128. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence his plans to deploy Naval Service and Army resources on a Mediterranean humanitarian mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 21291/15 asked on 09 Jun 2015)

Minister for Defence (Deputy Simon Coveney): At a special meeting of the European Council on 23 April 2015, the Taoiseach announced that Ireland would deploy an Irish Naval Service vessel to assist in the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Following Government approval and agreement with the Italian authorities, L.É. Eithne arrived in the South Central Mediterranean on 23 May 2015, to assist the Italian authorities in humanitarian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

The role of the Irish Naval vessel is to provide a search and rescue capability and to undertake humanitarian rescue operations at sea in the Mediterranean. Assistance to persons in distress at sea is being provided in accordance with the applicable provisions of international conventions governing search and rescue situations. Co-ordination of search and rescue efforts and the provision of humanitarian assistance is being achieved by close co-operation with the Italian authorities.

L.É. Eithne is deployed on the high seas in international waters between Sicily and Libya, which is where most migrant activity and search and rescue incidents have occurred. The Irish naval vessel is working in co-ordination with European navies, including British, Italian and German naval forces. To date, L.É. Eithne has been involved in a number of rescue operations resulting in the rescue of approximately 1,160 migrants.

The despatch of an Irish naval vessel to assist the Italian authorities in the humanitarian search and rescue operation highlights the Government’s commitment to assist with efforts to prevent further tragedy and loss of life at sea.

At the formal Meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council with Ministers of Defence in Brussels on 18 May, a Council Decision to establish a European Union military operation, EUNAVFOR MED, was adopted as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing the migrations crisis in the South Central Mediterranean. Consideration of participation by the Irish Defence Forces in EU NAVFOR MED will only occur if there is a UN Security Council Resolution and the applicable National statutory requirements are met. I understand that discussions on a draft Security Council Resolution are ongoing.

In the meantime Ireland, through its deployment of the L.É. EITHNE, will continue to assist the Italian authorities in the humanitarian search and rescue operation efforts to prevent further tragedy and loss of life at sea.