Photo of Micheál Martin visiting troops in Lebanon last year.
Micheál Martin

Tánaiste to convey his sympathies to Irish troops on the loss Seán Rooney during Lebanon visit

The Tánaiste will visit Irish troops on Thursday.

Political Correspondent Christina Finn reporting from Lebanon

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN is to travel to Lebanon today where he will visit Irish troops and place a wreath in memory of soldier Seán Rooney and other Defence Forces troops who have died while on duty. 

The 23-year-old from Newtowncunningham in Co Donegal was killed in an attack on a convoy of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon in December.

Another soldier – 22-year-old Shane Kearney from Killeagh in Co Cork – was seriously injured in the incident. 

Two other soldiers were injured in the incident, which took place when two armoured vehicles were travelling in a convoy and got separated.

The routine patrol, which was taking place as two personnel had been granted special leave due to family bereavements, escalated into an incident where an “aggressive mob” blocked one of the cars and small arms fire was reported. 

The remaining four personnel from the convoy were not injured.

The Irish Defence Forces is carrying out its own investigation into the incident. 

That investigation is one of three that are underway; 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.

Speaking ahead of the visit, the Tánaiste said that “it will be an opportunity for me to convey my sympathies and those of the Government to the colleagues of Private Seán Rooney on their loss and to express our heartfelt appreciation as they continue to fulfil their duties with the professionalism and dedication that one associates with the Defence Forces”.

The Tánaiste said the official meetings will enable him to reiterate “the Irish Government’s determination that all of the facts and circumstances of the incident in which Private Rooney was killed are fully established and that those responsible are brought to justice”. 

Wreath laying

Tomorrow, the Tánaiste will attend a memorial ceremony in Tibnine, where he will lay wreath in memory of the members of the Defence Forces who lost their lives serving in Lebanon.

The name of Seán Rooney has already been added to the monument. 

The Tánaiste will also visit Camp Shamrock, or as it is known in the United Nations as UNP 2-45. There are 331 Irish troops as part of UNFIL, of which 18 are female. 

Protected by the Army Ranger Wing, the force’s elite special forces unit, the Tánaiste will meet and greet the soldiers at the camp. 

Recalling his previous visit to Camp Shamrock as Taoiseach in 2022, the Tánaiste said that “it is always an honour and privilege to be able to visit Irish troops serving overseas. The outpouring of sympathy and support for Private Rooney and his injured colleagues in Óglaigh na hÉireann is a true expression of the regard in which the Defence Forces are held and a reflection of the pride of the Irish people in what they do”.

Irish troops are critical components in the UN mission which monitors and observes activities along the Blue Line, which is located along Lebanon’s southern frontier with Israel.

The Blue Line – stretching 120km – was constructed as part of a United Nations plan to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces in the area. It is demarcated by 272 blue barrels, which were placed there in 2006. 

Irish troops carry out vehicle and foot patrols along their stretch of the line, which is about 15.35km long.

While the Blue Line is calm for the most part, there is still a medium-level threat, due to the fragility and tensions in the area and the danger of rapid escalations. 

Lebanon has been scene to one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history from 1975 to 1990. It sits on the coastline between the Mediterranean to the West, Syria to the East and Israel to the South. 

There is a long history of Israeli and Lebanese fighting in recent decades – the most recent of which was in 2006 which left up to 1,300 Lebanese and 130 Israelis dead. 

A difficult political and economic environment has seen protests in the streets and a massive explosion in Lebanon capital city of Beirut in 2020 has further sent the country into a humanitarian crisis. 

In his meeting with the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Tánaiste will reiterate Ireland’s continued commitment, within its capability, to contribute troops to UN missions, including UNIFIL.

They will also discuss the events relating to Private Rooney’s death, which is currently the subject of a number of parallel investigations, including one being undertaken by UNIFIL and another by a Defence Forces Multi-disciplinary Team, which is also being supported by An Garda Síochána.

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