Defence Forces Overseas History

Lt Col Justin MacCarthy in front. First step (l-r): Comdt Malachi Higgins and Capt Pat Lavelle . Second Step: Comdt Gerard Coghlan and Capt Rory Henderson

The Defence Forces made its first contribution to peacekeeping in 1958 when some fifty officers were assigned to the United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL) as observers along the Armistice Demarcation Line (ADL) between Lebanon and Israel. When their mission with UNOGIL was finished some transferred to the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO), an organisation which had been established in 1948.

The first peacekeeping mission to which an armed Irish contingent was committed was to the Operation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC), from 1960 to 1964. An Irish officer, Lt Gen S McKeown, was Force Commander of ONUC from Jan 1961 to Mar 1962 and over 6,000 Irishmen served on this mission with a loss of 26 lives. Peacekeeping Operations are manned by armed contingents from member states placed under the command of the United Nations.

Since then the Defence Forces have continuously provided an armed contingent to the UN, except during the period May 1974 to May 1978. These contingents were normally an infantry battalion of approximately 600 personnel or an infantry group of over 400 personnel.

Departure for the Congo
Departure for the Congo

An infantry group served with the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) from 1964 to 1973. Since then Ireland has provided officers and NCOs to the staff of UNFICYP until its commitment ceased in 2005.

In October 1973 the infantry group in Cyprus was moved to the Second United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF II) in the Sinai to supervise the cease-fire between Israel and Egypt after the Yom Kippur War. Irish troops were withdrawn from UNEF II in July 1974 in the aftermath of the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan.

Defence Forces Personnel in Cyprus

Ireland’s next commitment to a peacekeeping force was on the activation of UNIFIL, in 1978. To date over 30,000 personnel have served in Lebanon.

Contingents in peacekeeping operations are generally infantry units, lightly armed for their own defence only. The UN Mandate establishing a Peacekeeping Force makes provision for the use of arms for self defence. The terms of reference for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mandate, for example, state that self defence includes action against attempts, by forceful means, to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties under the Mandate.

Irish Op South Lebanon

On 15 October 1998, Ireland signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations, which commits the Defence Forces to participation in the United Nations Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS). By subscribing to UNSAS, Ireland offers to provide up to 850 Defence Forces’ personnel for UN peacekeeping operations at any given time.

In early December 2004, the EU embarked on its largest ESDP crisis management operation to date - Operation Althea. The operation is a follow-on mission to the NATO led UN-mandated SFOR mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Defence Forces’ initial SFOR deployment involved a military police unit. The military police were withdrawn from SFOR in January 2003 but 12 members of the Defence Forces continued to serve at SFOR headquarters in Sarajevo.

These personnel transferred to EUFOR headquarters when the mission was handed over to EUFOR.

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