Deployment of Irish troops overseas to rise next year, says Coveney
The deployment of Irish military personnel overseas is set to increase in the coming months.
The Government has a long-standing commitment to provide up to a maximum of 850 troops for peace missions abroad, if requested.
But at the moment there are only 496 men and women involved in 16 missions.
However, Defence Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday that the numbers would rise steadily again in the new year and head towards the maximum target figure.
He also revealed that Naval Service crews would be active again next year in the humanitarian rescue mission in the Mediterranean.
The current mission, in which the Irish crews have rescued almost 8,000 migrants, is due to end in December.
The minister said the numbers abroad had increased by about 100 since he had taken over the Defence portfolio last year. The Government was committed to sending an extra 180 personnel to Lebanon next year and a further 175 would be deployed with the German-led battlegroup, which would be on standby for six months and ready to be dispatched to world trouble spots at short notice.
"I think we are moving towards the 850 and don't forget that was the objective of a 10-year strategy but it looks like it will be reached sooner," he said.
The minister was speaking in Galway at the annual conference of PDFORRA, the association representing soldiers, sailors and aircrew in the Defence Forces.
He told delegates that the association's claim for bigger allowances for the Naval crews in the Mediterranean would be determined at arbitration.
If that was the outcome in about two months time, he said he would be happy to sanction back money for the crews of the three vessels, LÉ Eithne, LÉ Niamh and LÉ Samuel Beckett.
He said the additional money being sought - an estimated €250,000 for the three crews - was paid to personnel involved in an armed peace support mission.
But the Mediterranean was classified as an unarmed mission, even though the naval personnel were deployed on a warship and carried weapons.
Meanwhile, there were joyful scenes at Casement Aerodrome yesterday as 130 soldiers of the 48th Infantry Group arrived home after a six-month tour of the Golan Heights. One returning soldier was welcomed home by his bride-to-be Amy Brennan (25) and two young children, Charlie (2) and Zac (1).
"Words can't describe it," said Bryan Nolan from Longford. "I really missed the family, and I'm seeing a lot of changes since I've been away in the little boys."
Amy said the two children had grown up a lot since their father departed. "Zac was only six months, so his Daddy missed his first steps."