Town Manager Angie Laffan; Members of the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (O.N.E.); Councillors; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am delighted to be with you here today to attend this formal and solemn wreath laying service organised by the Wexford Branch of O.N.E.
In particular, I would like to thank Mr. John Fowler, Chairman of the local Commodore John Barry Branch, for inviting me to attend this ceremony and lay a wreath on behalf of the Government.
Today provides an opportunity for you - the members of O.N.E. and your families - to spend some time together and to meet with your former colleagues.
As Minister with responsibility for Defence, I am acutely conscious of the role that you, the retired members of the Defence Forces, have played in serving the State, both at home and overseas.
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 you, the veterans of the Defence Forces.
One of the elements that I am often struck by as Minister is the deep respect and admiration for the Irish Defence Forces right around the world.
That is in no small part to our outstanding record as UN Peacekeepers.
Ireland’s unbroken and proud history of participation in UN missions is one of the things that helps makes us stand out as a nation.
It strengthens our values; it deepens our international relations; it shows that one small country can make a big difference on the global stage.
As Minister, I am determined that we continue our great Peacekeeping tradition.
To cite John F Kennedy, during his historic address to Dáil Éireann in 1963:
“…No nation, large or small, can be indifferent to the fate of others, near or far.”
Indeed, many of you here today have served on UN peace support missions all over the world in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and South America during your time with Óglaigh na hÉireann.
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.
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.
And while you are all rightly proud of your overseas service, I know too that on a day like this, you remember your comrades who lost their lives while on duty.
It’s important that we never forget them.
For they made the ultimate sacrifice while performing the world’s most important work: The work of peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I also want to take this opportunity today to acknowledge the work undertaken by the Defence Forces at home.
The role that the Defence Forces played in Aid to the Civil Power, during some very challenging times, should not be forgotten.
I want to particularly recognise and commend the important role that O.N.E. plays in representing ex-service men and women of all ranks, looking after its members and providing support and help to those in need.
O.N.E. dedicates itself to promoting, safeguarding and protecting the interests of members and the spouses of deceased members and to advise and help the members and spouses in the area of pensions and related matters.
Since the beginning of 2018, my Department and the Defence Forces have worked closely with O.N.E. in order to bring to fruition your plans for a network of Veterans Support Centres nationwide.
The purpose of these Centres is to provide somewhere for veterans to receive information and advice and a welcoming place to meet former comrades. A lot of progress has been made with six additional Veterans Support Centres opened in 2018 and hopefully more will open this year.
To facilitate O.N.E.’s tremendous work, last year I more than doubled the annual grant given to O.N.E. to €100,000 per annum.
But from my part, I was delighted to also to be in a position to do a little more for ON.E members in Co Wexford.
Just this week, I approved the commencement of refurbishment works to the tune of €30,000 at Wexford Barracks.
The works will facilitate the relocation of the veterans’ centre, which is run by O.N.E.
The project will involve the replacement of fixtures and fittings and other refurbishment works, which I know have been warmly welcomed by O.N.E and the wider Defence Forces.
Ladies and Gentlmen, I would like to also avail of this opportunity to remind you all of the annual O.N.E. Fuchsia Appeal which will be launched by the Chief of Staff at the National Monument in Merrion Square on Thursday 27th June 2019.
The Fuchsia Appeal raises valuable funds greatly needed to look after the needs and welfare of ex-service personnel.
In conclusion, I want to pay tribute to you, the members of O.N.E 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 morning’s ceremony for your ongoing hard work and commitment to O.N.E.
Your organisation continues to make a difference to the lives of members and spouses of deceased members who have had cause to avail of its services.
I wish you all every success with your work and I look forward to chatting to many of you after the ceremony.