SPEECH BY MR. WILLIE O'DEA, T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE AT THE REVIEW OF 92nd INFANTRY BATTALION DUE TO LEAVE ON PEACEKEEPING DUTY WITH UNMIL
Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and members of 92 Infantry Battalion.
It is a great pleasure for me to pay my first official visit to this historic barracks this afternoon.
I am proud to be here to review the 430 personnel from the Southern Brigade who will shortly be travelling to Liberia to participate in the UNMIL peacekeeping mission.
The United Nations Mission in Liberia includes a force of 14,500 military personnel drawn from 47 countries. Since the mission was set up just over a year ago, the Irish Defence Forces have been an essential component. During this time they have performed with courage, professionalism and humanity.
In Liberia, Ireland is contributing, in a substantive way, to bringing stability to a key region in Africa. We are working to support the establishment of peace, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. We are also ensuring the re-establishment of civil society in the region.
Liberia is the latest in a long list of countries to have benefited from our participation in UN peacekeeping missions. From the Congo to the Lebanon and from Eritrea to East Timor, the Irish Defence Forces have never hesitated to move into some of the world's most dangerous trouble spots.
Earlier this year, some of our Irish UNMIL personnel managed to secure the release of 35 people, mainly women and children, who were being held captive by rebels. It is no exaggeration to say that they all owe their lives to their Irish rescuers. Hearing about brave deeds like this one remind us of the importance and value of our Defence Forces' participation in peacekeeping missions.
Our Defence Forces have been heavily involved in the UN's successful Disarmament, Demobilization, and Re-integration programme in Liberia. Since December 2003, over 82,000 fighters have turned in their weapons. The disarmament and demobilization phases of this programme ended last weekend amid some disturbances. These were dealt with quickly and effectively by the UN peacekeepers on the ground.
The next step to restoring normality will be the re-integration and rehabilitation phase. This will see the education and training of these ex-combatants, many of whom are little more than children.
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.
I can therefore well understand that some of you may be worried by the recent violence in Monrovia. Clearly any country like Liberia, which has gone through such a long period of civil strife and war, will suffer upsets along the road to the establishment of a peaceful and civil society.
This is a major concern to us all and particularly to me as minister for Defence. I have been receiving regular reports on the matter from our people on the ground. While a dangerous situation erupted on Friday last, most of the violence was between different groups and factions in Liberia and was not directed at UN peacekeepers.
Because of the efforts of the peacekeepers, the rioting was quelled and, since Sunday, it would appear that order has been restored although Monrovia remains tense. The nature of this unrest points to the continuing need for peacekeepers to support the peace processes throughout the Mano River Union Region.
I am glad to say that our own personnel were deployed during the course of the disturbances and saved lives. I will monitor the situation closely, and if anything further needs to be done to ensure the continued safety of our troops, this will be addressed.
Defence Forces personnel serving on all 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.
Since our first involvement with peacekeeping in 1958, Ireland's willingness to participate in UN peace support missions has been motivated by the firm belief that people everywhere in the world should have the right to live their lives in peace and justice, free from fear.
Our participation in UNMIL represents a continuation and vindication of that belief. Last Tuesday, the Government decided, at my request, to extend our commitment to the UNMIL mission past December 2005.
I am proud that Ireland's policy of military neutrality is as viable today as it has always been. Since the end of the Cold War, the emerging defence and security challenges have moved away from the traditional defence model towards crisis management.
Notwithstanding these developments, our commitment to neutrality remains undiminished.
We do not believe that the challenges facing the international community can be satisfactorily resolved through unilateral action by any one country, or group of countries.
The UN is - and will remain - the cornerstone of Ireland's foreign policy. Like most small nations, we see the United Nations, as the ultimate guarantor of our freedom and our safety.
Our military neutrality is positive policy. Its core, defining characteristic is our non-membership of military alliances.
This is not however to be confused with the international indifference or isolationism as advocated by some.
As our ongoing commitment and participation to UN peacekeeping demonstrates our neutrality has never obligated us to sit on the sidelines and shirk our responsibilities to the international community.
We are not, and cannot be indifferent to the threat posed by international terrorism. Nor can we be apathetic to the shocking atrocities we witness across the world.
That has never been part of our nature.
This is why missions, such as the one you will shortly embark upon, are so important. These are tangible signs of Ireland's commitment to preventing and managing conflicts.
During his recent visit to Ireland the U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan thanked the Irish Defence Forces again for all we are doing to make the world a safer place. He specifically praised the work and contribution of our troops in Liberia.
I assured Secretary General Annan of our continuing support for the United Nations Peacekeeping role. He welcomed this and encouraged us in the continuing development of a European capability to provide crisis management and peacekeeping responses that would be available to the UN.
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 of your families and friends have come here from all across Munster. I look forward to meeting with them – some of whom I know are from my own home city of Limerick.
Just before I finish, I’d like to express my personal thanks to the personnel from Kickham Barracks for their Herculean efforts last week in assisting the people of Clonmel during the very bad floods there. They did a great job and the Government and I are very appreciative of their efforts – well done to everyone involved.
Finally, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander, Lt. Col. James Long and all of the members of 92nd Infantry Battalion a safe trip and a peaceful and successful mission.
Go n-éiri libh go léir agus go dté sibh slán.
Collins Barracks Cork 4th November 2004
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4 November 2004Speech by Mr. Willie O'Dea, T.D., Minister for Defence at the Review of 92 Infantry Battalion due to leave on peacekeeping duty with UNMIL, 4 November 2004
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