We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Lebanese forces secure the area where the incident took place.

What is known so far about the death of Irish peacekeeper Seán Rooney in Lebanon

An investigation into the incident, which occurred during a routine patrol, is underway.

THE ROUTE FROM the UN Interim Forces (UNIFIL) base in South Lebanon to Beirut International Airport is mostly coastal highway.

The road is usually dark at night due to a lack of street lights, but even more so in winter. 

Just after 11pm last night, after a period of rainfall, a two-vehicle, eight-person convoy set out to take two bereaved Irish peacekeepers home. It is now under investigation as to how the second vehicle, carrying Irish peacekeepers Seán Rooney, Shane Kearney and two others, was separated from the first vehicle and ended up the in the village of Al-Aqbiya, between the cities of Tyre and Sidon. 

WhatsApp Image 2022-12-15 at 21.39.54

According to the Department of Defence the group came under small arms fire in the village, from attackers who have not yet been identified. The shooting resulted in the death of Private Rooney, who is from Co Donegal. He was just 23 years old.

Cork man Shane Kearney, 22, was seriously injured in the incident and remains in a critical condition in hospital.

The Journal understands that the convoy of two Armoured Utility Vehicles (AUVs) was travelling with Lebanese Armed Forces officials. While the first AUV and the army officials took the exit to continue on the highway that leads on to Beirut, the second vehicle carrying Privates Rooney and Kearney became separated from the first vehicle and turned off into Al-Aqbiya. It is not yet known why this occurred. 

the turn off close up The turn off from the main road to the village where the attack occurred.

It is understood that UNIFIL officials, who have said that so far the details on the attack are “sparse and conflicting”, believe that the peacekeepers were armed. 

Routine patrol

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Drivetime this evening, Defence Forces Press Officer Commandant Gemma Fagan said that while there are “still pieces of the puzzle missing”, what they do know is that the vehicles left in a convoy on a routine patrol, and that among the personnel were two individuals granted special leave to attend a funeral.

“Orders would have been given prior to the vehicles leaving camp and a patrol route would have been decided upon,” said Commandant Fagan. There were four people in each armoured utility vehicle. It’s understood that when the two vehicles in the convoy reached Al-Aqbiya, they were separated “in some shape or form” and the second vehicle was surrounded by a “large, aggressive mob”.

It experienced what is termed a “denial of freedom of movement”, Commandant Fagan said, where it was blocked front and rear by the group, and the situation escalated to small arms fire. 

The situation “became volatile and escalated quite quickly”.

Communications were lost with the patrol.

The four personnel were subsequently taken to Raee Hospital near the city of Sidon. Private Rooney was announced dead on arrival, and Private Kearney underwent surgery. The other two soldiers were treated for minor injuries. Tributes have been paid to the soldiers today, in the wake of the incident.]

The vehicle has since been removed from the scene; it was found overturned with evident bullet holes. 

It is understood that UNIFIL does not at this stage of enquiries believe that the Iran-backed Shia Islamist group Hezbollah is responsible for the attack, though it is active in the area. The group has denied responsibility and said that it does not want to be “inserted” into the incident, which it labelled as “unintentional” in nature in a statement to Reuters. In a later statement to the Associated Press, it declined to comment “until we have all the data”. 


Private Rooney is the 48th Irish soldier to die in Lebanon.

In a high profile incident in 1982, Privates Peter Burke and Thomas Murphy and Corporal Gregory Morrow were killed by Private Michael McAleavey. McAleavey was jailed over the shootings. 

In 2000, Privates Declan Deere, Brendan Fitzpatrick, Matthew Lawlor and Jonathan Murphy all died in a road accident.

The Irish Defence Forces’ first peacekeeping mission was in Lebanon in 1958 when 50 officers were deployed to the United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL) as observers along the Armistice Demarcation Line (ADL) – the international boundary between the Lebanon and Palestine.

When that mission was complete, some of those officers moved to the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO), which had been established in 1948.

However, in 1978, Irish peacekeepers were once again required in Lebanon as UNIFIL was established. A full battalion of 650 soldiers were assigned to the area after Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to eliminate the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). 

According to the Defence Forces, contingents in peacekeeping operations are generally infantry units, lightly armed for their own defence only. “The UN Mandate establishing a Peacekeeping Force makes provision for the use of arms for self defence,” its website says. “The terms of reference for the UNIFIL mandate, for example, state that self defence includes action against attempts, by forceful means, to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties under the Mandate.”

In 1982, Israel occupied an area in South Lebanon, and the Irish soldiers who served in the UN contingent were trapped in the middle of an unrelenting conflict between Israel and their militia proxies, and the Shia Muslim guerrilla group Hezbollah.

When Israel launched a huge offensive in April 1996 called ‘Grapes of wrath’ against Hezbollah, Irish soldiers attempted to prevent civilian fatalities.

According to Amnesty International, both the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah “deliberately or indiscriminately attacked civilians in violation of the laws of war”. Over 150 civilians lost their lives in the Israeli attacks. 

The massacre happened one year after Dr Tom Clonan, a security analyst and former captain in the Irish armed forces, stepped onto Lebanese soil for the first time.

Writing for The Journal previously, he described his tour as “brutal, violent, and profoundly shocking”.

Today, he says, the situation has de-escalated, but it hasn’t become less complicated.

“Irish troops in Lebanon are facing a complex set of threats on a daily basis. When I look at the illegal armed elements we dealt with – Christian militias, Israeli proxies, Hezbollah, and more – there are even more factions now, like Jabhat al-Nusra,” Clonan explained.

That UNIFIL troops were attacked is not unusual, he said, but that they were shot at and a soldier was killed most definitely is.

The journey that the peacekeepers made to Beirut is a route that Clonan and other military personnel who served in Lebanon all know well; he made it multiple times.

“It’s all highway. You have to divert off the main road in a few places, and it’s common for there to be non-stop traffic between Naqoura, where the UNIFIL base is, and Beirut during the day.

“The journey itself becomes an operation, whether it is being made to ferry supplies or rotate staff. You are supposed to be armed, with a route plan, and officials checking in with you via radio every half an hour or so,” Clonan said.

Tragic loss

gettyimages-1245629634-594x594 Lebanese forces secure the area where a UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL convoy came under small arms fire AFP via Getty Images AFP via Getty Images

The veteran said that Christmas is typically a lonely time to be stationed overseas, and that the tragic loss of Private Rooney, and the injuries inflicted on Kearney will leave the troops there devastated for some time to come.

“That young guy will have a locker with his personal items in it. He’ll have shared a space with one of his comrades. They are going to have to come and take his things to give them to family members. That is going to be very hard for the soldier that shared with him. Everyone will be profoundly impacted: to lose someone out there, it’s hard to describe how difficult that will be,” he said.

The United Nations Security Council stated in a report published in July of this year that “heightened” tensions continue to persist in the UNIFIL area of operations.

The report details a UNIFIL patrol being stopped by “three individuals in civilian clothes” in Sector East in South Lebanon, who told them to leave the area immediately in June. Later on the same day, the patrol was told by four individuals who warned them that if they returned to the area they would be “killed,” forcing the peacekeepers to leave the area, and stones were thrown at them.

In March, UNIFIL peacekeepers had to be escorted out of a the village of Blida after a motorbike and a vehicle blocked their way and approximately 15-20 people surrounded them, some started hitting the vehicle demanding that the peacekeepers hand over their phones and equipment. They seized three cell phones, a tablet and a camera, and one of the soldiers was injured.

In the same month in Sector West, a UNIFIL logistics convoy who mistakenly deviated from their planned route was surrounded by a group of individuals in “civilian clothes”. The group became aggressive and demanded that the UNIFIL personnel hand over their phones, and they searched their cars. Once again the assistance of the Lebanese Army was called, and later the mayor of Brashit told UNIFIL that they had been stopped as they weren’t accompanied in the army in an area they don’t usually patrol.

Edward Burke, History of War Lecturer at University College Dublin, said that in the case of Hezbollah, it has been drawing away from engaging with the UN, and its hostility towards UNIFIL has escalated. 

“The UN needs to broaden its investigation into this incident and beyond, and deal with the pattern of attacks and harassment against peacekeepers. We cannot just go with the status quo anymore after this. What we need is an inquiry,” Burke said.

He said that lesser instances of aggression and harassment towards UN peacekeepers have occurred in Hezbollah-controlled areas and areas where the group is active at an increasing rate over the last two years.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel