Troops to deploy for Golan without extra weapons
Ireland has approved a proposal from the United Nations for the deployment of a new contingent of peacekeeping troops on the Golan Heights, without any additional weaponry.
Government ministers are satisfied that the repositioning of the troops from the Syrian side to the Israeli part of the demilitarised zone of the Golan has negated the need for a heavier arsenal.
The 130 troops from the 46th infantry group will fly out from Dublin on Tuesday week for a six-month tour of duty there.
The move follows a series of discussions involving Defence Minister Simon Coveney and senior UN officials in New York.
Mr Coveney argued that the Irish peacekeepers could not be expected to continue to participate in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) unless the government was satisfied about their safety there.
The 40-year-old mission was established in 1974 to maintain the zone between Syria and Israel and has been hugely successful in achieving that objective.
But the dynamic has changed dramatically there in recent months due to the outbreak of internal strife between rebel forces and soldiers loyal to the Syrian Assad regime.
As the quick reaction force for the mission, the Irish are the best equipped, with Mowag armoured carriers with 12.7mm heavy machine guns as well as Steyr assault rifles.
Meanwhile, the government has sanctioned a new programme which will see the Defence Forces train African peacekeepers.
Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan made the announcement yesterday in New York, where he was attending a summit hosted by US vice-president Joe Biden and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The initiative is still at an early stage and the number of Defence Force members expected to be involved has not yet been worked out.
The Irish will train soldiers from countries from around Africa's Great Lakes region, such as Tanzania and Uganda.
Troops from participating countries will attend courses at the UN training school at the Curragh in topics ranging from countering improvised explosive devices to military policing, human rights, logistics and protection of civilians.
Irish trainers may also be sent out to the African countries to provide courses similar to programmes they carried out previously in Somalia and Mali for officers and NCOs.
Mr Flanagan said Ireland would draw on its long experience of peacekeeping to help other countries assure regional security.
He said the Irish wanted to assist prospective partners in enhancing their own skills and capacities and to play their part in meeting the challenges of regional peace and security.
The African countries will be selected from those which are already in a long-established relationship with the Irish government's development co-operation programme, Irish Aid.