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Defence Forces UN Missions (Continued)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 802 No. 1

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn] This is not a blue-helmet operation in which we are involved. It is not comparable to Lebanon. We are taking sides in this conflict. We are operating with other armies which are under the NATO umbrella and the concern is that this could be interpreted as having a negative impact on Ireland's declared neutrality, which is something of which we are immensely proud. We are immensely proud of our troops who have served in blue-helmet operations throughout the world. That is the concern. What does the Minister say to all of that? Is he reviewing this decision or is he pursuing it despite all of these concerns?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The first question to ask is what it is that Deputy Mac Lochlainn wants us to be neutral over. Should we be neutral when fundamentalist groups are killing people, chopping off their limbs and raping women? Is that something about which we are neutral? I am not neutral about that. I think we need to be of assistance to stop such atrocities happening. Let us not get lost in ideology in this area. Let us look at the reality of what was happening on the ground in Mali. There has been reference to what the French have done. What the French have done has received a broad welcome, internationally and in Africa.

I made reference in one of my earlier responses to AFISMA, the African troops who are trying to provide assistance in Mali. The current strength of the UN-authorised African-led support mission in Mali is 6,300 troops. It is the biggest group there. The mission was authorised not by NATO, as some sort of NATO junket, but under UN Security Council Resolution 2085 of 20 December 2012. That resolution is the basis on which the AFISMA group was deployed to Mali in January 2013 by the Economic Community of West African States, which is playing an important role. Additional troops are required and that is why there will be an extended UN mission. That is why it is hoped there will be additional participants, but there will still be a major African element. It will not be taken over as a European UN mission, but we in Europe have a contribution to make. In fact, one of the complaints I have made about the European Union, which I brought to the attention of my defence colleagues in Europe and which we are now addressing actively in the context of the Irish Presidency, is that European Union countries have made substantial financial contributions over the years to UN missions but have been poor in contributing troops to UN peacekeeping missions. We need to participate and utilise our skills to achieve or secure peace in troubled parts of the globe.

It is worth drawing Deputy Mac Lochlainn's attention to the fact that the role of AFISMA was to assist the Malian army in securing full territorial control throughout the country, which it could not do without the assistance of the French. Progress has been made in taking back the main cities in both the north and centre of the country.

Let us not get lost in ideology. I am not neutral when children are being dragooned at the age of ten into armies. I am not neutral when women are being raped. I am not neutral when people are being blown up. I am not neutral when people are being persecuted for religious reasons. I do not recognise that as a form of neutrality that has any particular merit. Irish neutrality has an important role in that we are not seen as having a colonial past. We are seen as being independent interlocutors in troubled regions, without any post-colonial agenda. I am not saying anyone else has such an agenda, but because of some countries' history in different regions, even when they act in good faith and with integrity, the way they act is often open to misinterpretation. That is the benefit of our neutrality: we can play the honest broker and participate in peacekeeping missions without anyone being suspicious of ulterior motive, and long may we continue to play that role.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan In reply to the Minister's remarks, nobody in the House is neutral about atrocities-----

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Hear, hear.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan -----or misbehaviour by regimes or groups that want to impose their ideological view on people. None of us is neutral in that regard. Have there been references, to the Minister's knowledge, to the International Criminal Court in respect of events in Mali?

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