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Speech by Minister of State for Defence, Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D.,
at the review of the 48th Infantry Group leaving shortly

for service with UNDOF

Finner Camp, Donegal,
26 March 2015.

Assistant Secretary Ciaran Murphy, Major General Ralph James, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen; I’m delighted to be here in Finner Camp to review personnel of the 48th Infantry Group, who will travel to Syria shortly for service with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

For more than half a century now, our Defence Forces have played a vital role as peacekeepers throughout the world. Ireland has an honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace, stability and security. You the men and women of the 48th Infantry Group are the latest to continue this long and proud tradition.

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 is held throughout the world.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was established on 31 May 1974 by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 350 (1974). The force was established following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights in May 1974 following the Yom Kippur war. UNDOF’s role is to supervise the implementation of the disengagement agreement, maintaining an area of separation between the Israeli and Syrian forces.

The UNDOF mission has faced a challenging time especially during the past year. The escalation of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has affected the mission’s area of operations.

Following the significant events in August 2014 in the area of separation, there was a fundamental realignment of the UNDOF mission with a view to minimizing unacceptable risks to peacekeepers, while continuing to implement the mission’s mandate. Most UNDOF personnel are now deployed on the Israeli side of the area of separation. However, UNDOF remains an important element in ensuring stability on the Golan Heights. The continued support of troop contributing countries such as Ireland to the mission is vital to allow the mission to continue the implementation of its mandate.

When you deploy to UNDOF, like your predecessors, you will be tasked primarily to serve as the Force Mobile Reserve within the UNDOF Area of Responsibility. Your role will include the provision of a Quick Reaction Force which will be on standby to assist with on-going operations within the UNDOF Area of Responsibility. You will also be tasked with carrying out patrols and convoy escorts as necessary.

You, the members of the 48th Infantry Group, are the fourth contingent to deploy to the Golan Heights. Soldiers from 25 counties around Ireland are represented here in the 130 strong contingent. For 34 of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. Other members of the contingent, namely Sgt Major Noel O’Callaghan, Sgt Campbell and Pte Lynch, have between them served overseas on 25 occasions. This is a proud day for all of you and indeed your families, who can draw comfort in your absence from the knowledge that you are serving your country and the greater international community.

To prepare for your deployment to the UNDOF mission, you have all completed a rigorous training programme. While this training has been demanding, 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 the Golan Heights.

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 the Golan Heights. However, that is not to underestimate the dangers you may face in your role as peacekeepers as was evidenced by a number of incidents last year that took place on the Golan Heights in Syria.

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 the primary concern to me, my Government colleagues and the military authorities. Our 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 appropriately trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment to carry out their mission. This also includes providing the required force protection assets 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. However, I am assured that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with UNDOF.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria is a growing threat to regional stability and a major human tragedy. Ireland is strongly committed to continuing support to both Syria and its neighbouring countries in light of the continuing urgent needs and the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Between 2011 and 2014 Ireland has provided over €26m in humanitarian assistance. Funds have been provided to a range of established UN partners as well as to Irish Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Overseas service is 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. You, the personnel of the 48th Infantry Group, are expected to maintain the outstanding reputation of the Defence Forces as committed, conscientious, professional and humane peacekeepers. You must respect and discharge this responsibility, which has been developed through long and committed service by your predecessors, with numerous UN, EU and NATO led missions.

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 and is deeply valued. 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 the Minister for Defence and myself, I want to wish each and every member of the 48th Infantry Group, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Mark Prendergast, a safe and successful mission. You will be in our thoughts and prayers throughout the duration of your tour of duty. You are travelling to the UNDOF mission with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the nation.

Thank you very much.


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