Irish troops set for Africa to ease burden on France
Lisbon Treaty defence clause invoked for first time
Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30
Irish troops are set to be sent to Africa to free up French troops needed to combat Isil.
Ireland is expected to send a strong contingent of peacekeeping troops to Mali to allow France to withdraw some of its military personnel for deployment elsewhere.
The move is likely to form the central plank of a response by the Government here to a call for help from France to its EU partners.
France invoked a never-before-used European Union "mutual-defence clause" to demand that its partners provide support for its operations against the Isil group in Syria and Iraq, and other security missions, in the wake of the Paris attacks.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said all 27 of France's EU partners responded positively at an EU defence ministers' meeting.
Mr Le Drian noted France's military burden in northern Africa, the Central African Republic and Lebanon, and the need to provide national security while a state of emergency is in place.
He said EU partners could help "either by taking part in France's operations in Syria or Iraq, or by easing the load or providing support for France in other operations".
A series of options will now be considered by the Government after Defence Minister Simon Coveney yesterday said that Ireland was prepared to provide any assistance it could.
But it was made clear last night that the response from Ireland would not breach our stance on neutrality or put the lives of our soldiers in danger.
Even before Friday night's attacks in Paris, Mr Coveney had been looking at the possibility of sending more troops to Mali, a landlocked country in west Africa.Mali was plunged into conflict after its president was ousted in a military coup in 2012 and its forces divided into several factions, with one group hijacked by Islamist extremists.
Mr Coveney told the Irish Independent that while no decisions had yet been made, a bigger deployment in a country like Mali was the most likely option.
An increased sharing of intelligence with EU partners will also be explored further in talks with their French counterparts.
Ireland has an overall commitment of 850 troops to UN missions but at the moment fewer than 500 are based overseas. This gap allows room for the Government to make a significant gesture in terms of troops to allow the French to withdraw some personnel.
Mr Coveney said the talks would take place sooner rather than later - and he felt the immediate response to the French call for help was "the least we could do".
Article 42.7 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty states that if a member country "is the victim of armed aggression on its territory", other members have "an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power".
The clause is similar to, but less far-reaching than, Nato's Article 5, which designates an attack on one ally as an attack on them all.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said on Tuesday that "France has been attacked, so the whole of Europe has been attacked".
"This is September 11 for Europe," Greek Defence Minister Panagiotis Kammenos told reporters in Brussels.
Britain, Finland and Sweden immediately said they stand ready to help.
Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian missile cruiser Moskva, currently in the Mediterranean, to start co-operating with the French military on operations in Syria.
However, Germany and Italy ruled out any role in the air campaign against Isil in Syria.
Meanwhile in the Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ireland offered its "total solidarity and support" to France and added that "barbarity will not be allowed to triumph over civilisation".
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil that the Gardaí must be ready for what is "an evolving" threat.
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan is carrying out a review to see if any additional resources are needed to fight international terrorism.