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Curragh Camp 10 June 2008

Chief of Staff, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen I am delighted to be here in the Curragh today on what is one of the most important occasions in the Defence Forces’ calendar this year.

The twenty-five scrolls I have just presented indicate that each of you is now a commissioned officer of Óglaigh na hÉireann. A few moments ago you took an oath pledging you to be faithful to the Irish nation and to uphold the Constitution. This solemn undertaking marks you out from every other profession.

I offer my heartiest congratulations to the twenty-five officers who have just received their commissions, including the twenty-four men and women of the 9th Potential Officer Course. I especially want to congratulate Lt. Gordan who has overcome personal difficulties to be commissioned today. Today is a very special day for both you and your families. Indeed, I am pleased to see so many of them here to share this day with you.

I always take great pride in addressing commissioning ceremonies – but today’s commissioning stands out from others I have attended.

One of my main priorities as Minister for Defence has been to provide opportunities for enlisted personnel to advance into the Officer Corps. Speaking in Galway three years ago I said that I was determined that I wanted to remove any glass ceilings to promotion in the modern Irish army. That has now been achieved.

You, the first group commissioned from a Potential Officers Course since 2000, are proof that we have made significant progress in this area. You are a multi-talented group. Your CVs make very impressive reading.

It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing”. The experience of life and of service both at home and overseas that you bring to the Officer ranks will greatly benefit the Defence Forces.

Every private soldier joining the army should have a reasonable expectation of being promoted to senior officer level by virtue of his or her ability and character. Indeed I look forward to seeing a future Chief of Staff or Deputy Chief of Staff rising through the ranks in this way.

I know that the Potential Officers Course is challenging and that each of you has risen to that challenge. All of your hard work is recognized and rewarded here today. The training you have received, in addition to the many years of service and experience each of you has already achieved, will equip you with the skills necessary to maximize your contribution to the Defence Forces as commissioned officers.

I have no doubt that you will contribute to the delivery of excellence in the Defence Forces, in operations, in providing a rewarding working environment, in delivering value for money and in the ongoing modernization and change.

I am delighted to see the successful implementation of these schemes and it is my intention that regular competitions will be run to provide non-commissioned personnel with the opportunity of obtaining commissioned rank. This policy forms part of the Defence Force Modernisation Agenda and is a commitment in the Programme for Government. The Chief of Staff and I have discussed this matter and I have requested that he give further consideration to facilitating suitably qualified non-commissioned personnel to compete for technical and professional posts in the commissioned ranks.

The cadetship competition has also been revised. This revision has encouraged applications for cadetships from candidates with previous experience in the Permanent Defence Force or Reserve Defence Force. I believe the cadetship competition, when taken together with the potential officers course, provide opportunities for enlisted personnel to achieve their full potential and for the Defence Forces to benefit from their particular skill set and experience.

Unlike most Cadets, you have served in various barracks around the country and your enforced departure during the week for the duration of the course will have brought its own pressures on family life. I therefore want to thank and compliment your partners, families and loved ones for their resilience, support and understanding throughout this time.

Our record and tradition of supporting international peace and security with the United Nations is second to none. It is a tradition whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year. Over those 50 years, the committed and dedicated service of members of the Defence Forces in overseas missions has brought great honour on the Defence Forces and on the nation as a whole.

Our participation in the UN mandated EU military operation in Chad and the Central African Republic, our most challenging mission to date, is the latest chapter to be added to our 50 years experience of peace support service. Next week I will be travelling to Chad, with the Chief of Staff, to visit our troops on the ground in their new camp – Camp Ciara and to witness, at first hand, the distinctive impact they are making to the victims of the Darfur atrocities.

Lisbon Treaty
The past few weeks have seen scare mongering as to the security of our neutrality and the imminent militarisation of the EU. I have addressed and rejected these bogus and baseless claims elsewhere and do not propose to dwell on them here today. Rather I want to briefly mention two important and positive initiatives that actually are in the Treaty.

Firstly, the Lisbon Treaty commits Europe to protecting human rights and eradicating poverty. The revised EU Objectives state that in its relations with the wider world, Europe "shall uphold and promote its values and interests and contribute to the protection of its citizens. It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular, the rights of the child, as well as the strict observance and the development of international law including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter”.

Secondly, the Lisbon Treaty firmly commits Europe to peacekeeping. EU missions, which will still require unanimous agreement, will be confined to peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. Three-quarters of the 21 EU missions to date have involved only police and civilian personnel. All have been consistent with our foreign policy and have helped to end violence and save lives.

The European Union has brought peace to Europe and prosperity to Ireland. The European Union is becoming a force for good in the wider world. The initiatives in the Lisbon Treaty represent the essence of our republicanism: the ability to offer equality of opportunity to others so that we can enjoy it ourselves.

I have already said, this is an important day in the lives of the twenty-five people here before us today. It is a day when they and their families are entitled to feel justly proud. It is also a day to acknowledge the achievement of each of you in being commissioned today. Congratulations and well done to everybody.

Before concluding I would like to thank Colonel James Goulding the Commandant of the Military College and the Officers and NCO’s of the Cadet School.

Thank you

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