ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR DEFENCE,
MR. MICHAEL SMITH, T.D.,
AT THE REVIEW OF THE 5th IRISH COMPANY
WHICH WILL SHORTLY DEPART FOR SERVICE
WITH UNTAET IN EAST TIMOR
Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal 23 January 2001
Chief of Staff, Secretary General of the Department of Defence, ladies and gentlemen, and most importantly the Officers and Men of the 5th Irish Company that will serve with UNTAET, I am honoured to have this opportunity to address you prior to your departure to East Timor.
UNTAET was established as an integrated peacekeeping operation to administer East Timor during its transition to independence. It has a military component of about 9,000 troops and a civilian police component of about 1,600 drawn from nearly 50 countries.
I visited East Timor last May and witnessed at first hand the difficult conditions in the area of operations where you will be based. I have to say that this mission is in some of the most difficult terrain that Irish personnel have ever encountered. It is the furthest mission from home and it is in probably the most inhospitable climate ever faced by Irish troops. I have many memories of that visit but one remains with me -- I visited a one-roomed school in the village of Fataluro where there were no desks, no books, no paper, no pencils, no chalk -- just a teacher, over 50 children and lots of hope. It was shocking to see people in the year 2000 living in such appalling conditions. I was impressed with the determination and attitude of the Irish troops I met who were relishing the opportunity to prove themselves in a difficult arena and happy to be able to do something for the local people.
Nearer to home the new security challenges which have emerged in Europe have brought a recognition that European states should do more to address crisis situations such as those which arose in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. The EU Headline Goal is intended to ensure that the EU has the necessary capacities to provide responses in the area of crisis management -- the Petersberg tasks. Put simply, what is involved is improving the EU’s ability to prevent, manage and resolve crises. As a member of the EU and a long-standing contributor to international peacekeeping, Ireland intends to play a positive role in this regard. Ireland’s contribution to the EU Headline Goal will not in any way affect our long-standing policy of military neutrality to which this Government remains firmly committed. Some people who claim to be "pure" neutrals are really isolationists -- they are not internationalists. If this type of blinkered line was to be adopted then this country would never reach out and participate in peacekeeping duties or humanitarian tasks.
Thankfully that is not the case and here today we are reviewing 41 soldiers who will serve in East Timor for four months -- 4 with the Component Headquarters, 4 with the National Support Element and 33 as an infantry platoon. I am confident that the infantry platoon of 33 troops under the command of Lt. David Clarke (from Bundoran) and drawn from the 28th Infantry Battalion, which has its Headquarters in Finner Camp, will meet the challenge that lies ahead. It is fitting that the review is being held here in Ballyshannon as there are 23 members of the platoon from Donegal.
You have all trained hard since last November and this training, combined with your previous peacekeeping experience, has prepared you to deal with any scenarios that are likely to arise. Looking at the troops being reviewed here today it is obvious that they are young, extremely fit and focused on the mission ahead. The average age of the platoon is 23 and it includes two sets of brothers -- Gerry and Tommy Campbell from Redcastle and Ronan and Gerald Caldwell from Donegal town. In fact Ronan and Gerald’s older brother, Enda, has already served in East Timor. Three members of the same family will have served with the United Nations on this challenging mission on the other side of the globe. I think that deserves a round of applause.
This is an exciting time to be in the Defence Forces. Significant progress is being made in relation to new equipment. Just two weeks ago I traveled to Switzerland with the Chief of Staff for the official handover of the first 2 of 40 new Armoured Personnel Carriers. These will be used to train up Irish crews in the operation and maintenance of the APCs and the turrets. The first six APCs will arrive in this country in less than 6 months time and the remaining 34 APCs will be delivered by this time next year. The procurement of new medium range helicopters is progressing and the formal tender documents will issue next month to four international firms. A second new state of the art offshore patrol vessel for the Naval Service, which will be named the L.E. Niamh, will be delivered this year. This ship is similar to the L.E. Róisín that was commissioned in December 1999. Work has commenced on the procurement of Light Infantry Tactical Vehicles and a tender competition will get under way later this year. Unprecedented amounts of money are and will be spent on modernising and upgrading operational, training and living accommodation for all members of the Defence Forces.
I want to take this opportunity to once again acknowledge the contribution the Defence Forces make to Irish society. As a nation we take great pride in the excellent work carried out by the Defence Forces on overseas missions. There are currently 867 Irish soldiers serving overseas and this represents a huge contribution to peacekeeping by a country of our size. The patience and diplomacy of Irish soldiers serving throughout the different missions down through the years have helped to maintain peace and allow day to day life proceed in many parts of the world.
Finally, I want to wish everyone a safe and successful tour of duty.