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SPEECH BY MR. WILLIE O’DEA T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE AT THE REVIEW OF 97th INFANTRY BATTALION - LEAVING IRELAND SHORTLY FOR DUTY IN CHAD.


Finner Camp, Donegal
1 May 2008

Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be in Finner Camp this afternoon to review members of the 97th Infantry Battalion. This is a most appropriate venue given that the Battalion is made up of many personnel from the 4 Western Brigade.

You, the men and women of the 97th Infantry Battalion, will be deploying to Chad at a most significant time in the history of the Defence Forces. This mission to Chad is a continuation of our long and honourable tradition of supporting international peace and security. It is a tradition whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year. Over those 50 years, the committed and dedicated service of members of the Defence Forces in overseas missions has brought great honour on the Defence Forces and on the nation as a whole.

The ambition of the EU to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises in support of the United Nations has, and continues to be, a key objective of the development of the European Security and Defence Policy.

One only has to look at this mission to Chad to see the nature and role the Union envisages for itself as a champion of the values of human rights, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the upholding of international humanitarian law. These are the values that Ireland as a nation has continuously held dear in its contributions to international peacekeeping.

They are values that we share and promote equally with our partners in the EU. Our reasons for participating in this mission are the same as those that motivated us to send Irish Troops to the Congo, to Cyprus to the Lebanon and to Liberia.

This mission was launched in response to a request from the United Nations for help in addressing the major humanitarian crisis resulting from hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing persecution from neighbouring Darfur.

You are being deployed as part of an EU Force that is mandated to protect those refugees and the internally displaced Chadians and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. The EU will provide the initial entry, stabilisation and protection force for one year pending the establishment of a follow-on UN Blue Hat operation.

Ireland is the second largest troop contributor to this mission. Indeed we have contributed to all the major EU military operations launched under ESDP, all of which have been firmly grounded in UN mandates. Our participation in this mission to Chad is a logical extension and a continuation of our long and honourable tradition of support of international peace and security under a UN mandate.

The ongoing public debate on the Reform Treaty has seen some people raising concerns regarding the future of our neutrality. These concerns are absolutely groundless. While the Reform Treaty does make some amendments to existing provisions on security and defence, it does not alter their essential features.

There is no change to Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality or to our sovereign right to decide for ourselves when the Defence Forces may participate in missions overseas. The Triple Lock remains in place for all such decisions. Irish troops cannot serve abroad unless it is with the approval of Dáil Éireann, the Irish Government and it is under a specific mandate of the United Nations.

As I have said several times: Ireland’s neutrality is in our hands and that is where it will be staying at all times. The Reform Treaty does not change or alter the existing provisions on Common Foreign and Security Policy or ESDP. Ireland cannot join a common European Defence arrangement unless it is with the support of the Irish people in a specific referendum on this issue. The Treaty itself states: “national security remains the sole responsibility of each member state”.

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As with all missions the health and safety of our personnel is of paramount concern. While no absolute guarantees can be given, we work constantly to ensure that all Defence Force personnel are appropriately trained and equipped to carry out their mission.

The decision to send troops to Chad was considered at great length by the Government. It was not taken lightly and, indeed, was reflected on for some time. The Government was aware of the very many challenges the mission would pose in terms of supply lines and logistics.

The Government agreed, in view of these challenges, to provide significant additional resources to ensure that the mission was fully equipped to discharge its mandate, and that all the necessary logistics, equipment, enablers and force protection assets were put in place. In addition, Lt General Nash, Operation Commander of the mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, has assured me that the broad range of capabilities required to deploy the EU Force are now available.

The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake this mission is clear evidence of both the experience our troops have in crisis management operations and the regard in which our international partners hold the Defence Forces.

Our investment, over the past 10 years, in equipment, training and infrastructure means that we now have the capacity to step up our game and undertake this most difficult of missions. Much of the modern, state of the art equipment you will be using in Chad was recently shown on The Late Late Show. I know that the public reaction to the military segment was extremely supportive and indeed viewership figures for that evening were one of the highest the programme has ever recorded. The public’s exceptional regard and respect for you - the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann - is clear.

Participation in this mission will contribute significantly to the further development of the Defence Forces. It will both improve our capabilities and heighten our profile within the international peacekeeping community.

The choice of Lt General Pat Nash as Operational Commander, the very significant role Ireland is playing in the Operational headquarters and our role in providing the Deputy Force Commander is further evidence of the international recognition for Ireland’s professional capacity in managing difficult operations. We all can rightly feel proud of what we have achieved and what we are achieving on the international stage in crisis management and peacekeeping.

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Wherever I have travelled I have been honoured to witness - at first hand - the distinctive impact our peacekeepers are making. Performing your duties requires considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you face and the hardships you will be expected endure as part of your mission. The military authorities have advised me that while there is a level of risk with any operational deployment into a troubled African State, this is one that the Defence Forces has the capability to manage.

For ninety-eight of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. I also know the strain and pressure the separation from family and loved ones places on you. I want to pay tribute to your family and friends, many of who are here today, for the unheralded role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad. The support your family, friends and loves provide is a crucial component in the success of these missions. Both you and they will be in our thoughts and prayers during your tour of duty.
I plan to travel to Chad during your tour of duty to visit with you and to see for myself how you are settling in and, most importantly, how your presence is helping to stabilise the situation there.

In conclusion, I would like to wish your contingent Commander, Lt Col Patrick McDaniel and all members of the 97th Infantry Battalion a safe trip and a successful mission.

Thank you very much.

ENDS


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