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10th September Kilkenny Castle

Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here this afternoon in Kilkenny Castle to review members of the 98th Infantry Battalion.

As members of the 98th Infantry Battalion you will be replacing a battalion in Chad that has performed its duties with the humanity and professionalism we have come to expect from Óglaigh na hÉireann.

The EUFOR mission in Chad is a continuation of our honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace and security. This year we celebrate the fifty years of Irish UN peacekeeping mission. The committed and dedicated service shown by you and your predecessors has brought great honour on the Defence Forces and on the Nation as a whole over those 50 years.

Not only are you continuing these fine traditions you are, along with your colleagues serving in Kosovo, Bosnia and across the globe, helping Ireland to fulfill its obligation to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on our planet. You are in the frontline of meeting our international obligations. The work you do, under the Irish flag, in the cause of peace and justice will continue notwithstanding the changed economic circumstances.

As you will know this mission to Chad and the Central African Republic was launched in response to a request from the United Nations to address the major humanitarian crisis resulting from hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing persecution from neighbouring Darfur.

Ireland has strongly supported this mission from the outset and, in fact, is the second largest troop contributor. We currently have 390 troops deployed to the mission area in addition to our personnel working with the Operation Commander, Lt. General Pat Nash, in the Operational Headquarters in Paris.

Your role, as mandated by the UN, is to contribute to the protection of those refugees and the internally displaced Chadians and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

I saw, at first hand, the work our Defence Forces personnel are doing in this challenging mission when I travelled to Chad at the beginning of the summer. I met with your comrades in the 97th Infantry Battalion and congratulated them on the tremendous job they are doing under extremely difficult conditions and terrain.

I spent some time at the headquarters of the Irish-led multinational Battalion: Camp Ciara, and was greatly impressed by the standard of the facilities available to our troops. Great credit is due to the advance party for the magnificent effort they put into preparing the ground for the main contingent. They have done a tremendous job there under difficult conditions and in unforgiving terrain.

The Irish personnel are already making a significant difference on the ground and are enhancing Ireland's international reputation as a provider of neutral, impartial and professional peacekeepers. I was very impressed by the high level of morale amongst our troops and the energy and enthusiasm they have for their duties. It was heartening to learn that the mission is having a positive effect in creating a safe and secure environment for refugees, for displaced persons and for the wider population.

The mission in Chad clearly demonstrates the role that we as a proudly neutral nation can play within the EU defending the values of human rights, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the upholding of international humanitarian law. These are the values that Ireland as a nation has continuously held dear in its contributions to international peacekeeping.

As with all missions the health and safety of our personnel is of paramount concern. As with all such missions you will face difficulties and dangers, but you can travel to Chad confident that you are fully trained and equipped to carry out your duties. The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake this mission is clear evidence of both the experience our troops have in crisis management operations and the regard in which our international partners hold the Defence Forces.

For ninety-four of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. I know the strain and pressure the separation from family and loved ones places on you. I want to pay tribute to your family and friends, many of who are here today, for the unheralded role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad. The support they play is of vital importance to the success of all overseas missions. The encouragement, support and loyalty of your family and friends is vital in enabling you to serve abroad and doing your duty.

I would like to conclude by again reiterating not just my pride but also the entire nation’s pride in the achievements and standards set by the Defence Forces on this and similar missions. Despite being a small nation we can stand tall when it comes to helping some of the most beleaguered people on this planet. Your bravery, enthusiasm and determination will help improve the lives of nearly half a million refugees in Chad.

I would like to wish your Battalion Commander, Lt Col Kieran Brennan, and all members of the 98th Infantry Battalion a safe trip and a successful mission.

Thank you very much.

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