Dáil Éireann - Volume 514 - 17 February, 2000

Written Answers. - Overseas Missions.

46. Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Defence the number of occasions since 1 January 2000 on which Irish positions in the Lebanon have come under direct fire or have been at risk as a result of fire directed at others; if he has satisfied himself that all required steps are being taken to ensure the safety of Irish personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4531/00]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Since January 2000 there have been 29 firings close to Irish positions. The safety of Irish personnel serving overseas is always of paramount concern to me and to the Government. While absolute guarantees cannot be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions such as UNIFIL, it is my policy to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are adequately trained and equipped to carry out their mission. Each post within the Irish UNIFIL area of operations has reinforced concrete bunkers specifically designed to withstand direct and indirect fire from heavy weapons. Rigorous operational procedures are in place to ensure that personnel occupy these bunkers in a timely fashion should the need arise. In such eventuality, minimum duty personnel remain in place, protected, to ensure that operational activity is observed and reported.

Physical security in the form of equipment and engineer works at posts and checkpoints is continually being improved. Irish troops are issued with a modern range of weapons and equipment.

48. Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Defence Government policy on the number of military personnel he will allocate to peace support operations; if 1,400 is still the agreed target; [1185] and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4630/00]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): As I indicated in the House on 11 November 1998, during the course of my visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 14/17 October 1998, I signed, on behalf of the Government, a memorandum of understanding which commits Ireland to the United Nations Stand-by Arrangements System, UNSAS.

UNSAS gives the UN a precise understanding of the forces and other capabilities that Ireland would have available at a given state of readiness for UN peace support operations. Ireland has committed up to 850 military personnel for overseas service at any one time.

The total number of personnel currently serving abroad is 869. This short-term excess over the agreed maximum commitment under UNSAS arose from the Government's desire to respond to the very difficult situation in East Timor.

Requests for personnel of the Defence Forces to serve on overseas missions are considered on their merits in the prevailing circumstances within the context of the United Nations Stand-by Arrangements System, UNSAS. Among the factors taken into account when considering the deployment of Defence Forces personnel overseas are security considerations at home and the level of existing overseas commitments.