Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, has described Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin’s decision to withdraw Irish troops from the United Nation Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission to Syria as another step in the government’s ongoing attempts to erode Irish neutrality.
The Wicklow TD said:
“The decision by the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin to withdraw Irish troops from the United Nation Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission to Syria, can only be described as a further step by the coalition government in their efforts to erode Irish neutrality.
“Ireland’s role in the Golan Heights matters. The UN mission has been in place since 1974, to oversee the ceasefire between Israeli and Syrian forces following the 1973 War between Israel and Syria. With the continuing violence and instability in the region, the mission has never been more important.
“The role of Irish troops, who are stationed at Camp Faouar on the Syrian side of the area of separation, includes the provision of a Quick Reaction Force, which is kept on standby to assist with ongoing UNDOF operations in the UN area of responsibility.
“Ireland has an unbroken record of participating in UN peacekeeping missions stretching back to 1958. There are currently 546 members of the Defence Forces serving on seven different overseas missions. Since 1960, 88 members of the Defence Forces have been killed while serving on overseas missions.
“Ireland’s non-aligned status, alongside the role of the Defence Forces in overseas peacekeeping missions, has achieved considerable standing for the state amongst the international community.
“It was a major contributor to Ireland’s election to the United Nations Security Council, where the core support for Ireland’s bid came from other non-aligned nations and small-island states.
“That the Minister is now set on prioritising Ireland’s participation in an EU Battlegroup over the continuing role of the Defence Forces on a UN peacekeeping mission, will inevitably lead to an erosion of Ireland’s international reputation.
“The decision to participate in the EU Battlegroup, alongside the government’s failure to address ongoing recruitment and retention crises in the Defence Forces, will seriously undermine Ireland’s capacity to continue to contribute in a meaningful way to UN peacekeeping missions.
“The recruitment and retention crisis is ongoing, month by month, year by year, the continuing erosion of the strength of the Defence Forces impacts its operational capacity.
“The current strength of the Defence Forces stands at 7,959, 3,541 below the figure of 11,500 recommended by the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces. This has resulted in the naval service having to cancel a further 12 patrols in February, which means that in the first two months of 2023, there have been 24 patrols cancelled by the naval service. This is not sustainable.
“Taken in conjunction with the current assault on the Triple Lock by members of the government, a number of whom have described it as a ‘problem,’ the current trajectory of the government in relation to Ireland’s neutrality is deeply worrying.
“Ireland is a neutral country. It is a policy which enjoys the support of the vast majority of the Irish people.
“The government needs to commit to maintaining the Triple Lock. It needs to take immediate measures to address the Defence Forces recruitment and retention crisis, which will guarantee that Ireland can reverse the Tánaiste’s decision to withdraw from the Golan Heights and continue to play a key role in UN peacekeeping missions.
“We must develop and maintain a strategy of active neutrality, which will allow Ireland to become an active advocate for peace, nuclear non-proliferation, and the rights of small nations, particularly those affected by climate change.
“I also call on the government to commit to holding a referendum to enshrine neutrality in the constitution.”