| 13 April 2024, Saturday |

Irish Defense Minister visits UNIFL’s Irish battalion in South Lebanon

Micheál Martin, Irish Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defense on Thursday visited UNIFIL’s Irish battalion in South Lebanon and delivered the following speech:

“Secretary General, Chief of Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen, men and women of IRISHPOLBATT UNIFIL.

Firstly, may I thank Lieutenant Colonel Damien Murphy, Officer Commanding 121st Infantry Battalion, and all the Irish personnel here for the warm welcome afforded to us on this my second visit to the Headquarters of the Irish Battalion.

As you know, I was here last year as Taoiseach and it was a very special occasion, as Head of Government, to be able to convey the appreciation of the government for the contribution that so many members of the Defence Forces make to the cause of peace around the world.

Having been appointed as Minister for Defence, I would have wanted to make an early return to Camp Shamrock, but the tragic events of 14 December and the death of your comrade, Private Seán Rooney, made that return even more important.

Private Rooney’s death was a shocking reminder to all of Ireland of the risks taken by each and every one of you, in discharging your duty and maintaining our country’s proud record and reputation.

I’m here today with your Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Sean Clancy and the Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Jacqui McCrum because I want you to know that the country, the government and the entire Defence Organisation stands with you in solidarity and unity.

I’m conscious that all of you have lost a comrade and a friend. It is to your immense credit that, notwithstanding your personal loss, you have continued to perform with the professionalism we have come to expect from our Defence Forces.

Nonetheless, I would encourage you to reach out and seek support if you need it especially when you return home. Support services are available, don’t hesitate to use them.

You have come through a very difficult experience and you need to mind yourselves.

I want also to acknowledge those who were injured in the incident at Al-Aqbiya, especially Trooper Shane Kearney, who was critically injured.

We are all immensely grateful that Trooper Kearney is now back in Ireland and making good progress with his recovery. It goes without saying that we wish him continued progress in the coming weeks and months.

Notwithstanding the poignant circumstances surrounding this visit, I am pleased to be here and to have the opportunity to engage with you both collectively and personally.

Whether as Taoiseach or Minister for Defence, it is always an honour and privilege to be able to visit Irish troops serving overseas.

On behalf of the government, I can say with confidence that the outpouring of sympathy and support for Private Rooney and his injured colleagues in Óglaigh na hÉireann is a true expression of the regard in which you are held and a reflection of the pride of the Irish people in what you do.

This tragic event has brought home to all of us the fragility of peace here in Lebanon and the tragedy that war and conflict can bring to so many innocent people.

I’m sure you’re aware that, in addition to the ongoing lines of inquiry being pursued by the Defence Forces Multi-disciplinary Team, three separate parallel investigations are taking place into the facts and circumstances of the matter by the Lebanese authorities, by UNIFIL and by An Garda Siochána.

The government is absolutely determined that all of the facts and circumstances of the incident are fully established and that no stone will be left unturned to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

Later this evening, I will meet both the Lebanese Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence and I will impress upon them the need to ensure that the Lebanese investigation is as thorough and complete as possible.

As a country, our commitment to the safety and security of the Lebanese people is unimpeachable. 48 of your comrades have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving that cause here in Lebanon.

Eighty-eight Defence Forces personnel in total have now lost their lives while on peacekeeping duty overseas in various missions.

On behalf of the Irish people, may I thank each and every one of you for the part you are playing in continuing the proud tradition of generations of Irish peacekeepers.

In addition to my responsibilities as Minister for Defence, I am also responsible for Foreign Affairs, and I can tell you that this tradition is an essential component of Ireland’s foreign policy.

It is driven 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.

Peace is fragile and cannot and should not be taken for granted. Like so many other things, it is hard won, but easily lost.

The challenges of peacekeeping demand that people like you – highly-trained, disciplined, and committed peacekeepers – continue to perform to the highest standards, notwithstanding often difficult circumstances.

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.

The work you are doing here in South Lebanon encapsulates all that is good and positive about that tradition.

Before concluding, I would like to talk about a group of people who are not here today – your families.

Time spent away from our families and loved ones is always difficult. I know that many of you have been away on peacekeeping operations before and your families become familiar with that absence, but I also know that it doesn’t necessarily become any easier.

The death of Seán Rooney will have brought home to each of your children, partners, parents, siblings and friends, as well as the thousands of other military families, the true nature of the risks that you encounter every day.

Without their support, you couldn’t do what you do.

Without their support, you couldn’t serve the cause of peace.

Without their support, our country couldn’t perform the role it has in the world.

Without their support, the world would be a poorer and more dangerous place.

As a country, we are immensely grateful to them for the sacrifices that they make every day that you are away.

Finally, it remains only for me to reiterate my sympathies and those of the government with all of you on the loss of your comrade and friend, Private Seán Rooney, to thank you again for your service in the cause of peace in a vulnerable part of the world and to wish you all the best for the remainder of your tour and a safe return to your families and loved ones in a few months.”

  • NNA