In some ways, it is hard to find the words to express that concern. It is a very serious, multifaceted and multilayered issue and there is an immediate urgency to it, but it also speaks to wider problems we face here and as part of a global community.
On the immediate urgency of the situation, although we have made commitments to take in 500 refugees from Afghanistan, the programme is due to commence in December. If this is really such an urgent situation, why is the programme not commencing sooner? We also need to consider the issue of family reunification. Obviously, Afghanistan is a community with broader family networks than perhaps may be the case currently in Ireland. We need to consider some of the arbitrary cut-offs within the family reunification programmes operating in Ireland as part of our international protection responsibilities and find ways to reflect the urgency of the situation through flexibility, expansion of these programmes and ensuring they have adequate resources to work.
It also speaks to a broader issue. We need to differentiate between the overlapping issues of peace and security. Quite often, those two words, concepts and ideas are joined together as one rather than being distinct but overlapping concepts and ideas. Ireland has had a proud role in peacekeeping through the years, particularly in the context of UN peacekeeping. I am concerned that the poor state of the manpower levels in the Defence Forces means that we are retreating from that role. I recently received a response from the Department to questions I tabled regarding our contingent in Western Sahara. The contingent comprises two commandant-level members of the Defence Forces and it is too much of a strain to be able to continue that commitment alongside the other commitments we have.
The reply I received stated that the decision was taken in light of the resources needed for the several missions being run in the area. The House recently passed legislation relating to being able to clarify the chain of command in the context of multinational operations. That is very useful legislation but it is only needed now, rather than also in times gone by, because we are not able to produce the same strength for UN peacekeeping missions. We were undertaking missions by ourselves but are now joining with other countries, such as with Malta and Poland on a recent deployment to Lebanon, for example. These issues reflect a concern among members of the Defence Forces that there is a lack of sufficient resources or manpower to be able to commit to an overseas operation while keeping people at home to do the work, mentorship, leadership and management that is needed here.
This issue also speaks to wider concerns and a warning relating to the wider context of closer European military co-operation. Is this going to be about peace, of which Ireland has had a proud tradition, or is it simply going to be about security, whereby we roll in behind much more militarised powers that are using the global system for their own ends and to meet their resource and other needs? Are we to be left mopping up after them? Instead of challenging them and focusing on peace, we are simply focusing on security. These are issues on which we need to reflect in the context of our role in them and our ability in that regard. Consideration must be given to what we want the Defence Forces to be able to do and to actually do. Do we want them to be able to continue those proud traditions or are we looking at simply mopping up after a power gone mad across the globe.