Ireland

Safety of Irish troops in Middle East ‘of paramount concern’ – deputy premier

Irish soldiers are involved in several UN missions in the region (Niall Carson/PA)
Irish soldiers are involved in several UN missions in the region (Niall Carson/PA) Irish soldiers are involved in several UN missions in the region (Niall Carson/PA)

The safety and security of Irish troops involved in a UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon is of paramount concern to the government, the country’s deputy premier has said.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin, who is also minister for defence, was speaking to troops of the 123rd Infantry Battalion of the Irish Defence Forces ahead of their upcoming deployment to Lebanon as part of the United Nations Interim Force (UNIFIL).

Mr Martin said the risk of the Israel/Hamas conflict escalating to the wider Middle East was “deeply concerning” and must also be the focus of “urgent international efforts”.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin reviewing the 123rd Infantry Battalion at Kilkenny Castle, prior to their deployment
Tanaiste Micheal Martin reviewing the 123rd Infantry Battalion at Kilkenny Castle, prior to their deployment Tanaiste Micheal Martin reviewed the 123rd Infantry Battalion at Kilkenny Castle prior to its deployment (Niall Carson/PA)

The troops of the 123rd battalion will be in Lebanon for six months. They are taking over from colleagues in the 122nd Infantry Battalion of the Irish Defence Forces.

Irish troops are involved in several UN missions in the Middle East.

As well as the long-standing peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, Irish soldiers are also involved as peacekeepers in the UNDOF mission in Syria, and as UN observers in the UNSTO mission, that covers Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

Speaking at a military review ceremony in Kilkenny Castle, Mr Martin told the soldiers’ families that he appreciated that the situation in the Middle East was of “grave concern” to them.

The 123rd Infantry Battalion at Kilkenny Castle
The 123rd Infantry Battalion at Kilkenny Castle The 123rd Infantry Battalion is taking over from the 122nd Infantry Battalion (Niall Carson/PA)

“I want to reassure you that the troops standing before us today – your sons, daughters, partners, dads and mums – are well trained, well prepared and well equipped for this deployment,” he said.

“There is significant experience in these ranks, not least in the battalion leadership. That leadership and experience will be invaluable over the next six months.”

He added: “I want to assure you too that the safety and security of our Defence Forces personnel throughout the Middle East – whether in UNIFIL, UNDOF or UNTSO – is my highest priority and of paramount concern to the government.”

Mr Martin said “appropriate precautionary measures” were being taken in response to the situation in Lebanon.

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon Mr Martin met Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces Lieutenant General Sean Clancy during the review (Niall Carson/PA)

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely along with our partners in the UN and the wider international community,” he added.

Last year, Irish peacekeeper Private Sean Rooney was killed while serving with UNIFIL in Lebanon when his convoy was attacked.

At the review in Kilkenny, Mr Martin again reiterated the Irish government’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“The rising toll of civilian casualties and suffering in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territory is horrifying,” he said.

“Last week, I met with my EU foreign minister colleagues and echoed the UN secretary general’s call for a humanitarian pause to allow aid to reach those now in desperate need in Gaza.

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon Members of the battalion marched through Kilkenny before their departure (Niall Carson/PA)

“I also insisted that it is essential that the EU maintains assistance for the Palestinian people at this time. The EU must give voice to support a humanitarian ceasefire in order for the delivery of vital supplies and humanitarian assistance to be facilitated for those in need.

“It is important that I clearly reiterate the government’s unequivocal condemnation of the attack by Hamas on Israel. The actions that we witnessed were savage and brutal. The indiscriminate killing of civilians going about their daily life. The targeting of young party-goers at a music festival. The seizing of hostages, including children and elderly people.

“These are reprehensible actions. I have been absolutely clear that all hostages, Israeli and international, must be released unconditionally. I have underlined that there is no justification – none – for such terror.

“Israel has the right to pursue its attackers. However, this must be done within the parameters of international humanitarian law. As the UN secretary general has underlined, even wars have rules. International humanitarian law applies in all conflicts, in all circumstances, to state and non-state actors alike. It is not optional. It is obligatory. The protection of civilians is at its core.”