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Department twice failed to act on UN letter asking how former naval vessel ended up being used in Libyan Civil War

The LÉ Aisling was sold by the Department of Defence in 2017 for €110,000 to a Dutch company.

Image: Unlimited Offshore

THE DEPARTMENT OF Foreign Affairs promised to carry out a review of its system for “transmission of urgent and sensitive material” after it twice failed to pass on letters from the UN about the use of a former Irish naval vessel in the Libyan Civil War.

The letters were supposed to have been forwarded to the Department of Defence to answer questions about how the LÉ Aisling had ended up in the hands of the self-styled Libyan National Army.

However, neither piece of correspondence was acted on by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the first due to an oversight and the second after getting lost in an internal email inbox.

The publication of the report about the LÉ Aisling came as a surprise to the Department of Defence, who had mistakenly believed there had never been any contact from the UN.

However, it subsequently emerged that the two letters had been sent after the UN report stated that they had never been responded to.

Internal emails reveal how a detailed letter was sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs on 12 March last year “asking for Department of Defence response to specific questions regarding the disposal of the ship”.

An official wrote: “I undertook to send the letter on to you at the time and failed to do so – my sincerest apologies for this. It is an oversight I can’t explain.”

The email explained that “press lines” surrounding the controversy would need to be amended to reflect the fact the Irish government had in fact been contacted.

It then emerged that a second letter had also been received around the same time.

“Unfortunately, this went into an external email box in PMUN [Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN] and was not transmitted onwards,” wrote an official.

“Sincere apologies for the additional difficulties this is causing. ISP [International Security Policy] will review the systems we have for the transmission of urgent and sensitive material.”

In response to queries from the media about the report, the Department of Defence had been saying it had “received no correspondence from the UN” about the LÉ Aisling.

Although that was strictly speaking true, an official wrote: “Could we correct the record here that D/Defence was only made aware of the UN correspondence last night?”

Another email explained: “Our press response was correct in that D/Defence did not receive any correspondence from the UN but…we have a priority parliamentary question on this where the corrected information will need to be provided.”

The LÉ Aisling had been sold by the Department of Defence in 2017 for €110,000 to a Dutch company.

It was subsequently sold to a firm in the UAE for over €470,000 before again changing hands for €1.3 million and ending up in Libya, in breach of a UN arms embargo.

According to the UN report, it was renamed Al Karama and under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army.

Before being sold, the Department of Defence had fully decommissioned it as a warship, and they explained that they had no “trailing obligations” in relation to how it was later used.

Two cannons and a main gun were subsequently refitted to the boat. It has been “dark” and no longer emitting long-range transmission signals since May 2018.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “We have no statement to make on this matter, nor a comment on internal procedures for communicating urgent and sensitive material.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Defence said that their responses on queries about the LÉ Aisling had been correct.

She said: “[We were] … subsequently sent a request for information from the Department of Foreign Affairs … which it had received from the UN in relation to the matter and the Department of Defence provided the required information to that Department for it to respond to the UN, which it did.”

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About the author:

Ken Foxe  / Journalist lecturer and freelance reporter

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