The minister for defence and his officials are being asked why they did not check — while visiting the UN General Assembly last week — that the exit paperwork for 130 Irish troops currently stranded in the Middle East was properly completed.
Concerns have been raised that there also seemed to be a failure to do this when Paul Kehoe and his staff visited Irish UN troops serving in the region during St Patrick’s week.
They were raised after Mr Kehoe announced yesterday that he has been advised that the UN has chartered a flight that will return to Ireland from Lebanon on Sunday.
Raco, the association which represents Defence Forces officers, said checks should have been made, especially as on October 18 last a similar paperwork problem also left Irish troops stranded for around a week in the Middle East.
“Troop rotations in and out of mission areas are very much a routine and regular event, so given the significance to Defence Forces’ families one would expect that such events would be prioritised by DoD [Department of Defence] officials and proceed according to plan regardless of who organises or pays for them,” said Raco deputy general secretary Lieutenant Colonel Derek Priestly.
The troops were supposed to fly back to Dublin yesterday morning.
As efforts were made to get them back home they remain at Camp Faouar, inside the Syrian border.
A contingent of replacement troops is still in Ireland awaiting news on when they can proceed to Syria.
The Department of Defence was responsible for the paperwork error last October. It took a week to get soldiers back home and as a goodwill gesture, the minister ordered they be paid €1,000 each in compensation.
The department maintained in the latest case the UN is responsible for organising the rotation flights to transport the current contingent back to Ireland.
In a statement, it said it had been advised by the UN that the Lebanese Authorities hadn’t granted approval of the landing clearance in Beirut for the aircraft scheduled to transport the 130 soldiers from the 59th Infantry Group.
It added that Mr Kehoe had asked Ireland’s Permanent Mission in New York to engage directly with the UN to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin claimed Mr Keogh had tried to wash his hands of any responsibility during a debate in the Dáil yesterday.
“This is not the first time the Government have failed our soldiers,” said Mr Howlin.
For it to happen again now is beyond disgraceful. The weak explanations from Government are not good enough, our soldiers and their families deserve better.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he understood the frustration of many of the soldiers’ families, but reiterated that the UN and not the Irish Government was responsible.
“To be clear, there was a paperwork problem in October where there was fault on our side,” said Mr Coveney. “That is my understanding. That is not the case this time, however.”