Address to the Members of the 47th Infantry Group, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)
Finnish-Irish Headquarters, South Lebanon, Tuesday, 28th April 2015
A Aire, Minister,
A Cheann Foirne agus a Óglacha na hÉireann, Chief of Staff and Members of the Defence Forces;
A Dhaoine Uaisle, Ladies and Gentlemen;
Dia dhaoibh go léir. Táim thar a bheith sásta a bheith anseo libh inniu.
May I thank you, Lieutenant Colonel McCarthy, and all of the personnel from the 47th Infantry Group for your warm welcome to South Lebanon. This is my first visit, as President, to an Irish peacekeeping contingent abroad, and as President of Ireland and Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces, I very much welcome this opportunity to acknowledge the professionalism, the bravery, and the commitment to peace and humanitarianism that lie at the core of your engagement as peacekeepers.
Ní hé seo an chéad uair dom bualadh leis an daichead is a seachtú (47ú) Grúpa Coisithe. B’fhéidir gur cuimhin libh gur thug mé féin agus Saidhbhín cuairt oraibh ar lá níos fuaire agus níos fliucha i nGleann Uí Mháil mí na Samhna seo chaite, agus sibh ag tabhairt faoin chéim dheiridh de bhur dtraenáil agus ullmhúchán sular fhág sibh don Liobáin. Tá an-áthas orm bualadh libh arís inniu agus an lá a chaitheamh libh ar an dtalamh anseo sa Liobáin Theas.
[This is not, however, my first meeting with the 47th Infantry Group. You may recall a very overcast and wet day in the Glen of Imaal, last November, when Sabina and I visited you as you were entering the final phase of your training and preparation for this deployment to Lebanon. I am very pleased to meet you all again, to share the day with you on the ground, and to have this occasion to meet with your commanding officers as well as with representatives of the local community here in South Lebanon.]
I am looking forward to seeing the Irish camp and to hearing of your experiences as you come to the end of your present posting with UNIFIL. Over the coming months, you will have time to think back on this deployment; you will be able to reflect on the situation of this region and on the significance of your personal and collective contributions as peacekeepers.
On behalf of the Irish people, I wish to thank each and every one of you for the part you have played, through your service here, in continuing the proud tradition of Irish peacekeeping. This tradition is an essential component of Ireland’s foreign policy, driven as it is by the very values and principles that have guided the actions of our state on the international stage ever since independence – a commitment to multilateralism and to the values of peace, international security, and global justice.
We Irish, as a nation, have colonisation, liberation, hunger and migration at the heart of our historical experience. Such an experience has made us particularly sensitive to the plight of the oppressed and the struggles of those nations who are blighted by war, or food insecurity, or both.
During all of my visits abroad as President of Ireland, and most recently during my official visits to Africa and China, I experienced very strongly the manner in which actions taken historically by Ireland in regard to decolonisation in Africa, to human rights, to the struggle against apartheid, to disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, and, of course, to peace-keeping, are recognised and appreciated by our foreign friends. All of these initiatives have contributed to forging Ireland’s good name on the world stage, and they continue to inform the sympathy our nation enjoys among the global society of nations. This is a moral heritage we must cherish and build upon; one that is valuable both in itself, and as an asset in our relationships with other peoples.
The high regard in which Irish peacekeepers are held internationally is often mentioned in discussions with my foreign counterparts and indeed it was a theme that featured prominently in the conversations I had with various government officials in Beirut yesterday. Your record is one that is duly acknowledged and valued both nationally and internationally
Ireland’s commitment to peacekeeping is predicated upon our wider commitment to multilateralism, that is, the conviction that peaceful and negotiated collective solutions can be found to most of the challenges arising on our shared planet. The history of Irish peacekeeping is thus part and parcel of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission as it has developed historically. As we commemorate, this year, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations and the 60th anniversary of Ireland’s membership, it is my hope that the Secretary General’s Review of Peace Operations will reinvigorate the international community’s determination to support the UN in its unique role as an essential provider of peace and security across the world.
As you know, it is here in Lebanon that Ireland’s peacekeeping story began, in the year 1958, when 50 members of the Permanent Defence Force were deployed as military observers with the UN Observer Group in Lebanon. When the UN then went on to launch its first large-scale peacekeeping mission, in the Congo, the Irish Defence Forces deployed their first overseas contingent in that country, and there they also learnt their first bitter lessons. Over the following decades, as the UN peacekeeping footprint has expanded, so too has the Irish contribution to UN missions. Few nations in the world can say that their peacekeepers have stood at so many UN posts across Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, every day for over five decades.
The accumulation of this extensive operational experience means that peacekeeping is second nature to Irish troops: it is deeply embedded in the culture and spirit of the Force. This has enabled Ireland to consistently provide the UN with highly-trained, well-equipped peacekeepers who, like you, unwaveringly perform to the highest standards and often in difficult circumstances. Today, over 370 Irish peacekeepers, mainly from Óglaigh na hÉireann, are bringing this experience to seven UN missions, including three in this part of the world.
This particular mission – UNIFIL – embodies the spirit of the United Nations: its troops are drawn from 38 countries across the globe, and all are working together, in interaction with the local community, to bring peace and stability to South Lebanon. Within this group, Ireland is once again closely cooperating with Finland, a country with whom we share a long history of peacekeeping. I look forward to meeting some of your Finnish colleagues later this morning.
UNIFIL played a key role, back in the 1980s, in monitoring the cessation of hostilities in this region, notably through its chairing of tripartite talks with the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defence Force; indeed it was for a while the only forum for such exchanges. Of course, UNIFIL’s mandate has evolved significantly since Irish troops were first deployed here, in 1978. I know that many of you in the current mission are involved in a variety of tasks, ranging from counter-improvised explosive device detection (C-IEDD) to civilian-military cooperation (CIMIC) and humanitarian assistance.
Equally important is the commitment of the mission to building good relations with the Lebanese authorities and local authorities and communities. Some of you, for example, are involved in developing, with the support of the Irish government, a programme of micro-projects in partnership with local municipal authorities and community groups. I understand that a range of initiatives have been completed, including a women’s agricultural cooperative, the provision of support for community centres and local schools and, more recently, the development of community sports facilities.
These interactions with the surrounding population and your contribution to their economic and social development are an essential component of any stabilisation process. I am sure that the time, effort and skills you invest in these projects are deeply appreciated locally and contribute to the warm regard in which Irish peacekeepers are held here in Lebanon.
May I also avail of this occasion to commend the Permanent Defence Force on their implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution on “Women, Peace and Security” (UNSCR1325), which aims at enabling women to participate more fully in conflict resolution and post-war recovery. The contribution of the Irish contingent here at UNIFIL has been rightly acknowledged in the report on Ireland’s application of this Resolution 1325, and I want, in turn, to congratulate you on your achievements in this field. Your engagement on issues such as this one forms an important part of Ireland’s commitment to tackling gender inequality and promoting human rights globally.
A Dhaoine Uaisle, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Members of the 47th infantry group,
Ours are particularly challenging times, and this is a particularly challenging region, for global peace and security. The UN’s peacekeeping force has more than tripled during the past fifteen years: resourcing and managing this rapid expansion is a tremendous test for the organisation. So is the task of responding to the novel threats to international security that have emerged in recent years, and to new types of conflict that have resulted in the largest displacement of human populations in global history.
We are all acutely conscious of the fact that, more often than not, UN peacekeepers are now deployed to countries and regions where there is unfortunately no peace to keep and where reconciliation processes are fragile or indeed wholly absent. The nature of war has evolved dramatically over the past few decades, from the inter-state conflicts that marked the early days of UN peacekeeping missions, to intra-state conflicts and civil wars, and, more recently, new forms of violence – including appalling killings, kidnappings and disappearances – perpetrated by non-state and transnational groups. These groups often invoke a fundamentalist and distorted interpretation of texts that were previously taken as sacred and revelatory in their invitation to peace.
Thus the role of peacekeepers has never been as necessary, and it has never been as broad and complex. It now entails tasks such as the building up of inclusive, and potentially democratic institutions; transparent and accountable reform of the security sector; human rights monitoring; and the protection of civilians. I am confident that the training you have received, including those days you spent in the Glen of Imaal, has prepared you well for such complex mandates, and that, however harsh the realities around you may be, you always find the necessary strength and stamina in the conviction that this world would be less safe without the United Nations as its peace custodian.
This region where you currently serve exemplifies the urgent and continuing need for the UN peacekeeping operations. We stand in a small country which, in previous times, had managed to successfully organise relations between its constituent communities, but which, over several decades now, has suffered greatly from the confrontations between these communities as well as with the Israeli and Syrian neighbours. A small country which now has to cope with the grave consequences of the brutal war raging in Syria.
The displacement of almost four million Syrians in recent years, of whom so many have fled to the safety of Lebanon, is, once again, as was the case with Palestinian refugees forty years ago, a challenge to the fabric of the Lebanese society and its delicate tapestry of religions, clans and political forces with both domestic and regional ramifications.
I want to avail of this occasion to salute the tireless efforts of so many volunteers from all across the world, who are doing what they can to ease the plight of refugees. The remarkable work of volunteers and NGOs, and your own work as peacekeepers, should not, however, serve as a substitute for active diplomatic action in the search for a resolution to the horrific violence which is causing so much human suffering in this region. Neither should the refugee crisis be seen as a problem to be dealt with primarily by Lebanon and other neighbouring countries: it is equally a matter of concern and of moral responsibility for Ireland and other members of the international community.
A Óglacha na hÉireann,
I am aware that the consequences of this war in Syria have been experienced in different ways by each of the three UN missions in this area. I am delighted to note that, when the UN Disengagement Observer Force came under threat, in 2013, the UN immediately looked to Ireland as a credible and experienced peacekeeping provider to reinforce the mission. As a nation, we took great pride in the swift and courageous support offered by your colleagues in the Mobile Force Reserve to their fellow peacekeepers, on the Golan Heights in August of last year.
Sadly, UNIFIL has recently lost one of its men. May I extend my sincere condolences to all of you and more particularly to your colleagues in the Spanish contingent on the tragic death of one of your comrades last January.
Que descanse en paz el espíritu de su compañero español.
[May the spirit of your Spanish comrade rest in peace.]
Over the decades of our participation in this mission, Ireland too has suffered painful losses. Later today, I will have the opportunity to pay my respects, at the memorial in Tibnin, to the 47 Irish personnel who lost their lives while serving with UNIFIL and the UN Troops Supervision Organisation. Thankfully, many years have passed without any loss of life among our Irish peacekeepers, but you can rest assured that the sacrifice made by your former colleagues during the course of their service and the tragedy borne by their families are duly remembered.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.
Of a much less tragic nature, but nevertheless emotionally challenging, is the separation from your families and friends while serving in the field. I know that there are many UNIFIL veterans among you today, but for 51 of you, it is the first time you serve overseas and spend such an extended period of time apart from your loved ones. On behalf of the Irish people, may I, once again, thank each and every one of you for your service, your sense of duty, and your dedication to the cause of peace.
The work of those who seek to build friendships between peoples and to construct peaceful, collective resolutions to the root causes of conflicts – this work is of immense importance and should be celebrated.
Is taispeántas í an obair atá ar siúl ag saighdiúirí Éireannach sa Liobáin Theas den méid is fearr agus is dearfaí den obair dúshlánach chun síochán a bhaint amach agus a neartú. Tá caighdeán leaghta agaibh dóibh siúd a leanfaidh sibh agus tá bród orm a bheith i bhur measc inniu, chun aitheantas a thabhairt do bharr fheabhas bhur n-obair.
Anois táim ag súil go mór leis an lá seo a chaitheamh libh, go mór-mór mo chuairt ar Post 6-52, chun cloisteáil faoi bhur dteathaí leis na Náisiúin Aontaithe agus leis an Cathán Fionlainnis-Éireannach, agus chun bhur dtuairimí a fháil ar chúrsaí sa Liobháin Theas.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.
[The work of the Irish troops over several decades here in South Lebanon encapsulates all that is good and positive about effective peacekeeping. You have set the standard for others to follow – and I am proud to be among you today, to recognise the excellence in all that you do.
And now I look forward to spending the rest of this day with you, especially to the visit to Post 6-52, to hearing about your experiences with the UN and with the joint Finnish-Irish Battalion, and to gathering your views on the situation in South Lebanon.
Thank you for your attention.]