Defence Forces Veterans' Day at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks on Sunday 13th May 2018
Speech by Mr Paul Kehoe, T.D.
Minister with Responsibility for Defence
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I welcome all of you here today to Collins Barracks for the annual Defence Forces Veterans’ Day. In particular, I extend a very special welcome to former servicemen and women of the Defence Forces. Today is your day – a day in which the Defence Forces acknowledges your past service both at home and around the world.
It is the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann who are fundamental to the success of the organisation and responsible for the good name and reputation of the Defence Forces and Ireland when serving abroad.
This is a very special year for the Defence Forces as it marks significant anniversaries in relation to Ireland’s UN peacekeeping role – it is the 60th anniversary of Ireland’s first participation in a UN peacekeeping mission and it is the 40th anniversary of our first deployment to Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL mission. The UNIFIL mission is the one UN mission that is most familiar to Irish people given our length of service and depth of commitment. Ireland’s participation down the years in UNIFIL has illustrated the very positive and practical difference that small countries can make in the world’s troubled regions. Earlier this year I had the honour of attending a UN ceremony in Naqoura to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of UNIFIL. It was an occasion to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of UN peacekeepers, who have served together with local communities for peace in South Lebanon.
UN peacekeeping continues to be one of the most flexible and effective tools available to the international community in responding to crises around the world. For 60 years now the men and women from the Irish Defence Forces have contributed to the cause of peace all around the world in places like Lebanon, the Congo, the Golan Heights, Chad, Liberia, East Timor and Syria (to name but a few) serving with honour and distinction. Today, Irish troops are deployed in UN, EU and NATO led missions in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Currently, there are almost 640 members of the Permanent Defence Force serving in 9 overseas missions, including UNIFIL, UNDOF and Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean Sea. During my time as Minister with responsibility for Defence, I have seen at first hand on several occasions the contribution that Irish Defence Force personnel are making to peace and security in the regions where they deploy.
Participation in overseas peacekeeping has been an important dimension in meeting Ireland’s international obligations as a member of the United Nations. But this is entirely dependent on the commitment of Defence Forces personnel over the years to serve overseas in often difficult, challenging and dangerous circumstances.
The commitment, service and loyalty of members of the Defence Forces while on overseas service has contributed to the high regard in which Ireland is held within the international community. Our voice and influence in international institutions such as the UN and the EU help Ireland to promote its values of justice and tolerance and to advance our national strategic interests. I would like to commend members of the Defence Forces, whether serving or retired, for that commitment and to thank you, your families and your loved ones for the inevitable sacrifices that this has involved.
I also wish to acknowledge the work of serving and retired members of the Defence Forces for their work at home in tasks such as aids to the civil power and the civil authority and fulfilling all other tasks assigned to them by Government. This work includes providing explosive ordnance disposal, maritime patrols, armed prison guards, air support, capability development, relief work in adverse weather and the many other tasks assigned to them. Indeed the dedication and commitment of the Defence Forces was very much to the forefront during Storm Emma this year. The contribution of our men and women who worked tirelessly during this period was acknowledged by An Taoiseach at a gathering last month.
The success with which the Defence Forces meets its many challenges and commitments, both at home and overseas, reflects the high quality, professionalism and dedication of our personnel.
Despite the importance of the work undertaken by members of the Defence Forces at home and abroad, much of it goes unseen by the general public. That is why I want to ask you, as veterans, to continue to share your experiences of the time you spent in the Defence Forces, so as to encourage the next generation to follow your path and make that same commitment to the Defence Forces.
The promotion of diversity & inclusivity is a key element of all our operations at home and abroad. At a recent deployment review of our forces I noted we had 13 female members included in the Battalion. A strong gender perspective is a key element in all our peacekeeping operations and we will continue to work towards doubling the current level of women in the Defence Forces.
For my part, the Programme for Government pledges our support to veterans for the contribution and service they have made to the State. The White Paper on Defence sets out our policy with regard to Veterans for the coming decade. My officials and I will continue the process of engagement with the recognised Veterans’ Organisations in this regard. In keeping with this commitment I would like to remind you all of the annual O.N.E. fuchsia appeal which will launch on 27th June this year. The fuchsia appeal raises valuable funds greatly needed to look after the needs and welfare of ex-service personnel. Indeed the word “Cuimhnímis”, meaning “Let Us Remember”, is stamped on the Fuchsia badge in remembrance of those who have served and those who have given their lives while serving. It is fitting that we remember the military personnel who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace. Many of you here today will remember lost friends and comrades, our soldiers, who did not come home. We will not forget them.
I want to conclude as I began, by paying tribute to you, the former members of the Defence Forces, for the important role that each of you have played in your career at home and overseas. Your dedication and service has contributed in no small measure to the excellent reputation that Ireland and the Defence Forces enjoy.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the day, including visiting the capability displays, meeting up with old comrades and sharing memories and experiences. I look forward to having a chance to chat with some of you.