Speech by Mr. Michael Smith, T.D., Minister for Defence,
at the Review of the last Irish Contingent
that will serve in East Timor
Custume Barracks, Athlone 24 May 2002
Secretary General at the Department of Defence, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations), General Officer Commanding the Western Brigade, ladies and gentlemen, and most importantly the Officers and Men of the last Irish Contingent that will serve in East Timor. I am honoured to have this opportunity to address you here in Athlone prior to your departure.
The group of 44 soldiers, who are drawn mostly from the 6th Infantry Battalion, will be under the command of Lt. Padraic Kennedy. They will serve in the re-named United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) and will still be attached to the New Zealand Battalion Group and deployed along the border with West Timor. They will carry out a range of tasks, including short range and long range patrols and providing security for search operations. It is a significant challenge and it is heartening to know that all of you volunteered for this assignment and, indeed, that you are looking forward to it as a challenge.
I believe that it is appropriate on this day to pay tribute to the late Private Peadar Ó Flatharta from Trá Bhán in Leitir Mór, who was tragically killed in East Timor last month. Peadar Ó Flatharta was a peacemaker in the prime of his life. His death was a terrible tragedy and a dreadful loss to his family and his colleagues throughout the country. Go ndeanaí Dia trócaire ar a anam dílís.
UNTAET was established as an integrated peacekeeping operation to administer East Timor during its transition to independence and it performed its duties with great success. UNMISET will now retain a presence for the first two years of independence and its tasks are to ensure political stability, provide law enforcement and public security, and assist in the development of the East Timor Police Service.
Many changes have taken place in East Timor in recent years. In August 2001 the first democratic elections took place; in March 2002 the Constituent Assembly approved the country’s first Constitution; in April 2002 Mr. Xanana Gusmao was elected the country’s first President; and in May 2002 East Timor was declared an Independent State. I congratulate the people of East Timor for their courage, their tenacity and for embracing democracy.
The Timorese now live in relative safety, people are rebuilding their houses and sending their children to school, they have the hope to start again. Two years ago there were very few people in the villages in the Irish area of operations and those that were there were very apprehensive of people in uniforms. This has now been transformed, more people are returning to their villages and they are openly appreciative of what the UN force has achieved. Since 1999 the Irish contingents have played no small part in this and a positive rapport has developed between the Irish soldiers and the Timorese.
The resources being invested in the Defence Forces mean that the quality and the quantity of equipment being purchased has never been better. Unprecedented amounts of money are being spent on modernising and upgrading operational, training and living accommodation for all members of the Defence Forces. Here in Custume Barracks, for instance, over the past five years, €1.5 million has been spent on renovating and modernising accommodation. A number of building projects, estimated at €3.3 million, are set to get under way later this year. The main project will be the relocation and construction of a new Guard Room and Armoury.
This level of investment in the Defence Forces is indicative of the Government’s commitment to develop a world class organisation, capable of carrying out the full range of missions which may be assigned by Government in the future. In this regard, I want to see the Defence Forces maintaining their long and proud tradition of service with the United Nations, promoting the causes of international peace and stability. I believe that the pragmatic efforts of the European Union to put in place a capability of carrying out such missions, with the type of humanitarian objectives which have always been at the heart of Irish foreign policy, have considerable merit.
Contrary to the impression frequently conveyed in some quarters, there is nothing in the European Security and Defence Policy, or in the EU Treaties - including the Nice Treaty - that points Ireland in the direction of participating in a European Army. Ireland’s involvement in the EU's work in developing a capacity to conduct humanitarian and crisis management tasks does not affect our position of military neutrality. Rather, our participation is in the full knowledge that it is consistent with Ireland's traditions of peacekeeping with the United Nations.
You have all prepared well for this assignment. Your training and your previous peacekeeping experience has prepared you to deal with any scenarios that are likely to arise. Looking at the troops being reviewed here today it is obvious that they are young, extremely fit, and focused on the mission ahead. Of the 34 members of the platoon 20 have experienced peacekeeping service in Lebanon, the average age is 24 and the youngest is just 18. This mixture of youth and experience will ensure that they are ready to meet the challenge that lies ahead.
I would like to convey a special note of appreciation to family support which is of vital importance to the success of military missions overseas, and for that reason I am delighted to see here today so many families and friends of the troops preparing for departure. I want to pay a special tribute to the families of our personnel who serve overseas and for the sacrifices which they make while their loved ones are away.
In conclusion, I would like to wish the men and women of UNMISET Contingent, under the command of Lt. Padraic Kennedy, a safe and successful tour of duty.