia will not be in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions? If we are only participating in half a project, but that project is in breach of UN Security Council resolutions, it raises a real concern.
I must mention the vital concerns regarding Libya-----
I will finish now. The Libyan coast guard has been mentioned. How can we justify supporting a coast guard which has used military fire against vulnerable people in this project, especially in light of conditions in detention centres? A crisis is not less of a crisis because we seek to hide it on other shores.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for bringing forward and dealing with this debate. It is important to emphasise again that there is a triple lock system involved in this matter. It requires a UN mandate, approval by the Government and approval by the Dáil. We are going through that system. We have done that before in respect of peacekeeping operations. There are already 25 EU countries involved in Operation Sophia. We are now also joining this operation. It is about co-ordination and working together. We should remember that this project has already saved more than 36,000 lives. We are now getting involved in an operation which has rescued and saved many people. It is very important that we continue in that role. It is also important, however, that we take on the people who are causing the problem. They are the smugglers who are making huge money. This is about ensuring that they are not extorting and extracting substantial sums of money from people who are being promised safe passage to Europe but are in fact getting something totally different and whose lives are being put in danger.
I have heard the arguments today about this project. They were the very same arguments which were put forward when Irish troops were deployed to Chad in 2008 under a UN mandate and with the approval of the Government and the Dáil. The very same arguments are being made today as were made in 2008. That was an EU project under which we assigned Irish troops to protect 570,000 people in refugee camps on the Sudanese border. I was a Member of the European Parliament at the time. I was on the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I actually went to the Sudanese border to see what it was like and what the Army would be doing. I prepared a report for the Subcommittee on Human Rights on that matter. That was about providing safety and security for the people from three or four different countries who were being forced into these refugee camps.
There were many complaints at the time that we were becoming part of an EU military alliance. It was far from it. It was interesting to watch how people in Europe reacted to this project at the time. The people who were pro-NATO did not want Europe getting involved because they saw that Europe becoming involved in a peacekeeping role would undermine the intentions of those involved in NATO. On the other hand, when the Irish Army was deployed there, a member of the British defence forces reported back to the committee in the European Parliament that the Irish Army had achieved more in six months than the French had achieved in the previous 30 years in some of the areas and villages around the refugee camps. That is the contribution that members of the Irish Defence Forces, including the Naval Service, can make. They approach situations in a totally different way - a peacekeeping way which is based on influencing others around them. That is why the Naval Service becoming involved in this operation influenced how others managed this project. It is about peacekeeping and saving lives.
It is extremely important that we give credit where credit is due. Much good work was done in those two years during which we worked within the European project on the Sudanese border in Chad and a much credit was given at European level. I witnessed it. I saw that the contribution of the Irish Defence Forces was very much appreciated and recognised as having had a huge influence on the entire project. Likewise, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Naval Service will have an influence on this project, even though we will only be one of 26 countries involved. We will have an influence in respect of the future management of this project and that is the important contribution which we will make. When some people say we should stay outside the door, I say that this is UN mandated peacekeeping and that we are going through all of the procedures which are constitutionally required in respect of how we manage these operations.I welcome this development. It is a way forward but it is also about influencing how others behave at European level. It is about saving lives and providing protection for the very vulnerable. I welcome the decision for us to partake in this project. I thank the Minister of State for debating the matter with us today.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for this statement in response to the deployment decision. It is important to have some context in regard to these matters. It is stated the Defence Forces cannot be deployed unless a mission has been approved by the United Nations, the Government and Dáil Éireann. It does not refer to Seanad Éireann or the Oireachtas. It is really important to state that.
Article 28.3.1° of the Constitution states: "War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann." That is really important to note. I am disappointed because I believed up to today that it was a matter for the Oireachtas, not just the Dáil. These are the facts. We have to deal with the facts, the parameters of the Constitution and the process in regard to the triple lock. It has to have a UN mandate and the approval of the Government and the Dáil. Therefore, the arrangement has met all its criteria, and it was overwhelmingly supported in the Dáil, with a very large majority. I watched the debate from my monitor in my office. That is the background and context. I thank the Minister for coming in here and taking us through the process and rationale for the decision.
I call on Senators on all sides to consider, on having read, debated and reflected upon the provision in the Constitution, a constitutional referendum that will insert "and Seanad Éireann" after "Dáil Éireann". It makes sense. It would be a good idea. It is not the law as it currently stands. It is a proposal that I will promote. I hope many of us can work on it in the coming months. I call for deliberation and consideration by all Members of the Oireachtas with a view to having a constitutional referendum to amend Article 28.3.1° of the Constitution.
The Irish Naval Service has rescued 16,000 people from the Mediterranean under Operation Pontus. This is something we could be particularly proud of. The rescue was in conjunction with the Italian Government. I had the pleasure some weeks ago in Dún Laoghaire of welcoming the Defence Forces on their entry to the port, as did Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. All members of the Defence Forces spoke with great pride about their engagement in the Mediterranean and the work they had done. Nobody cast any shadow over it. They were eager and keen to engage again. That is the message I took away from these men at the port only a few weeks ago.
We know the Cabinet has approved Operation Sophia. We know it is on. It is a rescue mission. It was approved in Dáil Éireann this afternoon with a large majority. The Taoiseach said in the House yesterday that this is being done at the request of the Defence Forces, who want to do more and to be part of a mission in the Mediterranean and rescue refugees and combat human trafficking. I support this. The primary, but not the only, objective of Operation Sophia is to target and stop gangs using vessels for human trafficking. The mission is a rescue mission. It is a humanitarian response to people's needs. It has the absolute support of the Naval Service. It has the support of many people. We, as a nation, were particularly proud to see our Defence Forces on a mission in the Mediterranean. I have met so many people who talked about the great pride we had in our Defence Forces when they were there. The triple lock has been complied with. The Dáil and Government have approved the mission and we have to move on.
I rest my case with this challenge to both Houses of the Oireachtas. Let us, after mature reflection, consider amending Article 28.3.1° of the Constitution with a view to strengthening it to include Seanad Éireann in the triple lock. It is not included now. I thank the Minister of State.
I thank all the Members of Seanad Éireann for their contributions today. Overall, I am heartened by the level of support in the House for this proposal. An open and honest debate is always very welcome and worthwhile. A previous speaker outlined why the decision was made before coming to Seanad Éireann. I was invited here to make statements. Just as Senator Boyhan has done, I remind Members that the triple lock is for a UN-mandated mission. A Government decision was taken on Tuesday last and a Dáil debate started last night and concluded today. Over 50% of those who voted were in favour of the motion. I have absolutely no say whatsoever in that.
It is totally up to the House.
The central Mediterranean route is now once again the dominant one for migrants and refugees who wish to reach Europe. The human suffering and cost of this are absolutely intolerable. The reasons for the influx of migrants are many and varied and include factors such a the instability in Libya and the ongoing conflict and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
Italy is one of the EU countries most affected by the sustained flow of migrants coming to European shores. No single member state can manage this issue on its own. Progress towards finding a sustainable, long-term solution to the migration challenge has been slow and, in the interim, many lives have been lost. Nobody in this House has the final answer to the migration crisis facing Europe.
Operation Sophia is a positive example of the EU partners working together to combat criminal activities, save lives and build the capacity of weaker nations while strengthening our own capabilities and creating new partnerships. Targeting the network of smugglers and traffickers has been acknowledged as a key part of any strategy to save and protect the lives of the very vulnerable people.
I am not sure whether Members saw "The Crossing" before Christmas. I wanted it to be filmed to educate the Irish on the crisis that has been in the Mediterranean for many years, specifically in recent years, and to show the capability of the Irish Naval Service and its contribution to tackling the migration crisis. Everybody would acknowledge that the Irish Naval Service has done an outstanding job over recent years. Its capacity to engage in Operation Sophia is great.
I am aware of concerns over the Naval Service's participation in Operation Sophia. I wish to offer reassurance. While the focus of Operation Sophia is primarily on security and interception operations, over 36,000 people, or almost 40,000, have been rescued by vessels operating under the mission since October 2015. I am not aware that there were six to ten ships operating at any one time. I could check but I do not believe so. As a matter of fact, the only participating countries with vessels in the region at present are Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Belgium. We will add to that.I am almost certain there were never more than four or five ships operating at any one time but I am open to correction in that regard. It would be wrong of me to leave this House-----
I have acknowledged that. The Naval Service will continue to be available to respond to the requests from the relevant authorities, namely, the Italian maritime rescue co-ordination centres, in terms of vessels at risk in its area of operation. Ireland will now be making an additional contribution to address some of the root causes of migration and human trafficking. Thus far, Operation Sophia has contributed to the apprehension of 109 suspected smugglers and traffickers and has removed 440 boats that were available to criminal organisations.
According to the most recent strategic review of Operation Sophia by the EU, a daily average of more than 50 merchant vessels and up to ten of the non-governmental organisations that are operating in the central Mediterranean are involved in search and rescue activities on an ongoing basis. Their work should be acknowledged and commended. Last week, I met one of the NGO groups involved in the operation. Operation Sophia is built on a partnership model, with member states working together and contributing their experiences in the shared interest of bringing to an end the tragic loss of life in the central Mediterranean. In addition to its role of disturbing the activities of smugglers and traffickers, Operation Sophia plays an important role in collecting and analysing data, information sharing and training of the Libyan authorities, supporting the establishment of a monitoring network and acting as a deterrent to the flow of illicit arms into Libya. Ireland's humanitarian effort to date would be strengthened by supporting this multilateral approach.
A number of the issues raised were outside of this debate. It is right and proper that I would have the opportunity to respond to the points made by some contributors. I am man enough to apologise to Senator Craughwell, but I have responded to the issues raised by him on a number of occasions in this House. I have never refused to come to this House. In recent times, I spent almost two hours in this House debating defence matters. I do not believe previous Ministers for Defence spent as much time in the Seanad as I have. It is my duty as Minister to do that and I have no problem doing so. I have addressed a number of the issues raised by Senator Craughwell on a previous occasion. I apologise to the Senator if he thought I was dismissive of him. However, it was unfair of him to put untruths on the record. I would like to reassure Senator Craughwell that the armed peace support allowance of €21.22 per day in respect of enlisted personnel and NCOs will be paid to personnel deployed in Operation Sophia.
I was annoyed by Senator Craughwell's statement that the Irish Naval Service does not have the capacity to operate in this mission. That is a matter for the Naval Service and its Chief of Staff. If the service does not have the capacity to operate in the mission the Chief of Staff would inform me of that. I met him as recently as two hours ago and he reassured me that the Naval Service has the capacity to carry out this mission. If Senator Craughwell had concerns he should have raised them with me on one of the many occasions I have met him in Leinster House over the past two days. I reiterate the Naval Service has the capacity to partake in this operation. I have been assured by the staff of the Defence Forces that it has the capacity to meet the demands of this operation.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of pay and he said that members have approached him asking for food parcels. If any Member of this House or the Lower House has been approached and told by members of the Defence Forces that they are unable to put food in their table they should bring that to my attention. As a public representative and as Minister of State, it is my job to address such matters. As I have said previously in debates on the Defence Forces, it is my responsibility as Minister of State with responsibility for defence to look after the personnel of the Defence Forces.
Since last March, PDFORRA members have accepted the terms of the Lansdowne Road agreement. All of its members are now benefitting from salary increases. The benefits which have begun to accrue include an increase of 2.5% from 1 January 2016 in respect of annualised salaries of up to €24,000 and a 1% increase for annualised salaries of between €24,001 to €31,000. This was backdated to 1 January 2016. Next week, an increase of €1,000 from 1 April 2017 on an annualised salary of up to €65,000 per annum will be paid. This amounts to an additional €19 gross per week. This means that privates who have completed their 29 weeks training and are in the first year of service will benefit to the tune of €1,500 gross per annum.
Officers represented by RACO earning below €65,000 gross per annum have already received this increase. A revised pay scale has been agreed for general service recruits and privates who joined the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 2013. These revised payscales include the Lansdowne Road agreement increases. This will result in increases in gross pay for general service recruits of more than €38 per week in respect of their 17 weeks of training and in the region of €78 gross pay per week for private 2 star in their 12 weeks of training. The combination of revised gross pay and military service allowance for private 3 star will result in an increase of between €2,000 to €6,000 per annum, depending on the point at which they are on the salary scale. The revised pay scales will be applied in the coming weeks and will be backdated to 1 July 2016. This will benefit some 1,300 members of the Permanent Defence Force in the Irish Defence Forces.
The extended Lansdowne Road agreement has yet to be approved by members of the representative organisations, who I was supposed to meet this evening at 6 p.m. However, it is important that as Minister of State I remain here to outline to the House the further benefits provided under the extended Lansdowne Road agreement, including increases ranging from 6.75% to 7.25% over the duration of the agreement in respect of salaries up to €32,000. As I said, this agreement is under consideration by the representative organisations.
The issue of the recent climate survey was also raised. I am happy to return to the House at a later date to listen to and address the concerns of members on this issue. I have previously had that debate with Members of this House, during which I outlined that the interests of the Irish Defence Forces is at the heart of everything I do in this area.
This was recognised in the public pay commission booklet, which I encourage members to read.I raised it here on the previous occasion, and told Members exactly what pages recognised the Defence Forces and the struggles they are under. I am happy the commitment to the Defence Forces is reflected in the recent pay talks. I thank Members for getting involved in the debate. If any issues need to be followed up I will get back in contact with the Senators directly.
The Minister of State has said he is prepared to come back again. That concludes statements. In accordance with the Order of the House today the Seanad stands adjourned until 12 noon next Tuesday, when matters can be pursued further.