CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Secretary General at the Department of Defence, Mr. Maurice Quinn; Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett; Deputy Chiefs of Staff, Major Generals Kieran Brennan and Sean Clancy; Assistant Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Peter O’Halloran; General Officers Commanding Two Brigade, One Brigade and Defence Forces Training Centre, Brigadier Generals Howard Berney, Paddy Flynn and Dave Dignam; Defence Forces Veterans, Members of the Defence Forces, Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure for the Chief of Staff and I to welcome you all here 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 service both at home and around the world.
This is the 6th annual Veterans’ Day, a day that has an important place in the ceremonial calendar and one that is going from strength to strength.
Veterans’ Day provides an opportunity for you, the retired members of the Defence Forces and your families, to spend some time together and to reflect on your shared experiences.
It is also a social opportunity for you to engage with serving and retired colleagues.
Today increases the awareness of serving members, and indeed the wider public, of the past service of our veterans.
The Defence Forces of today have been very much shaped by the experiences and lessons of the past and, in this context, owes a debt of gratitude to the veterans of the Defence Forces.
Many of you here today have served on UN peacekeeping missions overseas during your time in the Defence Forces.
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.
The tradition of UN Peacekeeping, of which we have participated in for over 60 years, is about saving lives and ensuring others can enjoy the gift of peace.
Ireland’s peacekeeping story began in the Lebanon in 1958 when 50 members of the Permanent Defence Force were deployed as military observers with the UN Observer Group in Lebanon.
Since then, not a day has passed when the Irish Defence Forces have not been deployed under the UN blue hat, in conflict zones across the globe.
Indeed, many of you have served in peace support missions all over the world in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and South America. It is a record of which we are very rightly proud.
In January the Taoiseach and I visited the EU Training Mission in Mali, a UN mandated mission that is essential in maintaining peace in the region.
And in March, I visited Lebanon where I met our personnel deployed to UNIFIL.
One of elements of the visit that struck me was the stories and feedback I received from the local mayors, muktars and other elders and members of the local community.
The level of support for our Defence Forces and their peacekeeping work, in the communities which they serve to protect, is remarkable.
That’s why Ireland is proud to build on its relationship with the UN and is one of the reasons why we are seeking to win a seat on the UN Security Council in 2020.
In March, along with the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of my Department, I held many engagements with defence colleagues in New York to press our bid to win that seat.
We were delighted with the support we received which was due in no small way to the proud history of service given by you the retired members of the Defence Forces.
It is also very important to acknowledge the work undertaken by you at home. The role that the Defence Forces played in Aid to the Civil Power during some very challenging times, should not be forgotten.
The Defence Forces have also successfully fulfilled a wide variety of important roles assigned by Government, on land, sea and air.
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.
Last year I held useful and constructive meetings with representatives from Arco, IUNVA and O.N.E and I will continue the process of engagement with the recognised Veterans’ Associations in this regard.
Since the beginning of 2018, my Department and the Defence Forces have worked closely with O.N.E. in order to bring to fruition their plans for a network of Veterans Support Centres nationwide.
A lot of progress has been made with six additional Veterans Support Centres opened in 2018 and hopefully more will open this year.
The Defence Forces Personnel Support Service will continue to help O.N.E. volunteers who run the Centres to pass on information and advice to veterans.
To facilitate this tremendous work, last year I more than doubled the annual grant given to O.N.E. I would like also to avail of the opportunity to remind you all of the annual O.N.E. Fuchsia Appeal which will shortly be launched by the Chief of Staff.
The Fuchsia Appeal raises valuable funds greatly needed to look after the needs and welfare of ex-service personnel.
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, today is an opportunity to remember the military personnel who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace. Some of you here today will remember lost friends and comrades.
We will not forget those who have died while on active service overseas nor those who have died while on service in Ireland.
I want to pay tribute to you, the former members of the Defence Forces, for the important role that each of you have played during your career, be that at home or overseas.
Your dedication and service has contributed in no small measure to the excellent reputation that Ireland and the Defence Forces enjoy.
I thank you for your commitment and also thank your families and your loved ones for the inevitable sacrifices that this has involved.
I would like to compliment everyone connected with the organisation of this afternoon’s ceremony and to thank the Army Number 1 Band, under the baton of Captain John Carpenter, and also the IUNVA Pipe Band for their superb musical accompaniment.
If you have not already done so, I invite you to view the display of current Defence Forces weapons and personal equipment after the ceremony.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the day, meeting up with old comrades and sharing memories and experiences. I look forward to meeting many of you and hearing about your experiences.