Some sixty years ago on the 28th June 1958, barely three years after Ireland gained membership of the United Nations, the first Irish peacekeepers led by Lt. Col. Justin McCarthy took up duty on the Lebanese Syrian Border. Since then not a day has passed without an Irish soldier manning his or her post in numerous peacekeeping missions throughout the world; be it standing guard, manning an observation post, or patrolling a zone of separation somewhere within the world’s most dangerous and volatile locations. Since then Irish Defence Forces personnel have served throughout the globe in peace support missions in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America, completing over 66,700 tours of duty. This year, coincidentally, is the fortieth anniversary of the initial deployment of an Irish peacekeeping battalion to South Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL mandate in 1978, where Irish troops still maintain a vigil on the ‘Blue Line.’ Another significant Irish contingent is based on the Golan Heights as part of the UNDOF mission, where in Syria, an ongoing civil war involving numerous actors has led to unspeakable human suffering and tragedy.
This issue of the Review published in an academic collaboration with the School of Political Science & Sociology and the Irish Centre for Human Rights, both NUI Galway; reflects both the pride and achievements of the Irish Defence Forces while at the same time inviting comprehensive critical analysis with a view to learning what lessons we can learn from the spectrum of that entire experience. This is a unique record of which the Irish Defence Forces are extremely proud.
In this period the evolution and development of peacekeeping missions has gone through several epochs. When the Charter of the United Nations was signed by its founding fathers in San Francisco on the 26th June 1945, few could have envisaged how the organization would evolve and develop. Born from months of painstaking negotiations’, even as the Second World War still raged, the UN Charter called upon countries “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” It was during the seminal period of our Congo deployment when John F. Kennedy addressed the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas on 28 June 1963, where he stated that “from Cork to the Congo, from Galway to the Gaza strip, from this Legislative Assembly to the United Nations, Ireland is sending its most talented men to do the world’s most important work – the work of peace.” Today, as the Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM has noted, “the Irish Defence Forces has over 650 personnel serving overseas in 13 missions in 13 countries and on one sea.”
Then and now, during the course of this service, Irish soldiers have gone about their business in an impartial, professional, neutral, dedicated and humanitarian manner in order to improve the lives of whole communities ravaged by both international conflict and internal civil wars. This has come at a price, given that over the past sixty years 87 members of the Defence Forces have paid the ultimate price in the service of peace. In the early days, Ireland’s contribution was arguably marked by enthusiasm, humanitarianism and a certain naiveté. However, over the course of these ensuing years, the wealth of experience that has been gained in a multitude of missions in diverse and challenging circumstances; where Irish troops worked closely with other nationalities and NGOs engaged in key humanitarian work, has led to a depth and breadth of experience in peacekeeping operations that few other nations can equal. To the extent that in the 21st Century we are well placed to lead peacekeeping missions as witnessed
Defence Forces Review 2018
by Maj. General Michael Beary DSM who has just stood down as the Force Commander of the UNIFIL mission. President Michael D. Higgins at a ceremony in June this year at Dublin Castle to commemorate this 60th anniversary of the work of the Defence Forces in conflict zones, noted that “this is a unique record and one of which the Defence Forces and the Irish people can be justifiably very proud...it has established our acceptability as peacekeepers, and peace defenders and thus has enabled us to play an effective role in the international community.
Murphy, R., B. Flynn, Cmdt. R. Finegan, N. O'Dochartaigh (eds.)