Speech by Mr. Willie O’Dea, T.D., Minister For Defence at the review of 95th Infantry Battalion due to leave on peacekeeping duty with UNMIL
Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny
4th May 2006
Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and members of the 95th Infantry Battalion, it is a great pleasure for me to be here this afternoon to review the personnel from the Southern Brigade who will shortly be travelling to Liberia to participate in the UNMIL peacekeeping mission.
I would like at the outset to extend a special welcome to Senator Franklin Siakor from Liberia. Senator Siakor is a newly elected member of Liberia’s Upper house and I am pleased to see him here with us on this most important day.
Over the past two and a half years, Ireland has contributed, in a substantive way, to bringing stability to a key region of Africa. We have worked to bring peace, and create respect for human rights and the rule of law and have helped to ensure the re-establishment of civil society in the region.
Earlier this year I took the opportunity to visit to Liberia where I met with your predecessors in the 94th Infantry Battalion. The primary purpose of my visit was to see at first hand the work of our Defence Forces Personnel and to convey to them, on behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland, the deep appreciation felt regarding the outstanding manner in which they perform their duties in this challenging mission.
During the course of my visit, I met with the newly elected President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Alan Doss.
During my meeting with President Johnson-Sirleaf, the President expressed her gratitude to the Irish Government for the Defence Forces contribution to peace in Liberia and the vital role played by them in maintaining the peace, which she stated has been exceptional.
She said that while the UN had brought peace to Liberia, the danger of violence has not gone away. She also repeated her hope that Ireland would continue its strong support for Liberia to ensure stability and encourage economic growth. I was pleased assure her that the Government was committed to supporting and encouraging progress in Liberia.
Since that visit the UN Secretary-General wrote to An Taoiseach and the Government, in early March, requesting that Ireland consider postponing the withdrawal of its troops from UNMIL for a period of at least six months. This was in order to give the UN time to find a suitable replacement for the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) capability.
The request from the UN Secretary General has received the most serious consideration over the past two months. We have had some productive discussions with our colleagues in the United Nations and I feel confident that we will be able to respond positively to the Secretary General’s request for a further six months.
Ireland remains committed to Peace Support Operations in Africa under a UN flag. This includes possible participation in the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC).
Ireland has, from the outset, been positively disposed towards the proposed mission and has supported a positive response from the EU to the UN. In this regard, we had confirmed that we were prepared to offer up to ten Headquarters personnel for the mission - subject to national decision-making procedures.
Ireland’s proposed contribution is well in line with that of other contributing member States and is in the context of our existing major commitments to peacekeeping operations.
Turning for a moment from international to domestic military matters: last July, while visiting Mellows Barracks in Galway, I spoke of two areas in which I wanted to see more progress being made. One of these was encouraging more women to join the Defence Forces. I have spoken several times about what we are doing to achieve this.
The other was my wish to see more being done to remove the perception of a “glass ceiling” to promotion in the army. Every private soldier joining the army should have a reasonable expectation of being promoted to senior officer level by virtue of his ability and character. I am pleased to report that progress is being made here too. Last year saw an improvement in the number of serving Defence Force personnel being recruited as cadets and I look forward to seeing these numbers grow even further in coming years.
I am also pleased to see a Commissioning From the Ranks (CFR) competition being held later this year - the first in almost five years. This will give existing non-commissioned officers an opportunity to promotion to the commissioned ranks. The outcome of this competition will inform my approach to this important issue into the future. These are two positive and welcome developments and indicators of how are Defence Forces continue to modernise
The safety of Irish personnel serving overseas is always of paramount concern to us. All Defence Forces personnel serving on overseas missions are highly trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment available. But we are mindful of the dangers you may face in your role as peacekeepers. You will be in all our thoughts and prayers throughout your tour of duty in Liberia.
I am delighted to see so many of your families and friends here today to bid you farewell and safe home. As all of you will know family support is of vital importance to the success of all overseas missions. The support, encouragement and loyalty of your family and friends is vital in enabling you to serve abroad and thereby help protect and save the lives of countless numbers of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on our planet.
The depth of public support for your role with the United Nations was manifestly visible last month, when some two thousand five hundred Defence Force personnel participated in the 90th Easter Rising Commemoration.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Defence Forces on their superb performance. The men and women of 1916 would have been extremely proud today to see their successors in Óglaigh na hÉireann marching past the GPO applauded by 125,000 spectators and the hundreds of thousands more who watched it on TV.
You serve your country in an outstanding fashion, both at home and overseas and it was fitting to see you being saluted by your fellow countrymen.
In conclusion, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander, Lt. Col. Mick McMahon and all of the members of the 95th Infantry Battalion a safe trip and a peaceful and successful mission in Liberia.
Thank you very much