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Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa, Gallimh 29 March 2007

Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be in Galway this morning to review the 35th Infantry Group made up predominantly of personnel from the Western Brigade who will shortly be travelling to Kosovo. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to address you today and I hope later on to meet with some of you and your families.

Throughout my time as Minister for Defence, it has been my great fortune to witness at first hand the distinctive impact of our peacekeepers throughout the world. I know and am very proud that this combination of roles has not just been maintained but has been enriched during the KFOR mission. In the past two and a half years I have seen our troops on the ground in Kosovo, Bosnia, Liberia and only last month, in Lebanon and I have developed a very high regard for your dedication, your professionalism and your humanity.

And this high opinion of your peacekeeping ability is shared by many others too – on my visits overseas I have heard nothing but praise for our peacekeeping troops from a wide range of senior politicians including Sir Paddy Ashdown the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzogovina, Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, and indeed from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan when he visited me in Dublin in 2005.

KFOR was established in June 1999 to support the maintenance of civil law and order within Kosovo, in order to develop a climate of safety and security, which, in turn, will enable the transfer of increased responsibility to the civil authorities. Ireland has participated in the KFOR since August 1999. And in August, Ireland will take over as Lead Nation in the KFOR Multinational Task Force Centre for a period of 12 months.

This will be a challenging new development for the Defence Forces as we have never before commanded a brigade size force in multinational PfP-led peace support operation. Undertaking this new responsibility will contribute significantly to the development of the Defence Forces, improving its capabilities and heightening its profile as a professional and well-organised force within the international peacekeeping community.

About 50 additional Defence Forces personnel will deploy to KFOR for the Framework Nation period. Personnel are currently being selected and mission specific training will commence next month. A Defence Forces Implementation Group has conducted meetings with representatives of partner nations in the Multinational Task Force Centre with a view to finalising the arrangements that will be in place for Ireland’s Framework Nation term.

The KFOR mission has restored confidence in Kosovo. Its presence has allowed the United Nations to take a grip on the political situation and to move it forward. We are proud of the role that we have played in helping the people of Kosovo to move from war, mayhem, misery and fear towards a stable, secure and peaceful future. However, the job is not finished yet and subject to ongoing assessments of the situation on the ground, Ireland will maintain a presence in KFOR for some time yet.

The current security in Kosovo remains relatively stable. However, delays in both the formation of a new Serbian government and progressing the future status proposals of the UN Special Representative have the potential to impact on security within the province. Recent incidents, most notably the rioting in Pristina last month, indicate that there is the potential for the situation to destabilise. At all times, the Defence Forces closely monitor the situation within Kosovo and are in continuous contact with our personnel deployed there. At this time no increased threat to our personnel serving in Kosovo is anticipated.

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 all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with KFOR. However, that is not to underestimate the dangers you may face in your role as peacekeepers. You will be in our thoughts and prayers throughout the duration of your tour of duty.

Turning briefly to matters closer to home, I am delighted to announce today that the arrangements for a new Commissioning From The Ranks competition have just been completed. As I have stated in the past, I believe that every recruit should have a reasonable expectation of being promoted to officer level by virtue of his or her ability and leadership qualities. This CFR competition provides an opportunity for enlisted personnel to compete for entry to a potential Officers Course and ultimately obtain a commission. I am confident that the wealth of experience, talent and perspective that the successful candidates will bring with them will greatly benefit the Defence Forces in the years ahead.

In conclusion, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander, Lt. Col. Eamon Colclough and all members of the 35 Infantry Group a safe trip and a successful mission. You are travelling to Kosovo with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the country.

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