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SPEECH BY MR. WILLIE O’DEA, T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE AT THE REVIEW OF 40th INFANTRY GROUP KFOR - LEAVING IRELAND SHORTLY FOR PEACEKEEPING DUTY IN KOSOVO.


Collins Barracks, Cork 2nd April 2009

Lord Mayor, Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here in Cork this afternoon to review the 40th Infantry Group who will shortly be travelling to Kosovo.

Occasions such as this remind us of the important part our Defence Forces play as peacekeepers throughout the world. 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 40th Infantry Group are the latest to serve in this long and honourable tradition.

As you know KFOR was established in June 1999 to support the maintenance of civil law and order within Kosovo. The purpose of the mission is to create a safe and secure environment in which all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origins, can live in peace while democracy and civil society gain strength. The KFOR mission, in which Ireland has participated since August 1999, has restored confidence in Kosovo. We are proud of the role we have played in helping the people of Kosovo to move away from war, misery and fear towards a stable, peaceful and secure future. However, there is still some work to do and, subject to ongoing assessments of the situation on the ground, Ireland will maintain a presence in KFOR for some time yet.

Ireland is also supporting the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) Rule of Law mission to Kosovo: EULEX Kosovo. Ireland currently contributes eight Garda Síochana and one civil servant from my Department to this mission that was launched in February 2008. Its objective mission is to support the Kosovo authorities by monitoring, mentoring and advising on all areas related to the rule of law, in particular in the police, judiciary, customs and correctional services.

The EULEX mission in Kosovo represents a further contribution by the member States of the European Union, under the European Security and Defence Policy and in support of the United Nations, to the maintenance of international peace and security and the rule of law. What we, as part of the EU, demonstrate by our participation in Kosovo, is the EU’s desire to help the people of Kosovo attain a safe and secure environment in which they can achieve political, social and economic development in peace and harmony with their neighbouring States.
We ourselves have benefited during the troubles in our own country and through the current peace process from the contribution the European Union can make to peace and security using the resources it has at its disposal.

In all of its missions to date the European Union has promoted its principles and values in terms of internal security, socio-economic development, democracy and the rule of law. Respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of states and the peaceful settlement of disputes are not negotiable. Threat or use of military force cannot be allowed to solve territorial issues - anywhere.

These objectives and principles are fully in accordance with the values we hold dear in Ireland. They accord with our military neutrality and our active participation in the United Nations and in international peacekeeping.

Indeed, the EU and the UN are mutually supportive organisations cooperating closely in promoting these values in the interest of some of the most disadvantaged communities in the world. We have seen this ourselves, in particular during our participation in the EU led mission in Chad and the Central African Republic.

The UN stands at the apex of the international system. Everything the EU has done in the field of security has been linked to UN objectives. The EU has made substantial progress over the last five years, with Ireland taking a lead role. We are recognised as an important contributor to a better world. Developing the EU’s capacity to contribute to international crisis management operations in support of the United Nations is our moral responsibility.

I know that the Irish public support our men and women in the difficult job that you do in the conflict regions of the world supporting the most disadvantaged. That is why the Government, despite our difficult economic circumstances continues to support and commit resources and personnel, wherever we can, to deliver peace, security and development in troublespots and conflict zones throughout the world.

Ireland’s international reputation in the area of peacekeeping and conflict resolution has been recognised quite explicitly in the lead roles and senior appointments members of the Defence Forces have undertaken in a whole range of missions throughout the world. I expect to see us continue to take leading roles in other sensitive and important missions.

Our involvement in the KFOR mission, especially our successful completion a 12-month period as Lead Nation in the KFOR Multinational Task Force Centre under the command of Brigadier General Gerry Hegarty, 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.

I have visited our troops in Kosovo a number of times, most recently last December, when An Taoiseach and I visited to the 39th Infantry Group. On each occasion I have been there I have seen for myself the fine work our personnel are doing on the ground to help bring stability and progress to Kosovo.

Performing your duties overseas can require considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you will face and the hardships you will be expected to endure as part of your mission. The safety of all Irish personnel serving overseas is always of paramount concern 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 equipment enables our troops to carry out the mission assigned, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission.

I am satisfied that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with KFOR. 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 am also very mindful of the great sacrifices that each one of you is making. For some of you this is your first tour of duty overseas.

I know the strain and pressure that separation from family and loved ones places on you. The support your family, friends and loved ones provide is a crucial component in the success of these missions. I would like to take this opportunity to 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.

In conclusion, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander, Lt Col Des Bergin, and all members of the 40th Infantry Group a safe trip and a successful mission. You are travelling to Kosovo with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the country.

Thank you very much


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