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SPEECH BY THE MINISTER FOR JUSTICE, EQUALITY AND DEFENCE, MR. ALAN SHATTER, T.D., AT THE REVIEW OF THE 106th INFANTRY BATTALION - LEAVING IRELAND SHORTLY FOR PEACEKEEPING DUTY WITH UNIFIL
McKee Barracks, 2nd May 2012.

Check Against Delivery

Secretary General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here today to review personnel of the 106th Infantry Battalion, who will travel to Lebanon later this month for service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

For over half a century now, our Defence Forces have played a vital role as peacekeepers throughout the world. We have honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace and security. You the men and women of the 106th Infantry Battalion are the latest to continue this long and proud 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.

Ireland’s participation through the years in UNIFIL has illustrated the very positive and practical difference that small countries like Ireland can make in the world's trouble spots. You have all worked and trained hard to prepare yourself for duty with UNIFIL and I would like to congratulate you for the commitment and dedication you have shown in this regard. Our involvement in these missions has greatly enhanced the professional capacity and capability of the Defence Forces.


I understand that soldiers from 24 counties around Ireland are represented in the 106th Infantry Battalion. For 96 of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. Others of course have had previous experience overseas, indeed I understand that Regimental Sergeant Major Michael Dillon, has served on 13 previous missions. I know that you will all work hard to maintain the outstanding reputation that Defence Forces personnel have achieved as committed, conscientious, professional and humane peacekeepers, on service with numerous missions, over many years.

Last October, I had the honour of accompanying President McAleese on her official visit to Lebanon. During that visit I had the pleasure of visiting Camp Shamrock and meeting with members of the 104th Irish Infantry Battalion then serving with UNIFIL and also of touring the Irish Battalion’s area of operations.

The visit to Lebanon afforded me an opportunity to see, at first hand, the dedication and professionalism of military personnel and the tremendous work done overseas by the Defence Forces. I conveyed to the troops our deep appreciation for the outstanding manner in which they continue to perform their duties on overseas service.

A key facet of Ireland’s approach to international peace support operations is the engagement of Defence Forces personnel at all levels with the local communities you are called on to serve. Irish troops serving overseas, display not alone their professional commitment in fulfilling the United Nations mandate, but also support and encourage the local people. In Lebanon, previous Irish battalions have completed a number of humanitarian projects over the years with financial help from Irish Aid and I am delighted to see that recent battalions have continued this excellent tradition.

Partnership with other like-minded States has become an increasing element of our peacekeeping operations. You the members of the 106th Infantry Battalion will be working with Finnish forces as part of a joint Irish/Finnish contingent in UNIFIL. From discussions with my Finnish colleagues, I am aware that, Finland like Ireland has taken seriously its obligation under the United Nations Charter to make available armed forces and to provide assistance and facilities, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security. I would like to thank the Government and Armed Forces of Finland for participating in this mission with Ireland. In the absence of partners, such as Finland, the range and nature of overseas operations which Ireland could undertake in support of International Peace and Security would be significantly curtailed.

I am aware that in preparing for our joint deployment the Defence Organisation has worked closely with our Finnish colleagues in planning for this mission. I am confident that your joint deployment with Finland will further support interoperability, build experience and further deepen the excellent bilateral relationship between both our countries.

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 service overseas. However, I have and I will continue to ensure, that Defence Forces personnel serving on overseas missions are equipped with all the essential training and equipment they require. You have all completed intensive training in preparation for the forthcoming deployment to the Lebanon. While this training has been demanding nonetheless, it is necessary in order to ensure that all of you are well prepared to meet the demands and to discharge your duties effectively in the mission area in Southern Lebanon.

The United Nations has stated that UNIFIL plays a vital role in stabilising southern Lebanon, and in particular the area adjacent to Israel, where Irish troops are deployed. The Defence Forces authorities have assured me 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. You will be in our thoughts throughout the duration of your tour of duty.

As you, the men and women of the 106th Infantry Battalion, leave we should remember the high price that has been paid by members of our Defence Forces while on service in Lebanon. Forty-seven (47) members of the Defence Forces gave their lives in the attempt to bring peace and stability to that volatile region of the world. Today, we remember and honour their sacrifice and the sacrifice of all who have given their lives in the cause of peace.

I am delighted to see so many of your families and friends here today to bid you farewell and wish you a safe return home. The support and encouragement of your family and friends is of vital importance to the success of all overseas missions. I thank them for that support, which enables you to serve abroad and thereby help to protect and save the lives of countless numbers of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

In conclusion, I would like to wish the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Monahan and all members of the 106th Infantry Battalion a safe and successful mission. You are travelling to Lebanon with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the nation.

ENDS



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