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Dail committee should have considered Operation Sophia motion

13 July 2017

Statement by Brendan Howlin TD
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland

Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin has expressed his concern at the limited debate on the Defence motion under the triple lock, seeking Dáil approval for Irish participation in Operation Sophia. There has not been adequate consideration of this military operation. Proposals to refer the subject for deeper consideration at committee were blocked by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Howlin said:

"The Labour Party is entirely supportive of the efforts made by our naval vessels in the Mediterranean. Their efforts have saved more than 15,000 lives and they have every reason to be proud of their work.

"We have grave concerns about Irish participation in Operation Sophia despite it's values being noble.

"Operation PONTUS was established as a humanitarian mission with its primary focus on saving lives while Operation Sophia was established with a different primary focus.

"It was established as a military operation with the mission to identify, capture and dispose of vessels used by smugglers and traffickers” in order to “disrupt the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean.

"We must all be concerned about the risk to Irish naval personnel from involvement in such activities and the diversion of resources from the work of saving lives which we believe is our core mission in this region.

"Serious concerns regarding this mission have been raised in a House of Lords report, and many of these concerns are shared by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Refugee Council.

"The House of Lords report suggests that an unintended consequence of Operation Sophia’s policy of destroying smugglers’ boats has been that they have adapted and sent refugees and migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels, leading to more deaths. We have also also heard concerns from Medicins sans Frontiere.

"And the statistics bear out this suggestion. In 2016, there were more than 4,500 deaths – compared to under 3,200 the year before.

"I have not been reassured that our armed forces will play no role in supporting efforts to return refugees and migrants Libyan detention centres.

"There is no detail on whether the Irish Government has considered these concerns, nor were we provided with any background briefing papers or notes provided to Deputies.

"I supported the proposal that the matter be postponed until after the Dáil recess, and then debated in the normal manner, with opportunities for members to be briefed and informed on the totality of the situation.

"I am saddened that the Government has decided to rush through this important motion with limited debate, analysis or consideration."