This year marks significant anniversaries in relation to Ireland's UN peacekeeping role. It will be the 60th anniversary of Ireland’s first participation in a UN peacekeeping mission and it is the 40th anniversary of the first deployment of Defence Force personnel to Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL mission.
Ireland has made a huge commitment to supporting peace and security in the Middle East region and has participated in the UNIFIL mission since its establishment in 1978. There are currently some 370 personnel deployed to the mission.
My recent visit to Lebanon in March, coincided with the official UN commemorations in Naqoura to mark the 40th anniversary of the UNIFIL mission's establishment. It was an occasion to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of UN peacekeepers who have served together with local communities for peace in South Lebanon. It was a great honour to be present while a veteran Irish Peacekeeper delivered a poignant and emotional tribute to fallen peacekeepers at the ceremony. The respect and high regard that is held internationally for the professionalism displayed by our Irish Peacekeepers was clearly evident.
Ireland's long service with the UNIFIL mission over the last 40 years means that the names of towns and villages in Southern Lebanon are familiar to the Irish people. The forty thousand Irish soldiers who have served with UNIFIL since 1978 have brought back stories and great memories of the UNIFIL mission. Sadly, Irish soldiers have also died and are remembered monthly in a ceremony in Tibnin, Lebanon. I revisited the monument in the course of my recent visit and it was an opportunity to remember and honour the sacrifice made by Irish soldiers.
Appropriate commemorative events are being planned to mark this year's important milestones in the history of Ireland's participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations by the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána and civilian personnel.
A State ceremony will take place in Dublin Castle on Sunday 24th June 2018. Arrangement are currently being finalised and details of this event will be announced shortly. It is intended that the ceremony will be an occasion to show our pride in those who have served in our name with the U.N. while also calling to mind those who gave their lives so that others might know the gift of peace.