Sunday 4 December 2016

Siege won't alter plan to send extra Irish soldiers to the region

Ralph Riegel, Sarah Collins and Kevin Doyle

Published 21/11/2015 | 02:30

Defence Forces troops on a training exercise
Defence Forces troops on a training exercise

Ireland will push ahead with plans to send dozens of extra troops to Mali despite the hotel siege that left at least 27 dead.

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Officials from the Department of Defence have already met with the French Ambassador to discuss ways of providing cover for French soldiers who are likely to be recalled from overseas UN missions to focus on domestic security.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney said Ireland was ready to help "a close neighbour and friend" in the wake of the attack on Paris by Isil.

Ten Irish troops who are based in Mali were all safe after a day which saw more than 170 people taken hostage in Bamako's Radisson Blu hotel.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is advising Irish citizens not to travel to Mali.

Mr Coveney, who stayed in the hotel when he visited troops earlier this year, said that the incident would not change the Government's attitude towards expanding our peace-keeping presence. "We have been doing what is called a reconnaissance in terms of Mali to look at whether we could increase our presence there," he confirmed.

Meanwhile, Irish citizens travelling to mainland Europe can expect tougher security checks as countries remain on high alert.

At an emergency meeting yesterday, EU justice and interior ministers agreed to start carrying out "systematic and obligatory" checks on anyone entering the 26-country visa-free Schengen zone. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald described the gathering as "sombre".

The wide-ranging deal reached at the emergency meeting includes more frequent and rigorous passport checks at the EU's external borders.

There was also a renewed push to unblock a stalled 2011 draft law that would force airlines to hand over information on passengers flying into and within the EU, despite concerns it amounts to mass surveillance.

EU countries will start sharing more regular intelligence on foreign fighters via a centralised Schengen database, which Ireland will join from next year - even though we are not a member of the Schengen zone.

Governments are also to clamp down on bitcoin, pre-paid cards and other anonymous ways to transfer money, and bring in new rules to combat arms smuggling.

Former justice minister Alan Shatter said yesterday that during his time in office he was aware of up to 40 Irish citizens who travelled to Syria to fight for Isil. He said there was "no moral principle which says you can be neutral" when it comes to a group who glory in death.

Irish Independent

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