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Roden Place Dundalk 12 January 2010

Secretary-General, Deputy Chief of Staff, Minister Ahern, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here in Dundalk this afternoon to review members of the 102nd Infantry Battalion who will be travelling to Chad for a 6-month tour of duty with the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic and Chad.

Occasions, such as this one, remind us of the great pride we can take in all that the Defence Forces have done – and continue to do - as peacekeepers throughout the world. As members of the 102nd Infantry Battalion - the sixth Battalion of Irish personnel to be deployed to Chad, you will be replacing a battalion that has performed its duties with the humanity and professionalism we have come to expect from Óglaigh na hÉireann.

However, this ceremony today is also touched with a deep sadness. As you may be aware, Air Corps officer Captain Derek Furniss, who was tragically killed with his colleague Cadet David Jevens in a training accident last October, was due to travel for duty as a member of this Infantry Battalion to serve as Press and Information Officer. The cutting short of these two lives, at so young an age, is a loss felt not only by their own families and friends, but also by their many Air Corps and Defence Forces colleagues. It is only fitting that they both be remembered here today.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.

Participation in the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad – MINURCAT - is a continuation of our honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace and security. It is a tradition that has been built by the committed and dedicated service shown by you and your predecessors for over 50 years now and by our policy of military neutrality.

Our military neutrality has been central to successful participation in these missions. It encapsulates our vision of Ireland as the bridge between the developed and developing world and the view of the Defence Forces internationally as professional and impartial peacekeepers. No one compels us to send troops to Kosovo or to Chad. No one compelled us to send troops to the Congo in the 1960s. We do it because it is the right thing to do. Our participation in these operations has served to enhance our core values in relation to our military neutrality and our sovereign right to make our own decisions regarding the deployment of our Defence Forces.

Our involvement in these missions has greatly enhanced the professional capacity and capability of the Defence Forces. This has, in turn, increased our value to the United Nations. The appointment of an Irish officer, Brigadier General Gerald Aherne, as Deputy Force Commander, is another indication of the high regard in which Irish personnel are held internationally.

The current economic challenges facing the country have resulted in the Defence organisation being required to operate on a reduced budget for 2010. As regards participation by the Defence Forces in overseas peace support operations, the key reductions in the Defence budget for next year will include the drawdown of the Defence Forces contingents serving in Kosovo and Bosnia. However, this measure is only temporary. Once the current economic crisis is past, the Government will look again at potential overseas missions so we can maintain Ireland’s proud record of peacekeeping. Notwithstanding the difficult economic environment, the Government is committed to continue Ireland’s participation in the mission in Chad, subject to the renewal by the UN Security Council of the mission’s mandate.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity of travelling to Chad and visiting Camp Ciara on two occasions. There I saw the good standard of facilities available to our troops and I experienced the high level of morale amongst our troops and the energy and enthusiasm they have for their duties.

I was very proud to witness, once again, the work our Defence Forces personnel are doing in this challenging mission. It was heartening and inspiring to see at firsthand the positive effect that the UN mission, has had in creating a safe and secure environment for thousands of refugees, displaced persons and for the wider population. I intend to travel to Chad again in the coming year.

Performing your duties overseas can require considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you will face and the hardships you will be expected to endure as part of your service overseas. However, I have and I will continue to ensure, that Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment available.

Military authorities have assured me that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving in Chad. 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.

For one hundred and eleven (111) of you, this is your first tour of duty overseas. I know the strain and pressure that separation from family and loved ones places on you and on them. I would like, therefore, to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all of your families and friends, many of who are here today, for the important but unsung role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad. Their encouragement, support and loyalty are vital in enabling you to serve abroad.

Let me conclude by again reiterating, not just my pride, but also the entire Nation’s pride in the achievements and standards set by the Defence Forces on this UN mission and similar missions. We may be a small nation, but we can stand tall when it comes to helping some of the most beleaguered people on this planet. Your bravery, enthusiasm and determination will help improve the lives of nearly half a million refugees in Chad.

I would like to wish your Battalion Commander, Comdt Michael Murray, and to all members of the 102nd Infantry Battalion a safe and successful mission.

Thank you very much.

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12 January 2010
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Speech by Minister O'Dea at the Review of the 101 Infantry Battalion - leaving Ireland shortly for Peacekeeping Duty in Chad
1 May 2008
Minister O' Dea reviews Chad Troops

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