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Address by An Taoiseach Mr. Brian Cowen TD to troops from 39th Infantry Group serving in Kosovo 22nd December 2008


A Aire Cosanta, a Dhuine Uaisle agus a Chairde ar fad.

Tá an-áthas orm a bheadh an seo i gCampa Uí Chléirigh le bualadh libh agus chun an sár obair atá dhéanamh agaibh a fheiceáil go pearsanta.

Ní féidir ach a bheadh an-bródúil go deo as an bpáirt lárnach atá ag Óglaigh na hÉireann ag cuir síocháin i bhfeidhm ar fud an Domhain.

Tá ard mholadh tuillte agaibh go léir.

I'm delighted to be here in Camp Clarke this afternoon to meet you personally and to see at firsthand the tremendous work you do. It is a great honour to be with you.

On occasions such as this, one cannot fail but feel great pride in the role that the Irish Defence Forces have played and continue to play as peacekeepers throughout the world. Indeed this year has been one of celebration for the Defence Forces commemorating 50 years of Irish peacekeeping with the United Nations and in UN-mandated missions. During these years, the thousands of members of the Defence Forces have always carried out their duties to the highest international standards. You - the men and women of the 39th Infantry Group - are the latest to serve in this long and honourable tradition. You bring the greatest honour to the Irish Flag and Ireland's reputation for peacemaking.

Ireland has participated in KFOR since August 1999. During this time, you have played a hugely significantly role in restoring peace and confidence in Kosovo. The people of Kosovo have moved from war, misery and fear towards a stable, secure and peaceful future as an independent nation. In large measure, this has been made possible by what your predecessors have done and what you continue to do.

I know of the special attention that you continue to pay to the protection of members of minority communities and their cultural and religious heritage. It is your presence, your patrolling and your protection, day and night, that has ensured that the possibility of a multi-ethnic Kosovo remains a live one.

On my way here from Pristina I passed a place called Veternik Ridge. I know how Irish soldiers bravely held the line at this Ridge, in defence of innocent civilians, during the violent and sustained disturbances in March 2004. The people of Kosovo have brighter days ahead and you and your predecessors are a large part of the reason why.

Last July, Ireland successfully completed a 12-month period as Lead Nation in Multinational Task Force Centre under the leadership of Brigadier General Gerry Hegarty. This was the first time that Ireland commanded a brigade-sized force in a multinational peace support operation. As such, it was a new and major development for the Defence Forces. Undertaking this responsibility has contributed significantly to the development of the Irish Defence Forces, not only improving your capabilities but also heightening your profile as a professional and well-organised force within the international peacekeeping community.

Ireland's commitment to Kosovo's future is reinforced by the Irish contingent serving with the EU's rule of law mission, EULEX. [I am happy to see some of our Gardaí here with us today.] The aim of the EU's mission is to assist the Kosovo government in developing a legal, judicial and police system which can command the confidence of all in Kosovo. The degree of their success will to a considerable extent determine when KFOR can bring its presence to an end.

Performing your duties overseas can require considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you face and the hardships you have to endure as part of your mission here. The Government is very mindful of the great sacrifices that each one of you is making and I personally thank you.

For some of you this is your first tour of duty overseas. I know the strain and pressure that separation from family and friends places on you, especially at this time of year. The support that your loved ones provide is a crucial component in the success of these missions. In total this Christmas 765 members of Óglaigh na hÉireann will be serving overseas and I know it is a difficult time to be separated from family so I sincerely wish you a very happy Christmas here and a safe and peaceful 2009.

You should be very proud of your contribution and commitment. In conclusion, I want to thank Lt. Col Eamon Caulfield and you all for having us here today. I also want to thank you all sincerely for your service to the State and to the cause of international peacekeeping over the years. Your devotion and service to your country is outstanding.

Arís, buíochas agus comhghairdeas libh ar bhur n-iarrachtaí.

Tá súil agam go mbeidh Nollaig slán síochána agaibh ar fad.

Gur a míle maith agaibh.