The Irish Times view on Ireland’s peacekeepers: A breakdown in trust

The delayed redeployment of Irish personnel points to a loss of trust between the Department of Defence and the officer class

Members of the 1st Infantry Battalion during a ceremony to celebrate Ireland’s service and commitment to UN peacekeeping participation by the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochana and civilian personnel since 1958. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

Public discussion of redeployment home of two Army officers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has raised a number of issues, both operational and political. The two officers have served six months in Goma as observers, and should be rotated out routinely if only because exposure to anti-malarial drugs for any longer is not recommended, and appear to have been stuck in the city primarily because the Defence Forces do not have a suitable long-range plane to take them out.

Airlift capacity apart, there are also questions about whether continued participation in the UN’s dangerous MONUSCO mission is justified. Pandemic concerns and escalating violence are cited, and all other seconded officers from EU forces have been removed from the city. But risk – calculated and responsibly assessed – is part and parcel of the soldier’s metier, and past governments, in UN missions such as that in Lebanon, have been willing to accept more dangerous exposure for our troops than some other countries.

In the last week dozens of villagers have been killed by suspected Ugandan rebels in the northeastern DRC. Attacks on civilians have escalated in recent months in the eastern provinces of Ituri and North and South Kivu, with dozens of armed groups still at large, killing civilians and threatening stability. There were local protests last December blaming the 18,000-strong MONUSCO for failing to protect them.

MONUSCO, deployed first in 1999, is the largest blue-helmet operation, costing over $1 billion a year. But failure to control the violence in the east has raised questions in the Security Council about whether it should be maintained.

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But is this delayed redeployment of the two Irish personnel, as some senior officers have suggested, all about cultivating Ireland’s image ahead of elections to the Security Council? A desire not to diminish perceptions of the State’s wholehearted commitment to UN peacekeeping? What appears clear is that there has been an almost complete breakdown in trust between the Department of Defence and the officer class.