Dáil Éireann - Volume 655 - 22 May, 2008

Written Answers. - Overseas Missions.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on his talks with the Austrian Defence Minister, Mr. Norbert Darabos, regarding the involvement of both Ireland and Austria as neutral countries in the UN mission to Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20154/08]

  Deputy Willie O’Dea: On 24 April 2008, I met with Mr. Norbert Darabos, the Austrian Minister of Defence in Vienna. I was accompanied in the talks by the Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Michael Howard; the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lt Gen Dermot Earley; Assistant Secretary General, Ciaran Murphy; and Mr Frank Cogan, Irish Ambassador to Vienna.

A number of issues were discussed at our meeting including the situation in Kosovo and Chad, where both countries are involved in peacekeeping operations, as well as ESDP, Battlegroups and the Lisbon Treaty. Minister Darabos informed me that he had visited Chad two weeks before our meeting. Minister Darabos was accompanied on his visit by representatives from the Austrian Media. He stated that all concerned were reassured by what they saw of the Force on the ground despite the difficult operating environment. He welcomed the fact that the EUFOR Operation Commander (General Pat Nash) was from a fellow neutral country, Ireland, and that there was participation also by Sweden and Finland. The independence and multinational nature of the mission along with its humanitarian objectives were important issues for Austria. In addition, Minister Darabos was very impressed by what Gen Nash had achieved as Operation Commander.

I advised him that our preparations for the Defence Forces deployment in Chad were going well and that all 400 Irish troops would be in place by end-May. I also informed him that public opinion, in Ireland, was supportive of the mission, particularly in view of its humanitarian [333] objectives, to support those fleeing from the conflict in Darfur and also the Internally Displaced Persons in Chad. We both agreed on the need to ensure that the UN would step in to provide the necessary continuity for EUFOR, which was essentially a bridging operation and also on the need to avoid “mission creep” both in terms of tasks and duration.

Question No. 40 answered with Question No. 6.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on his briefing by the military in Kosovo regarding the situation on the ground since Kosovo became independent in February 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20153/08]

  Deputy Willie O’Dea: During my visit to Kosovo on 23rd April 2008, I visited the Irish Troops based there. I was given a comprehensive briefing by Brigadier General Gerry Hegarty, Commander Multinational Task Force (Centre). I also had meetings with:

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill, Political Adviser;

Mr. Joachim Rücker, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General (UNSRSG), and Head of the UN mission in Kosovo;

Deputy Prime Minister Kuci, and;

Major General Steltz, Deputy Commander, the International Security Force in Kosovo (KFOR) also briefed me on recent incidences in Kosovo.

General Steltz was highly complimentary of the quality of the Irish Contingent and of its contribution to the discharge of the KFOR mission. I was informed that following the declaration of independence by the Kosovo Government on 17 February 2008, the overall security situation continued to remain relatively calm in south Kosovo but still tense in the north. However, the situation is being monitored continuously. The Kosovo-Albanian’s celebrations were peaceful and well managed. However, demonstrations continued in North Mitrovica, peaking on 17 March 2008 when UNMIK Police supported by KFOR intervened in order to remove and arrest the occupants of the courthouse in Mitrovica. In the clashes that followed, a number of UNMIK and KFOR personnel were injured and one (1) Ukrainian member of UNMIK died as a result of injuries sustained in an explosion. There has been no further violence in Mitrovica since 17 March 2008 and UNMIK Police has resumed normal duties in Mitrovica.

The situation in the Irish Area of Responsibility was described as calm and stable, though unpredictable. The threat of attacks on KFOR personnel was assessed as low. The Irish Defence Forces Personnel are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment. This equipment enables troops to carry out the mission assigned, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission. I would like to assure the House that ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and we continually review both personal equipment and force assets, to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles. No mission is without danger, but I am satisfied that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving in KFOR.