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Taoiseach visits Irish troops on peacekeeping mission in Lebanon

Reporter Niall O’Connor is accompanying the Taoiseach and reporting from Lebanon in the coming days.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin in South Lebanon today.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin in South Lebanon today.
Image: Irish Defence Forces

Updated May 29th 2022, 3:44 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN visited Irish troops in Lebanon today to mark International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. 

At a memorial ceremony in Tibnine, Martin laid a wreath in memory of the 47 members of the Defence Forces who lost their lives serving in Lebanon.

Speaking to reporters following the ceremony, Martin said Ireland should continue to be involved in peacekeeping efforts in troubled areas and has made a significant contribution to peacekeeping in Lebanon.

“Peacekeeping is something that Ireland does well, that our armed forces do well and our defence forces do well.

“I often say that peacekeeping dimension – that humanitarian approach and capacity – is something Ireland can offer to the world and areas where conflict is present. It is important at this point in time to do everything we can to maintain stability here,” Martin said.

The Taoiseach added that he expects a Citizens’ Assembly on Ireland’s neutrality before the end of the current government.

The Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney and Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, are accompanying the Taoiseach on the visit.

The ceremony attended by Martin is held once a month and each month the names of the soldiers who were killed in that month are listed.

Local Mukhtar Abdo Haddad said the Irish troops are considered as family by the residents of Tibnine.

It is Martin’s first visit to troops in Lebanon as Taoiseach and he is visiting a number of locations across South Lebanon where troops are stationed. 

The visit comes just weeks before the Government are set to announce their recommendations for the future of the Irish Defence Forces following an examination of the Commission on the Defence Forces report. 

Coveney said today that the report clearly shows that there is a requirement to have a “step change” in investment in the Defence Forces. He said he will bring forward a memo for government in the coming weeks which aims to deliver a “dramatic” and “modernising” reform programme in order to attract people to a career in uniform.

“This is going to cost. In my view it’s absolutely justified and required. Not only from the evidence base that’s provided by the Commission report, but also the context internationally, of a war at the heart of the continent of Europe,” Coveney said.

No country in the European Union can take peace for granted. Every country in Europe is looking at peace and security issues and Ireland should be no different.

Lieutenant General Seán Clancy said the memo for government is a “pivotal point” for the proposed transformation of the Defence Forces.

“When the government decides what they want from the Defence Forces from that piece, then we can move forward.

“I think until that time comes our job as the Defence Forces is to try and provide the information, the background and the rationale for the increased level of capability that we require,” Lieutenant General Clancy said.

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 war fighting in recent decades – the most recent of which was when Israel launched a bloody attack on the country in 2006.

A difficult political and economic environment has seen protests in the streets and a massive explosion in Beirut’s port in 2020 has further sent the country into a humanitarian crisis. 

During his visit, the Taoiseach will meet with Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNIFIL, Major General Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is visiting Irish troops in Lebanon today. Source: Niall O'Connor/The Journal

The Taoiseach and his delegation visited the Defence Forces stationed at UN Position 2-45, to examine the situation in Lebanon more widely. Senior officers also briefed him on the challenges and day-to-day tasks undertaken at UNIFIL.

The Taoiseach also observed the work of UNIFIL to secure the so-called Blue Line.

The Blue Line is located along Lebanon’s southern frontier with Israel and was constructed in 2000 as part of a United Nations initiative to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces in the area. 

The UN has said that it is a “line of withdrawal” and not a border marking – the demarcation line stretches 120kms. 

Irish troops are critical components in the UN mission which monitors and observes activities along the Blue Line.  

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They are involved in observing the activities of groups in the area and also lend assistance to Lebanese authorities with regular patrols with the Lebanese Armed Forces. 

They conduct foot and vehicle patrols and man observation posts in the South Lebanon area.

There are also a number of community relations initiatives by Irish troops including the building of an orphanage, fuel pumps and Irish troops recently supplied cow milking equipment to a local farm co-operative. 

A number of UN Mandates have been agreed and Irish troops are part of that peacekeeping mission in the area. 

A new contingent of Irish troops has arrived in the area in recent weeks and are beginning their deployment. 

The 120 Infantry Battalion is led by Lt Col Denis Hanley and the force comprises 338 men and women gathered from various military bases across Ireland. 

They are also joined by nine Maltese soldiers – The Irish Defence Forces have linked up with the naval and ground military of Malta regularly in recent years as the two small militaries share expertise. 

In an interview with The Journal before departing for Lebanon Lt Col Hanley said increasing fuel prices and challenges around access to grain caused by the Ukraine crisis may impact their mission to Lebanon.

blue-marking-of-the-unifil-united-nations-interim-force-in-lebanon-near-the-village-of-dhayra-in-bint-jbeil-district-of-nabatieh-governorate-in-lebanon-as-seen-from-the-israeli-side-of-the-border-n Blue marking of the UNIFIL( United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) near the village of Dhayra in Bint Jbeil District of Nabatieh Governorate in Lebanon as seen from the Israeli side of the border, Northern Israel. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

While Covid-19 is causing significant difficulties for the Lebanese, a fractious political situation in the country saw a number of people killed in clashes in October 2021. 

The country is still facing the aftermath of the massive explosion in Beirut port while locals are also working to solve the social issues from decades of war.  

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