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Statement by the Minister for Defence on the International Day of the Peacekeeper 2006

29 May 2006

Today, May 29th is the date designated by the United Nations General Assembly for all of us to pay tribute to the men and women who have served - and continue to serve - in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

The U.N. Resolution establishing the International Day of U.N. Peacekeepers, called on all Nations to use this day to recognise the “high level of professionalism, dedication and courage” of those who serve and “to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace”.

We do this with a particular poignancy. Since our first UN peacekeeping mission in 1958, 85 of our troops made tragically the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace and justice. Each one was a life cut short in the belief that people everywhere have the right to live their lives in peace and justice. Today we remember the great loss felt by their families, their comrades and their friends.

This day also reminds of us of the great service the members of Óglaigh na hÉireann – the Defence Forces are doing across the World. Since that first mission in 1958, Irish troops have served on 58 UN peace support operations, performing over 55,000 tours of duty.

Today 677 members of the Defence Forces are serving overseas in places such as Liberia Kosovo and Bosnia. Wherever they are, our troops serve with professionalism, dedication, courage and unselfish humanity. This is recognised by the people who they are helping. In 2005 the leading Liberian newspaper, the News, hailed the Irish troops as ‘peace contingent of the year’ out of the forty-five nations contributing troops to the UNMIL mission.

Performing these duties can mean considerable sacrifices by our troops, including extended time away from family and loved ones. It is important therefore that we acknowledge how vital the love, support and encouragement of their family and friends is in enabling them to serve abroad.

In his message to mark UN Peacekeepers day, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan reminds us that this work does not come without risk. In 2005, 124 peacekeepers lost their lives to violence, disease and accidents.

For this reason the safety of Irish personnel serving overseas is always of primary concern. All our people serving on overseas missions are highly trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment available.

Ireland’s support for the United Nations has been unwavering since we joined in December 1955. An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern summed it up in an address to the UN General Assembly saying that Ireland is “…a state that has always placed the UN at the very centre of its foreign policy, a state whose soldiers have sacrificed their lives under the blue flag.

Today I applaud our 677 troops currently serving overseas on peacekeeping duties. And I honour the 85 Irish soldiers who have lost their lives on UN missions

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