Chief of Staff must immediately inform affected Defence Forces members that UN missions rotations are being halted - Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD
Correspondence received by Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh T.D. suggests that all who are currently serving on UN missions will not be allowed home until June 30th at earliest as part Covid-19 measures, yet this has not been communicated to the Defence Forces personnel or the families affected.
Teachta Ó Snodaigh said;
“Following representations received from Defence Forces members currently serving on missions abroad and seeking clarity on whether they would be returning home to their families on May 12th & May 19th I asked the Minister for Defence to provide me with an update.
“I have since received a letter from Minister Kehoe which still leaves unanswered questions and provides no certainty on whether these personnel, who are part of the UN's UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, will be rotated in less than one month’s time. This is despite the UN Secretary General's decision for a moratorium on rotations, thus extending current deployments till the end of June in order to mitigate transmission of the Covid-19 virus.
“I and some of my Sinn Féin colleagues have just today received further communication from Defence Forces personnel currently deployed abroad and due to return home on May 12th asking whether we can bring certainty to this situation for them as they are still in the dark.
“I believe it is only fair for all of these members and their families that a decision is communicated to them immediately that their time overseas is being extended if they are abroad, will be delayed or if they are awaiting deployment. There are other deployments effected, such as the MINUSA contingent in Mali who are due to return at end of the month, and personnel were also due to fly out to replace them.
“I think it is quite clear to anyone that reads the UN Secretary General's directive that the extension of UN deployments in South Lebanon and elsewhere is logical. I raised this with the Minister in the Dáil nearly three weeks ago, and still the decision to extend deployments had either not been communicated to those effected or even more worrying had not been made.
“If this is the case, then the Defence Forces Chief of Staff and Minister Kehoe must heed the UN Secretary General's decision and immediately make the decision and communicate to it to affected Defence Forces personnel and their families without delay.
"It would be bizarre if a decision has not be made at this stage, especially when it can be seen from the Minister's letter that a decision has been taken that overseas allowances would be extended to cover an elongated deployment."
Note to editors: A copy of Minister Kehoe's letter can be found below.
The moratorium on upcoming rotations and leave is designed to ensure the continued operations of essential peacekeeping missions, to protect vulnerable populations in conflict zones and tomaintain international peace and security. It is also designed to ensure the health and wellbeing of personnel deployed on UN operations by limiting movement of personnel into mission areas.
This is a decision which effects all contingents from all countries in all missions. The main impact for the Defence Forces will be on the deployments to MINUSMA in Mali where personnel are due to rotate later this month and for UNIFIL in Lebanon where personnel are due to rotate in two rotations in May, (12th and the 19th). The Defence Forces contingent in UNDOF in Syria rotated over the weekend so they are unaffected by the recent announcement.
The UN Secretary General has advised that limited exceptions may be considered in extremis and where they are required for the continuation of the delivery on the mission mandate, and on the basis of strict conditions being applied to prevent the spread of the virus. Decisions on any exception will be taken by the UN Headquarters in New York on a proposal from the Force Commander.
The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces have been examining the impact of the UN decision on Defence Forces personnel currently serving with UN missions. We are also examining the impact it may have on future deployments, so as to advise personnel and families accordingly. Personnel deployed overseas will be briefed by their commanders in the mission area. There is also ongoing engagement within the mission and with mission commanders to ensure that rotations can take place as close as possible to the original planned dates and in accordance with the direction of the UN Secretary General.
Ireland will continue to meet its commitments to UN and other multilateral peacekeeping operations in support of international peace and security through this challenging period to the greatest extent possible. Our aim is to maintain the integrity and operational capability of our overseas contingents in discharging their mandates. Protecting the health and welfare of our personnel remains a priority consideration throughout.
All currently deployed Defence Forces personnel whose overseas service is extended as a result of this UN decision will continue to receive their overseas peace support allowance for the extended duration of their deployment amounting to between €2,500 and €3,400 per month in addition to their normal pay. These allowances will continue to be paid free of tax. Personnel whose deployment is delayed due to any imposed UN moratorium on rotations, will serve their full six month tour of duty when deployed and will therefore be at no loss in terms of their expected overseas allowances of some €15,000 to €20,000 tax free for their 6 month deployment.
Personnel and families will be advised and updated by the Defence Forces as further information becomes available and as the implications of these decisions are fully evaluated to ensure that we can provide personnel and families with as much information as possible. The United Nations has assured of its absolute commitments to the health and safety of personnel in the field. UN missions are enforcing strict health and safety measures and infection protocols to keep personnel safe and well while continuing to carry out the important work of the UN mission.
It is uncertain at this time whether the rotation for KFOR will proceed given that the EU and UN have now both postponed rotations in their mission areas. In the event that it does proceed, the Department and the Defence Forces will examine all options available to rotate these personnel.
I trust this clarifies the current position in relation to this matter.
PAUL KEHOE, T.D.,
MINISTER WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEFENCE