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SPEECH BY MR. WILLIE O’DEA, T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, AT THE REVIEW OF THE 36 INFANTRY GROUP FOR PEACEKEEPING DUTY WITH UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon)

18th April 2007 Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin

It is a great pleasure for me to be here this afternoon to review the personnel from the Eastern Brigade who will be travelling to Lebanon early next month to participate in the UNIFIL peacekeeping mission.

You, the 160 men and women of the 36 Infantry Group, will be deploying to Camp Ida in South-East Lebanon from the start of May. There you will form part of the joint Finnish-Irish Engineer Battalion, which is tasked with reconnaissance, security and protection duties associated with the engineering works as well as carrying out some humanitarian work. You will also be available to undertake other tasks at the request of the UNIFIL Force Commander.

I saw and toured the areas to which you are deploying earlier this year when I visited Lebanon. While I was there I got to see at first hand the work of our peacekeepers and to convey to them the deep appreciation of both the Government and the people of Ireland. I am pleased to be here with you today to do the same for you, in advance of your deployment.

While I was in the Lebanon I met with the Lebanese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Mr. Elias Murr. He expressed his gratitude to the Irish Government for our contribution to UNIFIL and the vital role played by our troops in maintaining the peace.

During our meeting, I took the opportunity to request the assistance of the Lebanese authorities in pursuing the case of Privates Barrett and Smallhorne, killed while serving with UNIFIL in 1980, and the efforts to bring the alleged perpetrator to justice. Mr Murr assured me that the Lebanese authorities would assist in every possible way should the alleged perpetrator be deported from the US where he now resides, back to Lebanon.

We also discussed the general security situation in Lebanon and Mr Murr assured me that the Lebanese authorities are monitoring the situation closely in order to avert any potential terrorist threat.

The safety of Irish personnel serving overseas is always of paramount concern to me. Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment available. I am satisfied that that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with UNIFIL. However, that is not to underestimate the dangers you may face in your role as peacekeepers, and you will be in our thoughts and prayers throughout the duration of your tour of duty.

While there have been political difficulties and some civil unrest in the country, the ceasefire in Southern Lebanon seems to be holding and the Defence Forces have currently assessed the overall threat as “Calm but Volatile”. However, the uncertain situation means that incidents, misunderstandings or wider political developments all have the potential to impact negatively on the peacekeeping operation, while the large quantity of unexploded ordnance also present a risk.

Since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701 last August, UN peacekeepers have played a key role in monitoring the cessation of hostilities agreement and the Israeli withdrawal, as well as in assisting the Lebanese Army in deploying in southern Lebanon.

In his most recent report to the UN Security Council, delivered last month, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that UNIFIL de-miners from various national contingents have destroyed over 25,000 explosive devices. These included rockets, grenades, cluster bombs, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. In addition, UNIFIL peacekeepers have continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population, including medical and dental aid, providing several thousand free health checks and medicine from bases and mobile clinics.

The Government is proud that, through our Defence Forces, Ireland can play its part in this work. Our participation in UNIFIL is an illustration of the very positive and practical difference that small countries like Ireland can make in the world's trouble spots by supporting the United Nations.

Service with the United Nations demands a wide variety of skills and personal qualities. Patience and diplomacy have become as important and as necessary as the required conventional military skills of the soldier. I know that you will all work hard to enhance our outstanding reputation. You have all worked and trained hard to prepare yourself for duty with UNIFIL and I know that some of you have served in the Lebanon before. Hopefully this will make your task easier.

Finally, I would like to wish the members of 36 Infantry Group and their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Michael McCarthy a safe and successful tour of duty. ENDS


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