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Statement by the
Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence,
Mr Alan Shatter T.D.,
on the Motion before Dáil Éireann
seeking approval for
the Report to Dáil Éireann regarding service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2012

20 November 2013

Chairman, Members,

I am pleased to report to the Committee on Irish Defence Forces participation in United Nations missions in 2012. The report for 2012 was laid before Dáil Éireann on 16 October 2013. The following Motion has been placed on the Order Paper for Dáil Éireann:

“That Dáil Éireann approves the report by the Minister for Defence regarding service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2012, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 14 October 2013, in accordance with Section 13 of the Defence (Amendment) Act, 2006”.

In commending the motion, I will shortly outline some of the key aspects of Ireland’s involvement with the UN over the past couple of years.

A central tenet of Irish foreign policy is support for the multilateral system of collective security represented by the United Nations. In this regard, Ireland has worked to uphold the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security. This commitment has found expression in Ireland’s longstanding tradition of participation in UN peacekeeping operations. Ireland has participated continuously in UN peacekeeping operations since 1958, a service which has comprised more than 62,000 individual tours of duty.

Participation in overseas peacekeeping missions is a key element of Ireland’s foreign policy and has been an important dimension in meeting Ireland’s international obligations as a member of the UN and the EU. Irish foreign policy is directed at supporting co-operative arrangements for collective security through the development of international organisations, especially the United Nations. This has included supporting effective international action in areas such as disarmament, peacekeeping, development and human rights. This approach continues to define Irish priorities within the UN system. Notwithstanding our current economic difficulties Ireland continues to willingly play a full role in contributing to the security of Europe and the world, providing professional peacekeepers to a range of missions throughout the world.

During 2012, the Defence Forces continued to make a major contribution to international peace keeping through their participation in UN led and UN authorised missions. Personnel were deployed on 11 different missions throughout the world, in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Ireland’s only new deployment in 2012 was to the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) when six members of the Permanent Defence Force were deployed in May as unarmed military observers to Syria. However, these personnel were withdrawn from Syria in August 2012 when the mission’s mandate came to an end.

Our main mission in the year under review was the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The UNIFIL mission continues to represent Ireland’s largest overseas deployment. Since mid-2011, a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force, comprising some 435 personnel, has been deployed to the UNIFIL mission. The deployment to UNIFIL is Ireland’s largest deployment overseas since the withdrawal of the Irish contingent from the MINURCAT mission in Chad in May 2010.

Last year saw the establishment of a joint Irish/Finnish Battalion in UNIFIL when a contingent of 170 personnel of the Finnish Armed Forces began serving alongside Irish soldiers with effect from 1 June 2012. Both Ireland and Finland previously served together in the Lebanon mission in 2006/2007 and more recently in the UN operation in Chad. In addition to the Irish contribution of some 332 personnel to the joint Irish/Finnish Battalion, a further 16 personnel were deployed to the Force Headquarters in Naquora and 8 personnel at the UNIFIL Sector West headquarters in Shama. Reflecting the high regard in which Irish peacekeepers are held, Brigadier General Patrick Phelan took up the appointment of Deputy Force Commander UNIFIL in April 2012, a post which he continues to hold.

In accordance with agreements entered into with our Finnish counterparts Ireland has held the role of command of the joint Irish-Finnish Battalion from the outset. Ireland will hand the lead over to Finland on 26 November 2013 and Ireland’s contribution to the Finnish/Irish Battalion will reduce to approximately 180 personnel. Members of the 42nd Infantry Group are currently deploying into the mission with the new joint Finnish/Irish Battalion. I want to wish each and every member of the Group a safe and successful mission. They will replace members of the 108th Infantry Battalion who have completed their tour of duty. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the personnel returning home from Lebanon for the contribution they have made to the peace and security of the region.

Partnership with other like-minded States has become an increasing element of our overseas peacekeeping operations. In the absence of partners, such as Finland, the range and nature of overseas operations which Ireland could undertake in support of international peace and security would be significantly curtailed. Such joint deployments further support interoperability, build experience and further deepen the excellent bilateral relationship between both our countries. The United Nations has stated that UNIFIL plays a vital role in stabilising southern Lebanon, and in particular the area adjacent to Israel, where Irish troops are deployed.

Ireland is currently contributing approximately 560 Defence Forces personnel to 14 different missions throughout the world. The most recent deployment overseas was in response to a United Nations request and resulted in the deployment of the 43rd Infantry Group to United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights in Syria. This deployment was successfully completed on 28 September 2013. The 43rd Infantry Group is tasked primarily to serve as the Force Mobile Reserve within the UNDOF Area of Responsibility. A total of 118 Defence Forces personnel are currently serving with UNDOF, including four (4) personnel who were deployed to UNDOF earlier this year for service at the Mission Headquarters.

UNDOF is assisted by the military observers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation’s (UNTSO) Observer Group Golan, which currently includes seven (7) Irish Officers.

Also, at the request of the United Nations and following Government approval, four (4) members of the Permanent Defence Force deployed for service with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in South Sudan in August 2013. Their role is to provide a specialist training team on Conventional Munitions Disposal, landmines and specialist search awareness to South Sudan Police personnel.

The current contribution of some 560 personnel to overseas missions is a very significant contribution in the context of the reduced resources available for Defence. It reflects the Government’s continued commitment to our responsibilities in the area of international peace and security.

It is important for Ireland to continue to build on our long tradition of service to the founding principles of the United Nations, by making practical commitments of personnel to peace support operations. I wish to assure the Committee that, notwithstanding the economic challenges we are facing, the Government is committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces continue to contribute in a meaningful way to overseas operations. However, our contributions will be practical and sustainable within the resources available for defence. Relative to our size and our available resources and capabilities, both financial and military, Ireland is proportionately a very large peacekeeping contributor within the international community.

The Government and I place high importance on the valuable work being done by members of the Defence Forces throughout the world. I fully recognise the importance of operational experience in peace support operations for the ongoing development of the Defence Forces. Indeed I had the honour to see at first hand the dedication and professionalism of our military personnel serving overseas when I visited the Irish Battalion serving with UNIFIL in March of this year. I look forward my return visit to our troops in Lebanon next week.

A key facet of Ireland’s approach to international peace support operations is the engagement of Defence Forces personnel, at all levels, with the local communities they are called on to serve. Irish troops serving overseas, display not alone their professional commitment in fulfilling the United Nations mandate, but also support and encourage local communities through humanitarian and community projects. In Lebanon, previous Irish battalions have completed a number of projects over the years with financial help from Irish Aid. I am delighted to see that recent battalions have continued this excellent tradition.

In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the significant demands placed on personnel who serve overseas and on their families. Without their loyal and continuing support, Ireland’s strong tradition of service overseas, under the auspices of the United Nations, would not be possible. Their committed and dedicated service in overseas missions reflects well not alone on the Defence Forces, but on the nation as a whole and contributes to the excellent reputation, which Ireland holds among peacekeepers throughout the world.

Thank you.


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