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SPEECH BY MR. WILLIE O’DEA T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE AT THE REVIEW OF 30th INFANTRY GROUP SHORTLY TO LEAVE IRELAND FOR U. N. PEACEKEEPING DUTY IN KOSOVO


Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and members of 30th Infantry Group. Six months ago I came to the position of Minister for Defence with a huge regard for the Defence Forces’ outstanding record in United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. This esteem has increased even further since my appointment, especially when last December I had the opportunity to see for myself the great work our peacekeepers are doing in Liberia. I welcome an event like today when I get the opportunity to address our peacekeepers and meet them and their loved ones.

From the Congo to the Lebanon and from East Timor to Liberia, the Defence Forces have never hesitated to move into some of the world’s most dangerous trouble spots. In the course of their work, they have saved the lives of countless numbers of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on our planet.

Wherever they have gone in the cause of peace, the men and women of our Defence Forces have made a real and lasting contribution to the lives of the local communities. They have fulfilled their duties on U.N. missions with a uniquely Irish combination of professional excellence and unselfish humanity. And you, the personnel of 30 Infantry Group, are continuing that proud tradition.

Since our first involvement in 1958, Ireland's participation in U.N. peace support missions has been motivated by the firm belief that people everywhere have the right to live their lives in peace and justice, free from fear. We are committed to the view that the challenges facing the international community cannot be satisfactorily resolved through unilateral action by any one country, or group of countries. The United Nations is the appropriate forum for the resolution of international disputes.

Our participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions is a visible and positive expression of our policy of military neutrality. Ireland’s commitment to and belief in the United Nations can be seen in the fact that Ireland is the sixth largest contributor of personnel to U.N. missions.

And as recently as yesterday, the U.N. acknowledged our support in a very special way when Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed my colleague Dermot Ahern, the Minister for Foreign Affairs as one of four Special Envoys for U.N. Reform. This is a great honour for Ireland and we are both very proud and very pleased that Mr. Annan has recognised our commitment to the United Nations in this special way.

When I met him last October, Mr. Annan emphasised to me the high regard that he has for Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping. He described Ireland as one of the model members of the U.N. Undoubtedly, some of the credit for Mr. Ahern’s prestigious appointment yesterday lies with the contribution of our Defence Forces to the cause of U.N. peacekeeping over the past 50 years.

The United Nations is - and will remain - the cornerstone of Ireland's foreign policy. Like most small nations we see it as the ultimate guarantor of our freedom and our safety. And this is why missions, such as yours, men and women of the 30th Infantry Group, are so important to Ireland.

As part of the ongoing programme of U.N. reform, the nature of peacekeeping operations has been changing and developing. Increasingly the United Nations is looking to Regional Bodies to organise and provide peacekeeping troops for the purpose of discharging a U.N. mandate.

As a result, the U.N. has developed U.N.-authorised missions - such as KFOR - in addition to the traditional, U.N. -led, “blue helmet” missions. Ireland is currently contributing to both U.N.-led and U.N. -authorised missions. In KFOR you will be serving in a U.N. authorised mission. The EUFOR mission in Bosnia is also U.N. - authorised. Your colleagues serving in Liberia with UNIMIL however, are part of a U.N. - led mission.

But regardless of whether a mission is U.N.-led or U.N.-authorised - the key point is that it is U.N. mandated. This U.N. mandate is essential for our participation. It is the main component of our “triple lock” policy – Government, Dáil and U.N. approval.
There can and will be no diminution of the triple-lock. Our policies of Neutrality and the Triple Lock are core principles and are recognised by our European colleagues as such.

In the Seville Declaration of June 2002 our EU partners recognised our policy of military neutrality and affirmed that there was no obligation arising from the EU treaties that would, or could, oblige Ireland to depart from that policy. The new EU Constitution maintains that position. It does not amend or dilute it one iota. Indeed Article 1 - 41.7 of the EU Constitution recognizes the specific character of Ireland’s security and defence policy.

Ireland’s role as a supporter of, and major contributor to, the United Nation’s peacekeeping and crisis management roles continues. This year we will rotate over 1,500 Defence Force personnel on missions across the globe. Members of the Irish Defence Forces have served as part of the KFOR mission since 1999. During this time our personnel have distinguished themselves with characteristic professionalism.

They have built on Ireland’s well-established reputation as a source of some of the world’s finest peacekeepers. I am very proud to say that this reputation has not just been maintained but has been further enriched during the KFOR mission. The courage, skill and professionalism that our troops have displayed during their time in Kosovo is testament to the good training that they have received and to the vast reservoir of peacekeeping experience our forces can draw on in difficult circumstances.

It is my intention to travel to see you again in Camp Clarke once you have settled in on your tour of duty in Kosovo. I look forward to meeting with you all there and seeing for myself the valuable work you will be performing there.

In conclusion, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander, Lt. Col. Derry Fitzgerald and all members of the 30th Infantry Group a safe trip and a successful mission. You go to Kosovo with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the country. You will be in our thoughts and prayers throughout the duration of your tour of duty.

Thank you very much.
Ends.


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