To ask the Minister for Defence if he will report on the involvement of the Irish Navy in the Mediterranean migrant crisis; the level of engagement he has had with his European counterparts in alleviating this serious issue.; and if he will make a statement on the matter – Deputy Seán Kyne.
Reply: Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney
Following Government approval and agreement with the Italian authorities, L.É. Eithne arrived in the South Central Mediterranean on 23 May 2015, to assist the Italian authorities in humanitarian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
The role of the Irish Naval vessel is to provide a search and rescue capability and to undertake humanitarian rescue operations at sea in the Mediterranean. Assistance to persons in distress at sea is being provided in accordance with the applicable provisions of international conventions governing search and rescue situations. Co-ordination of search and rescue efforts and the provision of humanitarian assistance is being achieved by close co-operation with the Italian Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre and other relevant Italian authorities.
L.É. Eithne is deployed on the high seas in international waters between Sicily and Libya, which is where most migrant activity and search and rescue incidents have occurred. To date, L.É. Eithne has been involved in a number of rescue operations resulting in the rescue of approximately 1160 migrants.
The humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean remains of great concern to Ireland, and to its EU and Southern partners. On 20 April, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister for Justice & Equality attended a joint meeting of EU Foreign Affairs and Justice and Home Affairs Councils in Luxembourg. At that meeting the Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner presented a 10 point plan of immediate action to be taken in response to the crisis situation in the Mediterranean. The key focus of the plan is on preventing loss of life.
On 23 April the Taoiseach attended a special meeting of the European Council at which the 10-point action plan was considered. A comprehensive range of commitments were agreed, including at least tripling financial resources for Operations Triton and Poseidon, thereby enabling an increase in the search and rescue possibilities within the mandate of FRONTEX. EU leaders also committed to actions to prevent illegal migration flows, to reinforce internal EU solidarity and responsibility in relation to the processing of asylum applications and relocation of migrants, and to combat traffickers in accordance with international law.
Most recently, I attended the formal Meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council with Ministers of Defence in Brussels on 18 May, at which a Council Decision to establish a European Union military operation, EUNAVFOR MED, was adopted as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing the migration crisis in the South Central Mediterranean. Operational planning for this naval operation is currently underway and it is anticipated that the launch of the operation may be on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council later this month.
Consideration of participation by the Irish Defence Forces in EU NAVFOR Med will only occur if there is a UN Security Council Resolution and the applicable National statutory requirements are met. I understand that discussions on a draft Security Council Resolution are ongoing.
Ireland will continue to participate actively in discussions on the various strands of the EU’s comprehensive strategy. In the meantime, through the deployment of the L.É. EITHNE, our focus will remain on continuing to assist the Italian authorities in the humanitarian search and rescue operation efforts to prevent further tragedy and loss of life at sea.