Seanad Éireann - Volume 187 - 29 November, 2007
Overseas Missions: Statements (Resumed).
Senator Frances Fitzgerald Senator Frances Fitzgerald
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I wish to share my time with Senator Nicky McFadden.
Senator Paul Coghlan Senator Paul Coghlan
Senator Paul Coghlan: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald Senator Frances Fitzgerald
 Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to these statements. As one from an Army family and as a former Fine Gael spokesperson on Defence, I very much value and appreciate the role which our armed forces have played on the international stage. It was a great honour when I led the first all-party visit to our troops in Lebanon some years ago and saw first-hand the invaluable work they were doing there, and the contribution they made to peacekeeping in the area and to supporting civilians and ensuring their lives were somewhat less hazardous than they would otherwise have been.
I noted a number of the points made by the Minister of State in his comprehensive speech. He referred to the visit made by the former President, Mrs. Mary Robinson, scenes from which many of us will have seen on television. She was horrified at the experiences of the displaced refugees. It is extraordinary to consider the numbers involved. As a result of the clashes, as Senator Feeney stated, 180,000 Chadians are internally displaced and 236,000 Sudanese refugees are living in camps.
The tragedy of conflict and war is that when people are moved to camps, far from receiving enhanced security, the camps themselves can often become places of danger, potential assault and rape, which appears to be the problem in this case. There is poor security in the camps and I hope the Defence Forces, when they arrive, will be able to enhance the security of the camps and make them a place of safety rather than a place of further threat.
I have no doubt the Army is pleased to be part of this international peacekeeping and peace-enforcing force. Obviously, there are concerns, in particular with regard to safety issues, equipment, water safety and whether the tents supplied are adequate. The Minister of State noted that key enabling elements, such as medical facilities, medevac and helicopter and fixed wing tactical lift aircraft, are not in place. He has given a guarantee that if these are not in place we will not be part of the mission until that is done. That is a real problem, although I note the Minister of State said it was part of the normal planning process and that at this stage it is not unusual. Perhaps the Minister of State will discuss what measures are being taken by the Government to ensure that these facilities will be in place, as well as providing an update from his European colleagues who have been approached by the Government to provide somewhat more than they are currently providing. In that way the Army will have the necessary facilities.
This is clearly a dangerous mission. The Army has been in Liberia and other dangerous locations. It is professional, well equipped and able to conduct such missions efficiently. However, this is a medium-risk mission and therefore more dangerous than other ones in which the army has previously been involved.  Even though Europe is taking an increasing role in peacekeeping, we should be proud that Ireland wants to take part in this mission in Africa. It complements our foreign policy, including the kind of work undertaken not just by the Government but also voluntary work by individual Irish citizens in Africa. This military mission will complement the kind of contribution that Irish citizens and Government agencies can make to Africa’s development.
I ask the Minister of State to revert to two points I raised, namely, the logistical difficulties of the mission and European support for it. Given that the armies of many European countries are currently involved in Afghanistan and Kosovo they are not making a contribution to the Chad mission, but the needs are enormous. The figures for displaced persons are horrifying, as is the scale of the overall problem. I also ask the Minister of State to note the concerns raised by Senator Paddy Burke and myself about the logistical issues.
Senator Nicky McFadden Senator Nicky McFadden
Senator Nicky McFadden: I thank Senator Fitzgerald for sharing her time. I listened with interest to the Minister of State’s speech and I thank him for attending the House to address this important issue. I do not wish to repeat the important points other speakers have made, but I have the greatest confidence in the members of our Defence Forces who are highly trained and motivated. If given the necessary training and personal equipment, including transport, air support and medical backup, our troops will succeed in their mission to Chad. Yesterday, I noted the concerns of Colonel Brian O’Keeffe about the reduced number of doctors in the Army medical corps. Of a total of 18 doctors, six will be deployed to Chad. This lack of initiative in recruitment is disturbing and does not inspire confidence in the Chad mission.
The bulk of the 400 Irish troops to be deployed from the fourth western brigade are from my area and I know many of them personally. In addition, my grandfather was a member of the Defence Forces. I have the utmost confidence in their ability to undertake this mission. The troops of the fourth western brigade have proved their competency and humanity since first being deployed to Liberia in 2004. I am proud of them, support them and wish them well in this dangerous endeavour. I urge the Minister of State to provide the necessary resources to ensure their safety.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca Senator Déirdre de Búrca
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I wish to share my time with Senator Ormonde.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca Senator Déirdre de Búrca
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I am glad of the opportunity to discuss this EU mission to Chad.  The mission has a UN mandate and is being conducted within the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy. UN Security Council resolution 1778, which established the mission, gives it a robust peace-enforcement mandate. We are a small country with a proud tradition of peace-keeping but given the expansion of the Petersberg Tasks under the forthcoming reform treaty and the mandate for peace-enforcement missions, we must accept that Irish troops will be participating in increasingly dangerous missions. It is important that both Houses of the Oireachtas should monitor these missions closely and be aware of what is involved. The public must also be kept informed of the often perilous missions in which the Defence Forces are involved.
The situation in Chad is both difficult and unsatisfactory. Other Senators have mentioned the number of refugees and displaced persons, which is put at over 400,000. In October, a peace deal was signed between the Government and four of the rebel groups but it has already broken down. There have been a number of gun battles between Government and rebel forces in which hundreds of rebels were reportedly killed. The operation’s Irish commander, Major General Patrick Nash, has said that the troops under his command will be strictly neutral in terms of ongoing conflicts in the region. Nonetheless, is the Minister of State concerned by the fact that half the EU troops in the mission will be French? France is a former colonial power and French military contingents have been based in Chad and the Central African Republic over the past two years as part of bilateral treaties. They have been helping Government forces to beat back rebel offensives during that period, so will that pose a difficulty for Major General Nash in maintaining the mission’s neutral identity?
In common with other Senators, I am concerned about the apparent gaps and logistical problems, particularly with regard to transport resources. As has been said, there appears to be a shortage of heavy airlift and helicopter facilities, which will be essential in eastern Chad where Irish troops will be operating. The region’s road infrastructure is extremely poor and therefore helicopters will be essential to support troop movements. There are also serious deficiencies in medical support and perhaps the Minister of State could comment on that matter in his reply.
The intention is that Irish troops will be deployed from December onwards and will form part of what is known as an initial entry force to facilitate the arrival of follow-on troops. However, is the Minister of State concerned that the location chosen as a base camp for Irish troops will be in the environs of Abesh, which is the main town in eastern Chad? Last month, members of the French charity Zoe’s Ark were caught there attempting illegally to transport 103 African children to Europe. That incident caused much concern and resistance locally. I wonder if there will be any fall-out for Irish troops in having their base camp there, as feelings were running high over the attempted transportation of those children.
We have great confidence in the Defence Forces and wish them all the best in this dangerous mission to Chad. I look forward to debating the issue again at a subsequent date.
Senator Ann Ormonde Senator Ann Ormonde
Senator Ann Ormonde: I also wish to welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have not had the opportunity to do so in this session. I have a great interest in non-governmental organisations, as well as overseas aid and development. I will always be ready to reach out to help those in Third World countries when I see an opportunity to do so. It has always been a part of my life. In my other profession I did likewise and will continue to do so in this House. The decision to participate in the Chad mission is a courageous one and I congratulate the Government on taking it. I also congratulate the Minister for Defence for allowing 400 soldiers to take part in this military operation in the Republic of Chad.
The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, outlined the background to this mission and many speakers outlined their views on it. I will not repeat what has been said because we are all singing the same tune in terms of the problems that exist. I congratulate Major General Pat Nash on taking the lead in the planning and launching of this operation and wish him well. As we all know this is a dangerous mission. We have all read about the atrocities that have occurred there. We hear reports on Sky News and other television programmes of displaced people, many of whom have been terrorised, raped and murdered. People have been forced to leave their homes, their villages have been burned, wells have been poisoned, their livestock killed and the list of atrocities continues. Such atrocities are frightening. Ireland has been to the forefront and has a strong tradition since the beginning of our history of doing what we can to help those who are so displaced. I congratulate the Irish troops participating in this mission, knowing that it is such a dangerous one.
The EU has taken on capacity in regard to peacebuilding and peacekeeping in this area. What are the relations between the EU and United Nations and is there sufficient joined-up thinking in that regard? Our troops are ready to leave, but they do not have the helicopters they need and the necessary field hospitals are not in place. There seems to be a lack of those material aspects that would make life a little less dangerous for those troops who have sacrificed their lifestyles to bravely take on this dangerous mission.
The Minister of State said there are significant deficiencies in enabling elements of EU planning and preparations. I would like him to address that aspect. In the absence of these elements, it will not be possible to launch the operation, as rightly made clear by the operation commander. If that is the case, will the Minister of State indicate the timespan involved? When will the Minister for Defence deal with these issues in the EU and will he do so before or after Christmas? While I am aware the 51st contingent is going out to prepare and launch this mission, I would like to hear the Minister of State’s view on the seriousness of this mission and the scale of these deficiencies. That is my main concern.
I wish those participating in the mission well. I hope it will be successful. When our troops participate in overseas peacekeeping missions and assist in the provision of humanitarian aid, they invariably have success stories. I wish them every success in getting the next stage of development off the ground.
Senator Maurice Cummins Senator Maurice Cummins
Senator Maurice Cummins: I wish to share my time with Senator Bradford.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: That is agreed.
Senator Maurice Cummins Senator Maurice Cummins
Senator Maurice Cummins: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Like Senators Feeney and Leyden, my nominating body for the Seanad is the ICPSA on which RACO and PDFORRA are represented.
There is no doubt the professionalism of Irish troops in peacekeeping operations has been acknowledged worldwide. It is a wonderful honour for the country that Major General Pat Nash has been given overall command of this mission to Chad. I am sure we would all join in the congratulations being extended to him.
I would like to address three points. Senator Ormonde spoke of deficiencies that exist. Such deficiencies must be addressed before our troops are asked to take on this most serious and probably one of the most challenging missions Irish troops have been asked to undertake since the Congo conflict. One area of concern is the supply of aircraft. We were told that up 20 aircraft, including helicopter supply craft, would be necessary to adequately supply our troops. Are those aircraft now in place? Have other European countries lived up to their obligations in providing such aircraft? Without it the operation cannot proceed.
The distribution and supply of water to our troops in a country like Chad is of paramount importance. The logistics of providing such a simple amenity as water is a significant problem. Without adequate aircraft it cannot be provided. Temperatures of up to 45º C can be experienced at times in that country and with such temperatures people are susceptible to dehydration and risk of other diseases. It is important that an adequate water supply is provided for our troops. In referring to other diseases, it is also important that adequate medical supplies and medical personnel are provided.
The conflict in Chad has been ongoing for some time. Our mission there is threefold, namely, to establish a safe and secure environment for the refugees, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and to protect the UN humanitarian personnel. It is a major challenge but one our troops are up to. I spoke to a number of people the other night at the RACO conference and they are looking forward to the mission. They are well equipped. They are concerned about a number of the deficiencies mentioned by Senator Ormonde, but with the proper supplies and equipment I am confident our troops and Defence Forces will do us proud, as they have done in every mission they have undertaken.
A member of personnel from another country who was on peacekeeping duties spoke to me recently of the regard people have for Irish troops and the rapport Irish troops build up with local communities. He mentioned one incident where people were throwing stones and one group of troops broke down the door and went gung-ho after the people. He said when a similar incident occurred where Irish troops were based, our troops, who had built up a rapport with the people, knocked on the door and asked “What the hell is going on?” and got a much better response. It is an example of Irish people acting in an Irish manner and doing their duties in a proper manner. I join everybody in wishing our troops well in their onerous task. I am sure they will do our country proud, as they have done previously.
Senator Paul Bradford Senator Paul Bradford
Senator Paul Bradford: I join my colleagues in welcoming the Minister of State to the House and wishing the Irish troops well on this important peacekeeping mission. As part of the triple lock mechanism, the Oireachtas is consulted and must approve such missions. We have had this type of debate on a number of occasions. When our troops return home from this mission — hopefully, it will be a successful one — it might be appropriate to ensure a mechanism whereby the Minister would report to the House is put in place to enable us to assess the success of the mission, highlight problems which may have emerged and plan for improvements in future missions. I do not believe it is a tradition that we reflect on missions in the aftermath of them. Perhaps for future reference it would be useful for the Minister to report back to the House on this to enable us to learn lessons for the future.
I concur with all that has been said about the issues of concern in regard to this mission, given the dangerous territory on which the Irish troops will operate. The background to this mission is the deteriorating situation in Sudan and Darfur and the total lack of an appropriate UN intervention in Darfur.
When we discuss the issue of foreign affairs in this House or elsewhere, be it in respect of Iraq, Afghanistan or another location, there is always a tendency to complain about the involvement of the United States. However, we must question the impact of the United Nations in this regard. It is very disappointing that it has been so ineffective in Darfur. If it had intervened positively at an earlier date, the current circumstances would not obtain. We must recognise that unless there is major reform of the United Nations and much greater willingness on its part to intervene when and where required, we will continue to have such problems. It is very easy and cheap for politicians to bash the United States for its intervention in conflicts throughout the world. That said, if the United Nations is to serve as an international policeman, it must examine its role and scrap its policy of standing idly by while conflicts in locations such as Darfur continue to worsen.
During the term of the previous Dáil, especially at meetings of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Joint Committee on European Affairs, a number of interviews were held with representatives of charities, particularly GOAL. The chief executive officer of GOAL, John O’Shea, may not get it right all the time but his view on the deteriorating circumstances in Darfur needs to taken on board more closely, not only by the Irish Government but also by the European Union and the international community. If there is no change in this regard, we will continue to have debates such as this since we will again be required to send Irish troops on peacekeeping missions.
The conflict in Sudan, including Darfur, and the Central African Republic is an international tragedy and I am sure Irish troops will play a very effective role. I concur with Senator Cummins’s point that the troops are looking forward to the mission and doing what they are trained to do. I have every confidence in them because they are as well trained as any army worldwide. They are trained for peacekeeping and I am sure they will carry out their mission very effectively. The conditions locally are serious and the mission will be one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, ever undertaken by Irish troops. Issues arise in respect of water supply, infrastructure and health care facilities. The lack of helicopter support must also be taken seriously.
I wish the Irish troops well. In a sense, it is an honour for the Irish community to be adopting such an international role. I am sure the mission will be successful and I hope that in 12 months or so, the Minister of State will return to the House to reflect on it and outline what can be learned therefrom such that we can make improvements.
Senator Ivor Callely Senator Ivor Callely
Senator Ivor Callely: It is heartening to hear the contributions so far. Like other speakers, I welcomed the decision to send Irish troops to take part in the EU force that is to support the UN operation in Chad and the Central African Republic. As many have said, we should not lose sight of the fact that this mission, like all others of its kind, will be difficult. The Irish troops, comprising 400 Permanent Defence Force personnel under Major General Pat Nash, will risk their lives in carrying out their duties. I wish each of them a successful mission.
The mandate of the EU force is to protect civilians and refugees, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and protect the UN personnel in carrying out their mission. The EU force has what is referred to as robust authorisation to carry out its mission. The need for this is clear considering the events in Darfur over the past four years. The Sudanese Government-sponsored militia, known as the Janjaweed, have been carrying out what amounts to nothing less than genocide against the native population of Darfur. This is simply an appalling tragedy.
It was interesting to hear Senator Bradford’s comments to the effect that there are various forces on the world stage that are able to respond to terrorism, tragedies and other such problems using various vigorous methods and, where required, force. This has not happened in respect of Darfur in Sudan or in any part of central Africa. I do not know why it takes to ring the bell to awaken people. Do we need to shout louder? I welcome the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, who has been on the circuit a little while. I would be delighted if he could advise us on the avenues available to us to ensure that further and stronger efforts are made to address the issue.
The use of rape as a weapon of war is very prominent in this conflict. The culture of the region is such that it carries a particular stigma and results in dreadful humiliation for the victims and their families. More than 3.5 million people have been displaced and have crossed the border into Chad and the Central African Republic. The Janjaweed militia has been known to strike across the border against those who are already destitute and starving as a result of the conflict. The malicious regime of terror is to ensure the displaced refugees never return home. The militia will now target all UN personnel and try to disrupt their mission by attacking them directly in the course of their duties.
The EU force is tasked with the protection of the UN force and ensuring the refugees are fed and housed. The humanitarian effort is being sabotaged by the local rebels and further affected by natural disasters, such as the flooding of August 2007. The flood washed away several camps and hampered seriously the great work of the aid agencies, which were assisting tens of thousands of people. This highlights the mammoth task involved in protecting the camps against such risks.
The 400 Irish troops comprise the second largest contribution to the EU force, and this reinforces Ireland’s reputation as an international peacekeeper. Last week, however, the Minister for Defence expressed dissatisfaction regarding the larger EU countries which are not supporting the force to the best of their ability. In particular, he noted the lack of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Such aircraft were expected to have been supplied by other member states of the European Union. I understand there are ongoing discussions on air support for the troops on the ground. As this House will appreciate, the logistics of the operation present significant difficulties and air support will be vital. France and Ireland are supplying the largest number of ground troops and others are doing the best they can at this time. It is vital that the larger member states do as they said they would and fully support a force they agree should be deployed. I refer to all the necessary supports which have been identified and which are needed to respond appropriately to local needs.
Will the Minister of State outline whether it is time for the Defence Forces to have an expanded air support section, especially a helicopter wing, that would enable them to meet their own needs while serving abroad on EU and UN missions? Such a force, while expensive, would give our Defence Forces and the State much greater options in deciding what type of mission in which to become involved. As Ireland is a much more accepted peacekeeper, because of our known neutrality, we would be able to respond immediately to the humanitarian needs of people and nations in conflict and other troubles. As a neutral and a caring nation, Ireland has a duty to help those less fortunate. I am delighted to contribute to this debate.
Senator Terry Leyden Senator Terry Leyden
Senator Terry Leyden: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and congratulate him on his excellent work as Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Defence. The Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, is doing a tremendous job and morale within the Defence Forces is very high. It is a credit to the work of both Ministers.
Like my colleagues, Senators Maurice Cummins and Geraldine Feeney, I am also a nominee of the Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations to which RACO and PDFORRA are affiliated. We are very fortunate to be nominated by it and to be elected to the House. It gives us a particular connection to the Defence Forces. Senator Maurice Cummins and I met members of the Defence Forces on Tuesday evening and we got a very strong impression of their support for this mission to Chad. They are very excited about this project.
The Defence Forces have a tremendous track record in Kosovo, Liberia and in Cyprus. They have created a great impression everywhere they have gone. Lebanon was another great success story as far as our troops were concerned.
Some 400 troops will be deployed in the Chad region. It is a great honour for this country that of the 27 EU member states, Major General Patrick Nash will head the European Union protection force of 3,700 and will have the backup of 11 staff in the headquarters in Paris. It is a great honour for this country to have such a leadership role. It is only right in the circumstances that we should deploy 400 troops for 12 months at a cost of approximately €57 million.
We are also very fortunate to have Lieutenant General Dermot Earley as chief of staff of the Defence Forces. He is from County Roscommon and we are particularly proud that he has achieved great success in the Army and has become chief of staff. The loyalty of the troops to him is very impressive. He will support the troops on the ground and Major General Patrick Nash in his work.
Ireland has a particular role in the world because it never had colonies and was not involved in any of those conflicts. Irish troops are accepted in every country and in every conflict. They will play an important role in the conflict in Chad which has been going on for too long. Some 50 rangers have been deployed and I heard one on “Morning Ireland” this morning explain the mission. They are very well equipped troops and will assess the logistics in advance of the arrival of the 400 troops who will arrive after Christmas. They will be able to be with their families for Christmas before they embark on this dangerous mission. It is, however, a great humanitarian mission. We wish the troops every success and a safe return. It will be a successful mission because all missions in which the Defence Forces have been involved dating back to our first involvement with the United Nations have been successful.
I was an election monitor in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The troops who volunteered for civilian work there proved to be the most qualified and best trained in the world. We are very proud of our Defence Forces. They have shown great ability to deal with complex situations. They have certain diplomatic skills which those in most other countries would not be in a position to deploy. We are all very proud of their work and the success they have achieved.
An issue which arises from time to time concerns the voluntary or local Defence Forces. They have indicated that they would be interested in supporting our troops. It is generally accepted that some should be given the opportunity to participate in overseas missions. That could help our troops on the ground. While they would not be in the same position as the Permanent Defence Forces, they have played an important role and it would be a recognition of their work in providing voluntary support to the Army if they were given the opportunity to be deployed as backup to our Permanent Defence Force.
The nearest barracks to County Roscommon is Custume Barracks in Athlone. It plays an important role in the life of the region and we are pleased to have that type of deployment in Mullingar and Longford. I hope that type of regionalisation of the Defence Forces will continue, particularly of the Army which plays an important role in the life of the midlands, as the Cathaoirleach knows. They have been involved in every voluntary organisation.
The work of the troops will be difficult as it is a very complex conflict. For too long the world has stood idly by and allowed this situation to develop. All the countries of the European Union should be involved. I hope Germany and Italy will play an important role and that the larger countries will provide the backup as far as helicopters, fixed wing aircraft and other logistics are concerned to make this mission a success.
The Dáil unanimously approved this deployment and wished the troops well. There may be reservations among some parties but they should be reminded that this is a peacekeeping mission authorised by the United Nations and the European Union. It is a very big step for us as a small country. We are showing our commitment to the world by deploying our troops in a peaceful manner.
I send the troops Christmas greetings. They will spend Christmas at home with their families before they embark on this mission. We look forward to welcoming them back safe and sound following the completion of this mission.
Deputy Tom Kitt Deputy Tom Kitt
Deputy Tom Kitt: I thank Members for their contributions to the debate. Many issues have been raised and I will try to deal with as many as I can. Senator Leyden summed it up. This is a very important humanitarian mission and it fits with the wishes of this House and the Government that we play an active role in trying to save lives.
Many Members said the role of the Army complements the work we do on the humanitarian side. It is great to see our overseas development work expand. Through our missionaries and NGOs, we are doing much fantastic work, especially in Africa.
I mention my interest in this area because I visited Sudan twice. Many years ago I visited southern Sudan. Senator Callely mentioned the fact that many of these conflicts are ongoing. It is very frustrating for us to witness these conflicts, especially in Africa, which we wish would be resolved. On my first visit to Sudan, there was a north-south conflict on which progress obviously has been made. The current conflict is Darfur which has been ongoing for many years. I visited there in 2004 and I keep in touch with what is happening.
What we are doing will greatly help the situation in Darfur because we will deal with people fleeing from the Janjaweed and other rebel groups in that area. The region is dangerous but we will provide security. There are always risks, with which I will deal, with these missions but the contribution we will make will be enormous.
On Senator Callely’s point, there are huge political problems affecting the internal situation in Sudan where there is an African Union mission which is taking a long time to put in place. It is supported by the international community. That has caused problems. There was resistance to outside parties becoming involved so, in many of these instances, politics has held up conflict resolution. It is a terrible situation but we as a small nation are doing our best in many of these regions. The work we will carry out in Chad will be very significant and I hope all will go well. Meanwhile, the process of peace and conflict resolution within Darfur will proceed. I hope progress will be made there. Major players such as China have a substantial input there and we must keep the pressure on at international level.
A very basic question was asked about male and female involvement. The selection process obviously is open to male and female members and the process is under way. I have no details regarding the composition of this mission but I have no doubt there will be a good combination of males and females involved, as they are in some of the missions I have seen abroad recently. I recently visited Kosovo where there is a very good involvement of female members of the Defence Forces.
Senator Leyden and others raised the question of the Reserve Defence Force. There are no plans to deploy members of the RDF. It would require legislation because they are, as the Senator noted, volunteers. I have noted the points made by the Senator.
Issues such as security and water were raised. In respect of water, there is a reserve of 30 days’ supply of bottled water which will be stored in a very cool environment. In respect of sanitary issues, it would be necessary to drill water holes for the supply of water, which was another point raised in the debate.
I believe Senator de Búrca raised a question relating to French involvement. The EU support mission in Chad and the Central African Republic was established under the authority of the UN Security Council resolution 1778, which was unanimously adopted in September. As a chapter 7 mission, the Security Council has deemed that the situation in Chad and the Central African Republic constitutes a threat to international peace and security. This is the basis for the Security Council’s action in deciding to authorise the mission, including authorising the deployment of troops by the EU. For its part, the EU is committed to the establishment of a force that is neutral and impartial and operates in full co-operation with the UN. There will be 1,200 French troops, which is a third of the overall contingent in the region. I thank the Senator for raising that matter.
The mission will last for 12 months from the date it becomes fully operational. At the end of this period, the mission may be taken over by the UN. Major General Pat Nash will report on the situation in Chad in six months’ time.
I believe Senator Bradford mentioned the matter of reporting back. An annual report on participation by the Defence Forces on all overseas missions will be laid before Dáil Éireann in accordance with the Defence Acts. I agree with the Senator that it is imperative to have further debates. We will arrange for that at the appropriate time.
Senator Feeney asked whether Major General Nash’s involvement is a first. It is a first in that his is the first high-profile post as an EU operational commander but there were other high-profile positions taken up by Irish people, such as those occupied by General Sean McKeown, General Bill O’Callaghan of UNIFIL and Major-General Quinn. As Senators probably know, we have a framework nation involvement in Kosovo, which I visited recently and where I met troops. Brigadier-General Gerry Hegarty is the commanding officer there with 1,200 soldiers under his command. It is very encouraging to see so many Irish people in prominent positions dealing with many of these conflicts throughout the world.
Senator de Búrca and many others raised the issue of safety. The decision to send troops overseas is not taken lightly and I assure the House that our ability to protect the health and safety of our personnel is of paramount concern when considering any mission. While no absolute guarantee 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 detailed threat assessment and reconnaissance undertaken informs decisions regarding the configuration of the contingent and its protection. In the case of the current mission, the Defence Forces will deploy a full range of force protection assets, including Mowag armoured personnel carriers, close reconnaissance vehicles and indirect fire capabilities. These together will provide the necessary armoured protection, mobility, firepower and communications. 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. We are all very conscious of this issue.
I was asked whether we were happy with the procedures for the management and protection of the health of our personnel. Senator Burke raised the fact that major plans are in place. A key concern of the mission is the health of our troops, having regard to the environmental health issues arising in a tropical setting. The Defence Force adopts a comprehensive approach to managing and protecting the health of its personnel. As a matter of course, all personnel volunteers must have passed their annual medical examination in the first instance. They are then subjected to a further detailed overseas medical examination where they are assessed for suitability with particular reference to the physical requirements of the particular mission. The troops to be deployed in Chad will go through that process. All troops will be fully immunised against known disease risks. In respect of possible water-borne parasites or diseases, the Defence Forces will bring their own water purification plant and sewage treatment plant with them. On return from the mission, all troops are fully tested from a health perspective as a matter of course. The Defence Forces will deploy a containerised medical facility as part of the battalion. This facility will be operated by two medical doctors who will be assisted by a team of 13 Defence Forces medical personnel and paramedics.
I know there may be other issues but we could return to them at a future date. I thank Members for their contributions to this debate. It has been very helpful and also shows the considerable support and respect for our Army personnel. I commend the individual members of the Permanent Defence Force who have served and continue to serve on overseas missions, together with their families and loved ones. As we enter the Christmas season, I know it will be a difficult time for the families with loved ones far from home. However, I know the arrangements we will put in place will help ensure there is good and effective ongoing contact between our peacekeepers and their families.
In respect of security, we have a key Irish person in place. Our troops will not be allowed to go to Chad until all the logistics and arrangements mentioned are in place. Important provisions are being made. People have mentioned situations where evacuation might be needed. All those are being considered very carefully. As I said previously, we have an Irish person in place who will involved in making those decisions.
Senator Paddy Burke Senator Paddy Burke
Senator Paddy Burke: Is it voluntary?
Deputy Tom Kitt Deputy Tom Kitt
Deputy Tom Kitt: No, our volunteer force will not be involved.
Senator Paddy Burke Senator Paddy Burke
Senator Paddy Burke: No. Is it voluntary for members of the Defence Forces? Can they volunteer to go?
Deputy Tom Kitt Deputy Tom Kitt
Deputy Tom Kitt: Yes.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Senator Kieran Phelan Senator Kieran Phelan
Senator Kieran Phelan: At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 4 December 2007.
Seanad Éireann 187 Overseas Missions: Statements (Resumed).