Speech by Minister for Defence, Mr. Simon Coveney, T.D.,
at the review of the 52nd Infantry Group leaving shortly
for service with UNDOF
21 March 2016 (2pm)
· Assistant Secretary General Ciaran Murphy, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be in the town of Dundalk today to review personnel of the 52nd Infantry Group, who are soon to travel to Syria for service with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
· Ireland has a long and proud tradition of participation in peacekeeping missions. Irish Defence Forces personnel have served in peace support missions all over the world in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Ireland’s participation in UN and UN-mandated peacekeeping missions is a tangible demonstration of our commitment to the pursuit of international peace and security.
· Ireland makes a substantial contribution to international peace support operations relative to its size. Your commitment, service and loyalty to the traditions of the Defence Forces on overseas service contribute extensively to the high regard in which Ireland is held throughout the world.
· All members of the 52nd Infantry Group, here today, who are deploying to the Golan Heights next month are the latest to continue this long and proud tradition. You are the sixth such contingent to deploy to the UNDOF Mission.
· UNDOF was established on 31 May 1974 by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 350 (1974). The force was established following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights in May 1974 following the Yom Kippur war. UNDOF’s role is to supervise the implementation of the disengagement agreement, maintaining an area of separation between the Israeli and Syrian forces. Since 1974 the mandate of UNDOF has been renewed every six months and was most recently renewed on 22 December 2015 until 30 June 2016. The continued support of troop contributing countries such as Ireland to the mission is vital to allow the mission to continue the implementation of its mandate.
· UNDOF plays a vital role in preventing an escalation of tensions between Israel and Syria and in maintaining the cessation of hostilities between both parties over the last 40 years. The escalation of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has affected the UNDOF area of operations significantly in the last two years.
· I join with my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Charles Flanagan, T.D. in reiterating Ireland’s strong and continued support for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Every effort must be made to find a sustainable resolution to the crisis.
· The UNDOF mission is under the command of Major General Jai Shanker Menon of India who is Head of Mission and Force Commander. Since September 2014 an Irish officer, Brigadier General Tony Hanlon, has occupied the post of Deputy Force Commander. At the request of the UN, he has been extended in this post until 21 April 2016.
· UNDOF’s main base and operational headquarters is Camp Ziouani, where you will be based. The overall UNDOF Mission strength is currently 789 troops of which the 52nd Infantry Group comprises 130 personnel. Other States contributing military personnel to the mission include Bhutan, Fiji Islands, India, Netherlands and Nepal.
· Last February, you formed up as a Unit in Aiken Barracks here in Dundalk for pre-deployment training. Since then, you have all completed a rigorous training programme in preparation for your deployment to the UNDOF mission. This training period has been vital in order to ensure that all of you are well prepared and well equipped to meet the challenges which you may face in the mission area. You have a wide range of skills and capabilities which will enable you to make a key contribution to the mission.
· The decision by Government to send troops overseas is not taken lightly. Your safety and the safety of all Irish Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions is always the primary concern. Our ability to protect the health and safety of our personnel is of paramount concern when considering any mission. I am assured that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with UNDOF.
· When you deploy to UNDOF, like your predecessors, you will be tasked primarily to serve as the Force Mobile Reserve within the UNDOF Area of Responsibility. Your role will include the provision of a Quick Reaction Force which will be on standby to assist with on-going operations within the UNDOF Area of Responsibility. You will also be tasked with carrying out patrols and convoy escorts as necessary.
· Soldiers from 16 counties around Ireland are represented among the 130 strong contingent here today, including 19 local personnel from County Louth. For 44 of you present, this is your first tour of duty overseas. The youngest person deploying is a 21 year old from the 28th Inf Battalion, Pte Ryan Kay. Cpl Paula Burcheal is the female with the most overseas tours and this will be her 4th tour of duty overseas. One person, Sergeant Major Derek Lamb, who is in his 41st year of service with the Defence Forces, has 21 overseas tours already completed and, no doubt, this level of experience will be an invaluable asset to all of you deploying and particularly for those deploying for the first time.
· Other members of the Battalion, of course, have had previous service overseas and between you all, you have accumulated approximately 272 tours of duty with overseas missions. I congratulate you all on your achievements to date and I know you will serve to the best of your ability, with honour and distinction on this mission.
· This is a proud day for all of you and indeed your families, who can draw comfort in your absence from the knowledge that you are serving your country and the greater international community. I do not underestimate the challenge of travelling to an unknown and unsafe place while leaving behind family and friends for an extended period of time. However, I hope that you all come home enriched by the experience knowing that you are helping to maintain peace and stability in the area of separation and thereby making a tangible difference to the lives of so many.
· In addition to military skills, service with the United Nations demands certain personal qualities such as patience and understanding. Your new role must be to serve as committed, conscientious, professional and humane peacekeepers. You must respect and discharge this responsibility, which has been developed through long and committed service by your predecessors, with numerous UN, EU and NATO led missions.
· I am delighted to see so many of your families and friends here today. The support and encouragement of your family and friends is essential to the success of all overseas missions and is deeply appreciated. I thank them for their support, which enables you to serve abroad and thereby help to protect and save the lives of countless numbers of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.
· Finally, I want to wish each and every member of the 52nd Infantry Group, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Mark Hearns, a safe and successful mission. You are travelling to the UNDOF mission with my best wishes and with those of the rest of the nation.
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