Commitment To UN Peacekeeping


Sir, - The central thrust of the article by Lt-Gen McMahon (Opinion, July 26th) - that there is a change in Ireland's approach to UN peacekeeping and that Ireland is "deserting" the UN - is simply untrue. In fact, on the same day as the article appeared, the Government, in response to a request from the UN, decided to send a further contingent of troops to East Timor next October.

The White Paper on Defence reinforces Ireland's commitment to overseas peace support operations and this commitment was also spelt out in the Minister for Defence's own article in The Irish Times on April 26th.

As the White Paper makes clear, Ireland will participate in overseas peace support operations only where a UN mandate applies. EU Petersberg Tasks missions will fully accord with UN principles. Ireland is not unique in applying such a condition. Furthermore, a significant element of the White Paper is devoted to ensuring that Ireland can continue to make a significant contribution to UN peacekeeping. This requires a reshaping of the Defence Forces to meet the changing defence and security environment, particularly in regard to the new kinds of overseas missions that now arise. This fact was, I recall, recognised in some of Lt-Gen McMahon's earlier articles. This development process is already under way with the significant investment in new equipment announced by the Minister for Defence.

Lt-Gen McMahon is also wrong in his statements in relation to the contribution that Ireland may make to the EU "Headline Goal" (i.e. provision of the capabilities necessary for the EU to respond to the full range of Petersberg Tasks) - a matter which will be considered by the Government in the context of the White Paper and the on-going consultations at the European level. Each country has only a single set of forces and, with a Permanent Defence Force of 10,500, including an Army element of nearly 8,500, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why Ireland's contribution cannot remain a significant one. While it may well be modest in comparison with larger States, this does not mean that our contribution cannot be significant in qualitative and relative terms.

It is remarkable that Lt-Gen McMahon failed to acknowledge the likely ending of the UNIFIL deployment as a successful outcome. As the White Paper recognises, this is a tribute to the Irish soldiers who have served - and in some cases given their lives - in support of peace in Lebanon. Contrary to the misleading impression that Lt-Gen McMahon's article may have conveyed, overseas peace support missions are not an end in themselves and the sooner troops can be returned home from a mission the better it is for everyone. Overseas peace support operations are there to address real situations of conflict across the world. Ireland will continue to supply troops to such missions, which, in addition to making a real difference to the lives of the communities involved, provide a range of training and other benefits to the Defence Forces. - Yours, etc.,

Jack McConnell, Press Office, Department of Defence, Infirmary Road, Dublin 7.