Ní Riada defends opposition to migrant rescue mission in Mediterranean
Sinn Féin presidential candidate Liadh Ní Riada has defended her decision to support the abandonment of the EU's mission to clamp down on people smugglers and save migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
Ms Ní Riada voted in favour of a proposal to end the naval mission involving Irish soldiers which has saved the lives of thousands of migrants fleeing war-torn regions of North Africa.
The Sinn Féin MEP, who is campaigning to become the supreme commander-in-chief of the Defence Forces, said she believes Irish soldiers should not assist the Libyan authorities over concerns she has about alleged human rights abuses by the country's coast guard.
Operation Sophia has resulted in the rescue of more than 44,000 migrants and led to the arrest of at least 143 suspected people smugglers and traffickers. Around 545 smuggler vessels have been intercepted by EU navy forces.
Fianna Fáil's defence spokesperson Jack Chambers said it was "concerning" that a candidate campaigning to become the commander-in-chief of the Defence Forces would oppose the "great work they are doing as part of the operations in the Mediterranean".
"The Defence Forces' own general staff advised that Ireland participate in Operation Sophia. Therefore, if elected, Liadh Ní Riada would be in direct conflict with her own military management," Mr Chambers said.
Ms Ní Riada said she voted to stop the mission in May because she believed the operation was moving towards "greater military co-operation between the EU and Libya with the expressed aim of preventing refugees from reaching Europe".
The Sinn Féin candidate was voting on an amendment to an EU Commission report which recommended increased co-operation between the EU and Libyan authorities with the aim of clamping down on people-trafficking gangs.
The amendment suggested stopping Operation Sophia and said people in need of rescue in the Mediterranean should be assisted by "EU actors", including NGOs.
The EU provides the Libyan coast guard with training on search and rescue missions under Operation Sophia.
However, concerns have been raised about the treatment of migrants by the Libyan coast guard.
Amnesty International reported that asylum seekers who are returned to Libya face cramped conditions in detention centres and have also been subjected to torture and extortion.