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Address by Minister for Defence Mr. Tony Killeen TD
At the Ireland-Finland Seminar on the
Modern Challenges in Peace Operations
Wednesday 12th May 2010 - Davenport Hotel, Dublin


President Ahtisaari, Ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am very proud to be here today to mark the opening of this seminar on Modern Challenges in Peace Operations. I would like take this opportunity to thank both the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Finnish Embassy for organising this joint seminar and for giving me the opportunity to present the opening address.

I would particularly like to welcome today’s keynote speaker, Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland and Nobel peace prize winner. As well as making a significant contribution to our own Northern Ireland peace process Mr Ahtisaari has played a central role in ending conflict across the globe. As we in Ireland are all too well aware, conflict resolution is a complex business requiring mediators to untangle a combination of ethnic, religious, political or racial beliefs. It is in recognition of his tireless efforts in this area that we congratulate Mr. Ahtisaari on his Nobel Prize.

In the context of today’s discussion Mr. Ahtisaari will be joined by a range of expert speakers from international organisations such as the UN, the EU, and the OECD. Also, senior representatives from the Irish and Finnish Foreign and Defence Ministries and Defence Forces will actively contribute to the discussions. I am sure that this will lead to very interesting “Questions and Answers” sessions and we look forward to hearing your experiences at first hand.

The search for sustainable peace poses one of the greatest challenges to human development. In an era of increasing globalisation the gains made by those with the means to access the global economy are being offset by ethnic and religious divisions and through the unequal distribution of economic wealth within countries. The result is a rise in the number of armed conflicts, which have, in turn, unleashed untold levels of violence and human suffering in the lives of innocent civilians.
Over the last decade, the nature of peacekeeping operations has changed extensively. Within the European Union, the evolution of the Common Security and Defence Policy has placed greater responsibilities on individual Member States both collectively and individually, to contribute personnel to crisis management operations. The development of European military capabilities is particularly important, as together we seek to support the Union in responding to the challenges of an increasingly more globalised world and in supporting the United Nations.

Today’s seminar will give us the opportunity to look at twenty-first century, peace support and crisis management operations which have become an increasingly important concept incorporating conflict management, conflict resolution, capacity building and security sector reform. Peacekeeping operations are a fundamental component of Irish foreign policy and a reality for our Defence Forces personnel.

In 2008, the Irish Defence Forces commemorated the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s first participation in a peacekeeping mission. Ireland’s first involvement in United Nations peacekeeping was in 1958, three years after Ireland gained membership of the United Nations Organisation. On that occasion, fifty (50) Irish Officers were deployed to the United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon and tasked with ensuring that there was no illegal infiltration of personnel, or the supply of arms, or other material across the border between Lebanon and Syria. Ireland’s first troop contribution came shortly after, in 1960, with its contribution to the UN mission in the Congo.

Since 1958 members of the Defence Forces have manned observation posts, stood guard or patrolled a zone of separation somewhere within the world’s most volatile places. This is a unique record and one of which the Defence Forces and the Irish people are justifiably very proud.

Indeed, Ireland is regularly approached as a source of peacekeeping personnel and expertise. Relative to our size, available resources and capabilities, both financial and military, Ireland has been proportionately a very large peacekeeping contributor within the international community.

The timing of this seminar allows me the opportunity to express my gratitude to the Finnish armed forces whose personnel are currently serving with our own troops in Chad. Unfortunately, earlier this year, the Government of Chad requested the UN to withdraw the military component of MINURCAT. This created significant uncertainty for all involved, particularly as the discussions continued for so long and given the imminent onset of the rainy season. Operating in close co-ordination with the Finnish authorities and my Ministerial colleague from Finland, we jointly sought some assurances from the UN regarding the future of the mission and the nature of its mandate. However, it was not possible to get that clarity, and I therefore sought and obtained Government approval for the withdrawal of our troops from this mission. This was not a decision we wanted to have to make and my absolute preference at the time would have been to continue to fully participate in the MINURCAT mission. Events since then, however, have reinforced the decision made by the Irish Government.

As we understand it, the character of the MINURCAT mission will change significantly from 16 May. There will be an initial and immediate drawdown of a significant part of the force, with the remaining troops restricted to guarding the UN Camps. MINURCAT will go non-operational in October and the force will be finally withdrawn by the end of the year. The force will have no civilian protection remit, and will not undertake escorts or patrols. It will be confined to static protection activities within the UN Camps, to protect UN personnel and equipment located there.

It is my considered view that the future role envisaged for this mission, with the absence of any civilian protection remit, creates an unsatisfactory situation on the ground and is not the type of mission in which Ireland would wish to participate. The whole trust of our participation in crisis management operations is to contribute to the development of a safe and secure environment for refugees and displaced persons and to facilitate the free movement of humanitarian workers, NGOs and the UN. Without this, we would see little point in the continuing our contribution to the mission.

The participation of both Finland and Ireland in the MINURCAT 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. Therefore, in the absence of partners, such as our Finnish colleagues, Ireland would be significantly inhibited in the range and nature of operations we could undertake in support of the United Nations.

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 they are called on to serve. Liaison with the local population and the provision of support and humanitarian assistance is one of the hallmarks of the Irish Defence Forces approach to their involvement in peace support missions. As a result of Defence Forces participation in UN mandated missions, the lives of countless numbers of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people around the World have been saved.

Over the years, the requirement for more effective, professional peacekeepers has increased. As such, the Irish Defence Forces have shown the capacity and experience to respond to the changing nature of peace support operations by modernising and enhancing their capabilities. Very significant investment has been made in doctrine, training, infrastructure and equipment to enable the Defence Forces meet the demands of more robust peace support and crisis management operations. The Defence Forces now participate in both peacekeeping and peace making operations under both Chapter VI and VII of the UN Charter.

Throughout the years, Ireland, like Finland, has taken seriously its obligation under the United Nations Charter to make available armed forces, provide assistance and facilities, 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 “blue-hat” operations and also operations under a UN mandate led by other international organisations, in particular the EU and NATO. The ongoing conflicts and tensions in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and elsewhere ensure a continuing demand for our peacekeepers.

In addition to both countries contributions to peace operations, Ireland and Finland also participated in the 2008 Nordic Battlegroup and are currently preparing for the standby period for the 2011 Nordic Battlegroup alongside Sweden, Estonia and Norway.

Ireland’s participation in EU Battlegroups affords our Defence Forces a further opportunity for the development of capabilities. It also reflects Ireland’s desire to be able to respond across the whole spectrum of operations in support of, and in response to, requests from the UN for the rapid deployment of capable and interoperable forces.

Participation in EU Battlegroups and the joint training undertaken, provide our forces with an opportunity to test their capabilities and develop a greater understanding of operational concepts among EU partner countries, with whom they currently operate and are likely to in the future. Again, this engagement supports interoperability and builds experience between participating member states in the area of crisis management operations.

On an ongoing basis, lessons learned from the experience of Ireland’s own contingents and from international best practice are integrated into the training programmes of military personnel.

It should be acknowledged that participation in peace support missions comes at a price – a price that is being paid today by our personnel who are living in austere conditions in hostile environments dealing with uncertainty on a daily basis. Our servicemen and women have brought great honour to Ireland through their participation in peacekeeping. Their committed and dedicated service reflects well not only on the Defence Forces but on the nation as a whole. They, better than anyone, know the dangers of this work. We recall with humble gratitude the 85 members of the Defence Forces, the members of the Finnish Armed Forces and indeed all peacekeepers who have paid the ultimate price in support of peace. Our thoughts and prayers are always with the peacekeepers who never returned and with their families.

As well as the extensive involvement of Irish military personnel in peacekeeping operations, a number of Irish officers have held senior and prestigious appointments. The appointment of an Irish officer, Lt Gen Pat Nash, as EU Operation Commander of the mission in Chad, is recognition of the standing of the Irish Defence Forces in the field of peace support operations generally. 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.

In conclusion, Ladies and gentlemen, I am convinced that the knowledge, experience and ability you bring to this seminar will contribute to productive discussion and debate. I am very appreciative to have been given the opportunity to open this seminar and would again like to wish you well with your deliberations.


ENDS
For further information please contact: Derval Monahan Press Adviser to Minister Killeen, Department of Defence, on Tel +353 1 8042170 and Mobile + 353876781608
Email derval.monahan@defence.irlgov.ie


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