|Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Finn, ladies and gentlemen, last September I had the honour of reviewing the 27th Infantry Battalion in Cathal Brugha Barracks before you set off for Kosovo. That seems a long time ago now – and quite a lot of things have happened since we last saw one another that day. You may have heard about my visit to Liberia last month and wondered if I had forgotten about you – well I hadn’t and here I am to prove it. I am glad to have had this opportunity to visit you before the end of your tour of duty and I am particularly pleased that my visit here has coincided with this afternoon’s medal ceremony. Medal ceremonies are significant occasions for our soldiers serving overseas. It is very important that you be recognised and honoured for your contribution to peacekeeping missions.|
As we all know too well, peacekeeping missions are not without their dangers – as was brought home to us yet again last November with the tragic death in Liberia of your colleague Sgt. Derek Mooney – and it is important that your bravery and the personal sacrifices that each of you has made are acknowledged appropriately. This ceremony also provides an opportunity to reflect on the five months that you have spent in Kosovo, the work that you have carried out here and the difference that you have made to this region.
As part of a force of 21,000, drawn from 17 NATO countries and 17 Non-NATO countries, the Irish Defence Forces have played a central role in making this UN authorised mission an extremely successful one. During that time they have distinguished themselves with characteristic professionalism and have built on the already well-established reputation of Ireland as a source of the world’s finest peacekeepers.
Of course what always distinguishes our peacekeepers from among their peers is a unique combination of professional excellence allied to a rich element of humanity. Wherever they have gone, the men and women of the Irish Defence Forces have reached out to the local communities and have made a real and lasting contribution to improving the quality of life. For many years, the Irish peacekeepers’ interpretation of their UN mandate has been a broad one.
During my seven years as Minister for Defence, it has been my great fortune to witness the unique impact of our peacekeepers throughout the world. The unique ability to combine the traditional peacekeeping duties with the provision of humanitarian support has become the calling card of the Irish peacekeeper internationally. I know that this combination of roles has been continued and built upon during your time on this KFOR mission.
You are doing a first-class job out here and I want to thank you sincerely – on my own behalf, on the Government’s behalf, and on behalf of the Irish people - for the outstanding way that you have faced up to the challenges of this mission. Since our troops first came to Pristina, almost five years ago now, a lot has been accomplished.
On my previous visits here, I was able to see for myself some of the humanitarian projects that our troops were involved with. I am delighted to hear that they are continuing to make great progress. I want to congratulate each and every one of you for your contribution to these works.
Our continued participation in peacekeeping operations comes at a time when the challenges facing the United Nations in maintaining international peace and security are many and varied, as the events of recent years have clearly demonstrated. It is against this background of volatility that the nature of peacekeeping operations are changing from the traditional model of UN led missions. The KFOR mission, while UN authorised, is NATO led and the participation of the Irish Defence Forces has proven to be highly successful. An increasing onus is being placed on regional bodies like the EU to be prepared to provide peacekeeping troops for the purpose of discharging a UN mandate. This carries with it implications for the manner in which these operations are organised and structured and we must, therefore, seek to optimise our levels of interoperability so that our Defence Forces can work effectively in multi-national peace support operations, as is the case in this KFOR mission.
As you know, Ireland currently holds the Presidency of the EU and one of my priorities, as part of Ireland’s European Security and Defence Policy mandate is to bring forward the work of developing the EU’s early warning and rapid response capabilities, so as to enhance its ability to support the UN, through autonomous operations, at short notice. Ireland will also bring forward proposals on measures to improve the EU’s early warning capability. In addition, a conference on conflict prevention will take place in Dublin Castle at the end of March, which will examine the role of NGOs/civil society in conflict prevention and links between European Foreign, Security and Defence and development assistance activities.
In conclusion I would like to thank Lt. Col Michael Finn and his staff for the very warm welcome that they have extended to my visiting party and me. As usual, the arrangements have been spot on – my thanks to all concerned. I’m sorry that my visit to you is so brief on this occasion, as I would very much have liked to have spent some more time with you. Unfortunately, the demands of the Presidency mean that I must be on my way tomorrow morning.
However, although short, my visit has been useful and informative. It is very comforting to be in a position to report to the Government, and the Irish people, that the excellent work of the Irish peacekeepers is continuing. Finally may I wish you a safe remaining period of duty here in Kosovo and a pleasant journey home to your families and friends next month.
Go raibh maith agaibh.
CAMP CLARKE, PRISTINA, KOSOVO WEDNESDAY 3RD MARCH 2004
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