A recent documentary on RTE radio 1 highlighted the Irish Army’s return to Lebanon. The Irish Defence Forces involvement in UN peacekeeping in Lebanon has had a long history and has even entered the pop culture of, in particular, 1980s and 1990′s Ireland in the guise of Christy Moore song Welcome to the Cabaret and films such as The Snapper. The re-deployment of Irish troops in the region is indicative of the volatility of Lebanon and the region as a whole at the present time but it is also emblematic of the continued commitment of Ireland to peacekeeping. In a previous post on Chad the continued presence of Irish troops abroad seemed to be equivocal with the reasons given for withdrawal appearing somewhat weak and irrational. The re-deployment in Lebanon would appear to underpin Ireland’s commitment to such actions in the future and should be considered a welcome return to Ireland’s strong support of UN led missions.
Ireland’s first involvement in peacekeeping was in the Congo in 1960. Ireland had joined the UN in 1955. Ireland is currently engaged in nine overseas missions as part of UN peacekeeping operations. These missions are located in the north-west African coast, Republic of Congo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo among others. The number and type of personnel involved in such operations varies greatly. In total, there are over 500 personnel deployed in overseas operations. (Though curiously the front page of the website says 140 even though there are 458 members of the defence forces in Lebanon alone) For example in Afghanistan, as part of ISAF, Ireland has seven people involved, with a continued presence since 2003, in Western Sahara there are three persons, with the Lebanon having, as mentioned 458 people stationed for the five months from June 2011 to November 2011, when a Finnish Battalion will take over. The indicated the very varied forms of support which Ireland gives to overseas missions but also the differing kinds of contribution which states can make.
Ireland has been involved in peacekeeping which has been UN, EU and NATO lead. The policy of the previous Government was that Ireland would never become part of a force without the so-called ‘triple-lock‘ being fulfilled. That is the approval of the Dáil, Government and UN, though it is unlikely that the Government would be defeated in such an instance and more importantly these three steps are not necessarily a domestic legal requirement. Even in international law it is possible that a country could ask Ireland, outside of the UN, to come to its aid and to deploy peacekeepers. This would not involve a ‘war’ and therefore would not come under Article 28 of the Constitution. Unlikely as this may in fact be, it does underlie the weakness in current Irish law with regard to sending troops abroad. This underpins the rather under-discussed nature of both Ireland’s deployments overseas and its policy on neutrality. Yet, this does not undermine the work that Irish Defence forces perform overseas however they would be better served by a fully thought-out policy on peacekeeping and the use of Irish forces abroad.