Coveney seeks Cabinet approval for Navy ship to return to rescue duty

Minister recommends LÉ ‘Róisín’ be sent to Mediterranean to help rescue migrants

Members of the Irish Navy vessel LÉ ‘Eithne’ as they rescue refugees on a   humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean in 2015.  Photograph: David Jones/Irish Defence Forces/PA Wire

Members of the Irish Navy vessel LÉ ‘Eithne’ as they rescue refugees on a humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean in 2015. Photograph: David Jones/Irish Defence Forces/PA Wire

 

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney will seek Cabinet approval today for a Naval Service ship to return to humanitarian rescue duty in the southern Mediterranean.

A memo to Cabinet will recommend that the patrol ship LÉ Róisín be sent as part of a bilateral agreement with Italy.

If approved, it is expected the ship could sail within a fortnight.

It was under this informal bilateral agreement with Italy that three Naval Service patrol ships rescued more than 8,000 migrants from waters off the Libyan coast during an eight-month period last year.

Mr Coveney told The Irish Times that the new EU-Turkey deal to ship migrants in the eastern Mediterranean back from the Greek coast to Turkey would have no impact on Ireland’s commitment in the southern sea area.

However, it is expected that the controversial forced return of migrants will put further pressure on the Libyan and other sea routes, with Facebook postings by smugglers in Turkey last week advertising sea trips to Italy rather than Greece.

Italian ambassador to Ireland Giovanni Adorni Braccesi noted that numbers attempting to leave Libya were rising in spite of efforts to confiscate smugglers’ vessels.

Smaller vessels, mainly rigid inflatables, were being transported to Libya by smugglers, and up to 400,000 people were camped on Libyan beaches waiting to leave, he said.

Mr Braccesi said that there was still considerable public support in Italy for humanitarian rescue at sea, since it initiated Mare Nostrum more than three years ago.

Mr Braccesi said he had understood that Ireland’s continued involvement might not be confirmed until after a new government was formed here, but Ireland’ s assistance in what is a “global issue” was very welcome, he said.

Italy has rescued about 250,000 migrants at sea in the past three years, with 20,000 this year alone, and some 3,000 in the past week, he said.

However, Mr Braccesi said that the rest of the world only “took note” when the number of migrants drowning began to rise.

He noted that refugee numbers would only continue to rise, as climate change affected global water supplies.

Deadliest route

Europe

This is an increase of nearly 50 per cent over the same time period last year.

Mr Coveney said that he would not commit Ireland to involvement in the military mission known as EUNavforMed without a Dáil debate, and this was therefore a matter for a new government.

EUNavforMed was initiated last year to “neutralise” established smuggling routes transporting migrants to Europe, and Ireland’s involvement in such military engagement would require “triple lock” approval of the United Nations, European Union and Government.

Mr Braccesi was invited by President Michael D Higgins to attend a reception in Áras an Uachtaráin last month to pay tribute to members of the Naval Service for the Mediterranean rescues.

Mr Higgins said the Defence Forces personnel who had served on the rescue mission were an “invaluable role model” to everyone in the country.