4. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the role played by the Naval Service in the arrest of scafisti in the Mediterranean, that is persons who are forced to drive boats and then arrested as human smugglers and in the event of there being an involvement to justify same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 11685/18 asked on 08 Mar 2018)

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): In July 2017, Government and Dáil approval was secured for the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to serve as part of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy naval mission in the Mediterranean, Operation Sophia. Irish Naval vessel L.É. Niamh, subsequently deployed to the Mediterranean from October to December 2017.

In the course of its deployment in Operation Sophia last year, the crew of L.É. Niamh were engaged in both security tasks and in responding to Safety of Life at sea events (search and rescue) in the area of operation. In addition the core task of the mission including, gathering information on oil smuggling, patrols focusing on countering illegal arms trafficking, surveillance operations with the purpose of intercepting smugglers and people traffickers and monitoring the effectiveness of the Libyan Navy & Coastguard activity from a stand-off distance the L.É. Niamh also undertook search and rescue operations.

All activities undertaken by the Naval Service as part of Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean adhere to and are conducted in accordance with international law, including human rights, humanitarian and refugee law and the principle of non-refoulement. The status of individuals rescued at sea is a matter for the authorities at the point of disembarkation in accordance with relevant international law and conventions on the trafficking in Human Beings.

Where people have been rescued by Operation Sophia, they are brought to a safe port or transferred to another vessel to be taken to a safe port. In that regard, the ports of embarkation for migrants rescued by Operation Sophia have been in Sicily.

Operation Sophia has so far contributed to the apprehension of 130 suspected smugglers and traffickers, removed approximately 520 boats from criminal organisations availability, contributed to almost 290 Safety of Life at Sea events and rescued over 42,400 migrants.

At the Government Meeting of 27 February last , I secured approval for the deployment in 2018 of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to serve once again as part of Operation Sophia. Arrangements are currently being made for two Irish naval vessels to deploy consecutively under rotation for a period of approximately 32 weeks in total.