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About Overseas Deployments

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.

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 Irish troops were withdrawn from UNEF II in July 1974 in the aftermath of the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan.

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.

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. This mission was later handed over to EUFOR.

Overseas Missions

These missions fall under the leadership or sanction of different organisations.

UN Led Operations

United Nations Peacekeeping helps countries torn by conflict create the conditions for lasting peace. The UN is comprised of civilian, police and military personnel. In addition to maintaining peace and security, peacekeepers are increasingly charged with with assisting in political processes; reforming judicial systems; training law enforcement and police forces; disarming and reintegrating former combatants; supporting the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.

The Defence Forces made its first contribution to UN 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.

European Union led Operations

The Member states have committed themselves to a Common Foreign Security Policy for the European Union. The European Security and Defence Policy aims to strengthen the EU's external ability to act through the development of civilian and military capabilities in Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management. To influence policies violating international law or human rights, or policies disrespectful of the rule of law or democratic principles, the EU has designed sanctions of a diplomatic or economic nature. The EU is also a leading international actor in the fight against illicit accumulation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons.

In the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, the Member States of the European Union undertook to enhance co-operation on international affairs through a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The Treaty of Amsterdam further developed the CFSP and the Treaty on European Union now reflects the Petersberg tasks.

NATO-PfP led Operations

The Partnership for Peace (PfP) is a programme of practical bilateral cooperation between individual Partner countries and NATO. Based on a commitment to the democratic principles that underpin the Alliance itself, the purpose of the Partnership for Peace is to increase stability, diminish threats to peace and build strengthened security relationships between individual Partner countries and NATO, as well as among Partner countries.

Ireland joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme in December 1999 and in 2001 joined the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP). Initial Partnership Goals were agreed, chosen with a view to enhancing interoperability for NATO-PfP led peace support operations.

OSCE led Operations

Ireland is a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act and contributes personnel to Operation for Security and Co-operation in Europe OSCE operations.

These international commitments underscore the capacity and readiness of the Defence Forces to participate in multinational peacekeeping operations with countries with which we share a peacekeeping tradition, and ensure that Ireland is in a position to continue to make an important contribution in the field of peace support operations.

The effectiveness of the Defence Forces in relation to this strategic goal may be assessed by progress in the following areas:

  • Contribution to the development of UN Peacekeeping Policy and ESDP.

Humanitarian Assistance

Traditionally our troops serving overseas have provided humanitarian assistance to the local populations. This includes:

  • Provision of medical and dental care.
  • Restoration and repair of essential services.
  • Rebuilding and repair of local churches, mosques, schools, etc
  • Assistance to local enterprises.
Humanitarian Missions
1st IRSGAugust - December 199439
IRAMMay - June 1999
2nd IRSGJanuary - February 200021
3rd IRSGJanuary - February 200115
UNJCC in Sri LankaJanuary - March 20054

The Defence Forces have also provided officers on secondment to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Middle East and recently to Goal, Concern and the ICRC in Somalia, Sudan and Angola