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Speech by the Minister For Defence, Mr. Willie O’Dea T.D. on 50 Years Of Irish UN Peacekeeping at the Official Opening of the Refurbished IUNVA House

2.45pm IUNVA HQ Arbour Hill, Tuesday April 29th 2008


General Savino, Assistant Secretary General, Chief of Staff, members of IUNVA, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here with you again today to officially open these wonderfully refurbished premises.

It does not seem so long ago since I walked these grounds with you and heard your ambitious plans for these premises. Now here we are today.

Your plans are now a reality. What you have achieved here is a tribute to your dedication and perseverance. You did have some very welcome expert assistance from the Army’s Corps of Engineers and I was pleased to assist with the €50,000 grant I made to you in 2006- to mark the fiftieth anniversary of our membership of the United Nations – but the biggest contributory factor in seeing your plans become reality here today has been your own hard work and determination.

I congratulate all those associated with this project – those I have met with and spoken to over the past few years – Vincent, Paul, Dan, Michael, Liam and Eddie – and those countless others who I have not had a chance to meet before today.

I support the invaluable work you do, together with ONET, for our retired and former Defence Force personnel. You have been supported in this work, in many ways over the years, by the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces themselves.

I felt, however, that it was important and timely that there should be an ongoing and tangible expression of our support. That is why I include a commitment in the Programme for Government that we provide annual subventions to support and encourage the excellent work of both your organisation and of ONET. I am pleased to announce that arrangements have now been put in place for your organisation and ONET to receive an annual grant-in-aid of €10,000 and €40,000 respectively, which will be increased in line with the Consumer Price Index.

The hard work and determination you demonstrated in bringing this project to fruition is indicative of the same spirit and passion you showed when you went to the Congo, to Cyprus, to Liberia and to the Lebanon.

This year we celebrate 50 years of Irish peacekeeping with the United Nations. Wherever you have gone with the United Nations in the cause of peace, you have made a real and lasting contribution to the lives of the local communities. I want, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Government to thank all our Defence Force veterans, to all the members of IUNVA and ONET here today and across the country, for your courage, your dedication and unselfish humanity. You have served as Ambassadors for Ireland.

As I said in 2005, I also want to extend those thanks to your families and loved ones in recognition of the sacrifices they also had to make. The support, encouragement and loyalty of your family and friends was vital in enabling you to serve abroad and help protect and save the lives of countless numbers of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on our planet.

IUNVA performs very many important functions. You provide support and comfort for our United Nations’ veterans and their families. This new facility will enable you to do more.

It may also help you in the execution of one of your key roles, as set out in your Aims and Objectives, and I quote: “To promote public understanding of the Irish role in the United Nations operations.”

This is an important time for us to know and understand what our role has been and continues to be within the United Nations. The participation by Irish Defence Forces in UN peacekeeping operations has been the most visible and tangible expression of our membership of the United Nations and our support for its principles.

These are important principles for us. They are at the heart of our identity. For although we sometimes forget it, the highest hope of the global community is to achieve what we in Ireland have achieved for ourselves: a means of living together in peace and understanding. While we do not have an answer to every problem, we do have the means to pursue these answers together — with respect, tolerance, accommodation and compromise.

Last week, I met with the Austrian Defence Minister on my return from visiting our Irish Troops serving in Kosovo. He and I discussed what we - as two militarily neutral countries within the EU - are doing in furtherance of the aims of the United Nations by our participation together in missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and most recently in the UN mandated EU Mission to Chad.

We observed how much the small, neutral EU countries, like Ireland, Austria, Sweden and Finland contribute to UN peacekeeping, the important responsibilities we undertake and how well we work together under a UN mandate.

Similarly, the EU recognises that it, as one of the wealthiest trading blocks, must also meet its obligations on the international stage. There is a recognition among member states, which is reflected in the Lisbon Reform Treaty, that the Union should become a force for peace, prosperity and democracy in the wider world.

As we have shown over the past fifty years we can do precisely this without compromising our military neutrality. In fact our neutrality has been central to our vision of Ireland as the bridge between the developed and developing world.

Therefore I have, as Minister for Defence, a responsibility to respond when I see others, as a referendum tactic, dismissing our commitment to neutrality. As I have said several times: Ireland’s neutrality is in our hands and that is where it will be staying at all times. The Reform Treaty does not change or alter the existing provisions on Common Foreign and Security Policy or ESDP.

I repeat that here again today. There is no threat to Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality or to our sovereign right to decide for ourselves when we participate in missions involving the Defence Forces. The Triple Lock of UN mandate, Government and Dáil approval remains in place for all such decisions. That is the situation that has applied and served us well over the past fifty years and it is the system that will remain in place after the Lisbon Treaty.

We need the United Nations today more than ever. We need it to maintain international stability and order. The work of the United Nations goes on, with Ireland continuing to play a key part. Its institutions are all the richer today, thanks to the commitment and dedication that you - our Irish peacekeepers - have shown over the past fifty years.

I am most pleased and honoured to be here with you today and it gives me great pleasure to declare this new facility open and to thank everyone in IUNVA for what you have done and to wish you continued success in the future.

ENDS


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