Published on Friday 23rd July 2010

Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen, T.D. at the Commemorative Ceremony to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Defence Forces’ Deployment to the Congo for Service with the United Nations, Baldonnel, Friday, 23 July, 2010

A Aire, a Cheann Foirne, a Ath-laochra, a bhaill d’Óglaigh na hÉireann, agus a uaisle go léir.

Is mór an onóir agus údar bróid dom a bheith anseo inniu ar ócáid cheiliúrtha leathchéad bliain ó d’fhág an tríocha dóú (32ú) cathlán coisithe an suíomh seo le dul ar dualgas leis na Náisiún Aontaithe sa Chongo. 

Is ceart an ceiliúradh seo a dhéanamh mar aitheantas ar an tseirbhís a thug saighdiúirí na tíre seo, ar mhaithe le síocháin sa Chongo.

Caoga bliain (50) ó shin ba iad baill an tríocha dóú (32ú) cathlán coisithe ceannródaithe na bhFórsaí Cosanta agus iad ag dul ar dualgas leis na Náisiún Aontaithe, an chéad dream ariamh i stair an stáit seo.

Is iad siúd agus an sé mhíle (6,000) saighdiúir eile a rinne seirbhís sa Chongo a leag an bhunchloch maidir le seirbhís ar son síochána.

Tharraing a gcuid díograis agus a gcuid dílseachta cáil idirnáisiúnta ar Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Léirigh siad gairmiúilacht, daonnacht agus neamhspleáchas. Trúpaí iad nach raibh claonta agus chuir siad síocháin agus slándáil i bhfeidhm agus ag an am céanna léirigh siad ómós do chultúir agus do nósanna éagsúla na Tíre sin.

D’íoc Óglaigh na hÉireann go daor as an gcáil dhomhanda seo. Chaill muid fiche sé (26) ball dár bhForsaí agus iad ar seirbhís síochána sa Chongo.

Tá siadsan ar fad agus a muintir go mór inár gcuid smaointe inniu.

Is cinnte go bhfuil an náisiún faoi chomaoin ag fir chróga na gcathaláin sin:

Is páirt dár stair iad agus is cúis áthais dom iad a mholadh.

Dia go deo leo.

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, and most particularly, veterans of the 32nd Infantry Battalion, I am delighted to be here with you all today for the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Defence Forces’ deployment to the Congo. 

We are here today to honour and commemorate the part played by the Irish Defence Forces who have served under the United Nations flag in the cause of international peace.

The Defence Forces involvement in United Nations peacekeeping operations began in 1958, when a group of 50 officers took up duty as observers withthe United Nations Observation Group in Lebanon.

Two years later, in June 1960, the Belgian Congo became an independent Republic and on 12 July 1960, the Congolese government requested military assistance from the United Nations to maintain its territorial integrity.

The Irish Government acceded to a request from the United Nations for a contingent of Irish troops to serve with the United Nations Force in the Congo and the Defence Forces’ involvement in Africa began.

Thus commenced a noble peacekeeping tradition which has continued to the present day.

On the 23 July 1960, fifty years ago today, from exactly where you are seated, the advance party of the 32nd Irish Battalion was airlifted to the Congo, signaling the commencement of a new era for the Irish Defence Forces and for Ireland.

The conduct of what became a four-year mission involving 6,000 Irish troops had a huge impact on lifting the morale of the Defence Forces. It also lifted the morale of the entire nation in a way that is difficult to comprehend today.

This UN international involvement was highly significant because it demonstrated that Ireland, though small and still a young State, was willing to play its part on the world stage.

During the following four years, the United Nations involvement in the

Congo was both extensive and complicated, involving an unusually large force, which, at its peak, numbered 20,000 troops. The Congo operation marked the first opportunity for the Irish Defence Forces to serve alongside armies from other nations. In 1961, Lt Gen McKeown, was appointed Force Commander of the Mission.

This half century of troop participation in international peace support operations in some of the most difficult conflicts around the world has brought pride, praise and prominence to the Defence Forces and Ireland.

Today we take it for granted that Ireland’s Defence Forces should involve itself, as a matter of Irish Foreign Policy, in such challenging undertakings.

However, fifty years ago the departure of the 32nd Infantry Battalion to far away Congo was a matter of huge National interest.

Just as I am honoured as head of Government to attend today’s half century celebrations of Ireland’s first ever troop deployment on International service as United Nations Peace Keepers, so was it fifty years ago that my illustrious predecessor, Taoiseach Seán Lemass inspected the main body of the 32nd Battalion. He remarked that deployment was to honour Ireland’s commitments to the UN – including our Charter obligation to provide armed forces in support of Security Council action – “in the spirit as well as in the letter”. This continues to be our approach to this day.

Fifty years ago, when the 32nd Battalion departed for the Congo, they could have hardly imagined how their service for peace, dedication to duty and though little known or recognised at the time, their skills in international diplomacy would become the International benchmark of Peace Keeping.

Today as we honour those who served under the Irish and UN Flags in the Congo, I am reminded of the fact that you were more that just Peacekeepers.

In fact you were Peacekeeping Pathfinders.

We must never forget that the deployment to the Congo was at a huge cost.

It was to see Irish soldiers taking part in very serious fighting, suffering fatalities and injuries. In all 26 Irish soldiers lost their lives.

One action alone, the Niemba Ambush, on the 8th November 1960, claimed 9 lives. This tragic event represented a seminal moment in the history of the Defence Forces and greatly shocked the Nation.

The Battle of Jadotville, a mining town in the province of Katanga was fought over 5 days in September 1961. There, 156 members of A Company, 35th Battalion were attacked by more than 3,000 heavily armed mercenaries and Katangan gendarmerie. A heroic and remarkable defense saw A Company inflict heavy casualties without suffering a single loss of life. Only severe shortages of ammunition, food and water brought about capture.

Again in December 1961, A Company of the 36th Battalion attacked the railway tunnel, at Elizabethville, a vital approach to the town which was held by mercenaries and Katangan gendarmerie in well prepared positions.

The Irish assault was successfully driven home against fierce fire with the loss of three lives.

Throughout, you were severely tested.

The record of service which I have outlined demonstrates Ireland’s support of and belief in the role of the United Nations as an international peacekeeping institution. The diplomacy, discipline and professionalism which Defence Forces personnel have displayed and continue to display in their conduct as peacekeepers have earned them widespread respect, praise and recognition and have helped raise our country’s profile in a very positive way

In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy visited Ireland. In his eloquent address to the Dáil, John Kennedy paid a glowing tribute to the work of Irish peace-keepers. He said : “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.”

Forty-seven years on from John F. Kennedy uttering these famous words, and half a century on from the Defence Forces’ Deployment to the Congo for Service with the United Nations, our country remains resolutely committed to that important work – the work of peace.

Today, we should all be proud of the many talented Irish men and women down through the years who have served this country and the cause of peace with great distinction.

 Over the past decade, the nature of peacekeeping operations has changed extensively. The twenty-first century, peace support and crisis management operations now incorporate conflict management, conflict resolution, capacity building and security sector reform. As part of Ireland’s foreign policy, we will continue to support the European Union in responding to the challenges of an increasingly more globalised world and in supporting the United Nations. In this regard, Ireland continues to offer, through the UN Standby Arrangements System, to provide up to 850 military personnel for overseas service at any one time.

Gentlemen, I would like to reiterate that it was your involvement in the Congo that represented a new departure for the Defence Forces and for Ireland, and from the beginning you set the standard. On this day, with over 50 years of Irish troop participation in Peacekeeping involvement around the world behind us, I would like to salute you.

 Your commitment and your sacrifice, and the service and sacrifice of your colleagues and those who came after you, make real the words and values enshrined in our Constitution, of Ireland’s devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly cooperation amongst nations. Be in no doubt that you have left the State with a significant legacy. We are all hugely proud of you.

 It is a great honour to be here with you on this occasion and on behalf of the Government, to pay tribute to you. This is your day. I hope you enjoy it.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.


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