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Speech by Mr. Tom Kitt, T.D., Minister for State for Defence at the review of 94th Infantry Battalion Due to leave on peacekeeping duty with UNMILON

McKee Barracks Dublin 3 November 2005

Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and members of the 94th Infantry Battalion, it is a great pleasure for me to be here this afternoon to review the personnel from the Eastern Brigade who will shortly be travelling to Liberia to participate in the UNMIL peacekeeping mission.

I would first like to apologise on behalf of my colleague, Minister Willie O’Dea who, unfortunately, is unable to be here this afternoon due to his Dáil commitments. He is disappointed to have missed this Review, all the more so because his proposed visit to Liberia next week has had to be postponed. He has asked me to say that he fully intends to reschedule his visit to our UNMIL forces as soon as he can and is looking forward to meeting the members of the 94th battalion in the field, early next year.

As Minister for Overseas Development, I visited Liberia on two occasions. In October 2003, I attended the Presidential Inauguration of the Transitional National Government and I returned in March 2004 when I visited Camp Clara and witnessed first hand the invaluable contribution that the Irish Defence Forces are making in the region.

Over the past two years, Ireland has contributed, in a substantive way, to bringing stability to a key region of Africa. We have worked to bring peace, and create respect for human rights and the rule of law and have helped to ensure the re-establishment of civil society in the region. Our Forces were heavily involved in the UN's successful Disarmament, Demobilization, and Re-integration programme that led to over 100,000 fighters turning in their weapons. As the country has become safer, the trickle of returning refugees has become a broad stream as, across the whole country, displaced families are taking the opportunity to return home.

Three weeks ago, the global spotlight shone again on Liberia. This time, happily, it wasn’t because of bad news, as had been the case so often in the past - but for a good news story – the successful completion of free and fair Liberian elections. These elections marked the return of Liberia to a constitutional democracy after 14 years of civil war. Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, along with other world leaders congratulated the people of Liberia for this accomplishment. As the Presidential election did not produce an outright winner, a run-off between the two leading candidates - Ms Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Mr George Weah - will be necessary. The second round of voting is due to take place next Tuesday.

The successful conduct of fair and free elections is an indication of the substantial progress that has occurred in the country since the beginning of UNMIL two years ago. But as the country moves towards the installation of its new, democratically elected government in January 2006, we must remember that the peace process still faces many challenges. These include completion of the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants, reconstruction of the army and police and strengthening of the institutions responsible for the rule of law.

Recognising the importance of guaranteeing the security situation in Liberia in the coming months, on 19 September 2005 the UN Security Council extended the mandate of UNMIL until 31 March 2006. Dependent on the political and security situation in Liberia at that time, is hoped that the Secretary- General of the UN may be able to bring recommendations to the Security Council on a downsizing plan for UNMIL.

Of course Liberia is just the latest in a long list of countries to have benefited from our participation in UN peacekeeping missions. For close to half a century, the Irish Defence Forces have never hesitated to move into some of the world's most dangerous trouble spots. Regrettably, as we have learned only too well, peacekeeping missions are not without their dangers. This was brought home to us in November 2003 with the tragic death of Sgt. Derek Mooney in a road accident in Liberia.

The safety of Irish personnel serving overseas is always of paramount concern to us. All Defence Forces personnel serving on overseas missions are highly trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment available. But we are mindful of the dangers you may face in your role as peacekeepers. You will be in all our thoughts and prayers throughout your tour of duty in Liberia.

As all of you will know family support is of vital importance to the success of all overseas missions. For that reason, I am delighted to see that so many families and friends of the personnel heading overseas have come here today to bid you farewell and wish you a safe return home.

Finally, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander, Lt. Col. J. J. O’Reilly and all of the members of the 94th Infantry Battalion a safe trip and a peaceful and successful mission.

Go dté sibh go léir slán.

Go raibh maith agaibh go leir.


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