REMARKS BY MR. MICHAEL SMITH, T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE,
AT THE PRESENTATION OF UNAMIR AND
UNITED NATIONS DAG HAMMARSKJOLD MEDALS.
CATHAL BRUGHA BARRACKS ............................... THURSDAY 29th MAY, 2003
Chief of Staff, Secretary General Department of Defence, Deputy Chief of Staff (Support), Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am honoured to be here this afternoon on this, International Day of the UN Peacekeeper, to participate in this most important ceremony for the Defence Forces.
We are assembled here today in the historic surroundings of Cathal Brugha barracks to mark the selfless contribution of the living and the dead to the noble cause of international peacekeeping.
For over 40 years, Irish Defence Forces personnel have served throughout the troubled spots of the world. Over this time they have developed a deserved reputation as peacekeepers of unrivalled quality. Combining a high level of professional excellence with a mixture of natural humanity, our troops have brought great succour and comfort to suffering peoples of the world. The achievements and record of generations of our personnel on UN missions is a matter of great pride to all Irish people.
This commitment to peace and stability has not been without cost and today we honour the sacrifice of 82 personnel who lost their lives while serving on UN peacekeeping missions. We are joined here today by representatives of the families of these brave men who will accept the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Medal, named appropriately after the late Secretary General of the UN who was such a man of peace.
Poignantly, the sacrifice of the 83rd and last member of the Defence Forces to lose his life on overseas service, Private Peadar O’Flaithearta, who was tragically killed in East Timor, is being marked today at a ceremony in UN Headquarters, New York.
We are also here today to mark the contribution of the living. 37 members of the Defence Forces have just received the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda Medal (UNAMIR). This honour marks a contribution of real substance to the international response to a saga of almost unspeakable savagery. The recipients, all of whom volunteered for service in very difficult circumstances, worked to relieve the distress of thousands of Rwandan refugees in Zaire during 1994. We salute their important contribution to a long tradition of international service in the name of peace.
Today 462 personnel are serving overseas, mostly on UN missions, the bulk of whom are in Eritera and Kosovo. The Eritrea Mission (UNMEE) will be completed shortly, while our commitment to Kosovo (KFOR) will increase from September when the existing transport contingent will be replaced by a larger infantry company of 250. Irish personnel, often in small numbers, but in significant postings, are scattered throughout the world on missions in Cyprus, the Middle East, Western Sahara, the Balkans, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor and Afghanistan.
All of these personnel are carriers of a flame of rich tradition in the name of peace.
Our continuing participation in peacekeeping operations comes at a time when the nature of such operations is changing from traditional UN led missions to regionally led peace operations, with the onus being placed on regional states to organise and assemble peacekeeping troops for the purpose of discharging a UN mandate. This change has implications for the manner in which these operations are organised and structured and must cause us to optimise our capacity to integrate with command structures of other nations and regional organisations. None of these developments will threaten our adherence to a traditional policy of military neutrality.
Since 1998 we have had a commitment to make available up to 850 personnel overseas at any one time under the United Nations Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS) to enhance UN capacity to respond rapidly to emergency situations. As part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, we are also part of the Headline Goal, or Rapid Reaction Force as it is also known, and will by the end of this year be in a position to contribute personnel on a case-by-case basis to a range of humanitarian and crisis management tasks as envisaged under the “Petersberg Tasks”. Participation in the Rapid Reaction Force will allow Ireland to be part of a regional support from the EU to the UN. I should emphasise that continuing involvement in overseas peacekeeping missions remains a sovereign issue and must have a UN mandate, as well as approval by the Government and Dáil Eireann, in accordance with Irish Law.
Participation in overseas peacekeeping missions is a key element of our foreign policy and has been an important dimension in meeting our international obligations as a member of the UN and the EU. This commitment remains undiminished and remains a huge contribution for a nation of our size.
The Irish people are immensely proud of the contribution of our peacekeepers. Today we discharge a debt of honour to the memory of these brave men who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our name.
It is a small but significant acknowledgement by a grateful nation.
Go raith maith agat
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