CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Major General Kieran Brennan, DCOS, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be in Kilkenny today to review personnel of the 57th Infantry Group, who are soon to travel to the Golan Heights for service with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Irish participation in UN peacekeeping missions and is an opportune time to acknowledge the significant contribution of Defence Forces personnel to such missions. Participation in overseas peacekeeping missions is a key element of Ireland’s foreign policy and has been an important dimension in meeting Ireland’s international obligations as a member of the UN and the EU.
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).
Last week, I had the great privilege of visiting Irish personnel based in the Middle East. The main purpose of my visit was to meet with members of the Permanent Defence Force serving with UNDOF, UNTSO and UNIFIL missions and to attend St Patrick's Day events in the region as part of Ireland's overall economic, political and security engagement in the region. I also had the opportunity, as part of the St Patrick’s day events to meet with members of An Garda Síochána serving with the UN Mission in Cyprus.
I was delighted and honored to have the opportunity to spend some time with Irish personnel serving overseas, both from the Defence Forces and the Gardaí, and to express 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.
Ireland has made a huge commitment to supporting peace and security in the Middle East region. I know that the personnel of the 57th Infantry Group standing before me today under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mark Brownen will continue this work in the best traditions of the Irish Defence Forces on overseas service.
Ireland makes a substantial contribution to international peace support operations relative to its size. 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.
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 and its structure is designed to this end. The continued presence of the UNDOF mission remains an important element in ensuring stability on the Golan Heights and in the Middle East region. The mission is supported and welcomed by both Syria and Israel.
In the course of my recent visit to the UNDOF mission, I met with the UNDOF Force Commander and Head of Mission, and he conveyed to me his deep appreciation for the professionalism of the Irish Force Mobile Reserve Company. I also received a first-hand update from our own Col. Michael Dawson, who earlier this year took up the key positon of Chief of Staff, UNDOF.
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.
Soldiers from 15 counties around Ireland are represented among the 130 strong contingent here today. Quite a number of you are local personnel from Kilkenny. Also, counties Waterford, Tipperary and, my own county of Wexford are also well represented.
Almost a third of 57th Infantry Group personnel present here are about to deploy on their first tour of duty overseas. The rest of you have completed more than 250 tours of overseas duty so there is plenty of experience among those deploying.
The significant advantage of Ireland on these missions is our capacity to deploy multi-skilled contingents with a mix of youth and experience.
The passing of knowledge and know-how on crisis management operations from experience to youth is a significant dimension and enabler in ensuring the effectiveness of our international peacekeeping missions and I witnessed this, particularly in my recent visit to UNIFIL.
Prior to my visit to UNIFIL, I was involved in the coordinated response to Storm Emma in my capacity as chairman of the Government taskforce on emergency planning.
Given that we are here in Kilkenny, I want to acknowledge the key role played by 3rd Infantry Battalion, which carried out a total of 346 individual tasks involving 512 troops during that severe weather event.
With regard to the personnel of the 57th Infantry Group about to deploy, I am advised that Battalion Sergeant Major Heaphy has the most overseas tours of duty having completed 12 overseas tours, 8 of those with UNIFIL. This will be his first trip to UNDOF.
Also among those deploying are brothers Privates Dean and Jay Kearney who are currently serving in the Defence Forces Training Centre and are from Co. Kildare. They are embarking on their second tour of duty overseas.
I note that there are four (4) female members of the Permanent Defence Force deploying to UNDOF as part of the 57th Infantry Group. The promotion of a strong gender perspective is a now 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 to our efforts to resolve conflict and to connect in different and more substantive ways 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.
As has been stated by the UN Secretary General, integrating gender perspectives and empowering women are integral to improving the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations.
To prepare for your deployment to the UNDOF mission, you have all completed a rigorous training programme. While this training has been demanding, it is necessary in order to ensure that all of you are well prepared to meet the demands and to discharge your duties effectively in the mission area in the Golan Heights.
I congratulate you all on your achievements to date and I know you will serve with honour and distinction on this mission.
While operational experience in peace support operations is essential for the ongoing development of the Defence Forces, it is important to acknowledge that 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 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.
But I also know that the family and friends here today are feeling an overwhelming sense of pride.
For their loved ones are about to represent not only the Defence Forces but also their country and their communities.
Finally, I want to wish each and every member of the 57th Infantry Group, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Brownen, a safe and successful mission. I wish you all well.