Government play down concerns about Irish troops going to Mali

Any request to assist in peacekeeping duties in Mali would come through UN

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney stressed the Government would not do anything that “compromises Irish neutrality”

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney stressed the Government would not do anything that “compromises Irish neutrality”

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Defence Simon Coveney have moved to play down concerns about Irish troops being dispatched to Mali to replace French peacekeepers as a hostage situation continues in the country’s capital.

Mr Kenny said that any request for Irish troops to assist in peacekeeping duties in Mali would come through the United Nations and no request has been received by the Dept of Defence for such assistance to date.

He said that any request would have to be considered by the Cabinet and the Oireachtas in line with the triple lock mechanism governing Irish neutrality.

The 10 Irish military personnel currently in Mali are there as part of an UN mission through the European Union to train the Mali army, and all 10 personnel are safe and well after Friday’s assault at the Raddison Blu hotel in the capital, Bamako.

Mr Coveney also moved to play down concerns regarding sending Irish troops to Mali to replace French troops which may be recalled to assist with security measures in France following the Paris attacks.

“What is happening at the moment is that my secretary-general met with the French Ambassador yesterday. They had a very good meeting. We want to understand what France is asking for and I think we have a reasonably good understanding of that now.

“Some people are trying to create a story that is unfair – France are saying, ‘look, we are spread quite thinly in terms of having lots of interests and commitments to UN missions across the world but particularly in north Africa and the Middle East’.”

“They need to look at whether it is necessary to refocus some of those military resources towards national security issues which France is understandably focussing on right now and if they do that they are going to create holes in very important UN peace keeping missions.

Mr Coveney said that such a move by the French would have an impact on UN peacekeeping duties not just in Mali but also in Lebannon, and Ireland would then look at whether it could assist the UN by sending troops to both locations to replace French peacekeepers.

“Some people seem to be suggesting that that is somehow us contributing to a war effort which is really nonsense,” said Mr Coveney, adding that Ireland already have a UN peacekeeping presence in Mali and a significant peacekeeping presence in Lebannon.

Mr Coveney stressed the government would not do anything that “compromises Irish neutrality” and any decision would have to go through the triple lock process which requires a UN resolution before being approved by the government and the Oireachtas.

Any deployment of Irish troops to Mali would also be risk assessed but he pointed out that the storming of the Raddison Hotel in Bamako – where he revealed he had stayed himself when visiting Irish troops – indicated just why the country needed UN peacekeeping assistance

“We can only do what we are able to do. I am not going to over-stretch our Defence Forces. We have to train and prepare properly and manage risk appropriately. We have been doing a reconnaissance in terms of Mali to look at whether we could increase our presence there.

“We will not rush any decisions and we will not respond in a knee-jerk way. But we will respond to a call for help when it comes from a close neighbour and friend and that is what I consider France to be,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny has said last week’s Paris attacks require an unprecedented response. In an e-mail to Fine Gael supporters and members, Mr Kenny said the Irish Government would stand shoulder to shoulder with France.

“A week has passed since those terrible events in Paris,” he wrote. “The cruelty and barbarity of the deliberate destruction of innocent joy, the joy of people out for the night, is almost unprecedented. It requires an unprecedented response. We remain steadfast and united in our determination to counter the threat posed by global terrorism and all forms of radicalism.”

Mr Kenny said it must also be made clear that the crimes of a small number of extremists do not reflect the views of the Muslim community.

French president Francois Hollande has said his country is at war with Islamic State and the French government this week invoked a mutual defence clause within the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty.

The Taoiseach said: “Our response will be in co-operation with our European partners and will be guided by the need to ensure the security of our citizens, prevent radicalisation, safeguard our values and bring the perpetrators of these terrible acts to justice.

“We will be vigilant here at home in working to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. An Garda Síochána is keeping the situation under constant review and all the agencies here will co-operate closely in respect of any threats that are identified.

“They will continue to work with their EU and other international security and intelligence counterparts in responding to any such threats. We remain resilient and we draw strength from our values and our way of life.”