SPEECH BY MR. WILLIE O’DEA, T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE AT THE REVIEW OF 41st INFANTRY GROUP KFOR - LEAVING IRELAND SHORTLY FOR PEACEKEEPING DUTY IN KOSOVO.
Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin, 30th September 2009
Lord Mayor, Secretary General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here in Cathal Brugha Barracks, this afternoon to review the 41st Infantry Group who will shortly be travelling to Kosovo.
Occasions such as this remind us of the important part our Defence Forces play as peacekeepers throughout the world. For over fifty years the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann have served and protected communities around the world in the cause of peace. You the men and women of the 41st Infantry Group are the latest to serve in this long and honourable tradition.
The purpose of the KFOR mission is to create a safe and secure environment in Kosovo in which all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origins, can live in peace while democracy and civil society gain strength. We are proud of the role we have played in Kosovo for the past 10 years. Since August 1999 we have helped the people of Kosovo move away from war, misery and fear towards a stable, peaceful and secure future.
As the security situation in Kosovo continues to improve, there are plans to scale down the force. Provided the prevailing security conditions continue, KFOR will move to what they call a “deterrent presence”. This will be implemented in a gradual and phased manner commencing early next year. This move to a deterrent presence is an important development in the evolution of the KFOR mission. Ireland recognises the important contribution which KFOR is making to peace and stability in the Balkans and will, within available resources, continue to support the mission in this transition.
Ireland is also supporting EULEX Kosovo: the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) Rule of Law mission to Kosovo. Ireland currently contributes eight Garda Síochana to this mission that was launched in February 2008. Its mission is to support the Kosovo authorities by monitoring, mentoring and advising on all areas related to the rule of law, in particular in the police, judiciary, customs and correctional services.
The EULEX Kosovo mission represents a further contribution by the European Union, under the European Security and Defence Policy and in support of the United Nations, to the maintenance of international peace and security and the rule of law.
In all of its missions to date the European Union has promoted its principles and values in terms of internal security, socio-economic development, democracy and the rule of law. The EU recognises that appropriate responses are required to underpin these principles. The twenty two (22) ESDP missions that have been undertaken to date highlight the EU’s multifaceted approach. Many of these missions have included a mix of civilian and military personnel – but of these missions to date 16 have been defined as being primarily civilian in character and just six have been defined as primarily military.
Respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of states and the peaceful settlement of disputes are not negotiable. Threat or use of military force cannot be allowed to solve territorial issues - anywhere.
These objectives and principles are fully in accordance with the values we hold dear in Ireland. They accord with our military neutrality and our active participation in the United Nations and in international peacekeeping.
Indeed, the EU and the UN are mutually supportive organisations cooperating closely in promoting these values in the interest of some of the most disadvantaged communities in the world. Our leadership of the EU led mission in Chad and the Central African Republic was a particular example of this.
The UN stands at the apex of the international system. Everything the EU has done in the field of security has been linked to UN objectives. The EU has made substantial progress over the last five years, with Ireland taking a lead role. Developing the EU’s capacity to contribute to international crisis management operations in support of the United Nations is a moral responsibility.
The word “capabilities” has attracted a lot of misinformed attention in recent weeks. It has been suggested that it means that states will be obliged to increase defence spending. It does not. It is there to ensure that each EU member state does enough to participate meaningfully in such peace support missions as the one to Chad. We already do. We commit up to 10% of our standing army to such UN mandated missions. This is among the highest in the EU and is something of which we can be very proud.
Over the past 50 years you and your predecessors have, deservedly, earned a very honourable track record of facilitating and enabling peacekeeping around the world in support of the UN. This has been done without compromising our military neutrality and has been consistent with our national traditions and interests.
As I, and many others, have stated in recent weeks, the Lisbon Treaty does nothing to change the status quo in relation to peacekeeping and defence issues in general. It does not diminish or alter Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality. Nor does it enable the establishment on a European Army or harbour the possibility of conscription. The legal guarantees we have received put all these questions and concerns beyond doubt.
As members of the Defence Forces, as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses and children of our proud Defence Forces gathered here, let me assure here today: Nothing in the Lisbon Treaty changes or threatens Ireland’s current defence policy or our values and traditions of neutrality and volunteerism.
I know that the Irish public support our men and women in the difficult job that you do in the conflict regions of the world supporting the most disadvantaged. That is why the Government, despite our difficult economic circumstances continues to support and commit resources and personnel, wherever we can, to deliver peace, security and development in troublespots and conflict zones throughout the world.
Our involvement in the KFOR mission has greatly enhanced the professional capacity and capability of the Defence Forces. This has, in turn, increased our value to the UN as a provider of quality professional forces.
I have visited our troops in Kosovo a number of times, most recently last December, when I accompanied An Taoiseach on a visit to the 39th Infantry Group. On each occasion I have been there I have seen for myself the fine work our personnel are doing on the ground to help bring stability and progress to Kosovo.
Performing your duties overseas can require considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you will face and the hardships you will be expected to endure as part of your mission. The safety of all Irish personnel serving overseas is always of paramount concern to me, to the Government and to the military authorities. Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment available. This equipment enables our troops to carry out the mission assigned, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission.
Be assured that all the appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with KFOR. That is not to understate the dangers you may face as peacekeepers and you will be in our thoughts and prayers throughout the duration of your tour of duty.
This will be the first tour of duty overseas for 67 of you. I wish you the best of luck. You will be supported and assisted on this tour by colleagues who have the collective experience of some 391 overseas missions.
While separation from family and loved ones will place strains and pressures on you, the support your family, friends and loved ones offer is a crucial component in the success of these missions. I want to publicly pay tribute to all of your families and friends, many of whom are here today, for the important but unsung role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad.
In conclusion, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander, Lt. Col Brendan McAndrew and all members of the 41st Infantry Group a safe trip and a successful mission. You are travelling to Kosovo with my personal best wishes and with those of the rest of the country.
Thank you very much
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