65. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of Defence Forces activities as part of operation Sophia to date. (Question 52737/17 asked on 12 Dec 2017)

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): The EU Common Security and Defence Policy naval operation EUNAVFOR MED (Operation Sophia), against human smugglers and traffickers, is one element of a comprehensive approach to addressing the migration crisis in the South Central Mediterranean. Operation Sophia was launched in June 2015 as part of the EU’s broader action to provide a comprehensive response to the global migration and refugee crisis and to encourage a democratic, stable and prosperous Libya. It specifically seeks to counter human trafficking and smuggling in the Southern Central Mediterranean by taking action against the criminal networks and disrupting the smugglers business model. The mission is also providing capacity building and training to the Libyan Coastguard and Navy and contributing to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution No. 2292. This Resolution imposes an arms embargo on Libya in an effort to prevent the flow of illicit arms and related material into that country.

In July 2017, I secured Government and Dáil approval for the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to serve as part of Operation Sophia. L.É. Niamh and crew departed Haulbowline on 06 October 2017 and joined the EU naval mission. The specific tasks assigned to naval vessels by the Operation Sophia Force Commander, will depend on the operational requirements in the Mediterranean area at any given time. To date, the crew have been tasked to respond to Safety of Life at Sea (Search and Rescue) events in the area of operation.

In accordance with the mandate for the mission, the Naval Service could be involved in surveillance and intelligence gathering operations, search and rescue operations and disposal of migrant boats and Force Protection Operations. A number of national caveats have been formally declared by Ireland and accepted by EU naval mission headquarters. In this regard, Ireland will only participate in those aspects of Operation Sophia which are authorised in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions.