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Speech by the Minister for Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D.,
at UNP 2-45 at Reception following Ceremony to mark the handover of Command of Battalion to Finland
Tuesday 26th November 2013

Your Excellencies, Secretary General Quinn, Lieutenant General Jyväsjärvi, Major General James, Major General Serra, men and women of the Finnish/Irish Battalion UNIFIL.

Firstly, may I thank Lieutenant Colonel McKenna and all the Irish personnel here for the extremely warm welcome afforded to all of us on this my second visit to UNP 2-45. I would like to thank Lieutenant Colonel Valta for the hospitality provided to the Irish delegation today. I also want to extend my best wishes to him as he takes over command of the Finnish/Irish Battalion.

My reasons for visiting you here today are two-fold. Firstly, to attend the Transfer of Authority ceremony and secondly and most importantly, I thank you for all you are doing here to contribute to the peace and security of the region.

Earlier today, I met with the UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Paolo Serra who expressed his gratitude to the Irish Government for the Defence Forces contribution to UNIFIL and the vital role played by them in maintaining the peace.

Yesterday afternoon I also had the opportunity to meet with Minister Ghosn, the Lebanese Minister for Defence where I was briefed on the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon. You can be assured of the deep appreciation on the part of the Lebanese Government for the contribution of UNIFIL. I was also briefed by representatives of both UNHCR, UNWRA, as well as a representative from the European Union. My discussions with Minister Ghosn and the international bodies focused on the significant impact of the tragedy unfolding in Syria for the wider region and for Lebanon in particular. The arrival of of an estimated 1 million people crossing the border into Lebanon, a country of only four million inhabitants before the crisis, has created major challenges for the Lebanese authorities and people particularly in the areas of security and the provision of health and education services. In tandem with this, we can see increased instability in the region. It is in that context that the role that UNIFIL missions play is vital to maintaining peace and security, providing support to the Lebanese Government and stability in the wider region.

Ireland has participated in UNIFIL in various guises since its establishment in 1978. UNIFIL has represented Ireland’s largest overseas deployment since June 2011. In June 2012 a joint Irish/Finnish Battalion in UNIFIL was established 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. Irish personnel previously served in UNIFIL alongside a Finnish Engineering company in 2006/2007, and MINURCAT, the UN mission in CHAD in 2009/2010.

The participation of both Finland and Ireland in the UNIFIL mission is but one example that demonstrates our joint contribution to international peace and security, culminating in the creation of a safe and secure environment where men, women and children can live their lives without fear. The world of peace-keeping has changed dramatically over the past years. I would like to thank the Government and Armed Forces of Finland for participating in this mission with Ireland. Ireland can best contribute to missions and operations by working together with like-minded countries such as yours. We have found that working as part of a joint battalion, can provide synergy, improve our interoperability and significantly contribute to the range and nature of operations we can undertake in support of the United Nations.

Since the formation of the joint Irish/Finnish Battalion in June 2012, Ireland has held the role of command. We have just witnessed Finland assuming command of the new Finnish/Irish Battalion. Throughout the years, Ireland, like Finland, has taken seriously its obligation under the United Nations Charter to make forces available to UN missions in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security.

The participation of both countries has also evolved to the point where we both now contribute to UN-led operations and UN mandated operations led by other international organisations, in particular the EU and NATO. The ongoing conflicts and tensions in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere ensure a continuing demand for our peacekeepers.

The professionalism and impartiality of both Finnish and Irish troops is recognised and well regarded within the organisations in which we both participate and among the communities we serve, where we are both deployed.

Also, both our countries have participated in the Nordic Battlegroups 2008 and 2011 alongside Sweden, Estonia and Norway. In 2015, I hope to see a continuation of this partnership when both our countries will, once again, participate in the 2015 Nordic Battlegroup. Participation in EU Battlegroups and the joint training undertaken, also provides our respective forces with an opportunity to test their capabilities and builds experience between participating member States in the area of crisis management operations.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to express my own personal appreciation and that of the Irish Government for the incredible work you, the personnel of the Irish Defence Forces, and your Finnish counterparts are undertaking here.

Before I conclude, I understand that we have a historic first on this mission. Lt. Col Yorke is the first Artillery officer to command an Irish contingent overseas. I have been assured by the Artillery members of my visiting party that white table cloths will be reinstated with immediate effect.

Personally, I want to wish all members of the joint Finnish/Irish Battalion a safe and successful mission during your tour of duty here. I wish you every success for the future and a safe return to your families in Ireland and Finland.

END



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26 November 2013
Speech by the Minister for Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D., at UNP 2-45 at Reception following Ceremony to mark the handover of Command of Battalion to Finland

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