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Eyre Square, Galway 14th May 2009.

Deputy Mayor, Minister, Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here in Galway City for this most important and significant review.

Today’s review marks a number of important milestones. It is taking place here in the centre of the historic and beautiful city of Galway which is the most appropriate venue given that the Western Brigade is the lead Brigade for this tour of duty. It is a review of the 100th Infantry Battalion to depart for service overseas. The lead unit is the Irish speaking battalion, an Chéad Cathán (1st Infantry Battalion) and, most importantly for me, it marks the appointment of the first female Deputy Commander of an overseas unit: Comdt Maureen O’Brien.

Occasions such as this serve to remind us of the important part our Defence Forces play as peacekeepers throughout the world. Participation in the MINURCAT mission is a continuation of our honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace and security. Last year we celebrated 50 years of Irish peacekeeping with the United Nations. The men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann have made real and lasting contributions to the lives of the communities they have served around the world in the cause of peace. You the men and women of the 100th Infantry Battalion Group are the latest to serve in this long and honourable tradition.

The EUFOR mission was launched on foot of a United Nations resolution to deal with the major humanitarian crisis resulting from hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing persecution from neighbouring Darfur. More than 1,400 Permanent Defence Force personnel have served with EUFOR in Chad in a very demanding terrain effectively contributing to creating a safer environment for civilians, in particular refugees and displaced people. They also enabled the international humanitarian organisations and NGOs to carry out their work safely.

As recently as last week Irish Troops assisted in the relocation of 68 persons (mainly NGO's) from Koukou Angaranna to the Headquarters of the Irish multinational battalion at Goz Beida. A total of thirty two (32) of these personnel were accommodated in Camp Ciara overnight while the remainder were escorted to the compounds belonging to their parent organisations within Goz Beida.

I want to express my appreciation and that of the Government to Lt General Pat Nash who served as Operation Commander of EUFOR TCHAD/RCA. Lt General Nash’s hard work and commitment since his appointment ensured the success of the mission. The outstanding professionalism and dedication he and his staff displayed is being recognised on Monday next with the award of the Legion d’Honneur to Lt General Nash by President Nicholas Sarkozy. I wish to congratulate Lt General Nash on this honour and wish him every success in his retirement next month.

On 15 March 2009, the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) assumed operational control of the United Nations force of 2,085 military personnel, including 1,877 troops re-hatted from eight EUFOR contributors.

The Irish people fully support you in the difficult job you do supporting and protecting disadvantaged and vulnerable peoples in the conflict regions of the world. That is why the Government, despite the current difficult economic circumstances, continues to support and commit resources and personnel, wherever we can, to support peace, security and development in troublespots throughout the world.

The performance of your duties overseas requires considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you will face and the hardships you will be expected to endure as part of this particular mission. The safety of all Irish personnel serving overseas is of the utmost importance to me, to the Government and to the military authorities. Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment available. This enables our troops to carry out their duties, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission.

Our involvement in these missions has greatly enhanced the professional capacity and capability of the Defence Forces. This has, in turn, increased our value to the UN as a provider of quality professional forces with the strategic, political and operational experience of managing of multinational peace support operations. The appointment of an Irish officer, Brigadier General Gerald Aherne, as Deputy Force Commander is another indication of the high regard in which Irish personnel are held internationally.

I saw for myself the work our Defence Forces personnel are doing in this challenging mission when I travelled to Chad in February. I met with your comrades in the 99th Infantry Battalion and congratulated them on the tremendous job they are doing under extremely difficult conditions and terrain. It was heartening to see that their morale was high and that the mission is having a positive effect in the creation of a safe and secure environment for refugees, for displaced persons and for the wider population.

I spent some time at the headquarters of the Irish-led multinational Battalion: Camp Ciara, and was impressed by the high standard of the facilities available to our troops. Great credit is due to all concerned for the excellent work carried out in the construction of the Camp.

The EUFOR mission in Chad clearly demonstrated the role that we, as a proudly neutral nation, can play within the EU defending the values of human rights, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the upholding of international humanitarian law. These are the values that Ireland as a nation has continuously held dear in its contributions to international peacekeeping.

Our neutrality is important to us as a people. Our traditional policy of military neutrality enhances our standing internationally. It is central to our vision of Ireland as the bridge between the developed and developing world. It enables us to play a constructive role in world events focused on human rights concerns. It positions us as potential intermediary and facilitator in peace processes and the first on the ground in a major humanitarian crisis. Irish troops have been readily accepted as honest brokers wherever they have served thanks to our record of military neutrality.

Our military neutrality means more than just not belonging to a military alliance. It means that we will at all times decide for ourselves how and where our troops are deployed and how much we spend on defence. These are important principles for me as Minister for Defence.

These are important principles that we both uphold and exercise as a member of the EU. The European Union’s approach to International Security is driven by agreed values and objectives set by the European Council; peace and security; the principles of the UN Charter; recognition of the primary role of the UN Security Council; and the rule of law. The focus of ESDP is on the full range of conflict prevention and crisis management tasks.

Our membership of the EU is of vital importance to us and so is our participation in all of its important institutions. Ireland plays its full role in the development of ESDP, consistent with the maintenance of Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality. In practice, this has meant ensuring that Ireland takes its own decisions to participate in ESDP activity on a case-by-case basis.

The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake this mission is clear evidence of both the experience our troops have in crisis management operations and the regard in which our international partners hold the Defence Forces.

For 92 of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. I know the strain and pressure the separation from family and loved ones places on you. I want to pay tribute to your family and friends, many of who are here today, for the unheralded role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad. The support they play is of vital importance to the success of all overseas missions. The encouragement, support and loyalty of your family and friends is vital in enabling you to serve abroad and doing your duty.

This is a demanding mission conducted in tough and terrain and difficult circumstances. I am satisfied that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with MINURCAT. However, that is not to underestimate the dangers you may face as peacekeepers. You will be in our thoughts and prayers throughout the duration of your tour of duty.

I would like to conclude by again reiterating not just my pride but also the entire nation’s pride in the achievements and standards set by the Defence Forces on this new UN mission and similar missions. We may be a small nation, but we can stand tall when it comes to helping some of the most beleaguered people on this planet. Your bravery, enthusiasm and determination will help improve the lives of nearly half a million refugees in Chad.

In conclusion, I would like to wish your Battalion Commander, Lt Col Ian Hanna, and all members of the 100TH Infantry Battalion a safe trip and a successful mission. You are travelling to Chad with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the country.

Thank you very much.

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