55. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the presence of Defence Forces personnel on the Golan Heights in essence protecting illegal Israeli occupation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 7339/17 asked on 15 Feb 2017)

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 renewed in December 2016 until 30 June 2017 under UNSCR 2330 (2016).

A contingent of the Permanent Defence Force has been deployed to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights since 2013 and operates in the role of a Quick Reaction Force.

Since its temporary relocation from a number of positions in September 2014 and pending the time when UNDOF returns fully to the area of separation, UNDOF has, in line with its mandate from UNSCR 350 continued to maintain credible presence in the Golan and use its best efforts to implement its mandate. 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.

In this context, UNDOF continues to engage with the parties on practical arrangements to allow the Force to continue to maintain the ceasefire, monitor, verify and report on violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement and exercise its critical liaison functions with the parties in order to implement its mandate.

In a recent report on UNDOF, the UN Secretary-General has stated that the continued presence of UNDOF in the area remains essential and that both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic have stated their continued commitment to the Disengagement of Forces Agreement and the presence of UNDOF.

Participation by the Defence Forces in UNDOF is reviewed by the Government on an annual basis. On 21 June 2016, the Government approved continued participation in the UNDOF mission for a period of twelve months up to June 2017. The Defence Forces are making a valuable contribution to this important mission. The presence of the UNDOF mission remains an important element in ensuring the continuing ceasefire between Israel and Syria and in the wider Middle East region.