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Speech by the Minister of State for Defence, Mr Paul Kehoe, T.D.,
at the review of the 45th Infantry Group - leaving Ireland shortly for Peacekeeping Duty with UNIFIL in South Lebanon Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare
9th May 2014
Mayor Wall, Deputies, Secretary General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be back in the Curragh Camp this time to review personnel of the 45th Infantry Group, who will travel to Lebanon later this month for service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
I want to welcome you all here today on this very special occasion, which reminds us of the important part our Defence Forces play as peacekeepers throughout the world. Participation in UNIFIL is a continuation of our honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace, stability and security, a tradition now spanning more than half a century.
In particular, there is a long and proud tradition of Irish participation in the UNIFIL mission, since its establishment in 1978. Ireland’s participation in the mission has illustrated the very positive and practical difference that small countries like Ireland can make in the world’s trouble spots.
You the men and women of the 45th Infantry Group are the latest to continue this tradition. I know you will perform your duties with the humanity and professionalism we have come to expect from Óglaigh na hÉireann. You have all worked and trained hard to prepare yourself for duty with UNIFIL and I know that many of you have served in the Lebanon before. Hopefully, this will make your task easier.
I have had the opportunity of visiting our troops in UNIFIL on two occasions, most recently in March of this year in the company of the Chief of Staff. On both occasions, I was able to witness, at first hand, the dedication and professionalism of our military personnel and the tremendous work done overseas by the Irish Defence Forces. I conveyed to the troops the Nation’s deep appreciation for the outstanding manner in which they continue to perform their duties on overseas service.
Irish troops returned to serve in the Lebanon in May 2011. Between June 2012 and November 2013, Ireland served as part of a joint Irish/Finnish Battalion. Where a contingent of the Finnish Armed Forces began serving alongside Irish soldiers working to support UNIFIL’s mission. Ireland held command of the joint Irish/Finnish Battalion during that period before handing over command of the joint Battalion in UNIFIL to Finland. This mission still continues to represent Ireland’s largest overseas deployment.
Partnership with other like-minded States has become an ever-increasing element of our peacekeeping operations. You, the members of the 45th Infantry Group will continue to work with Finnish forces as part of a joint contingent in UNIFIL. Without partners, such as Finland, Ireland would be significantly compromised in the range and nature of operations we could undertake in support of the United Nations. In addition, we have found that working as part of a joint contingent has many advantages. It can provide synergy and significantly contribute to the range and nature of operations we can undertake in support of the United Nations.
I understand that soldiers from 22 counties around Ireland are represented in the 45th Infantry Group. For 64 of you, this is your first tour of duty overseas. Other members of the Battalion, of course, have had previous service overseas and have accumulated approximately 320 tours of duty with missions in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Balkans.
Indeed, I understand that Battalion Quartermaster Brian Cronin has completed the most overseas tours - 12 in total - and was a member of three previous contingents with UNIFIL. I congratulate Battalion Quartermaster Cronin on his commitment and auspicious achievement.
Ireland’s substantial contribution to international peace support operations depends on the ongoing commitment of Defence Forces personnel to serve overseas in often difficult and dangerous circumstances. Your commitment, service and loyalty to the traditions of the Defence Forces on overseas service contribute extensively to the high regard in which Ireland and indeed Irish peacekeepers are held throughout the world.
To prepare for your deployment to the UNIFIL mission, you have all completed a rigorous training programme which is reviewed on an ongoing basis, having regard to the mission requirement. While this training has been demanding, nonetheless, it is necessary in order to ensure that all of you are well prepared to meet the demands and to discharge your duties effectively in the mission area in Southern Lebanon.
The United Nations has stated that UNIFIL plays a vital role in stabilising southern Lebanon, and in particular the area adjacent to Israel, where Irish troops are deployed. The Defence Forces authorities have assured me that appropriate force protection assets and capabilities are being deployed to operate in the current and future environment in Lebanon.
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.
I must say that the decision by Government to send troops overseas is not taken lightly. Your safety and the safety of all Irish Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions is always a concern to the Irish Government and to the military authorities. The ability to protect the health and safety of our personnel is of paramount concern when considering any mission. While no absolute guarantees can be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions, it is the policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel serving overseas are trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment to carry out their mission, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission.
In addition, ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and we continually review both personal equipment and force assets, to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles. Unfortunately, no mission is without danger, but I am assured that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with UNIFIL.
I am also very mindful of the great sacrifices that each one of you is making. For some 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. The support your family, friends and loved ones provide is a crucial component in the success of these missions. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all of your families and friends, many of whom are here today, for the important but unsung role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad. I would also like to acknowledge the presence of former members of the Defence Forces here today.
As you, the men and women of the 45th Infantry Group, leave we should remember the high price that has been paid by members of our Defence Forces while on service in Lebanon. Forty-seven (47) members of the Defence Forces gave their lives in the attempt to bring peace, stability and security to that volatile region of the world. Today, we remember and honour their sacrifice and the sacrifice of all who have given their lives in the cause of peace. I believe we should also spare a thought today for the families of those members of the Defence Forces.
Overseas service has become a core activity of the Defence Forces. Ireland's record of service in UN authorised peace support operations is second to none. We have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to such operations throughout the world. Service with the United Nations demands a wide variety of skills and personal qualities. Patience and diplomacy have become as important and as necessary as the required professional military skills of the soldier. Throughout the years, Irish Defence Forces personnel that have served with the numerous UN, EU and NATO led missions have worked hard to build up an outstanding reputation as committed, conscientious, professional and humane peacekeepers. I know that you will all work hard to maintain Ireland’s reputation and, indeed, to enhance it.
I am delighted to see so many of your families and friends here today to bid you farewell and wish you a safe return home. The support and encouragement of your family and friends is of vital importance to the success of all overseas missions. I thank them for that support, which enables you to serve abroad and thereby help to protect and save the lives of countless numbers of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.
Finally, on behalf of An Taoiseach and myself, I want to wish each and every member of the 45th Infantry Group, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Campion, a safe and successful mission. You will be in our thoughts throughout the duration of your tour of duty. You are travelling to the Lebanon with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the nation.
Thank you very much.
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