Tánaiste; Chief of Staff; Professor O’Shea; Lord Mayor; Members of the Defence Forces, An Garda Siochána and the Diplomatic Corps; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.
As Minister with responsibility for Defence, I warmly welcome Ireland's third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.
I commend especially, the strong and active engagement by civil society, public servants and academic representatives, on the National Action Plan Working Group, which oversaw an extensive and fruitful consultation process.
National Action Plans are not designed to simply sit on a shelf.
They help shape and guide society and, more importantly, hold Government’s to account for implementation.
Colleagues, over the course of many decades, Óglaigh na hÉireann has been a leader in promoting and applying Ireland’s policies on equality, diversity and gender.
Indeed, with over sixty years of peacekeeping experience, we are a nation that knows all too well the importance and the urgency required in promoting and implementing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.
I would like to take this opportunity to share briefly some examples of how the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence are working together to increase female engagement in all aspects of overseas deployments.
From Lebanon to Mali; From Congo to the Golan Heights; we have deployed our most talented women and men to carry out the world’s most important work: The work of peace.
Our peacekeeping record is one for which we are rightly proud. But it’s important to understand one of the central components of our peacekeeping tradition.
That, colleagues, is the building of trust with the local communities in which we serve.
The construction of relationships with the community leaders – the mayors, the muktars, the townspeople – is a hugely important process.
This is what our peacekeepers do and will continue to do well in some of the most volatile regions around the world.
One of the elements that I am often struck by as Minister is the deep respect and admiration for the Irish Defence Forces, not by politicians or diplomats, but by the people within the communities in which our men and women are deployed.
In my most recent overseas missions, I encountered the personal stories which detailed the deeply positive impact our peacekeepers are having on towns and villages that for so long have suffered under the cloud of conflict.
Colleagues, without doubt, our female peacekeepers have been at the forefront of a peacekeeping tradition that has greatly enhanced Ireland’s international reputation.
As the Chief of Staff previously stated, the evidence is overwhelming that the higher number of women soldiers leads to better decision making.
As Minister, I have been greatly impressed by the talent and quality of our female Defence Force members.
Our female soldiers have climbed right up the ranks within Óglaigh na hÉireann and have excelled greatly in senior leadership positions in peacekeeping missions and peacebuilding initiatives.
For example, I want to mention Lt Col Mary Carroll, who made history after she became the first woman to lead an Irish contingent on a six month UN tour of duty.
And soon to be General Colonel Maureen O’Brien will next month take up the position of Deputy Force Commander with UNDOF.
These Defence Leaders, among many others, have and continue to, break down barriers and represent our country with distinction on the international stage.
But we can, and we must do more to bring more women into the Defence Forces.
Working together, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces are putting in huge efforts to promote our force as one that embraces everyone regardless of their gender, background or creed.
At home, our Defence Forces have initiated a Gender, Diversity & Inclusion Office and have also developed specific Defence Forces national action plans on UN resolution 1325.
Our leaders within the Defence Organisation are also ensuring that there are gender advisers in each of the military headquarters at home.
I note and welcome the presence today of the Defence Force’s Gender, Equality and Diversity Officer Commandant Jayne Lawlor, as well as Cpt Deirdre Carberry who has just returned from a successful mission in The Congo.
Meanwhile, overseas, gender focal points have been appointed.
It should be stated, too, that Defence has put in place family-friendly policies such as shortened or shared overseas deployments.
These are just some of the family-friendly measures designed to benefit all men and women of the Defence Forces in balancing their professional and personal lives.
More importantly, these measures go some way to addressing the organisational and cultural norms that can inhibit women's active and meaningful participation.
Colleagues, in our work with other UN peacekeeping member states, Ireland recognises the importance of Women, Peace and Security by encouraging partners to nominate women for participation in the pledged training supports provided by Ireland.
I am pleased to report today that in the most recent support training funded by Ireland at our UN Training School, over one third of the international military and police force participants were women.
Like in politics, and indeed all walks of life, we need to continue to build on these sort of figures.
More broadly, in responding to international peacekeeping challenges, Ireland is in a position to provide professional military personnel who have been trained extensively on gender, diversity and cultural awareness.
Our forces discharge their military tasks in a professional manner and have the necessary training to engage proactively with local populations so as to deliver effective peacekeeping operations on the ground.
Our troops know only too well, that setting conditions for a durable and inclusive peace, is simply not possible without the engagement, support and confidence of affected populations.
It is recognised therefore, that the inclusion of local civil society organisations, including women's organisations, in the design and implementation of UN peace operations and peacebuilding initiatives, is crucially important.
But including women does not simply mean including women's organisations.
Rather, it means ensuring that women are fully integrated into the full spectrum of mission activities and initiatives.
Decades of Peacekeeping experience have proven time and time again, the value of the local perspective and input in ensuring that military operations are effective.
Working closely with all stakeholders, including local communities, plays a key role in effective early warning and conflict prevention and assists in identifying opportunities to stave off violence.