Major changes needed before Ireland’s next Golan mission, says Coveney

Negotiation needed to ensure mission ‘changes to reflect dangerous reality on the ground’, says minister

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he did not want to lay down unilateral demands but wants to work with the UN over coming weeks. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he did not want to lay down unilateral demands but wants to work with the UN over coming weeks. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

 

Simon Coveney said.

His declaration came after talks with his Dutch countepart, Jeanine Hennis Plasschaert on the opening day of the Nato summit in Newport in south Wales.

The rules of engagement of the 40-year-old mission on the Golan Heights have “changed fundamentally” following last week’s attacks on UN outposts by Islamic militants.

Forty Fijian and Filipino solders serving with the UN’s Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF) were held for a time by militants following attacks near Al Qunaytirah, before they were rescued.

Ireland’s 120 soldiers are “brave and committed”, he said, but he had a responsibility “to manage risk” and to ensure that they are not placed in unacceptable situations.

Emphasising Ireland’s commitment to the mission, Mr Coveney said he did not want to lay down “unilateral demands”, but wants to work with the UN over coming weeks.

The Irish soldiers there are due to return home at the end of the month. “There is a rotation due at the end of the month. For that to proceed, we need reassurances and change from the UN to ensure that we manage risk.”

He said he had met with his Dutch counterpart to seek Amsterdam’s help in this negotiation to ensure that the mission “changes to reflect the dangerous reality on the ground”. The Dutch have two officers with UNDOF: “I made it very clear what we need to stay there. She agreed with everything that I said. But I don’t want to be prescriptive publicly.”

Demilitarised zone

Clearly, Mr Coveney is now envisaging a significantly more limited mission on the Golan: “Some of the outposts have been abandoned and they are not going to get them back,” he said. Two Fijian posts were over-run by militants in last week’s attacks, while others came under sustained fire. An Irish mobile unit was dispatched to protect one of the UN’s larger bases from attack.

Ireland was one of 26 non-Nato countries represented yesterday at the Nato summit for discussions on their co-operation with Nato-led, UN-mandated peace-keeping missions. “We are here because we were invited to be here,” said Mr Coveney.

Ireland has troops serving with 13 peace-keeping missions, including seven with the 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force mission that ends later this month.