Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2016: Motion (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to have this debate on the participation of our Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2016. It is important that we regularly have debates in the House on the activities of our Defence Forces, what they are doing and why they are doing it. We have a job to do in terms of keeping our citizens informed of the value of our Defence Forces and the fantastic work they do, as well as showing our appreciation and support for those serving in the Defence Forces.
Yesterday, I and a number of other members of the committee on foreign affairs and defence visited the air base in Baldonnel. We met Brigadier General Seán Clancy, the General Officer Commanding of the Irish Air Corps. I commend him for the fantastic work he and the men and women serving with the Air Corps are doing. The base is in tiptop condition. We visited the workshops and saw where the parts are sprayed and where parts of the aircraft are fixed and maintained. We visited the hangars and saw the aircraft. We also visited the stores and looked at the personal protective equipment, PPE. We saw and discussed the systems in place for health and safety. We had PowerPoint presentations and discussions with the safety officers regarding the work they are doing to continue to improve health and safety practices at the Air Corps base in Baldonnel.
I am sure this was also true for the others present but I was very impressed by the work they are doing. I was very impressed by the equipment, the state of the base, the practices and procedures in place and the fact that they are continuously checking, assessing and rechecking themselves. There is encouragement of what they refer to as a just culture. Serving members are encouraged to come forward when they identify possible breaches or areas for improvement, and the officers will work with those members to try to make those improvements. We have come a long way when one considers the debates that were held in the House on health and safety legacy issues in the Defence Forces. We are still dealing with them and they have not been dealt with fully, but we have come a long way in terms of making the Air Corps a safer place to work.
Our participation in the United Nations represents collective security. We are part of a team and proud to be part of that team. As has been mentioned by other speakers, people in this country are proud of the participation of our soldiers in overseas missions for peacekeeping and peace enforcement. We are very proud of the work our soldiers do and the huge sacrifice they and their families make when working in our Defence Forces and going on overseas missions. It is important to appreciate that when our troops go overseas they are putting their lives at risk. They do so to help some of the most vulnerable people across the globe in the most heinous conditions. They represent our country with distinction every time they do so.
The UN force in Lebanon was established in 1978. The Irish Defence Forces served there until 2001, from 2006 to 2007 and again since May 2011. It is a long-standing overseas mission in which our forces have participated with distinction. The Defence Forces also serve in the Golan Heights. I am glad the Minister of State referred to Operation Pontus. While it is not an operation with the UN it is important to note the participation of our Defence Forces in it. Defence Forces personnel also operate in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mali, Western Sahara, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d'Ivoire. We have a permanent mission in New York as well. There are many ongoing missions across the globe which perhaps our citizens are not fully aware of, so Members of this House can do a great deal to highlight the fantastic work of our UN peacekeepers and peace enforcers.
Participation in overseas peacekeeping missions is a key element of Ireland's foreign policy and has been for many years. I hope it will always be a key part of our foreign policy. We must meet our international obligations as members of the UN, members of the EU and members of the global community. This is about collective security and working with other like-minded countries and member states to ensure peace and security across the globe. We depend on the ongoing commitment of our Defence Forces personnel to serve to allow our country to contribute to international peace and security. This makes a difference to the lives of many people across the world who are living in extremely hostile and dangerous conditions. We must do all we can to value our personnel. In that regard, as has been said many times in the Chamber, we must examine the pay and conditions in the Defence Forces.
It might also be worthwhile, as I mentioned to the Minister at the committee, to consider erecting a monument in the capital to our UN veterans. We should consider what type of monument we could erect, possibly incorporating the blue helmet which is easily identifiable. It would be a monument to those who have served and will serve. It might serve as a focal point for our communities and help us to better inform our citizens about the fantastic work our Defence Forces have done, continue to do and will do in the future.