To ask the Minister for Defence if, in consideration of the hugely positive contribution that the Irish Navy is making in the Mediterranean area, he has had engagement with his European counterparts on a longer term solution to address the influx of persons; if he envisages an expended role for the Defence Forces in this; and if he will make a statement on the matter – Deputy Seán Kyne.
Reply: Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney
The humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean is of great concern to Ireland, and to its EU and Southern partners.
On Monday 20 April, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade attended a joint meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs and Justice and Home Affairs Councils to discuss migration issues, and in particular the situation in the Mediterranean. At that meeting, Ministers Frances Fitzgerald and Charlie Flanagan, together with our EU partners, confirmed our strong commitment to act to prevent recurrence of recent tragedies. It was agreed that work would be taken forward along three strands: reinforcing Frontex activities to save lives at sea, a fairer sharing of responsibilities regarding resettlement and relocation projects within the EU and a range of options to combat organized crime networks and human traffickers.
The Taoiseach also attended a special meeting of the European Council on 23 April convened to discuss the evolving situation in the Mediterranean. At that meeting, EU Heads of State and Government agreed that the immediate priority is to prevent more people from dying at sea. They agreed to use all tools at the EU’s disposal and to work in cooperation with countries of origin and transit of migrants to tackle the root causes of the current human emergency.
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.
Minister Flanagan and I attended the formal Meeting of 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 migrations crisis in the South Central Mediterranean.
A Council Decision to launch EUNAVFOR MED was adopted at the formal Meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on 22 June. The mission is just one element of the comprehensive approach to addressing the migration crisis in the South Central Mediterranean. Irish Defence Forces Personnel are not taking any part in this mission.
The Mission will be implemented in sequential phases and the first phase of the operation, to support the detection and monitoring of migration networks through information gathering and patrolling in accordance with international law, will commence shortly. To move beyond the first phase the Council will assess whether the conditions for transition have been met, taking into account any applicable UN Security Council Resolution and the consent of the coastal States concerned. The second phase involves the targeting, seizure and possible destruction of the vessels and assets of human traffickers. The third phase is an operational/disruption phase.
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.
In the meantime Ireland, through its deployment of the LÉ EITHNE, will continue to assist the Italian authorities on a bilateral basis in the humanitarian search and rescue operation efforts to prevent further tragedy and loss of life at sea.