Kenny urges UN mandate overhaul

Enda Kenny has demanded an urgent overhaul of the UN mandate for Irish troops in the Golan Heights after Simon Coveney, the defence minister, branded the danger they faced as "unacceptable."

As fighting spilling out of the Syrian civil war continued to rage in the area, the Taoiseach said the UN needed to re-examine the peacekeeping deployment which includes 130 Irish troops.

He said he would not allow a situation where the lives of Irish soldiers were at risk.

“We do not want to see any of our troops put into a position of undue risk. I do not want to see our troops put in positions where it’s not in keeping with the mandate they have from the United Nations,” he said.

The Taoiseach said he had used a European Council discussion on the Ukrainian crisis to insert a paragraph into the meeting’s conclusions dealing specifically with aggression towards UN observation troops on the Golan.

Mr Kenny’s comments came after Mr Coveney said Irish soldiers were facing “unacceptable” danger.

“There are unacceptable levels of risk attached to missions like this and certainly at the moment the risk levels, given what’s happened over the last three days, are not acceptable.

“We need to get significant reassurance from the UN and if possible from the Israeli and Syrian side that we can operate a UN mission in relative safety,” the minister told RTÉ.

Mr Coveney warned that if Ireland pulled its forces out of the 1,200-strong UN Disengagement Observation Force, “in my view the mission would collapse”.

But the minister said his first priority was the safety of the troops.

Irish soldiers were involved in the evacuation of 35 Filipino troops who became caught-up in the fighting between Syrian regime forces and rebels.

Mr Coveney said that he wanted a full review of the UN mandate before the next change-over of troops in a months’ time as they were now being drawn into a “very nasty civil war” and the area was no longer a demilitarised zone.

“Until and unless the UN can provide Ireland, and other countries, the reassurance that they need in terms of an acceptable level of risk for a peacekeeping mission then I’m certainly not going to send any more Irish troops to that mission.

“I’ve made it very clear that I’m not going to commit Irish troops to this mission unless there’s a very fundamental review of how it’s going to operate.

“We need to get assurances from the UN and, where possible from Israel and Syria, that where possible we can operate to the mandate of this mission.

“The current mandate is simply not matched to the current conditions on the ground,” Mr Coveney said.

The current UN mandate began in 1974 and seeks to keep a demilitarised zone between Syria and Israel.

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