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peace out

Ireland's troops are leaving the Golan - we may see a move to smaller 'more impactful' missions

News Correspondent Niall O’Connor spoke to Major General Adrian Ó Murchú in Syria about the future of peacekeeping.

The Journal / YouTube

THE REALITY OF an Irish Defence Forces suffering below required personnel levels has meant Ireland has been forced to pull out of its mission in Syria but there may be a change to smaller “more impactful” missions, a senior Defence Forces officer has said.

Major General Adrian Ó Murchú, speaking to The Journal on the Golan Heights, outlined that peacekeeping is “evolving” and that Ireland could be changing how it is involved in the operations.

He noted that Ireland may find itself working with other world organisations – he used the example of an Ivory Coast mission in which Ireland sent troops to participate in an Africa Union-backed operation. 

The Major General has been in Camp Faouar in the Golan this week visiting the troops along with a team from Defence Forces Headquarters. He was accompanied by staff officers and spoke to the troops with his working partner Defence Forces Sergeant Major Keith Caffrey. 

Ó Murchú has had a stellar career in the Irish military, serving in the Army Ranger Wing and participating in numerous foreign deployments across Africa, the Middle East and Europe. He is now Deputy Chief of Staff with responsibility for “support” which translates to the human resources side of the military. 

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

The UN mission was established in May 1974 following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan. UNDOF supervises the implementation of the Disengagement Agreement.

Ireland has been involved in the mission since June 2013. 

photo1709186595 (2) Irish peacekeepers during their medal parade yesterday in Syria. Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Evolution

Ó Murchú said there is an evolution happening and that in the future peacekeeping will change. 

“I think peacekeeping is evolving all the time and there are a couple of things we’ve seen where there is a willingness of the UN, for example, to subcontract some peacekeeping missions out to regional organisations,” he said. 

Ó Murchú would not drift into discussing how Government is likely to make policy decisions on the direction Ireland will go but he did say that the decision to pull out of Syria was a “rationalisation” measure forced on them by the numbers of troops available to deploy.

He said that “for such a small force overall we are very heavily committed overseas”.

Ó Murchú noted that Ireland has a battalion in south Lebanon and “other commitments around the world”. 

“We look at all that and we look at the numbers we have at the minute. It is a rationalisation measure whereby we can’t do everything with the numbers we have even.

“We are not in NATO – but by NATO standards we have a very high percentage of our force deployed overseas at any one time,” he explained. 

The General said that it is necessary to lower the overseas numbers to meet obligations in UNIFIL, the upcoming EU Battle Group and in much-needed training and education commitments in Ireland.

The Major General said the pull-out should not be seen “as bad news” and sought to reassure the troops that there would be overseas opportunities available to them.  

photo1709229201 Major General Adrian Ó Murchú (right) getting a briefing from a Uruguayan officer. Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

As The Journal patrolled with the troops this week it was clear that the soldiers are welcomed by the majority of the population.

The Major General explained that it is not just the skillset of the soldiers but Irish culture that helps the troops be effective. Known in the military as “soft skills” he said this is the key to the way Irish peacekeepers work – combining it with the more robust tactics of armed militaries.

“It is the way they deal, not only with our international partners, but it is also how they deal with the local citizens.

“It is very much based on the values of the Irish people – that friendliness, that openness to other people and other perspectives and also to the respect that our people show and have for the citizens of Syria in this case and of course the citizens of Lebanon in the UNIFIL mission. That resonates with the locals. That’s the feedback we get.”

While Ó Murchú would not be drawn further on the likelihood of Irish troops deploying to Africa he did say that the UN were “seized” by concerns about the situation on the continent - particularly in the troubled Sahel region.

“We have to be ready if the call comes from the UN and if the Government decide,” he said. 

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