|Mr. President, delegates and distinguished guests, I am very pleased to be here this morning to open your conference. |
I would like to join with your hosts in welcoming you to Ireland and in particular to the city of Limerick, my hometown, where I hope you will have a pleasant stay. This is not the first occasion in which your conference has been held in Ireland so some of you may have previously sampled the delights of our country.
For those of you that may not have been here before, I hope that you will have the opportunity of taking in some of the local scenery and hospitality before you leave.
Since its foundation in 1972, EUROMIL has grown in strength and now comprises thirty-four member associations from twenty-two countries representing nearly five hundred thousand individuals. These impressive figures are a testament to your organisation’s development and to the growing awareness and acceptance among European countries of the “Citizen in Uniform” principle.
EUROMIL played a significant part in the introduction of representation into the Irish Defence Forces culminating in the establishment of PDFORRA. Despite some shaky beginnings, representation has now become an accepted part of the way that personnel management is conducted in the Defence Forces.
Since taking up my appointment just over a year ago I have seen the process in operation, at first hand, through the agreed formal mechanism. I have also noted the significant amount of informal contact between PDFORRA and RACO representatives and the civil and military staff of my Department.
I believe the constructive relationships and levels of understanding that have developed are the mainstay of the representative process. An open climate has been created which has facilitated the resolution of many potentially difficult issues due, in no small way, to the willing co-operation of all concerned. And I want to both thank and commend both PDFORRA and RACO representatives, past and present, for the important part they have played in this.
As I mentioned at the outset, we are here in my home city of Limerick. The city is steeped in military history and our famous King John’s Castle was built by the Normans in the 11th century.
The local military barracks here is called Sarsfield Barracks. It was named in honour of Patrick Sarsfield who rose to fame as a soldier in the army of the Catholic King of England, James II. Following the ending of the siege of Limerick in 1691, Sarsfield, along with some twelve thousand officers and men, was exiled to France where, under James II, they were formed into four regiments.
Later those regiments became known as the famous "Irish Brigades" of France and were poetically christened the “Wild Geese” by their countrymen. Throughout the following centuries, the “Wild Geese” continued to make their presence felt throughout the world fighting in every major conflict from the days of Louis XIV to the Second World War.
To day, Irish soldiers are continuing to make their mark abroad. Since 1958, members of the Defence Forces have completed more than 53,000 individual tours of duty overseas. They have served with distinction with the United Nations in such places as the Middle East, Central America and Africa.
Ireland is currently contributing approximately 749 Defence Forces personnel to 19 different missions throughout the world. The main commitments are to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), with 413 personnel, to the NATO-led International Security presence (KFOR) in Kosovo, with 210 personnel and to EUFOR, the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 54 personnel. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union (EU).
Irish people are justly proud of our involvement in peacekeeping, the commitment and professionalism of our peacekeepers and the high regard with which they are held internationally.
Shortly, my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern and I will be announcing a programme of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s joining the United Nations on December 14th in 1955.
I would like to commend all those members of the Defence Forces and indeed other Forces who are serving or have served overseas.
I would like to thank you for affording me the opportunity of addressing your conference and I wish you all an enjoyable and successful conference.