50 years of Ireland's involvement with peacekeeping overseas
I am sure that many of you will be surprised to learn that the Republic Of Ireland has soldiers operating in a number of different countries including Chad and that a total of 86 Irish soldiers have died in the service of the United Nations since 1960.
Since joining the United Nations in 1955, the Irish Army has been deployed on many peacekeeping missions. The first of these missions took place in 1958, when a small number of observers were sent to Lebanon.
The first major overseas deployment came in 1960, when Irish troops were sent to the Congo as part of the UN force ONUC. The Belgian Congo became an independent Republic on 30 June 1960. Twelve days later, the Congolese government requested military assistance from the United Nations to maintain its territorial integrity. On the 28th July 1960 Lt-Col. Murt Buckley led the men of the 32nd Irish Battalion to the newly independent central African country. This was the most costly enterprise for the Irish Army since the Irish Civil War, as 26 Irish soldiers lost their lives (9 died in one action, the Niemba ambush). One of the largest engagements Irish troops were involved in was the Siege of Jadotville, in which a small party of 150 Irish soldiers was attacked by a much larger force of Katangese troops. The Irish fought back ferociously until their ammunition ran out, they took no casualties and inflicted heavy loses on their attackers. A total of 6,000 Irishmen served in the Congo from 1960 until 1964.
Starting in 1964, Irish troops have served as UN peacekeepers in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Over 9,000 Irish personnel have served there to date, without suffering casualties.
In 1973, an infantry group and some logistical troops were pulled out of Cyprus at short notice to serve in the Sinai desert between Egypt and Israel as part of the UN force that supervised the ceasefire that ended the Yom Kippur War.
From 1976 to 1981, UNFICYP was commanded by an Irish officer, Major-General James Quinn.
From 1978 to 2001, a battalion of Irish troops was deployed in southern Lebanon, as part of the UN mandate force UNIFIL. The Irish battalion consisted of 580 personnel which were rotated every six months, plus almost 100 others in UNIFIL headquarters and the Force Mobile Reserve. In all, 30,000 Irish soldiers served in Lebanon over 23 years.
The Irish troops in Lebanon were initially intended to supervise the withdrawal of the Israeli Defence Forces from the area after an invasion in 1978 and to prevent fighting between the Palestine Liberation Organization forces and those of Israel. Another Israeli invasion in 1982 forced the PLO out of southern Lebanon, and occupied the area. The following 18 years, up until 2000 saw prolonged guerrilla warfare between Israeli forces, their allies in the South Lebanon Army and Hezbollah. The Irish battalion, caught in the middle of the conflict, lost 47 soldiers killed and more wounded in the mission. Their role consisted of manning checkpoints and observations posts and mounting patrols. In addition to peacekeeping the Irish also provided humanitarian aid to the local population -for example aiding the orphanage at Tibnin. From 25 April 1995 to 9 May 1996, Brigadier General P. Redmond served as Deputy Force Commander of UNIFIL - a period that coincided with the Israeli Operation Grapes of Wrath offensive in 1996.
Most of the Irish force was withdrawn from the area in 2001, following the Israeli evacuation of their forces the previous year. However 11 Irish troops remained there as observers. They were present during the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese war. After this conflict UNIFIL was reinforced and a mechanised infantry company of 165 Irish troops was deployed to southern Lebanon as of October 2006. Their role there is to protect a Finnish engineering unit.
As of 31.st of October the 1.st Finn-Irish Battalion is to cease operations and be stood down from duty after having completed their mandate with UNIFIL.
From August 1988 until May 1991, Irish soldiers were deployed, under the UN force UNIIMOG, on the border between Iraq and Iran to supervise the withdrawal of both side's troops back to within their respective borders after the end of the Iran-Iraq War. The total strength of the mission was 400, of which the Irish provided 177. The mission came to an end in 1991, when Iran and Iraq completed the withdrawal of their troops. A small number of Irish observers have also been stationed in Kuwait since April 1991 as part of UNIKOM.
Since the 1990s UN missions have proliferated for Irish troops. In 1993, 100 troops forming a transport company were deployed in Somalia, as part of UNOSOM II peace-enforcing mission. In December 2001, 221 Irish soldiers were sent to Eritrea as part of UNMEE, and were tasked with the defence of the UN headquarters there. Since 1996 a military police unit and some other troops have been stationed in Bosnia as part of SFOR (1995-2005) and EUFOR (December 2005 to present). From 1999 until the present Irish troops have been stationed in Kosovo as part of KFOR. Currently there are 208 Irish soldiers, part of an infantry group, there.
In 1999, Irish Officers were sent to East Timor as part of the UNAMET observer group (Timorese Independence Refurendum). Later in the year, a Platoon of Rangers were sent as part of the INTERFET peacekeeping force. The Irish Army Rangers (1 Ircon)(the Army's special forces unit) were deployed in East Timor alongside the Australian SAS for a 4 month tour, INTERFET handed over to UNTAET during 2 IRCON's tour in 2000. This marked the second time that the Irish Army's elite force were officially deployed operationally outside of the state, the first being to Somalia in 1993. The third contingent to Timor (3 Ircon) marked a new departure for the Defence Forces , all the infantry sections where drawn from the 2nd Infantry Battalion , late 2000 saw the 12th Infantry supply 4 Ircon.
After November 2003, Irish troops were stationed in Liberia as part of UNMIL. The Liberian mission was the largest Irish overseas deployment since Lebanon and consisted of a single composite battalion. The UN force, UNMIL, was 15,000 strong and was charged with stabilising the country after the Liberian Civil War. The Irish troops were based in Camp Clara, near Monrovia and were tasked with acting as the Force Commander's "Quick Reaction Force" (QRF) in the Monrovia area. This means the securing of key locations, conducting searches for illegally held weapons, patrolling and manning checkpoints on the main roads and providing security to civilians under threat of violence. The Irish deployment to Liberia was due to end in November 2006. However, at that time the deployment was extended for a further 6 months to May 2007 .
Ceremonies will be held in military barracks today to mark 50 years of Ireland's involvement with peacekeeping overseas.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen will watch a parade at McKee Barracks in Dublin which will be attended by some of the soldiers who served in the first mission half a century ago.
The first peacekeepers from Ireland were deployed on a UN mission to Lebanon in 1958.
Since then many thousands of Irish soldiers have served in over 70 missions around the world.
85 members of the Defence Forces have lost their lives on overseas missions.
At present there are over 800 men and women serving abroad. The biggest missions are in Chad and Kosovo.
Lieutenant General Dermot Earley, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, said the Defence Forces are mindful of the sacrifices made by Irish soldiers but are also looking to the future development of their overseas capability.