Address to Irish Troops Serving in Lebanon
IRISH BATT UN 2-45 Position, Friday 18th October 2019
Minister, Ambassador, Secretary General, Chief of Staff,
Distinguished Guests, a chairde,
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le Leifteanantchoirnéal Paul Kelly agus gach duine de phearsanra an 114ú Cathlán Coisithe as ucht an fháilte caoin cuig an Liobáin. Is é seo an dara cuairt atá déanta agam mar Uachtaráin na hÉireann ar bhuíon síochánaíochta na hÉireann thar lear, agus mar Uachtarán na hÉireann agus Ardcheannasaí na bhFórsaí Cosanta, tapaím an deis aitheantas a thabhairt do bhur proifisiúntacht agus bhur calmacht, agus don dílseacht atá agaibh don tsíocháin agus don daonnúlachas mar choimeádaithe síochána.
[May I thank Lieutenant Colonel Paul Kelly and all of the personnel from the 114th Infantry Battalion Group for your warm welcome to Lebanon. This is my second 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 lies at the core of your engagement as peacekeepers.]
The 114th Infantry Battalion’s deployment to South Lebanon, as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, comprised as it is of 461 troops (Irish army, naval and air corps personnel) who rotate to South Lebanon, is Ireland’s largest overseas deployment to a single mission area.
I understand that the personnel travelling with the 114th Infantry Battalion represent 29 counties across Ireland, with the main contributing unit being the 28th Infantry battalion which is based in Finner Camp, County Donegal (featuring some 72 personnel). The next three largest units contributing troops are the 7th Infantry Battalion (who contributed 66 personnel) based in Dublin, the 6th Infantry Battalion (who contributed 32 personnel) based in Athlone, and the 27th Infantry battalion (contributing 31 personnel) located in Dundalk and Gormanston Camp, County Meath.
The 114th Battalion has twenty-eight female personnel. Irish women peacekeepers are an essential asset to all peacekeeping missions where they undertake the same roles under the same, often challenging, conditions, as their male colleagues. In addition, the presence of women contributes greatly to 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 within the communities you serve.
The promotion of a strong gender perspective is a key element in all our peacekeeping operations. I do hope that we continue to increase female participation in the defence forces generally so that we can also replicate this trend in our peacekeeping contingents.
Let me take this opportunity to congratulate Brigadier General Maureen O’Brien on her recent appointment as Deputy Force Commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force. Brigadier General O’Brien brings extensive command and peacekeeping experience to the post and I have no doubt that she will serve with distinction in this important position.
Ireland is a strong supporter of the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the related UN Security Council Resolution which aims to enable women to participate more fully in conflict resolution and post-war recovery. The agenda recognises both the particularly adverse effect of conflict on women and girls, as well as their critical role in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and grassroots peacebuilding. In this regard, the contribution and significant achievements in the field of the Irish contingent here in working towards the Women, Peace and Security agenda, are to be commended.
From your primary headquarters located here in UN Post 2-45, the Irish Battalion provides robust patrolling support to the Lebanese Armed Forces and protection to the local population. In addition, Irish personnel occupy and secure two observation posts along the Blue Line, one of which I will travel to shortly.
May I thank each and every one of you, on behalf of the Irish people, for the part you have played, through your vital 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.
The history of Irish peacekeeping is an integral component of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission as it has developed historically. The tradition of UN Peacekeeping, in which we have participated for over 60 years, is about saving lives and ensuring others can enjoy the gift of peace. Ireland’s commitment to peacekeeping is predicated upon our wider commitment to multilateralism, the conviction that peaceful and negotiated collective solutions can be found to most of the challenges arising on our shared planet.
It was here in Lebanon that Ireland's peacekeeping story began in 1958, when 50 members of the Permanent Defence Force were deployed as military observers with the UN Observer Group in Lebanon. Subsequently, Ireland’s first deployment of an armed peacekeeping contingent was in Congo in 1960. Nearly 60 years later, and as the UN’s peacekeeping presence has expanded, so too has the Irish contribution to UN missions. Irish personnel have stood at posts across Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, every day for over six decades.
The high regard in which Irish peacekeepers are held internationally is often mentioned in discussions with my foreign counterparts. Your record is one that is duly acknowledged and valued both nationally and internationally.
De bharr an an t-uafás taithí oibríochtúil atá faighte agaibh, tá coimeád na síochána mar fréamhnóta ag saighdiúirí na hÉireann, is gné bunúsach é do chultúr agus meon na bhForsaí. Mar thoradh ar seo, éiríonn le hÉirinn coimeádaithe síochána ard-oilte, dea-threalmhaithe a chuir ar fáil ag na NA, ar bhféidir leo, cosúil libh féin, obair a dhéanamh go lándaingean ar chaighdeán ard, obair a dhéantar go minic i ndálaí an-achrannach.
[The accumulation of your 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.]
We Irish, as a nation, have colonisation, liberation, hunger and migration at the heart of our story. These experiences have provided us with a particular sensibility, making us particularly sensitive and empathetic to the plight of the oppressed and the struggles of those nations who are blighted by war, or food insecurity, or both.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was established by the UN Security Council in March 1978 to supervise the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon following an Israeli invasion of Lebanon five days previously. The country suffered a devastating civil war from 1975-1990, in which an estimated 150,000 people died. The Interim Force’s mandate also included assisting the Lebanese government in restoring its effective authority in the area.
A Óglacha na hÉireann,
We are living in particularly challenging times, and this is a particularly challenging region, for global peace and security.
The re-escalation of conflict here in 2006, which included a 34-day military offensive by Israel and blockade of Lebanon, led to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which established a ceasefire. It also led to a further expansion of the mandate of the UN’s Interim Force in Lebanon to include monitoring the cessation of hostilities, supporting the Lebanese armed forces in the south of Lebanon, assisting with humanitarian access for civilian populations, and ensuring the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.
The UN’s peacekeeping force has responded by expanding in recent times, having more than tripled during the past fifteen years. Resourcing and managing this rapid expansion is an enormous 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 UN peacekeepers are usually 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 evolves continually, and it has done so 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.
The role of peacekeepers has, therefore, never been as necessary, and it has never been as broad nor as complex. It now entails tasks such as the building 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, 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 some six 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 Lebanese society and its intricate tapestry of peoples, religions and political forces with both domestic and regional consequences.
Peacekeeping is a key response to a humanitarian crisis. Humanitarianism is an active belief in the intrinsic value of human life. Through the actions of humans undertaking acts of benevolence and providing assistance to other humans, we achieve a form of improvement in our human welfare, a more moral, altruistic and caring society.
It is, in its origins, a philosophical belief, but humanitarianism today is often used to describe the thinking and doctrines behind the emergency response to crises such as war, famine and natural disasters. A core tenet of humanitarianism is that people have equal dignity by virtue of their being human based solely on need, without discrimination among recipients.
How much better it would be if the essential elements of what constitutes humanitarianism formed the basis of the discourse that prevails on the streets of the world and within the highest political echelons, rather than those subjects of humanitarian crises being abandoned, or indeed targeted, as the prey of xenophobes and racists.
As a principled, moral nation, Ireland has a moral duty and responsibility to take action to support peace, freedom, democracy, humanitarianism and the common good. This peacekeeping effort here in Lebanon, over 40 years in existence, is a key example of such moral action. The outcomes from the work you do help Ireland to promote its values of justice, humanity and tolerance.
You are part of a large peacekeeping force in this region. As of July 2019, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon had a total 11,097 personnel from some 41 countries, with Indonesia, Italy, Nepal, and Ghana making up the top contributors. It was recently agreed that a contingent of the Polish Armed Forces, together with a contribution of troops from Hungary, will join our contingent next month. This is a very welcome development which Ireland looks forward to. Partnership with other States is an important element of our peacekeeping operations.
Civil-military cooperation is another important element in humanitarian response operations. Irish troops serving here in Lebanon, display not only a professional commitment in fulfilling the United Nations’ mandate, but also support the local people. Bolstered by Irish Aid funding, you have assisted in the roll-out of practical and necessary local projects, include the installation of street lights in Hanin village, a solar panel project for the Girls Orphanage in Tibnin, and the provision of a generator for the Cultural Centre in Bint Jubayl village.
These projects strengthen the bonds of friendship and help to forge what I know is an excellent relationship between Irish personnel and the local communities, which is absolutely crucial to the fulfilment of peacekeeping duties.
The safety of all Irish Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions is always a concern. Thankfully, many years have passed without any loss of life among our Irish peacekeepers. Over the decades, however, we have suffered painful losses. Let us remember those 46 Irishmen and women who served their country and lost their lives tragically while in service in this region.
Of a far 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 Lebanon veterans among you today, but for some it is the first time you have served overseas and have had to spend such an extended period of time apart from your loved ones. On behalf of the Irish people, may I, once again, thank you all for your service and 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 is work of immense importance and should be celebrated.
I know you, the men and women of the 114th Infantry Battalion, will perform your duties to the best of your ability, and with the humanity and professionalism we have come to expect from Óglaigh na hÉireann.
I will shortly travel to UN position 6-50, at the Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel, but before I do, may I conclude by saying that the work of the Irish troops over several decades here in South Lebanon encapsulates so much that is good and positive about effective peacekeeping, indeed about us as a nation. You have set high standards for others to follow, and I am proud to be among you today, to acknowledge the distinction in all that you do here.
Bíodh misean sábháilte agus diongbháilte agaibh, a chuireann le bhur shaoil le eispéireas dearfach.
[I wish you a safe and purposeful mission, one that enriches your life with a positive experience for which you will be happy to have embarked on.]
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.