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Current status of the DF overseas

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  • Current status of the DF overseas

    Regarding our overseas commitments, approximately 680 Defence Forces personnel are serving on 19 different missions throughout the world. The main commitments are 334 personnel to the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, 213 personnel to the NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo and 60 personnel to EUFOR, the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    In respect of UNMIL, Irish personnel, together with an infantry company group from Sweden, provide the quick reaction force to the UNMIL force commander. In addition to conducting normal patrolling and security operations in Liberia, the Irish contingent, at the request of the UN, also conducts limited operations in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in support of the special court for Sierra Leone.

    It was intended that Ireland would withdraw its contingent from UNMIL in November, 2006. However, following a request by the UN Secretary General to the Taoiseach to postpone Ireland’s withdrawal and consultations with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York, the Taoiseach advised the UN Secretary General on 19 May 2006 that I would recommend to the Government that there should be one further rotation of Irish personnel beyond November 2006 to May 2007. This will give the UN time to find a suitable replacement for the quick reaction force capability. The extension is the maximum that could be countenanced by the Government, taking account of factors such as the sustainability of personnel and equipment. However, the Government remains committed to UN peacekeeping in Africa and will consider further operations in consultation with the UN once we complete our deployment in Liberia.

    On 9 May 2006, the Government authorised me to despatch members of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the EU military operation in support of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUC. The main purpose of the proposed EU operation is to be available to support MONUC for a four month period during the upcoming election process, which is due to take place under UN supervision in July 2006. Seven members of the Defence Forces will serve in this mission, five at the operational headquarters in Potsdam, Germany, and two at the force headquarters in Kinshasa. Two Defence Forces officers have already taken up duty in Potsdam and the remaining personnel will be deployed over coming weeks.

    I will now discuss defence and security developments within the EU. The ability of the EU to contribute to peacekeeping and crisis management continues to be of primary importance to member states and is carried out within the context of the European security and defence policy, ESDP. The ESDP forms an integral part of the common foreign and security policy and is aimed primarily at conflict prevention, peacekeeping, humanitarian missions and crisis management. Ireland’s participation in the development of ESDP is fully consistent with our policy of neutrality and our commitment to international peace and security.

    At present, the main priority for the ESDP is the continued improvement of the EU’s capability to undertake the agreed range of tasks to meet the objectives of the 2010 headline goal. A key element of the goal is the ability, by 2007, of the EU to deploy, with full operational capability, force packages at high readiness, commonly known as battle groups, in response to a crisis. A battle group can act either as a stand-alone force or as an initial part of a larger operation, enabling follow-on phases. Following a detailed review of the battle groups concept, I announced, on 9 March 2006, that Ireland will participate in EU battle groups and will contribute Defence Forces capabilities to them, subject to final Government approval. Discussions in this regard are ongoing with Sweden, the framework nation for the Nordic battle group. Informal exploratory discussions have also taken place with Finland and Austria. As of now, 23 of the 25 member states have signalled their intention to participate in battle groups. Denmark has an opt out clause and Malta is not currently participating.

    Ireland will seek to contribute effectively to ESDP operations, military and civil, within the context of our available resources. We will also continue to encourage and foster the ongoing development of EU-UN co-operation in the areas of humanitarian action, crisis management, peacekeeping and conflict prevention, with a particular emphasis on EU action in support of UN operations.

    When announcing proposals for the Defence Forces to participate in battle groups, I also announced my intention to amend and update legislation for the despatch of the Defence Forces outside the State. On 16 May 2006, the Government approved the draft heads of a Bill dealing with these amendments to the Defence Acts. The legislation will provide for training and exercises by Defence Forces personnel overseas, participation by Defence Forces personnel in humanitarian operations, and, for the avoidance of doubt, the wording in the Defence Act will be updated to more closely reflect current practice in the formulation of UN Security Council resolutions endorsing peace support operations. I expect to have the necessary legislation enacted before the summer recess.