|National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks |
Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and members of 91 Infantry Battalion. For the past six months, over four hundred members of the Irish Defence Forces have been a vital component in a force of 14,000 personnel drawn from 34 countries and they have contributed in making this UN mission an extremely successful one. During this short space of time they have performed with characteristic professionalism and have further embellished the well-established reputation of Ireland as a source of some of the world’s finest peacekeepers.
Since our first involvement in 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. As Minister for Defence, I am proud that Ireland is playing its part in contributing troops to the UNMIL mission, yet another chapter in the long and distinguished history of our Defence Forces' involvement in peacekeeping missions.
Wherever they have gone, the men and women of the Irish Defence Forces have reached out to the local communities and have made a real and lasting contribution to improving the quality of life. For many years, Irish peacekeepers’ have interpreted their UN mandate in a humane and generous manner. Indeed our distinctive ability to combine traditional peacekeeping duties with the provision of humanitarian support has become the hallmark of the Irish peacekeeper internationally.
In Liberia, Ireland is availing of the opportunity to contribute, in a substantive way, to bringing stability to a key region in Africa; to supporting the establishment of peace, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and to ensuring the re-establishment of civil society in the region.
Last January, I paid a short visit to Camp Clara, the headquarters of the Irish contingent in Liberia. While there, I saw at first hand the work in which our Defence Forces personnel have been involved. I was proud to learn that, as had happened on other peacekeeping missions with which Irish soldiers were involved, our UNMIL troops had become involved in a number of humanitarian projects.
I was also delighted to announce that Development Co-operation Ireland had allocated a sum of €15,000 to our troops to support their humanitarian work throughout its area of operations.
Indeed, so moved was I by the scenes of utter devastation and despair that I saw all around me, that I decided to allocate an additional €10,000 from this year’s Defence budget to help with this work. Recently I was pleased to hear that the civil servants in my Department are sponsoring the education of 30 Liberian orphans under an imaginative scheme put in place by the chaplain to the Irish Battalion in Liberia.
Members of the 91st Battalion will be pleased to hear that during my visit to Camp Clara I also opened a new recreation centre – this essential facility will provide you with a haven where you can relax and unwind when not on duty.
Earlier this year I was very proud to learn of the heroic action of Defence Forces personnel in securing the release of 35 people, mainly women and children, who were being held captive by rebels. Some of these unfortunate captives had been assaulted before they were rescued and 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.
Another significant achievement by our Defence Forces in the short life of the mission has been their involvement in the disarmament process throughout Liberia. To date this process has succeeded in having more than 9,000 weapons handed in and this has led to a much safer environment in the country. During your tour of duty you will be involved in this vital programme, which, I am certain, will help to ensure that Liberia will become a safer and better place for all of its people.
Throughout my seven years as Minister for Defence, it has been my great fortune to witness the distinctive impact of our peacekeepers throughout the world. I know and am very proud that the combination of roles is not just being maintained but is being enhanced during the UNMIL mission. However, as we know only too well, peacekeeping missions are not without their dangers. This was brought home to us yet again last November with the tragic death of your colleague Sgt. Derek Mooney in a road accident in Liberia.
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. This equipment enables troops to carry out the mission assigned, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission. I am satisfied that that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all of our personnel serving with UNMIL. However, that is not to underestimate the dangers you may face in your role as peacekeepers, and you will be in all our thoughts and prayers throughout your tour of duty.
Our continued participation in peacekeeping operations comes at a time when the challenges facing the United Nations in maintaining international peace and security are many and varied, as recent events have clearly demonstrated. It is against this background of volatility that the nature of peacekeeping operations are changing from traditional UN led missions. As you know, Ireland currently holds the Presidency of the EU. One of my priorities, as part of Ireland’s Presidency Programme has been to bring forward the work of developing the EU’s rapid response capabilities, so as to enhance its ability to support the UN, through autonomous operations, at short notice. Earlier this week I was in Brussels where I was able to deliver a positive report to my EU colleagues of the ongoing work in this area.
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 our Defence Forces on overseas peacekeeping missions. The patience and diplomacy of Irish soldiers serving throughout the different missions down through the years has helped to make very significant inroads in maintaining peace and allowing day to day life proceed in many parts of the world.
Of course family support is of vital importance to the success of all overseas missions and for that reason I am delighted to see here today so many families and friends of the troops preparing for departure.
In conclusion, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander Lt. Col. Tommy Behan and all of the members of 91st Infantry Battalion a safe trip and a peaceful and successful mission.
Go n-éiri libh go léir agus go dté sibh slán.
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