Review of the 58th Infantry Group leaving shortly for service with UNDOF Cathal Brugha Barracks – 19th September 2018

Speech by Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D.,
Minister with Responsibility for Defence

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Secretary General Maurice Quinn, Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining me today.  I am delighted to be here in Cathal Brugha Barracks to review personnel of the 58th Infantry Group, who are soon to travel to the Golan Heights for service with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

UN peacekeeping operations enjoy a special place in the hearts of the Irish people. Ireland has always accepted the obligations that arise from being part of the world community and, over the past sixty years, tens of thousands of Irish women and men have worn the blue helmet with pride on UN peacekeeping operations.

In June this year, I hosted an official State ceremony in Dublin Castle to mark the 60th anniversary of Irish involvement in United Nations peacekeeping operations. The Government was also very proud to mark this significant anniversary internationally when we hosted a ceremony at U.N. headquarters, New York in July, to recognise the contribution of Irish men and women across an Garda Síochána,  the Defence Forces and civilians to international peacekeeping. 

Participation in overseas peacekeeping missions across the public service, but most particularly by our Defence Forces, is a key element of Ireland’s foreign policy. It has been an important dimension in cementing Ireland’s international obligations as a committed member of the UN and the EU. 

I was delighted and honoured during the year, to have the opportunity to meet Irish personnel serving overseas, in UNDOF, UNIFIL, EUFOR, KFOR and Cyprus, both from the Defence Forces and the Gardaí.  I expressed my thanks and the thanks of the Government and the people of Ireland for the important role they are currently undertaking in UN peacekeeping operations.  In all my interactions with Mission Leaders and political leaders in the host countries, what was clearly evident, was the respect and high regard they held for the professionalism displayed by our Irish Peacekeepers. 

In the course of my visit to the UNDOF mission in March this year, I met with the UNDOF Force Commander and Head of Mission, Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri, and he conveyed to me his deep appreciation for the professionalism of the Irish Force Mobile Reserve Company.  I expect that each and every one of you, the personnel of the 58th Infantry Group standing before me today, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ray Murphy, will continue this important work and make a valuable contribution to the success of the UNDOF mission.   

Relative to its size. Ireland makes a substantial contribution to international peace support operations.  Your commitment, service and loyalty to the traditions of the Defence Forces on overseas service, contributes extensively to the high regard in which Ireland is held throughout the world, in this regard. To you, and all who have played their part over the last sixty years of peacekeeping, on behalf of the Irish Government, I thank you for your service and your commitment.

UNDOF

Since its establishment in 1974, UNDOF has been a successful mission in supporting the efforts of the international community both in the Golan Heights, but also in the broader Middle-East region. A contingent of the Permanent Defence Force has been deployed to UNDOF since 2013. 

UNDOF is a monitoring mission designed to report on breaches of an agreement between Israel and Syria.  The continued presence of the UNDOF mission, supported and welcomed by both Syria and Israel, remains an important element in ensuring stability on the Golan Heights and in the Middle East region. 

When you deploy to UNDOF, like your predecessors, you will be tasked primarily to serve as 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 be tasked with carrying out patrols and convoy escorts as necessary. 

Over the past number of years, we have been located in Camp Ziouani in Israel due to the level of conflict in the area of separation, which was not conducive to the mission discharging its mission.  Earlier this month, I welcomed the successful completion of the relocation of Irish Defence Force personnel deployed with UNDOF back to Camp Faouar on the Syrian side of the area of separation. The planned move was part of a phased return by the UNDOF mission from Camp Ziouani on the Israeli side of the area of separation, to Camp Faouar on the Syrian side of the area of separation.  This relocation reflects the assigned mandate of UNDOF as an armed confidence supporting force and the role with which you are tasked. 

This return to the Syrian side of the Area of Separation followed an earlier move, in March this year, when UNDOF Headquarters personnel returned to Camp Faouar, including the Chief of Staff UNDOF, Colonel Michael Dawson, together with seven other members of the Irish Defence Forces.  The main Irish contingent, comprising a Force Reserve Company of some 130 personnel, completed their relocation to Camp Faouar on 3 September 2018. 

The safety of Irish Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions is always a concern to me, my Government colleagues and to the military authorities.  Our ability to provide for the safety of our personnel is of paramount concern when considering any mission. The relocation of Irish personnel to Camp Faouar follows a detailed review of the security situation in the region by military management and their positive assessment of the continued enhancement of the force protection measures and living standards within Camp Faouar. You can be assured that the security situation in UNDOF will continue to be monitored closely.  I have directed that any necessary adjustments, to ensure the safety and security of our personnel, be made as required.

Personnel of 58th Infantry Group

With regard to the personnel of the 58th Infantry Group about to deploy, soldiers from 16 counties around Ireland are represented among the 130 strong contingent here today.  In addition to 20 personnel who have served in UNDOF previously, members of the Infantry Group have completed tours of duty with missions in Lebanon, Kosovo, Eritrea, Chad, Afghanistan, Liberia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.  No doubt this level of experience will be an invaluable asset for you all, and particularly for the 41 personnel deploying for the first time.

I am told that that Battalion Quartermaster Sergeant Paul Lambe has the most overseas tours of duty having completed 11 overseas tours, 6 of those with UNIFIL.  However, this will be his first trip to UNDOF.  

I would in particular, like to single out the achievements of one military family.  Corporal Jonathan Scott is deploying as part of this 58th Infantry Group and his deployment will be the 60th undertaken by members of his family.  He also has two brothers and two cousins who are currently serving in the Defence Forces.   

I congratulate you all on your achievements to date and I know you will serve with honour and distinction on this mission.

Participation in peace support missions comes at a personal cost for individuals who must be away from families and friends for extended periods of time in unfamiliar and difficult environments.  Without your commitment and dedication Ireland’s strong tradition of service overseas, under the auspices of the United Nations, would not be possible. 

You have family members and friends here today and, I thank them for their support and encouragement.  They too, have an important role to play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad. 

I also want to say hello to a very special boy Charlie Watson, who has relatives in the Defence Forces and who joins us here today. Charlie, who has special needs wrote to me offering his services to help promote and restore peace among all the younger people in the conflict zones where the Defence Forces operate, those people that represent the future of these communities currently in conflict.  Charlie’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the Defence Forces is to be commended and I am delighted that he is able to join us here today.  

Charlie rightly recognises that, the role of the Defence Forces, on overseas operations, is a role of service to those communities in conflict within which they live.  A role of service to the men and women and children who are devastated by conflict in their lands.  It is this role and responsibility of service to the community, which is the primary calling of those who serve in our Defence Forces and the role and responsibility which we honour here before the men and women of Oglaigh na hÉireann. 

In conclusion, I want to wish each and every member of the 58th Infantry Group, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Murphy, a safe and successful mission. You are travelling to the UNDOF Mission with my best wishes and with those of the Government and the nation as a whole. 

Thank you.

ENDS