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Lisa Cunningham and family wait for her partner Neill McManus to return home from Syria PA
peace out

Last Irish troops stationed in Syria as part of UN peacekeeping mission return home

The Defence Forces are withdrawing from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force after a decade of peacekeeping service in the area.


THE LAST IRISH troops stationed as peacekeepers on the Golan Heights in Syria have returned home today. 

The Defence Forces has now withdrawn troops from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which monitors the border between Israel and Syria, after a decade of peacekeeping service in the area. 

A total of 133 Irish troops from the 68th Infantry Group, UNDOF have returned to Dublin Airport this afternoon following a six-month deployment.

The majority of the 68th Infantry Group personnel are drawn from the 6th Infantry Battalion based in Custume Barracks, Athlone, Co Westmeath.

The group operated under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Clear and includes all ranks, consisting of 16 officers, 116 enlisted personnel and one chaplain.

Of those returning, 34 personnel were on their first tour of duty abroad. 

Lieutenant Clear described Syria as an “interesting, beautiful and historic country” and said it was a great place to serve”.

“When you serve overseas that is the ultimate test of what we do. It’s the ultimate environment of where we can test our skills and show what we are capable of.”

He added: “Today is a day for saying what a professional group I was part of and what an honour it is to be a officer to serve with those people and be the representative for them front and centre.

“It’s a very proud day for me and for the Defence Forces. We’ve done a really good job in a challenging environment and done with pride.”

There were emotional scenes at the arrivals area of Terminal 1, as hundreds of excited family members waited for their loved ones to return home.

Partners, parents and children held home-made “welcome home” signs, while others waved Irish tricolour flags.

Lisa Cunningham and her three-year-old daughter, Lucy McManus, held a “welcome home daddy” sign as they waited for her partner and Lucy’s dad, Neill McManus to arrive through the doors.

welcome home Lisa Cunningham and family wait for her partner Neill McManus to return home from Syria PA PA

Lisa, who was joined by her mother, Carmel, said it was a long six months.

Cunningham said: “It’s difficult at the start when he leaves, you find your own routine and you miss them. But luckily we can speak to him every day through video call and text messages. It makes all the difference.

“Especially with Lucy I am sure he probably feels like he misses out on a lot more. We miss him but he also misses out on a lot.

The operation will also see more than 280,000 separate pieces of equipment worth €23 million moved to a port in Lebanon where it will meet a chartered ship to return it to Ireland.

The UNDOF was established on 31 May 1974 by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 350 (1974), following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights in May 1974.

UNDOF supervises the implementation of the Disengagement Agreement, maintaining an area of separation between the forces which is over 75 kilometres long.

Ireland commenced participation in UNDOF on 22 June 2013. The first mission for Irish troops in UNDOF commenced in September 2013.

In March last year, the Department of Defence said the decision to withdraw from the mission followed the conclusion of an assessment of the sustainability of the Defence Forces’ overseas commitments.

The Department said the decision would ensure that the Defence Forces have the capacity to fulfil their commitment to the EU Battlegroup 2024/2025 as well as allowing the Defence Forces to undertake a process of consolidation with regard to their overseas commitments and to prepare for future peace-keeping missions. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Independent TD Cathal Berry said while it was good that the Defence Forces could reflect on the last decade, it was a day “tinged with sadness”. 

“Yes, missions come and go. We’ve left East Timor in the past and Somalia and the Congo and Liberia, but we’ve never had to leave a mission due to a lack of manning staff before,” he said.

“And so this isn’t by choice. It’s being done out of necessity. It’s an unprecedented situation for Ireland to be in.”

Last month, The Journal travelled to the Golan Heights to report on the work of Irish troops stationed there before they left Syria.

Speaking to The Journal at the time, a senior Defence Forces officer said that peacekeeping is “evolving” and that Ireland could be changing how it is involved in the operations.

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Major General Adrian Ó Murchú said Ireland may find itself working with other world organisations, using an Ivory Coast mission in which Ireland sent troops to participate in an Africa Union-backed operation as an example. 

He said there are now various organisations “looking to us” to deploy smaller contingents but in “higher impact capabilities”.

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