Speech by the
Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D.,
at the review of the 42nd Infantry Group - leaving Ireland shortly for Peacekeeping Duty with UNIFIL in South Lebanon
Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin,
7th November 2013
Deputy Lord Mayor, Secretary General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen; I’m delighted to be back in Cathal Brugha Barracks to review personnel of the 42nd Infantry Group, who will travel to Lebanon later this month for service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
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 more than 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 42nd Infantry Group are the latest to continue this tradition. I know you will perform your duties with the humanity and professionalism we have come to expect from Óglaigh na hÉireann.
Ireland’s participation in UNIFIL is an illustration of the very positive and practical difference that small countries like Ireland can make in the world's trouble spots by supporting the United Nations. You have all worked and trained hard to prepare yourself for duty with UNIFIL and I know that many of you have served in the Lebanon before. Hopefully this will make your task easier.
For the past two and a half years the deployment of Irish Defence force personnel to the UNIFIL mission has represented Ireland’s largest overseas deployment since the withdrawal of the Irish contingent from Chad in May 2010. Last year saw the establishment of a joint Irish/Finnish Battalion in UNIFIL when a contingent of 170 personnel of the Finnish Armed Forces began serving alongside Irish soldiers in UNIFIL working to support the mission’s mandate.
Partnership with other like-minded States has become an increasing element of our peacekeeping operations. You the members of the 42nd Infantry Group will continue to work with Finnish forces as part of a joint contingent in UNIFIL. Since the formation of the joint Irish/Finnish Battalion, Ireland has held the role of command. When you the men and women of the 42nd Infantry Group deploy to UNIFIL later this month, you will enter a new chapter in Ireland’s participation with the UNIFIL mission. Finland will assume command of the new Finnish/Irish Battalion on the 26th of November. 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.
Although Ireland’s contribution to the Finnish/Irish Battalion will reduce to approximately 180 personnel later this month, this mission continues to represent Ireland’s largest overseas deployment. The 42nd Infantry Group like their predecessors will be supported by four (4) officers at UNIFIL Sector West Headquarters in Shama and twenty-one (21) personnel at the Force Headquarters in Naqoura.
I understand that soldiers from twenty-two (22) counties around Ireland are represented in the 42nd Infantry Group. For fifty-eight (58) 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 three hundred and seventy-two (372) tours of duty with missions in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Balkans. Indeed, I understand that Battalion Sergeant Major Willie Casey has completed fifteen (15) trips overseas, Sergeant Philip O’Leary has completed twelve (12) trips overseas and Company Sergeant Paul O’Mara has completed ten (10) trips overseas. I congratulate you on your commitment and auspicious achievement.
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 contribute extensively to the high regard in which Ireland and indeed Irish peacekeepers are held throughout the world.
Earlier this year I took the opportunity to visit the Lebanon where I met with your colleagues of the 107th Infantry Battalion. During the course of my visit, I met with the UNIFIL Force Commander, General Paolo Serra who expressed his gratitude to the Irish Government for the Defence Forces contribution to peace in Lebanon and the vital role played by them in maintaining the peace.
To prepare for your deployment to the UNIFIL mission, you have all completed a rigorous training programme which is updated on an ongoing basis. 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 as was evidenced by the incident that took place yesterday on the Golan Heights in Syria. The incident involved 39 Irish personnel serving with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) who were patrolling in a UN convoy with other UNDOF personnel when artillery rounds were fired close to their vehicles. Thankfully, there were no injuries reported and the UNDOF vehicles, including MOWAG armoured personnel carriers carrying the Irish troops returned safely to Camp Faouar in the Golan Heights.
I must say that the decision by Government to send troops overseas is not taken lightly. Your safety and the safety of all Irish Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions is always a concern to me, my Government colleagues and to the military authorities. Our ability to protect the health and safety of our personnel is of paramount concern when considering any mission. While no absolute guarantees can be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions, it is the policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel serving overseas are appropriately trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment to carry out their mission, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission. In addition, ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and we continually review both personal equipment and force assets, to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles. Unfortunately, no mission is without danger, but I am satisfied that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with UNIFIL and UNDOF.
As you, the men and women of the 42nd Infantry Group, 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.
Overseas service has become a core activity of the Defence Forces. Ireland's record of service in UN authorised peace support operations is second to none. We have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to such operations throughout the world. 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 UN, EU and NATO led missions 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.
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.
Finally, I want to wish each and every member of the 42nd Infantry Group, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Ray Yorke, a safe and successful mission. You will be in our thoughts throughout the duration of your tour of duty. You are travelling to the Lebanon with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the nation.
Thank you very much.