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Speech by Mr. Willie O'Dea T.D.Minister for Defence at the review of 33rd Infantry Group shortly to leave Ireland for U.N Peacekeeping duty in Kosovo

Wednesday 13th September 2006

Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and members of 33rd Infantry Group, I am very pleased to be here today to review the personnel from the Eastern Brigade who will shortly be travelling to Kosovo. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to address you today and I hope later on to meet with you and your families.

Since my appointment as Minister for Defence, I have seen at first hand the excellent work our Defence Forces do both at home and in a range of hostile environments overseas. Over the past two years, having seen our troops in action on the ground in Kosovo, Bosnia and Liberia, I have developed a high regard for your dedication and professionalism. My most recent visit was to Kosovo in June where I again saw the tremendous work we are doing and how vital Ireland’s participation is in this mission.

Our troops have been engaged in peacekeeping in Kosovo since August 1999 and over the past seven years, they have contributed, in a major way, to bring stability to this key region of Europe. We have worked to bring peace, and create respect for human rights and the rule of law to a war-ravaged area and have helped to ensure the re-establishment of civil society in the region.

In fact, wherever they have gone in the cause of peace, the men and women of our Defence Forces have made a real and lasting contribution to the lives of the local communities. They have fulfilled their duties on U.N. missions with a uniquely Irish combination of professional excellence and characteristic humanity.

Last December we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s membership of the United Nations. On that day we rightly paid tribute to the members of the Defence Forces who have performed over 56,000 tours of duty on 58 UN peace support operations worldwide. These men and women have upheld Ireland’s long-established reputation as a source of some of the world’s finest peacekeepers. I am very proud to say that this reputation has not just been maintained but has been further enhanced during the KFOR mission. And I know that you, the men and women of 33 Infantry Group, will maintain that proud tradition.

Today, the United Nations is as important and vital to Ireland as it was when we joined, back in 1955. It is the ultimate guarantor of our freedom and our safety. We are committed to the view that the United Nations is the appropriate forum for the resolution of international disputes. Our participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions is a visible and positive expression of our policy of military neutrality. Our role as a supporter of, and major contributor to, the United Nation’s peacekeeping and crisis management roles will continue.

KFOR 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. Earlier this year the Kosovan Assembly elected a new government. This milestone event proved to the world that the political landscape of Kosovo is changing, and democracy is beginning to take a hold. We are proud of the role that we have played in helping the people of Kosovo to move from war, mayhem, misery and fear towards a stable, secure and peaceful future.

However, the job is not finished yet and Ireland peacekeepers will maintain a presence in KFOR for some time yet.

With the increasing demands around the world for peacekeepers, the UN has over the past few years turned to regional organisations, including the European Union, the African Union and NATO, amongst others, to support its activities in the area of Crisis Management Operations. In this regard, Ireland has contributed peacekeepers to many of these missions in furtherance of its commitment to the UN on both UN established and UN authorised missions and will continue to do so in the future.

On the domestic defence policy front, last July I decided, after a comprehensive review, to reduce the minimum height requirement for males and females joining the Defence Forces. The minimum height required for enlistment has been reduced from 5’4” to 5’2” and came into effect on the first of this month. This change means that 90% of women and 98% of men will be eligible to apply to join the Defence Forces. I hope that this change will have an immediate and positive effect on the numbers of women applying to join the Defence Forces.

As I have consistently said that height is not the only issue in relation to the recruitment of women. The report I received touched on some of these. That is why I also initiated wider research into the recruitment and retention of women in the Defence Forces. The research includes in-depth interviews with a random selection of serving female personnel, female school leavers and special interest groups. I expect to receive the results of this study in 8 to 10 weeks time.

In conclusion, I would like to wish the Contingent Commander, Lt. Col. Brian Reade and all members of the 33rd Infantry Group a safe and successful mission. Having seen where you will be based and your area of operations, I know you will have an interesting and rewarding tour.

You travel to Kosovo with my best wishes and those of the Government and the rest of the country.

Thank you very much.


ENDS


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