20. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether the Irish peacekeeping contingent serving with UNDOF should be withdrawn (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 3366/18 asked on 24 Jan 2018)

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was established on 31 May 1974 by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 350 (1974), following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights in May 1974.

UNDOF was established to:

- Maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria

- Supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces; and

- Supervise the areas of separation and limitation, as

provided in the May 1974 Agreement on Disengagement.

Since 1974, the mandate of UNDOF has been renewed every six months, most recently in December 2017, until 30 June 2018.  

A contingent of the Permanent Defence Force has been deployed to UNDOF on the Golan Heights since 2013. The contingent operates in the role of a Quick Reaction Force. The current contingent the 56th Infantry Group, deployed to UNDOF in early October 2017 and the next contingent is due to deploy in April 2018. Some 136 Irish troops are currently serving as part of the UNDOF mission.

On 14 November 2016, UNDOF completed the initial phase of the incremental return of the mission to Camp Faouar on the Syrian side of the Area of Separation where Fijian and Nepalese troops are now based. The full return to the area of separation during 2018 is being considered in the light of the security assessments and other required assurances.

Pending the full return of UNDOF to the area of separation, UNDOF has continued to maintain credible presence in the Golan in line with its mandate.  Both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic have stated their continued commitment to the Disengagement of Forces Agreement and both support the continued presence of UNDOF in the area of separation.  The UNDOF mission remains an important element in ensuring the continuing ceasefire between Israel and Syria and in the wider Middle East Region.  

As with all missions, developments in the UNDOF area of operation are kept under ongoing review. However, given the views of the parties and the UN in relation to the importance of this observer mission is supporting stability and the continuing ceasefire between the parties and the disengagement agreement, the continued presence of UNDOF, and Ireland’s support to it, remains an important element in the response of the international community through the UN. We will continue to support the mission in this regard.