Seanad Éireann - Volume 187 - 29 November, 2007
Overseas Missions: Statements.
Deputy Tom Kitt Deputy Tom Kitt
 Deputy Tom Kitt: I thank the Seanad, on my own behalf and that of the Minister for Defence, for providing this opportunity to outline the background to the proposed EU operation in the Republic of Chad and the Central African Republic, CAR, and the reasons the Government decided to authorise the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the operation.
The basis of Ireland’s participation in international peacekeeping is firmly grounded in the United Nations. Ireland is, and always has been, a strong and committed supporter of co-operative multilateral arrangements for collective security through the development of international organisations, particularly the United Nations. In tandem with this, Ireland has recognised and defended the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
In recent years, the UN has recognised the advantages presented by the existence of regional organisations, such as the European Union, to which it can assign crisis management and peace support missions. Similar developments have occurred between the UN and other regional organisations. In the case of Liberia, the initial deployment of troops was from the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and in the case of Kosovo it was NATO.
The increasing reliance of the UN on regional actors in crisis management situations has, in part, contributed to the impetus towards development of the European security and defence policy, ESDP. The European Union now has the capacity to mount major peacekeeping operations and to date a total of five military operations, in and outside Europe, have been undertaken by the European Union. The comprehensive range of instruments available to the European Union, including the capacity to deploy military forces, means that the European Union now has the capacity to play a major role in supporting international peace and security and in support of the United Nations.
UN-EU co-operation is being developed continuously to ensure a coherent and complementary response in peace support operations. There is also increasing co-operation between the UN and the EU in the area of crisis management with EU involvement in the areas of “rule of law” including courts and prisons, civil administration and civil protection including response to natural disasters. The increasing necessity for post- conflict peace-building has also called for the involvement of civilian police. This typically includes a training element and the Garda Síochána has participated in a number of such operations and has built up a capacity in this field which is well-recognised internationally.
The touchstone for Ireland’s participation in overseas missions continues to be the UN. Decisions on Irish participation in ESDP missions are taken on a case-by-case basis, and are subject to the “triple lock” process. Irish participation in ESDP operations is fully in keeping with Ireland’s commitment to the UN. Against this background, the Government is fully supportive of the participation of the Defence Forces in a substantive manner in the EUFOR mission.
I will now turn to the conflict and the proposed operation in Chad and the Central African Republic. The multiple conflicts in the border areas between Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic constitute a threat to peace and security in the entire region. In Chad, following an agreement between the Government of Chad and the peaceful political opposition in August 2007, a peace deal was signed between the Government and four rebel groups in October 2007. However, major problems continue with ongoing clashes between rebels and Government forces. Arising from these clashes, more than 180,000 internally displaced Chadians and 236,000 Sudanese refugees now live in camps in eastern Chad.
In the case of the Central African Republic, the already fragile situation has been exacerbated by the activities of criminal gangs, the spill-over of instability from Darfur and Chad and an armed rebellion in the north west and north east. Approximately 170,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since September 2005. In addition, more than 43,000 refugees from the Central African Republic reside in Chad and 20,000 people are thought to have fled to Cameroon. Malnutrition has reached alarming levels, particularly among children.
The troubled situation in Sudan’s Darfur region, Chad and the Central African Republic demands an immediate response from the international community. As then Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development assistance, I visited Darfur in 2004. It is a terrible reflection on the international community that the situation there has not been resolved but I am proud that we are playing a role in regard to the refugees who come from that region. That innocent people, who have been already uprooted from their homes to face terror, rape and murder, continue to be at risk in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons cannot be tolerated. During my visit to Darfur, I spoke with many families who were living in fear and was told some horrendous stories about their personal circumstances.
The former President, Mary Robinson, and a group of women leaders made a well-publicised visit to Chad’s camps recently. Her report on what she witnessed and heard from the women refugees is disturbing. Women who had escaped horrific attacks by militiamen in Darfur now faced being targeted and raped in the refugee camps and are afraid to go out to collect food and firewood. She has called for an EU force to protect refugee camps and highlighted the need for security because the refugees and displaced persons, and women in particular, are not safe in the camps.
The authorities of Chad and the Central African Republic have welcomed a possible EU military presence in their respective countries. This was reiterated during the visit of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to Chad on 15 and 16 November, when he received the assurances of the Chadian Prime Minister. The signing of the peace deal in Chad in October 2007, albeit under some strain at present, can still provide an opportunity for greater stability in the region and, with the deployment of the UN mission, an improved environment for assisting and protecting refugees and supporting the distribution of humanitarian aid. The EU mission to Chad will complement the planned UN-African Union hybrid mission being launched by the UN in Darfur by limiting the spill-over potential from the conflict in Sudan.
On 25 September 2007, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1778 establishing a multidimensional UN mission in Chad and the Central African Republic that will help strengthen security in the region. The multidimensional presence will comprise a United Nations Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, to be known as MINURCAT, which will focus on the security and protection of refugees, internally displaced persons, IDPs, and civilians in danger, and on human rights and the rule of law in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic; and troops deployed by the European Union with a robust authorisation to protect and support it. In its decision of 15 October 2007, the Council of the European Union agreed a Joint Action to launch the ESDP mission in support of the UN operation in Chad and the Central African Republic.
UN Security Council Resolution 1778 authorises the European Union, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to deploy for a period of one year from the date of its initial operating capability is declared by the European Union in consultation with the Secretary General. The EU forces will be deployed to eastern Chad and the north-eastern Central African Republic. The EU forces are authorised to support the UN and to take all necessary measures within its capabilities and its area of operation to contribute to protecting civilians in danger, particularly refugees and displaced persons; to improve security in the area of operations to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel; and to contribute to protecting United Nations and associated personnel, facilities, installations and equipment.
The EU is planning to launch this operation as a matter of urgency. The intention is to have an initial operational capability on the ground in December with the operation fully functional by the end of March 2008. Planning to this end is ongoing. At this point in time, contributions of troops from EU member states are in line with the mission requirements. However there are significant deficiencies in key enabling elements, such as medical facilities, medevac and helicopter and fixed wing tactical lift aircraft. This is not unusual at this stage in the planning process because medical and air assets are always at a premium. However, the operational commander has been absolutely clear that in the absence of these elements it will not be possible to launch the operation. The Minister for Defence has called on his European ministerial colleagues to step up to the plate and provide the required assets so as to allow this important mission to proceed speedily. I assure Senators there is no question of the Defence Forces deploying in theatre without the required enablers being in place.
Ireland from the outset has been positively disposed towards the proposed mission. In its decisions of 2 October and 23 October 2007, the Government deployed the then Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Pat Nash, as operation commander of the EU force and up to 11 additional personnel to the headquarters of the operation. Dáil Éireann approved the deployment of Major General Nash and his personal support staff on 9 October 2007. The role of the operation commander is to manage the overall military operation and provide the military interface between the military operation and MINURCAT, the EU and the UN. The post of operation commander is the highest profile post Ireland will have undertaken in an EU operation to date. In mid-October, Major General Nash assumed immediate leadership in the planning and launch of the operation.
The likely location for the deployment of the substantive Irish contingent will be the Goz Beida region of eastern Chad. The role of the contingent will be contributing to the establishment of a safe and secure environment in order to protect civilians in danger, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, the free movement of humanitarian personnel, protecting UN and associated personnel and encouraging the return of IDPs. The Irish contingent will be based on a mechanised infantry battalion group comprising manoeuvre elements and combat support and combat service support elements. The contingent will comprise some 400 personnel. Due to the nature of the operation and the mission area and environment, force protection will be a key consideration. The final configuration of Ireland’s contingent contribution to the mission is being further worked out in consultation with the EU military staff and the operation commander.
The Defence Forces initial entry force will comprise an advance party of approximately 50 personnel of the Army ranger wing and support elements, which will provide reconnaissance and force protection for engineers in the selection and establishment of the Irish camp. These personnel will be deployed in December 2007 and the main contingent, which is currently undergoing selection and concentration prior to detailed mission specific training, is likely to deploy in February or March 2008.
A full assessment of the Chad-Central African Republic operation was undertaken, including a comprehensive and detailed reconnaissance of the area of operations by an experienced Defence Forces team prior to the final decision being made. The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces has advised that the threat level in the area of operations is assessed as medium risk. Rebel and bandit groups using four by four pick-up vehicles and hit and run tactics constitute the main threat EUFOR may have to face. These groups operate opportunistically, concentrating and dissipating quickly to engage weaker targets including aid workers, the local population and weaker military elements, but they lack the potential for any prolonged engagement. They operate mainly along the border between Chad and Sudan. French forces based in Chad have indicated they have had no engagement to date with any of these groups, possibly due to the fact that the groups do not have the potential to engage well trained and equipped military elements. The military authorities assure me that, while the level of risk is consistent with any operational deployment into a conflict zone in Africa, it is one which the Defence Forces has the capability to manage.
The decision to send troops overseas is not taken lightly. I assure the House that our ability to protect the health and safety of personnel is of paramount concern when considering any mission. Once a decision to deploy is made and the nature and manner of that deployment is finalised, all operational decisions regarding deployment, force protection assets, medical facilities, etc., are a matter for the military authorities. The final decision on the deployment to the EU mission was not taken until the Defence Forces conducted their own detailed threat assessment in the area of operations and the Minister for Defence had received the report from the Chief of Staff.
While no absolute guarantees can be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions, it is the policy and practice to ensure Defence Forces personnel are appropriately trained and equipped to carry out their mission. The Defence Forces will deploy MOWAG APCs and close reconnaissance vehicles, which will provide armoured protection, mobility, firepower and a communications platform. The MOWAG APCs being deployed were also deployed with the Defence Forces when they served with UNMIL in Liberia and UNIFIL in Lebanon where they performed very effectively. In addition, the existing French presence in Chad is capable of rapid expansion if necessary to support the EU force.
As Senators will be aware, Dáil Éireann approved the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Forces for service with the UN mandated operation in the Republic of Chad and Central African Republic. I will now address one of the issues raised during this debate which relates to the recent breakdown in the ceasefire in Chad. Obviously, in the context of the ceasefire negotiated only last month, the latest outbreak of hostilities is disappointing. It is my understanding from my reading of the reports that the rebels are impatient with the Chadian Government’s progress in implementing the terms of the ceasefire while, at the same time, the Government of Chad is wrestling with the challenge of working out how to give effect to the terms of the ceasefire, include the rebels in the structures of Government and integrate rebel forces into the army. While these tensions are understandable, they do not excuse the extent of the violence which I have seen reported.
Breakdowns in ceasefires are not unusual in these types of conflicts and the House will recall that in the context of the ceasefires in Northern Ireland we have also experienced many false dawns. Obviously in the case of Chad the level of violence, if the reports are to be believed, is more extensive. This is the reason we are deploying professional troops with extensive force protection assets, significantly beyond that which is available to the rebels.
The Defence Forces have faced similar circumstances in Liberia where rebels, faced with overwhelming firepower and professional forces, have faded into the background. We are hopeful a similar situation will apply in Chad. I call on all parties to the conflict, Government and rebels, to have patience, respect the ceasefire and, in the case of surrounding countries, not to exacerbate the situation or become involved in the conflict.
I assure the House that we will provide the Defence Forces contingent with whatever is necessary to enable our forces to discharge their mandate safely. The Defence Forces military command continually evaluates the situation in theatre to ensure contingents have the requisite firepower and protection on an ongoing basis to undertake their mission. The planned deployment to Chad will not be different.
The conflict in Chad is one of the many, often forgotten conflicts in Africa which demands a response from the international community. Irish and international humanitarian aid workers daily risk their lives working in extremely difficult conditions to relieve the oppression of helpless citizens, women and children, who are continuously at risk. We, Ireland and the European Union, can make a real and substantive contribution. If anything, the increase in hostilities points to the need for the international community, in particular the European Union, to raise its game and ensure this mission is a success. If European Security and Defence Policy means anything to our partners in the European Union, now is the time to make it mean something. Despite being one of the smallest member states, with less than 1% of the European Union’s population, Ireland is providing more than 10% of the planned EU force. It is now up to other member states to meet their commitments if we are serious about European Security and Defence Policy and the EU being a global player on the international stage in this regard.
The Defence Forces have a strong tradition of participation in missions of this nature and Ireland has a special commitment to Africa, evidenced by, among other things, our bilateral aid programme. Having regard to the importance of this mission to peace and stability in the region and Ireland’s abiding interest in Africa and its development, the Government is satisfied that we should participate in the mission. Ireland is determined to play a meaningful and constructive role in the mission, as the expected second largest contributor and provider of the operation commander.
As I stated, the launch of the operation depends on the response of the European Union as a whole. In this regard, it is vital that those member states with access to medical and air assets, in particular the larger member states, come forward in support of this mission. Planning is continuing in earnest and I look forward to a successful launch of the mission in December. Senators will join me in wishing our troops a successful and safe mission.
Senator Paddy Burke Senator Paddy Burke
Senator Paddy Burke: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and extend best wishes to the Minister for Defence on his work on the mission to Chad. The Fine Gael Party supports the deployment of 400 troops to Chad with some reservations. I congratulate Major General Pat Nash and wish him, the initial group of 50 rangers and the 400 strong force the best of luck on their deployment.
While I have never been to central Africa, I visited South Africa in 1994 for the first democratic election, which was an amazing event. We have not given sufficient credit to the former President of South Africa, Mr. F. W. de Klerk, for the wonderful work he did in helping to create peace in South Africa. It is wonderful that South Africa has remained peaceful through changes in government since 1994.
In light of the centuries of conflict in Ireland, specifically the conflict in Northern Ireland in recent decades, we are in a strong position to send troops on peacekeeping missions. We have also learned the value of peace since the ending of the conflict in recent times. We also have individuals of a high calibre, including Major General Pat Nash, who are available to take control of peacekeeping missions.
I compliment those members of the Defence Forces who have signed up to participate in the mission to Chad. It is extremely brave to put one’s life on the line for peace, not knowing whether one will return. The operation is planned to last for 12 months. Is it possible it will be extended, given the potential of the conflict in Chad to destabilise central Africa in general?
As was noted in the Dáil yesterday and in the national media, Chad, the fifth largest state in Africa, is larger than any European Union country and three times bigger than California. I am not sure whether more recent statistics are available but according to figures from 1993, life expectancy in Chad is only 47 years and 47% of the people are under the age of 15 years. In terms of religious composition, 54% of the population is Muslim, 20% Catholic, 14% Protestant and 3% atheist. Does religion play a role in the conflict, as was the case here?
There is widespread concern about the safety of the Irish troops who will take part in the mission to Chad. Initially, 50 rangers will travel to the country on a dangerous mission to prepare the ground, establish camps and so forth. The Minister of State does not believe this group will face dangers, whereas I am certain they will be in danger. I understand only three helicopters are available for the mission, which requires approximately 20 helicopters.
Have any ladies signed up for the mission?
Senator Geraldine Feeney Senator Geraldine Feeney
Senator Geraldine Feeney: They are women soldiers.
Senator Paddy Burke Senator Paddy Burke
Senator Paddy Burke: I know the Minister for Defence made a concerted effort to recruit women to the Defence Forces, which proved difficult. There are significant difficulties for women who join and I wonder whether they are treated in the same fashion as men. I know, for example, that footballers working in the Defence Forces are very well treated with regard to time off etc., but I do not know if the same is true for women who play county or club football. This matter was brought to my attention some time ago and I urge the Minister to look into it.
Are any members of the Reserve Defence Force going on this mission or does it include only members of the Permanent Defence Force? There has been speculation in the media with regard to problems getting water and facilities to the mission. What problems are envisaged in that regard? What will happen if there is a civil war? The Minister of State said in his speech the risk to the Defence Forces undertaking the mission would be minimal. If there is a civil war, the risk will not be minimal. Have we the necessary aircraft capability to move our Defence Forces out if required?
I am delighted the Minister of State mentioned what our former President, Mary Robinson, had to say about her visit to Chad. It was disturbing to watch her on television, as she was emotionally affected by what she saw. I am sure our Defence Forces will be prepared for similar experiences when they go to Chad. They need to be well prepared as they will come across innocent people being murdered and find that people uprooted from their homes who have been terrorised or raped continue to be at risk in refugee camps where there is lack of tolerance for internally displaced persons. Mary Robinson reported that what she heard from women refugees was most disturbing. Women who had escaped horrific attacks in Darfur, were now facing being targeted and raped in refugee camps. They were afraid to go out to collect food and firewood. I am sure our Defence Forces will be well equipped and trained to deal with these matters as well as all the other issues with which they will have to deal.
While we support this worthwhile, necessary and humanitarian mission, it is risky. Full protection must remain in place for the duration of the mission for all the troops. It is the most dangerous mission ever undertaken by the Irish Army and, therefore, requires proper protection, facilities and back-up to be put in place. If these are put in place, the risk will be minimised. We fully support the mission and wish the best of luck to Major General Pat Nash and the initial 50 rangers going to Chad. They will have the dangerous job of doing the groundwork for the other 400 going out. On the medical side, I am sure there will be full medical back-up for the troops and I wish them too the best of luck.
Senator Kieran Phelan Senator Kieran Phelan
Senator Kieran Phelan: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Tom Kitt, to the House and congratulate him on his re-election to the Dáil. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on Ireland’s involvement in the EU military operation in Chad, our most expensive mission to date. The operation, requested by the UN, is being led by an Irishman, Major General Pat Nash, as operations commander of the EU force. His deployment and that of his entire support staff was ratified by the triple lock, whereby Irish Defence Forces planning an overseas mission must receive authorisation from three factions: the UN, the Government and the Dáil.
Chad has had an unstable history characterised by decades of civil war. It is governed by a regime which is democratic in name but in practice does not resemble in any way democracy as we understand it. The relationship between Chad, as a former French colony, and its one-time European rulers continues to be fraught, with France having somewhat of an ambiguous status both in Chad and elsewhere in north and central Africa. Its presence is often regarded as a kind of double-edged sword. It is condemned for continuing imperial interference and praised as a facilitator of sustained stability through financial investment and military support.
As we are already aware, Ireland is the second largest provider of troops on this mission, second only to the French, who will comprise almost half of the total force. The role of the Irish Army in Chad is multifaceted. One such facet, owing to the history outlined above, is to distract somewhat from the size of the French contingent, helping to create and enforce the vital perception of the mission as comprising troops from a host of European countries. Ireland’s presence is of particular importance in this regard because of the similarities that exist between our history and that of Chad and because of our historic and widely renowned neutrality, which has served our reputation well on an international scale. As Major General Pat Nash commented, “Ireland is seen as an honest broker in international relations.” Therefore, it is seen as a diplomatic asset on a mission of this nature.
While Chad has shaken off its colonial status, its tendency for conflict has not ceased. The multiple conflicts and ongoing clashes in the border areas of Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic have resulted in more than 180,000 internally displaced Chadians and 236,000 Sudanese refugees. This turbulent situation has been further compounded by the devastating effects resulting from natural disasters, which has prompted the UN and our former President, Mary Robinson, to request the support of a combined EU force to offer protection and security to the displaced and the refugees being accommodated in camps in the eastern part of the country and aid workers representing all corners of the world, including Ireland, who are working hard in the camps.
Chad is a remote and massive landlocked country 20 times the size of Ireland and the approximate combined size of France, Spain, and Germany. The main area of activity is in the eastern part of the country, similar in size to France. Infrastructure is sparse and the nearest port is 2,000 kilometres away, with few if any roads. The existing roads are dusty dirt roads over very rough terrain. As a result, all vital enabling elements, from people to helicopters and tents to tanks, must be flown in by air. This is a costly exercise, coupled with the fact that all equipment used will suffer massive degradation owing to the harshness of the environment. This fact was stressed by Colonel Brian O’Keeffe at the RACO conference this week. It will take approximately 40 plane loads of equipment to transport the required equipment to Chad, not to mention another 40 plane loads for the return. The troops themselves will only need two flights each way. The cost of transport will total between approximately €1 million and €4 million.
All told, costs are expected to reach a ballpark figure of €57 million to €60 million, the most expensive operation on which the Irish Defence Forces have ever been deployed. Unlike the usual blue hat operation, with which we are all familiar and where the substantial costs are met by the UN, in the case of an EU mission, albeit one mandated by the UN, the costs are met by the contributing member states.
As I mentioned already the Irish troops are travelling to Chad to protect civilians in danger, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the free movement of humanitarian personnel. It goes without saying that the troops will meet with a hostile environment in every sense of the word. The Chief of Staff has advised that the threat level is of medium risk, with the main threat being posed by the rebel or bandit groups. I note there has been some media concern about the safety of the Irish troops while on Chadian soil. The French forces already based in Chad have assured us that they have had no engagement with any of these groups to date, and have added that the level of risk being posed is in no way different from any other conflict zone in Africa. The Irish troops, therefore, are more than capable and equipped to manage any threat to their safety and that of the vulnerable, whose protection is their primary reason for their presence in Chad. As Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Earley advised, his personnel are “in the business of taking risks”. There is no such thing as a safe mission, these Irish soldiers are professionals who have trained long and hard, and were trained by experts in order that they are able and ready for such a mission.
The high level of cost and that level of danger must not be our main focus. We must recognise that while these factors are of massive importance, they are outweighed by the contribution the mission can make to peace and security in the region. The decision to participate on the mission is in keeping with Ireland’s foreign policy and our commitment to the maintenance of international order and security through the efforts of and participation in peacekeeping activity, supporting the UN and the EU regardless of cost.
It is interesting to note that the bulk of the troops are expected to be deployed early next year, and their departure will mark the 50th Anniversary of Ireland’s participation on UN missions, when personnel from the Irish Defence Forces form part of an observer group in the Lebanon, and I hope it continues for many years to come.
I wish the troops and the mission well in Chad and I have no doubt the mission will be very successful.
Senator Brendan Ryan Senator Brendan Ryan
Senator Brendan Ryan: The Labour Party supports the deployment of 400 troops as part of the UN mandated military operation in the Republic of Chad. The triple lock mechanism of approval by the UN, the Government and the Dáil has been completed and this satisfies the approval requirements before Defence Forces can be deployed overseas.
Ireland is the second largest contributor of troops and provides the overall operation’s commander, Major General Pat Nash. I am sure he is very proud to be the operation’s commander and so should his family. We wish him well. France is the largest contributor and will supply more than half the 4,300 troops required. That in itself has the potential to be a problem given that France was the former colonial power in that country and is a supporter of the Government there. Anti-Government feeling could manifest itself in anti-French feeling but hopefully that will not arise.
We are confident that our troops will be well prepared. The additional specific training referred to in the Dáil yesterday will make a major contribution to this difficult situation. We wish the troops well in their mission and pray that there will be no fatalities. This is very important and is always a major risk in such missions. The medical back-up and hardware must be available and must be adequate for the task.
The stated objectives of the mission, to which the Minister of State referred in his contribution, are to help establish a safe and secure environment for refugees, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the refugees and to protect the UN and humanitarian personnel. It is against that background and that of the humanitarian crisis in the country and the region and the worthy objectives of the mission that the Labour Party supports it. However, we do so not without concerns, some of which have been referred to by previous contributors.
This difficult and demanding mission is the Irish army’s most challenging mission to date. It will also be the most expensive, costing in the region of €57 million. Chad, as we are aware, is landlocked and is approximately 2,000 km from the nearest port. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on his return from the region, described the environment as being one of the harshest in the world. He also stated that there are no roads to speak of and that travel can be dangerous. The threat level has been described as medium risk. However, only this week there were reports of hundreds being killed and fighting in eastern Chad. As the Minister stated in the Dáil yesterday and as the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, stated here this morning, this is the likely location for the deployment of Irish troops. What does medium risk mean?
One issue to arise concerns the potential for our troops to be drawn into Government rebel conflict there. I have already touched on one aspect of that in the French context. There is also the matter of the increasing level of banditry and vulnerable targets and the risk from break-away rebel factions seeking arms, ammunition and vehicles is on the increase. I accept the view of the Minister of State that they are unlikely to take on a well-armed international force and, hopefully, this will be the case.
The safety and welfare of our troops has got to be our major concern. There are reports of emerging gaps in transport resources in the area of heavy airlift and helicopter assets. Apparently, there are only three helicopters available where it is estimated that 20 will be required to support this mission.
In my view Ireland should not provide the troops unless the estimated resources required are provided. I am happy to read in today’s newspapers that there will be delays because of the shortages of equipment and specialist troops. These are not delays in themselves but the troops will not be committed unless the supports and resources are available. That is welcome. This mission must be properly equipped. It is up to the bigger member states, as the Minister has said, to come up with the goods and support this mission.
The Labour Party is proud that the Permanent Defence Forces are going to take part in this mission. It will bring great credit to its members, to the Defence Forces generally and the country as a whole. However, those involved must be given the tools to do the job and they must have adequate transport arrangements. We wish our troops safety, health and success in their mission.
Senator Geraldine Feeney Senator Geraldine Feeney
Senator Geraldine Feeney: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to the House. I am delighted to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am unique in that I have a special relationship with the Defence Forces as I get their nomination to contest the Seanad election. I meet the men and women of RACO and PDFORRA several times a year and I know at first hand what brave men and women they are. That is part of the reason I am here this morning.
As other Senators have pointed out, this is one of the biggest operations in which Ireland has ever got involved. It is also one of the most expensive, costing a total of €57 million, which is a great deal of money out of the budget of the Minister for Defence. It is being done for all the best reasons, mainly, humanitarian. In addition to sending 400 soldiers, we and our Defence Forces are honoured through the appointment of Major General Pat Nash as overall commander of the entire force. I wondered last night if Major General Nash was the first Irish commander but I was told this morning that in the 1960s an Irish man filled the same shoes in the Congo.
As the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, has said it is an onerous and dangerous mission. Like the rest of us he has complete confidence in the professionalism and ability of our Defence Forces to carry out a mission such as this. I concur with Senator Burke who said it is the most dangerous mission ever undertaken and we should be concerned. I spoke with the general secretary of RACO, Brian O’Keeffe, this morning and he assured me that we can have complete confidence in our military experts who said, “we can do this mission and we can do it well”. Let us get on with it. I look forward to hearing more about the mission when our troops go in the new year.
As the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, stated, this is the most ambitious and challenging overseas development to date. The mission of the Irish troops is threefold: first, to establish a safe and secure environment for refugees; second, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid for the refugees; and, third, to protect UN and other NGO personnel.
It has been pointed out by the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and other speakers that 180,000 Chadian and 236,000 Sudanese refugees are living in camps in eastern Chad, which gives an idea of the mayhem the country is experiencing. Some 170,000 people have been forced to leave their homes since September 2005. Malnutrition is reaching alarming levels, particularly among young children.
I often think it must be the saddest thing for any adult to see a young child starving. I remember the first, frightening pictures coming into our homes from Biafra more than 30 years ago. When I went to primary school in Tullamore, every Friday we brought in a penny for the black babies. This may no longer be politically correct but it was certainly correct at that time. The Irish people go back that far and further in terms of our aid to more deprived areas of the world.
I was touched when the Minister of State referred to Mrs. Mary Robinson’s role and her meeting with displaced persons and refugees. Two or three years ago a lovely young woman from the Congo with two children contacted me. She told me terrible stories of her being raped, their entire family being murdered and her daughters being tortured. She was in a refugee camp but there were times when she was not safe there. I am glad she has now been given refugee status in Ireland. I am proud of our country and of the Government for giving people like Jan a safe haven and a new start in life. Her two little daughters are five and seven and look forward to a bright Christmas this year as she just received refugee status in the past month.
Other speakers have pointed out that Chad is the size of France, Spain and most of Germany combined — we seem to be working from the same script. The main area where our troops will be centred is eastern Chad, which is the size of France. A small country such as Ireland understands how massive such an area is. The country is landlocked, with rough terrain and difficult infrastructure. There are few roads, if any, and, as Senator Kieran Phelan noted, as it will be difficult to get machines, armoured cars and the like into the region, much of this will have to be done by air.
Liberia was a smaller, more tightly scaled mission. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Defence Forces on a very successful mission in Liberia, which has only recently finished. I take my hat off to them. They carried out their duties in a professional way, as we have come to expect from them.
I have no doubt the 50-strong Army Ranger team who are going out to set up the mission are exceptionally well-trained men and women and will be well able to prepare the ground. On “Morning Ireland” this morning, a man whose name escapes me described how the rebels attack. He concluded that with the strength of the army force in place to protect the refugees, the rebels will back away because they are not equipped to deal with the force they will come up against.
The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, made a wonderful presentation which has given us much food for thought. He stated, “Despite being one of the smallest member states, with less than 1% of the European Union’s population, Ireland is providing more than 10% of the planned EU force.” We can be very proud of this. As Senator Burke noted, we know peace comes at a high price, but we in this small island also know the value of peace. I am proud we are sending in our troops.
At the recent RACO conference in Kilkenny, Colonel Brian O’Keeffe called for additional funding to be made available for equipment such as armoured personnel carriers. Through this mission, we know how important equipment is for our forces.
Like other speakers, I wish our men and women well on this mission. Living in Sligo, just 20 miles from Finner Camp in Bundoran, I know what it is like for the families of the brave men and women we are proud to send to Chad. The families will miss them. It is a difficult time and a dangerous mission. They are in our thoughts and our prayers. We look forward to wishing them bon voyage in the new year. We wish them well.
Seanad Éireann 187 Overseas Missions: Statements.