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SPEECH BY THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR DEFENCE,
MR. PAUL KEHOE, T.D., AT THE REVIEW OF THE 108th INFANTRY BATTALION - LEAVING IRELAND SHORTLY FOR PEACEKEEPING DUTY WITH UNIFIL

Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick - 22nd April 2013.

Mayor McLoughlin and his fellow Councillors, Deputy O’Dea, Secretary General, Chief of Staff, Rev. Fathers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here today to review personnel of the 108th Infantry Battalion, who will travel to Lebanon next month for service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Occasions such as this remind us of the important part our Defence Forces play as peacekeepers throughout the world. Participation in UNIFIL is a continuation of our honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace and security, a tradition spanning over half a century now. In particular, there is a long and proud tradition of Irish participation in the UNIFIL mission since its establishment in 1978. You the men and women of the 108th Infantry Battalion are the latest to continue this tradition.

Ireland’s substantial contribution to international peace support operations depends on the ongoing commitment of Defence Forces personnel to serve overseas in often difficult and dangerous circumstances. Your commitment, service and loyalty to the traditions of the Defence Forces on overseas service contributes extensively to the high regard in which Ireland is held throughout the world.

I understand that soldiers from twenty seven (27) counties around Ireland are represented in the 108th Infantry Battalion. For seventy six (76) of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. Other members of the Battalion, of course, have had previous service overseas and have accumulated approximately 900 tours of duty with missions in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Balkans. Indeed, I understand that Company Sergeant Patrick Ryan has completed twenty (20) trips overseas and was a member of the first Irish Battalion deployed to UNIFIL in 1978. I congratulate him on his commitment and auspicious achievement.

Service with the United Nations demands a wide variety of skills and personal qualities. Patience and diplomacy have become as important and as necessary as the required professional military skills of the soldier. Throughout the years, Defence Forces personnel that have served with the numerous UNIFIL battalions, and also those that have served on other overseas missions such as Chad and Liberia have worked hard to build up an outstanding reputation as committed, conscientious, professional and humane peacekeepers. I know that you will all work hard to maintain Ireland’s reputation and, indeed, to enhance it. Today, we also remember the forty-seven (47) members of the Irish Defence Forces who gave their lives attempting to bring peace and stability to that volatile region of the world. We honour their sacrifice in the cause of peace.

Partnership with other like-minded States has become an increasing element of our peacekeeping operations. You, the members of the 108th Infantry Battalion, will be working with Finnish forces as part of a joint Irish/Finnish contingent in UNIFIL. The joint participation of Ireland and Finland in this mission further demonstrates our joint contribution to international peace and security. We are all aware that the world of peacekeeping has changed dramatically over the past years. I cannot over emphasise the important role partners, such as Finland, play in assisting us. In the absence of partners, we would be significantly inhibited in the range and nature of operations we could undertake in support of the United Nations.

UNIFIL plays a vital role in stabilising southern Lebanon. Last month marked 35 years of UNIFIL’s peacekeeping presence in the area. The UNIFIL Force Commander recently stated that the past seven years have been the calmest period southern Lebanon has seen in a long time. The Defence Forces authorities have assured the Minister that appropriate force protection assets and capabilities are being deployed to operate in the current and future environment in Lebanon. However, that is not to underestimate the dangers you may face in your role as peacekeepers. The Minister has and will continue to ensure, that Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the essential training and equipment they require. You have all completed intensive training in preparation for the forthcoming deployment which will ensure that all of you are well prepared to discharge your duties effectively in the mission area in Southern Lebanon.

While separation from family and loved ones will place strains and pressures on you, the support they offer is a crucial component in the success of these missions. I want to publicly pay tribute to all of your families and friends, many of whom are here today, for the important but unsung role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad.

The Irish public, as I’m sure you are aware, 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 it can, to support peace, security and development in trouble spots throughout the world.

Finally, on behalf of Minister Shatter and myself, I want to wish each and every member of 108th Infantry Battalion UNIFIL, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Anthony McKenna, a safe and successful mission. You will be in our thoughts throughout the duration of your tour of duty.

Thank you very much.

ENDS


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