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14th January 2009 McKee Barracks

Lord Mayor, Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here this afternoon in McKee Barracks to review members of the 99th Infantry Battalion. This is a most appropriate venue given that the Eastern Brigade is the lead Brigade for this tour of duty.

Occasions such as this one remind us of the great pride we can take in all that the Defence Forces have done – and continue to do - as peacekeepers throughout the world. As members of the 99th Infantry Battalion - the third Battalion of Irish personnel to be deployed to Chad, you will be replacing a battalion that has performed its duties with the humanity and professionalism we have come to expect from Óglaigh na hÉireann.

As you are aware this mission to Chad and the Central African Republic was launched in response to a request from the United Nations to address the major humanitarian crisis resulting from hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing persecution from neighbouring Darfur. Ireland has strongly supported this mission from the outset and is the second largest contributor of troops. The appointment of Lt General Pat Nash as Operational Commander, as well as the significant part Ireland plays in the Operational Headquarters and our role in providing the Deputy Force Commander are evidence of the of the international recognition for Ireland’s professional capacity in managing difficult operations.

This mission in Chad is a continuation of our honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace and security. It is a tradition that has been built by the committed and dedicated service shown by you and your predecessors over the past 50 years and by our policy of military neutrality.

Our military neutrality has been central to successful participation in these missions as it encapsulates our vision of Ireland as the bridge between the developed and developing world, and the view of the Defence Forces internationally as professional and impartial peacekeepers. No one compels us to send troops to Kosovo or to Chad. No one compelled us to send troops to the Congo in the 1960s. We do it because it is the right thing to do.

Our participation in these peace support operations has served to enhance our core values in relation to our military neutrality and our sovereign right to make our own decisions regarding the raising, maintaining and deployment of our Defence Forces. How much we spend on defence, how that money is spent, and how we deploy our Defence Forces is matter solely for us to decide. That is, and will continue to be the position.

Our participation in these peace support missions has been a mutually beneficial process. Not only have we contributed more, but we have also gained more from working closely with like minded EU partners such as Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.

Our involvement in these missions has greatly enhanced the professional capacity and capability of the Defence Forces. This has, in turn, increased our value to the UN as a provider of quality professional forces with the strategic, political and operational experience of managing of multinational peace support operations.

Your role, as mandated by the UN, is to contribute to the protection of those refugees and the internally displaced Chadians and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

As you maybe aware the mandate for this EUFOR mission is due to expire on the 15th March of this year. A United Nations “Blue Hat” mission is due to take over from the European Union mission on that date. Indeed the United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the situation in the region and the UN Secretary-General’s Report on the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad.

While we await the outcome of these discussions I very much welcome the authorising of a United Nations military component to follow-on the European Union Mission when its mandate expires. It is important that we do not have an interregnum in the security situation and continue to facilitate the UN’s Operation Planning and the Force Generation process.

The Government has approved, in principle, the Defence Forces continued participation in the UN follow-on mission. Final approval will be considered in the context of the UN mandate, the extent to which other current EU Member States contribute to the follow-on mission and the level of logistics support that will be provided. Ireland will require, at a minimum, that the current level of logistical support available to Irish Defence Force personnel continues to be provided.

I was pleased last summer to have had the opportunity to travel to Chad and to Camp Ciara: the headquarters of the Irish-led multinational Battalion. There I saw the high standard of the facilities available to our troops and experienced the high level of morale amongst our troops and the energy and enthusiasm they have for their duties.

I was very proud to witness, once again, the work our Defence Forces personnel are doing in this challenging mission. It was heartening to learn at first hand of the positive effect the mission is having in creating a safe and secure environment for refugees, for displaced persons and for the wider population.

The Chief of Staff, Lt General Earley, advises me that the mission is progressing most satisfactorily. Despite the challenges faced by our troops, a solid foundation has been laid which will help prepare the way to build future successes and contribute to the long-term beneficial impact a safe and secure environment will have in the region. I hope to have the opportunity to visit you all in Camp Ciara in the near future.

Performing your duties overseas can require considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you will face and the hardships you will be expected to endure as part of your service overseas. However, I have and will continue to ensure that Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment available. This equipment enables troops to carry out the mission assigned, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission.

The military authorities have assured me that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving in Chad. However, that is not to underestimate the dangers you may face in your role as peacekeepers. You will be in our thoughts and prayers throughout the duration of your tour of duty.

For one hundred and twenty-eight of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. I know the strain and pressure that separation from family and loved ones places on you and on them. The support your family, friends and loved ones provide is a crucial component in the success of these missions.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all of your families and friends, many of whom are here today, for the important but unsung role they play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad. Their encouragement, support and loyalty is vital in enabling you to serve abroad.

I would like to conclude by again reiterating not just my pride but also the entire nation’s pride in the achievements and standards set by the Defence Forces on this and similar missions. We may be a small nation, but we can stand tall when it comes to helping some of the most beleaguered people on this planet. Your bravery, enthusiasm and determination will help improve the lives of nearly half a million refugees in Chad.

I would like to wish your Battalion Commander, Lt Col Joe McDonagh, and all members of the 99th Infantry Battalion a safe trip and a successful mission.

Thank you very much.

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