Ireland's role in EU reaction force welcomed


EU:A senior commander in the Nordic battlegroup has welcomed Ireland's participation in the force and downplayed the prospect of problems prompted by the "triple lock".

Maj Gen Bengt Andersson, operation headquarters commander of the Nordic battlegroup, also said all the formal legal processes needed to incorporate the Defence Forces into the EU rapid reaction force should be complete within a matter of days.

"I cannot foresee just now any operation that will not have a UN mandate except a humanitarian rescue," Maj Gen Andersson told The Irish Times in an interview. "Otherwise we will see it coming . . . [ in situations] such as Gaza or Darfur it gives you some time to plan and also to get the papers right on the UN, EU and the nations."

Under the Irish "triple lock" mechanism, Irish soldiers cannot be posted to EU military operations until both the Government and the Dáil agree, and a UN Security Council resolution is passed. However, the Defence Forces can take part in humanitarian missions prompted by events such as earthquakes without a specific UN mandate.

The requirement for a UN mandate prevented the Defence Forces from joining an EU mission to Macedonia in 2003 when China issued its veto at the Security Council.

EU battlegroups are contingents of about 2,400 soldiers that can be deployed at very short notice to stabilise security situations overseas and offer humanitarian relief.

The Nordic Battlegroup is led by Sweden and consists of Finland, Norway, Estonia and Ireland. It is expected to be ready for deployment from January.

The Defence Forces are already taking part in training with the battlegroup, although the formal legal process enabling Ireland to join is not yet complete. Ireland is supplying about 90 soldiers who are experts in mine clearance and bomb disposal.

Maj Gen Andersson said he was happy to welcome the Defence Forces into the Nordic battlegroup.

"I must say it is an extremely skilled unit that I visited this spring," he said. "I've seen equipment and officers and a few soldiers. They are very well trained, have good equipment and are very dedicated to the task."

The Defence Forces are scheduled to take part in a major training exercise in Sweden in November and already have one senior staff officer in place at the headquarters in Brussels.