Thank you for the warm welcome I have received here at Battalion Headquarters.
I am honoured to join you today, and to have this opportunity to speak with you. My reason for visiting is to say ‘Thank You’ on behalf of the Irish people and the Irish Government, for your dedication and commitment to UNIFIL, alongside your Finnish and Estonian counterparts.
At Christmas time we feel the distance of loved ones overseas more than ever. I know it is a difficult time of year for parents separated from their sons and daughters, partners who are apart.
I know that those at home are reminded of the contribution made by members of the Defence Forces and other public servants serving overseas. Your families and loved ones can take great pride in all the Defence Forces have done and continue to do in our name in challenging environments.
Ireland’s contribution to international peace keeping, whether with the United Nations or the European Union, resonates with Irish people. Indeed no mission is more familiar to us than that of UNIFIL. We as a people feel attached to it and therefore to you. The Irish Government remains strongly committed to the maintenance of peace and security in Lebanon through our continued participation in UNIFIL.
As you know the UNIFIL mission began in 1978. The year before I was born. And before most of you were born.
As this generation grew from childhood into adulthood, we were not only aware of, but were - and still are - immensely proud of Ireland’s participation. It’s grown up with us. While the Mission’s mandate has changed over the years, Ireland’s commitment has not wavered.
In fact, since 1958, when Irish troops first served with the UN, not a single day has passed without Irish participation in UN peace support operations. Over these years, thousands of women and men have served in blue helmets, some 47 making the ultimate sacrifice.
Geographically, Ireland is an island behind another island on the edge of the continent. But politically, because of our place at the heart of EU, our commitment to multilateralism though the UN; our contribution to peace-keeping and international development; our diaspora and our open free-trading economy; we can be an island at the centre of the world. You help to make that possible.
By acting with impartiality and integrity, and providing the necessary leadership in difficult and challenging environments, our Defence Forces act as ambassadors. You enhance Ireland’s international standing and influence through your daily work.
Major General Beary’s appointment as UNIFIL Force Commander is a tribute to the fine reputation of Irish peacekeepers. The Mission, under his leadership, is equipping the Lebanese Armed Forces with the necessary skills to prevent a return to the escalation of violence. Hundreds, potentially thousands, of lives have been saved by your efforts. This is a proud record and you should be proud.
It is a record that could not have been made without winning the trust of local communities. There is a great tradition of Irish contingents helping and assisting with local humanitarian needs. This is as true here in Lebanon, as it was in Liberia and Kosovo.
I have learned a lot from this visit. I have been greatly impressed by what I have seen and heard today: stories of commitment and courage, trust built and lives saved.
I want to wish all members of the Battalion a very Happy Christmas and every success with the Mission and in your careers in the years ahead. Thank you for your service. Go raibh mhaith as bhur seirbhis.
Nollaig shona agus athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh.