CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Secretary General Maurice Quinn; Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett; Deputy Chief of Staff Operations, Major General Kieran Brennan; Assistant Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Peter O’Halloran.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I’m delighted to be here today to review personnel of the 112th Infantry Battalion, who will shortly travel to Lebanon for service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
This year marks significant anniversaries in relation to Irelands UN peacekeeping role – it will be 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.
For that reason, I am honoured to welcome you all here today on this very special occasion.
Ireland is a country for whom peacekeeping is part of our DNA. 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.
Ireland has participated in the UNIFIL mission, since its establishment in 1978, and today, UNIFIL is recognised as a force for the stability of the entire region.
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.
Ireland has always been a strong supporter of the United Nations and UN Peacekeeping.
Our commitment and support for the primary role of the United Nations, in the maintenance of international peace and security, is expressed in Ireland’s long-standing tradition of participating in UN peacekeeping operations.
This commitment is also expressed in our engagement in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).
We are justifiably proud that since our first UN Peacekeeping deployment in 1958, also in the Middle East, not a day has passed when an Irish soldier was not on peacekeeping duty somewhere in the world.
This is a very practical expression of the values which we believe in and in our commitment to the United Nations.
Today, Irish troops are deployed in The UN, EU and NATO led missions in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. We currently have over 640 members of the Permanent Defence Force serving in overseas missions.
Earlier this year, I was delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to spend some time with Irish personnel serving overseas, 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.
I also attended 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.
The ceremony included a poignant and emotional tribute to fallen peacekeepers and sadly, one of those fallen peacekeepers was Private Michael McNeela who served with the 27th Infantry Battalion, Dundalk and was killed in February 1989 while on duty in Lebanon.
It was a great honour to be present while a veteran Irish Peacekeeper delivered the tribute at the ceremony.
Ex-Private John O'Mahony was injured and lost two of his colleagues – Private Derek Smallhorne and Private Thomas Barrett - in April 1980 when their peacekeeping convoy was attacked.
On revisiting Lebanon for the UNIFIL anniversary event, Ex-Private O’Mahony remarked how pleased he was to see new shops and new businesses opened up, children going to school, farmers in their field – normal life for so many people thanks to our Peacekeeping efforts.
It was a reminder that the resilience of the local communities and the sacrifices made by UN Peacekeepers have helped to deliver stability and prosperity to the region over the years.
Ireland has made a huge commitment to supporting peace and security in the Middle East region.
I know that the personnel of the 112th Infantry Battalion standing before me today, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Kilmartin, will continue this work in the best traditions of the Irish Defence Forces on overseas service.
The Government is very proud that our own Major General Michael Beary holds the post of Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNIFIL. Major General Beary’s appointment is a tribute to the fine reputation of Irish peacekeepers going back almost six decades and to the skills and attributes that they bring to the job.
I am very aware that while on service overseas, you have to operate in often difficult and challenging circumstances as you endeavor to fulfill increasingly multidimensional objectives.
I am pleased to say, that the Irish Defence Forces have continually risen to the challenge and repeatedly provide professional peacekeepers that have the experience and capability to undertake ever more complex and robust operations.
Ireland's continuing participation in UNIFIL and other peacekeeping operations promotes a positive image of Ireland and its Defence Forces. This is true also both within the international community at the United Nations, and with the local communities you are called on to serve.
When in the Lebanon you, the men and women of the 112th Infantry Battalion, will serve as part of an Irish/Finnish Battalion, alongside troops from Finland and Estonia.
You can look forward with optimism to continuing the excellent relationship with the Finnish and Estonian Armed Forces that have been established by the previous Irish contingents and also by the current Irish contingent, the 111th Infantry Battalion.
Soldiers from 29 counties around Ireland are represented among the 344 strong battalion here today.
While the vast number of personnel hail from Dublin, the greatest contribution of personnel is from the 27th Infantry Battalion which is based here in Aiken Barracks. This is the first tour of duty overseas for 101 personnel.
I would in particular, like to single out the inspiring accomplishment of Company Sergeant Tony Grehan, who has completed a total of nineteen tours of duty overseas.
Other members of the Battalion also possess a wide variety of overseas experience.
In addition to Lebanon, personnel from the unit have previously served in a number of locations including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chad, East Timor, Eritrea, Kosovo, Mali, Nordic Battlegroup, Somalia, Syria, and Yugoslavia.
No doubt this level of experience will be an invaluable asset for you all, and particularly for the 101 personnel deploying for the first time.
I note that there are thirteen (13) female members of the Permanent Defence Force deploying to UNIFIL as part of this Battalion.
The promotion of a strong gender perspective is a key element in all our peacekeeping operations and it is a priority of mine that we continue to increase female participation in peacekeeping contingents.
The presence of women contributes greatly with resolving conflict and connecting with local populations.
It broadens the skills sets available within a peacekeeping mission and importantly provides role models for women, both at home and abroad.
Integrating gender perspectives and empowering women are integral to improving the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations.
You have all recently completed a rigorous pre-deployment training programme.
While this training has been demanding, it is necessary in order to ensure that you are well prepared to overcome the challenges you may face and to discharge your duties effectively in the mission area in Southern Lebanon.
Our ability to protect the health and safety of our personnel is of paramount concern when considering any mission.
While no absolute guarantees can be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions, it is the policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel serving overseas are appropriately trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment to carry out their mission.
This also includes providing the required force protection assets specific to the mission.
In addition, ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and we continually review both personal equipment and force assets, to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfill their roles.
While no mission is without danger, I am assured by the Chief of Staff that all appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the safety of all Defence Forces personnel serving with UNIFIL.
You have family members and friends here today and we should thank them for their support and encouragement. They too, have an important role to play in Ireland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions abroad.
As minister with responsibility for Defence, I know your family and friends present here today are extremely proud of your commitment and dedication to your country and communities.
Before I conclude, I want to recognise the presence of the Band of One Brigade, conducted by Captain Fergal Carroll.
Finally, I want to wish each and every member of the 112th Infantry Battalion, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel John Kilmartin, a safe and successful mission.
You are travelling to Lebanon with my best wishes and those of the rest of the nation.