Minister for Agriculture, Food, the Marine and Defence, Simon Coveney, T.D.,The Minister for Defence, Mr. Simon Coveney T.D., is visiting the Middle East from 4th to 7th December 2014, to meet with Defence Forces personnel serving in a number of UN Operations in the Middle East. Over the four days of his visit, the Minister is also meeting with Lebanese and Israeli Government authorities and with representatives from international organisations working in the region.
Visits the Middle East
Speaking today (Friday 5 December) at the end of the second day of his visit to Lebanon, after laying a wreath to all those members of the Defence Forces who died on overseas service in Lebanon, the Minister said: This has certainly been the most poignant part of my visit here. This is my first visit to a Defence Forces overseas operation as Minister for Defence. To lay this wreath and hear the roll-call of the names of the 47 Irish soldiers who died here in Lebanon in the service of UNIFIL, is both moving and humbling. In the very tranquil setting of the Irish UNIFIL Memorial, it brings home the reality of the suffering and sacrifice of all those who have died in the cause of peace on overseas operations.”
Following a meeting with the UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Portolano from Italy, the Minister travelled to At-Tiri to meet with troops serving with the 47th Infantry Group and received a briefing from Lt Col Kevin McCarthy, their Commanding Officer. The Minister congratulated the troops on the work they were doing in support of peace and security for the people of southern Lebanon and more widely. “You serve today in what is one of the most volatile areas of the world, where conflict can strike at any time. At this time, southern Lebanon is stable, due in large part to the effective and successful work of the peace keepers in UNIFIL. However, there is the potential for conflict at any time given the regional instability and tensions with neighbouring countries. The Irish contribution to UNIFIL has long been recognised by the UN and by the Authorities here in Lebanon for their professionalism and courage. As Minister for Defence I am proud to be able to personally recognise the leadership role that our Troops continue to play by being here on behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland”, the Minister said. The Minister wished all members of the 47th Infantry Group a safe and successful mission during their tour of duty with UNIFIL.
The reading of the names of Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne at the wreath laying ceremony at the Memorial in Tibnin today was particularly significant. The first day of the Minister’s visit involved a range of meetings with senior Lebanese politicians and officials to press the case against Mahmoud Bazzi, the alleged perpetrator of the murders of Privates Barrett and Smallhorne in 1980. The Minister yesterday met with the Lebanese Minister for Justice and senior officials and today with the Lebanese Minister for Defence. Minister Coveney welcomed the deep sympathy and concern expressed by all he met for these tragic deaths. “It was clear from all the meetings I have had here that the matter is being taken very seriously and I welcome the assurances I have receive in the past two days from the Lebanese Government authorities that they share my concerns and will do everything in their power to pursue this case”, the Minister said.
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