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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Defence Forces Private Seán Rooney
Defence Forces

'He was a gentleman': Seán Rooney's friends remember him as Tánaiste visits troops in Lebanon

Micheál Martin has travelled to Lebanon to place a wreath in memory of Private Rooney and others who have died while on duty.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 26th 2023, 4:00 PM

Political Correspondent Christina Finn reporting from Lebanon

THE COMMANDER OF Irish soldiers in Lebanon has said Private Seán Rooney exemplified the “best traditions and values of the Defence Forces”.

Lieutenant Colonel Damien Murphy, commander of the 121st Infantry Battalion, said Private Rooney’s “sacrifice will never be forgotten” during a visit by the Tánaiste Micheál Martin to Irish troops.

He also gave an update on Trooper Shane Kearney’s condition, saying that while he “still has a long road ahead of him”, he has been making strong progress in his recovery.

Martin has travelled to Lebanon to meet Irish troops and place a wreath in memory of Private Rooney and other Defence Forces troops who have died while on duty.

Private Rooney (23) was killed when a convoy of two Armoured Utility Vehicles (AUVs) carrying eight personnel from the 121st Infantry Battalion was travelling to the Lebanese capital of Beirut.

Two other soldiers received minor injuries but were discharged from hospital.

Rooney’s friends also paid tribute to him today.

Speaking to reporters, Captain David Kelly from Cork said Rooney was “genuine, honest, upfront, direct … he was a gentleman”.

IMG_1011 Christina Finn / The Journal Left to right: Captain David Kelly from Cork; Trooper Alex Tate from Dublin and Trooper John Deere from Dublin Christina Finn / The Journal / The Journal

Recalling the first time the two men met, Kelly said: “I’ll never forget it because he challenged me to a 10k road race, I was more than willing to accept that challenge.

But I didn’t realise I might have my work cut out for me because, as was highlighted a lot after the fact, he was an avid runner, which the tarmac in this camp would definitely know…

“After that I was fortunate enough to be in a unit with him for a while.”

Kelly said Rooney would always stick up for his colleagues, noting their last conversation: “We were slagging a lad about his first time leaving the camp… Seán was straight to his defence.”

Kelly also said that he and his colleagues have received a lot of help from the Defences Forces’ Personal Support Services (PSS) since Rooney’s death.

“The Defence Forces as a whole has an exceptional way of supporting and kind of looking after the comrades that worked together. So I think between the services provided and the quality of relationships we have, I think the support is absolutely excellent.”

Kelly added that, “on top of the general camaraderie amongst most of us”, personnel in the DF “have a relationship that it’s hard to explain to a civilian at times”.

Shane Kearney 

Trooper Shane Kearney’s family issued a statement of gratitude recently for the support that they continue to receive after the 22-year-old, from Killeagh in Co Cork, suffered a head injury in the attack in the village of Al-Aqbiya. 

The 121st Infantry Battalion is comprised of 333 Irish troops deployed in November to south Lebanon as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

“Seán’s death has left an indelible mark on this unit and Sean’s sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Lt Col Murphy said. 

“It has continued to inspire us to carry out our duties to the best of our abilities. We are back to full operational activities.”

He said that soldiers “rely completely on the support of our families and our loved ones at home” so that they can carry out their work.

“They make a huge emotional and physical sacrifice when we’re away and it is only true that we’re able to carry out our duties here,” he said, paying tribute to Pvt Rooney’s family.

“Private Seán Rooney is a fine example of the best traditions and values of the Defence Forces.

“Prior to the incident Seán was carrying out his duties to an excellent standard, a fine soldier on his second tour of duty and during the incident as well he carried out his duties to the best of his abilities. We’re very proud of Sean and his sacrifice will never be forgotten.” 

On Trooper Carney, Lt Col Murphy said: “Shane is making great progress in his recovery. He still has a long road ahead of him but I’m informed that his progress is going very well.”

Murphy said the three investigations currently underway into the December attack need the time and space to conduct their work, and that he could not comment further in case it prejudiced the investigations.

The Irish Defence Forces is carrying out its own investigation while the other two investigations include an international one led by the United Nations, and an investigation being carried out by Lebanese Authorities. 

The Tánaiste is accompanied on the trip by the Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Jacqui McCrum, and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Seán Clancy.

As well as visiting the personnel of the 121st Infantry Battalion, of which Seán Rooney was a member, the Tánaiste will also meet the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, as well as the Lebanese Minister for Defence, Maurice Sleem, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Abdullah Bou Habib.

Contains reporting by Eoghan Dalton and Órla Ryan

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