Defence Forces’ deployment to Syria will give UN mission ’credibility’, Tánaiste says

Mission infringes Irish neutrality because EU has ended arms embargo - Sinn Féin

Eamon Gilmore said the security of personnel was an issue of particular concern and the UN was “forthright and flexible” in its response

Eamon Gilmore said the security of personnel was an issue of particular concern and the UN was “forthright and flexible” in its response

 


Ireland was asked to provide Defence Force personnel for the Golan Heights to ensure the UN’s mission was seen as credible, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore told the Dáil.

The House approved a decision to send 114 personnel to serve in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria.

It was accepted by 95 to 17 votes, amid concern from some of the Opposition that it would infringe Ireland’s neutrality.

The vote by the Dáil is part of the “triple lock mechanism” where the UN, Government and Dáil must each approve Ireland’s participation. The mission has been in place since 1974 and the threat is currently described as “substantial”, said Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe.


Fighting
Austria, which had been involved with the mission for almost 40 years, decided to pull out its troops because of extensive fighting between Syrian government and opposition forces and the UN urgently sought other countries that would contribute troops.

The State will provide a mechanised infantry company as a “Force Mobile Reserve” to undertake “reinforcement, reaction, escort and other operations”, Mr Kehoe said. The mission, initially for one year, will cost €2 million this year and for a full year €5 million, about 75 per cent of which will be paid back by the UN.

Mr Gilmore said UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon had “emphasised the importance of having a highly regarded peacekeeping country at Undof to ensure the UN has a credible presence in this area. This is why the UN looked to Ireland.”

The UN mission is now “particularly exposed to the confrontation between the Syrian government and opposition forces which has spilled over into the Golan Heights” a 75km long area.


Concern
Mr Gilmore said the security of personnel was an issue of particular concern and the UN was “forthright and flexible” in its response and the State will through its diplomatic mission in New York continue discussions with the UN to ensure the security of personnel.

It was an important opportunity for Ireland to contribute to stability in a region where the Defence Forces have supported the UN for 55 years, he said and extended his good wishes to personnel deploying on the mission.

Fianna Fáil supports the mission and defence spokesman Sean Ó Fearghaíl said officers and personnel were looking forward to the challenge this deployment would present.

He was particularly concerned however that Austria was withdrawing its 380 troops because it was “far too dangerous”, while Croatia and Japan had also pulled out. He sought the Government’s assurance there was “no uncontrollable and direct threat”.

Sinn Féin’s Sean Crowe said his party opposed the deployment because “the lifting of the EU arms embargo has robbed Irish troops of their neutrality in a Syrian conflict which has already seen foreign peacekeepers come under fire and some even held hostage”.