|Military School, Curragh 16 January 2008|
Secretary General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen; I am delighted to be in the Curragh Camp today for this afternoon’s Commissioning Ceremony.
Each Commissioning Ceremony marks the coming of age of a new generation of Defence Forces leaders. Having been selected to serve their country, you the young men and women of the 83rd Cadet Class, have risen to the challenge of a rigorous programme of preparation and training. Reaching this memorable day is a significant achievement by you and is an occasion of great pride for your families and friends. Indeed, I am pleased to see so many of them here to share this day with you.
This 83rd Cadet Class is made up of a mixture of school leavers, third level graduates and serving personnel. Many of you receiving your commissions today have previously served in either the Reserve or the Permanent Defence Forces and, in some cases, both. You are a multi-talented group of young officers. I commend you all for your achievements to date – both academic and sporting.
The scrolls I have just presented indicate that each of you are now commissioned officers of Óglaigh na hÉireann. The oath you took a few moments ago to be faithful to the Irish nation and to uphold the Constitution marks you out from every other profession. The training you have received will equip you with the skills necessary to face the many and varied challenges you may encounter in the course of your military careers.
Today’s Cadet Class joins the officer ranks at an exciting time for our Defence Forces. The continuing implementation of the Defence White Paper has transformed the capacity of the Defence Forces to meet the challenges of the modern era both at home and overseas.
Overseas service has become a core activity of the Defence Forces.
Ireland's record of service with the United Nations is second to none. We have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to peacekeeping operations throughout the world.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Ireland’s first participation in a UN Peacekeeping mission. The Chief of Staff, at my request, has established a Board to make recommendations on the best means to mark this important anniversary. I anticipate these will include commemorative ceremonies in addition to other appropriate events. Both IUNVA and O.N.E. will be consulted and invited to participate in these ceremonies.
Over the next few weeks another chapter will be added to our 50 year experience of peace support service when members of the Defence Forces deploy to the UN mandated EU military operation in Chad and the Central African Republic.
Our participation is this, the most challenging mission the Defence Forces have undertaken to date, is a core element of the Government’s response to the horrific situation in Darfur. This Force has a mandate to protect those in danger, both Sudanese refugees and Chadian displaced persons alike.
By improving security in the area of operation - in the professional and humane fashion that has been the hallmark of Irish peacekeeping - our troops will facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel to these victims of the Darfur atrocities.
Since his appointment as Operation Commander, our former Deputy Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen Pat Nash, has worked tirelessly, together with his staff, to progress this mission.
Though the Cabinet gave initial approval for an Irish deployment last September, less than 24 hours after UN Security Council had passed Resolution 1778, the lack of key enablers, particularly tactical and medevac helicopters and medical facilities had considerably delayed this mission.
This was resolved at last week’s Force Generation Conference in Brussels, when a number of countries made substantive offers to meet these critical shortfalls. This now allows the mission to proceed.
The decision to launch the Mission will be taken at the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council on January 28th. An initial entry force including 50 personnel of the Army Ranger Wing and support elements will deploy in early February. This initial entry force will act as reconnaissance and provide security for the follow-on force of 400 troops.
Preceding this, the Command Group of the Force Headquarters will deploy to Chad between 17th and 22nd January. This Group will include the Deputy Force Commander - Col. Derry Fitzgerald and two other Irish officers.
The success of this operation is vital to bringing peace and stability to this troubled African region and crucial to the credibility of European Security and Defence Policy and the EU’s engagement in crisis management.
Ireland’s position as the second largest contributor, and the provider of the Operation Commander is clear evidence of our determination to play a meaningful and constructive role in this mission. This is the type of challenge for which we have been preparing and training.
Another major achievement for the Defence Forces in the international arena has been the assumption of command of KFOR’s Multinational Task Force (Centre). We have never before commanded a brigade size force in a multinational peace support operation. Undertaking this responsibility is an indication of our experience in crisis management operations and the regard in which we are held.
As you will be aware Ireland is part of the Nordic Battlegroup, which is on standby until June 30th. Ireland’s contribution amounts to approx 100 personnel involving Explosive Disposal teams, a security detail and staff posts at the Operational and Force HQs.
Following on from the excellent working relationship we have developed with the Nordic countries, the possibility of participation in a future Nordic Battlegroup has been agreed in principle for 2011. The option of joining an Austrian/German Battlegroup for 2012 is currently being looked at and informal discussions are ongoing.
In addition to our overseas duties, the Defence Forces play an important and often unheralded role here at home. This is most evident in the area of our planning for possible emergency situations and contingencies.
As Chairman of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning I have on many occasions emphasised the importance of raising public awareness of the work that is being undertaken by government departments and public authorities in relation to emergency planning.
I am pleased to say that at this morning’s cabinet meeting the Government approved the publication of a handbook on emergency planning which will be distributed to every household in the country. This will be the first time that information on all the State’s emergency plans will be presented to the public in this way.
The handbook will also provide practical advice on how individuals can prepare for some of the more common emergencies and where they can obtain further information. The distribution of the handbook will be accompanied by an extensive media advertising campaign to let people know what it is all about and to reassure them that there is no cause for alarm.
Today is a celebration of real achievement and marks the passing of a great milestone in the lives of these new officers. The dedication and commitment of those who have moulded these young men and women into officers must be acknowledged. I want to thank the Commandant of the Military College: Col James Goulding, the Class Officer: Commandant Brendan McGuinness, Company Sergeant John Keenan and all of their colleagues in the Cadet School, for their excellent work.
Finally, I would like to compliment everyone involved in the arrangements for this ceremony, particularly, the Army No. 1 Band under the baton of Lieutenant Carroll.
Thank you very much.
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