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Irish troops arrive home alive as Golan Heights mission is 'de-risked'

The 130 troops were welcomed by family and friends in an emotional reunion this morning.

AFTER ALMOST SEVEN gruelling months in the Golan Heights, 130 members of Ireland’s Defence Forces arrived home in the early hours of this morning.

Landing in Baldonnel after midnight, the 44th Infantry Group was greeted by the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney, a large press contingent and, most importantly, family and friends.

Since deployment in March 2014, the situation in the UNDOF area has changed dramatically with rebels capturing a border crossing in August and then the kidnapping of dozens of Fijian soldiers who were on the same mission.

The heightened tensions were a major concern to all the family members gathered in the aerodrome this morning, even those who are seasoned partners of officers and soldiers.

Marguerit Dunne and her six children – Erica, Shauna, Aaron, Alena, Liam and Luke – have welcomed Liam home from the Lebanon, Kosovo, Chad and other conflict-torn areas.

This time was a “bit different”, concedes Marguerit, “because it’s been all over the news”. She has tried not to watch too much of the coverage, instead focusing on the texts and other messages she had been receiving from her husband.

IMG_5370 Teenage daughter, Erica, said she mostly used Viber and Facebook to keep in touch with her Dad, which was different to when he was in Chad or Kosovo.

Just across the room, a rookie’s family is welcoming home 25-year-old Brian Barry for the first time.

His brother and sister, Adrian and Maria, told that the period when they were involved in rescuing soldiers from the  Philippines was “traumatic”.

“We’re very proud of him and delighted to be here,” said Adrian. “You don’t expect your little brother to be in action. It’s the most combat in 30 years,” added Maria, “Brian would have to be involved.”

IMG_5365 Maria and Adrian Barry with Private Brian Barry's nephew Conor Barry

Despite the recent troubles, Minister Coveney took the decision to remain in the area on the Israel-Syrian border and today he explained it was one taken in conjunction with the Force Commander, Chief of Staff and the rest of the team in the army.

Welcoming the troops back this morning, he noted that important changes had been implemented by the UN since the worrying developments.

“We’ve obviously been talking to and negotiating with the UN and structural changes have been made to this mission to respond to the dramatic change on the ground in the Golan Heights over the past three months or so,” he told reporters.

“Those structural changes have been made now to make sure that, effectively, this mission has been de-risked to a certain extent by changing the location of UN posts and where are troops will be for the next number of months.

“I am satisfied that those changes are the appropriate ones and that Ireland can remain part of what is a very important mission in the Middle East. UNDOF has been there since 1974 and the last thing the Middle East needs now is another war between Israel and either militia or Syrian forces. So UNDOF and the UN presence on the Golan Heights is deemed to be very important by a lot of interested stakeholders in that part of the world.”

IMG_5391 Kathleen Lyons with her daughter, Lieutenant Angela Lyons

Acknowledging the worry and concern that families of soldiers and officers experienced during this deployment, Coveney said he is “very, very proud this evening as a Minister of Defence of our troops and the role they have played, and the professionalism and courage they have shown”.

“And I’m really, really pleased for them as a human being to see them coming home this evening all safe and well, meeting their families, celebrating, about to take a month off and recuperate.”

The troops will have some time off now to relax and recuperate with their families and friends before getting back to work in four weeks.

Coveney added that the 130 soldiers who replaced the troops in the Golan Heights today  will experience “an acceptable level of risk now in terms of a very important peacekeeping mission that Ireland is the backbone of”.

Read: Coveney confirms Irish troops will return to Golan Heights amid increased tensions

Poll: Should the Irish UN peacekeepers be pulled out of Golan Heights?

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