|Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick 21 September 2007|
Assistant Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be in Sarsfield Barracks this afternoon to review the 37th Infantry Group who will shortly be travelling to Kosovo. This is a most appropriate venue given that the 37th Infantry Group is made up predominantly of personnel from the Southern Brigade.
You, the men and women of the 37th Infantry Group, will be deploying to Kosovo at a most significant time in the history of the Defence Forces. Ireland has participated in the KFOR mission since August 1999 and, as you are aware, since August Ireland has assumed command of the Multinational Task Force Centre based around Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
This new role means Ireland has taken over the responsibility for the coordination and control of the Headquarters of the Multinational Task Force in Kosovo - commanding, controlling and directing task force operations.
This is a new development for the Defence Forces, as they have never before commanded a brigade size force in a multinational PfP-led peace support operation.
Undertaking this responsibility is an indication of both the experience our troops have in crisis management operations and the regard in which our international partners hold them. 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. 58 additional Defence Forces personnel have been deployed to KFOR for the framework nation period bringing Ireland’s total current contribution to the Force to 279.
This new responsibility is an indication of how our Defence Forces are progressing and modernising. Another example of this modernisation is taking place this afternoon at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel with a ceremony marking the standing down of the Alouette III helicopter after 44 years service. Some 542 people owe their lives to the skills of the rescue crews and helicopter’s versatility in over 1,700 missions.
The proud Air Corps tradition is continuing with the introduction into service of eight new helicopters. In the past 15 months, the Air Corps fleet has been augmented by the addition of two AW 139 utility helicopters and two EC135 light utility helicopters. A further two AW139 utility helicopters will arrive later this year and the final pair are due to be delivered in 2008. These new helicopters will provide the Air Corps with a very significant fleet and will enable them to work in close co-operation with the Army in all facets of their operations.
The investment of €86 million in these 8 new helicopters is a further example of the Government’s commitment to ensure that all branches of the Defence Forces are fully equipped to carry out their day- to- day roles.
Throughout my time as Minister for Defence, it has been my honour to witness - at first hand - the distinctive impact our peacekeepers are making throughout the world. This impact has not just been maintained but has been enriched during the KFOR mission.
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, misery and fear towards a stable, secure and peaceful future. However, the job is not yet finished and, subject to ongoing assessments of the situation on the ground, Ireland will maintain a presence in KFOR for some time yet.
Ireland has been a strong supporter of the Marti Ahtisaari proposal and we remain in favour of a final status outcome based on this proposal. We greatly regret that it has not been possible to secure agreement at the UN Security Council on a new Resolution to give effect to this proposal. Ireland will continue to work with our EU partners and in all international forums for the achievement of an outcome which will have broad support in Kosovo and will ensure its future stability and prosperity, and that of the wider Balkan region in the interests of all its people
Performing your duties can require considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you face and the hardships you will be expected endure as part of your mission. I also know the strain and pressure the separation from family and loved ones places on you. The support your family, friends and loves provide is a crucial component in the success of these missions. I want to pay tribute to your family and friends, many of who are here today, for the unheralded role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad.
For many of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. Your safety -and the safety of all our personnel is of paramount concern to me and to the military authorities. 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.
Although no firm date has yet been set for it, I do plan to travel to Kosovo during your tour of duty there to visit with you and to see for myself how you are settling in and, most importantly, how your presence there is helping to stabilise the situation there.
In conclusion, I would like to wish your contingent Commander, Lt Col Matt Murray and all members of the 37th Infantry Group a safe trip and a successful mission.
Thank you very much.
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