Irish Naval service approved to join 'Operation Sophia' followed motion approval

The Dáil has approved Ireland's participation in a European programme to disrupt human trafficking in the Mediterranean.

TDs voted 81 to 38 to approve Ireland's participation in what's called "Operation Sophia".

The main objective of Operation Sophia is to target and stop gangs using vessels for human trafficking, mainly from Libya.

It completes the 'Triple Lock' mechanism of UN, Government and Dáil approval which is required before deploying members of the Defence Forces overseas as part of an international Force.

Transferring to Operation Sophia will result in the redeployment of Irish Naval Service vessels from primarily humanitarian search and rescue operation to primarily security and interception operations.

But the Dáil debate was dominated by complaints that the proposal was rushed through, without full scrutiny.

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly also says taking part in the programme will threaten Ireland's neutrality.

"We should be pushing the UN to be international peacekeepers to rescue migrants, to protect our neutrality," said Ms Daly.

Proposals to refer the subject for deeper consideration at committee were blocked by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

In a statement, the Labour party said that there has not been adequate consideration of this military operation.

Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin said that "Operation Sophia" 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.

He added that 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.

These concerns are shared by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Irish Refugee Council and Medicins sans Frontiere.

"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," said Mr Howlin.

"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," he added.

Speaking following the Government decision, the Minister for Defence, TD Paul Kehoe said: “In addition to Ireland’s contribution to the humanitarian effort in the Mediterranean to date, Ireland will now be making a contribution to addressing some of the root causes of migration and human trafficking.”

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