Defence Forces personnel honoured for role in South Lebanon
-Minister Kehoe formally renames area of Camp Connemara Square
-UNIFIL Chief visits Irish troops on St Patrick’s Day.
The role played by the Irish Defence Forces in maintaining peace in the volatile region of South Lebanon was remembered at a special medal ceremony.
147 members of the 113th Infantry Battalion were recognised for their service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Following the medal parade, one of the main areas in the camp was formally re-named Connemara Square - reflecting the significant number of personnel from Galway.
The square was previously named Fiji square before the withdrawal of the Fijian contingent from the camp.
The medal parade was attended by Minister with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe TD, Irish Ambassador to Egypt and Lebanon Sean O’Regan and the Force Commander of the UNIFIL mission, Major General Stefano Del Col of Italy.
The Irish delegation also included Secretary General at the Department of Defence Maurice Quinn and Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces , Major General Kieran Brennan.
The UNIFIL Mission was established in 1978 following the invasion of Lebanon by Israel.
Since 2000, with the withdrawal of Israeli Forces, UNIFIL has continued to operate in southern Lebanon , through the restoration of security and peace in the region.
Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Caimin Keogh, the Irish personnel at UNIFIL engage in patrolling , monitoring and reporting on developments in the area of operation , as well as correcting violations of the so-called Blue Line with Israeli and preventing the escalation of incidents.
There are 458 Irish personnel attached to UNIFIL.
In November 2018, Ireland decided to increase its contribution to UNIFIL by 106 troops for a period of 12 months , following the decision by Finland to withdraw.
Discussions are ongoing aimed at introducing Poland and Hungary as new partners from November 2019.
At the medal parade, a number of local Lebanese people attended to express their gratitude to the Irish troops.
In his address, Minister Kehoe said there is an affinity between the Defence Force personnel deployed to UNIFIL and the local community.
“As Minister, I want to dedicate a huge word of gratitude to the local community, whose representatives are here,” Mr Kehoe said.
“Your support for the Irish Defence Forces over the last 40 years cannot be understated. You not only allowed us in, but you welcomed us with open arms.
“But I know too that you appreciate the sacrifices that have been made by our men and women; sacrifices which occurred because they care about your people and your communities.”
Mr Kehoe noted that the troops present could not celebrate St Patrick’s Day with their family and friends because of the commitment made.
“I am very mindful of the great sacrifices you make here in Lebanon.
I understand how much you all miss your homes, your families and your loved ones. I know the dangers you face and the hardships you endure as part of your mission.
“So the message from Government is simple: We are proud of you. I as Minister am proud of you and the work you do.”
Minister Kehoe also played tribute to Defence Force personnel who lost their lives during their Peacekeeping efforts.
“For over 40 years, the men and women of Oglaigh na hEireann have been based here as part of the UNIFIL mission.
“Over those four decades, many of our soldiers have been wounded or have tragically lost their lives. They did so while trying to secure one goal: That the communities surrounding us in South Lebanon could experience the gift of peace.
“I know that you, the members of the 113th Infantry Battalion, will always consider the sacrifices made by your former colleagues, which will inspire your commitment and dedication in the months to come.”