Enda Kenny’s Christmas visit to Irish troops in Lebanon and Golan Heights

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to travel this weekend to the Lebanon and the Golan Heights in Syria to visit Irish peacekeeping troops who will be away for Christmas.
Enda Kenny’s Christmas visit to Irish troops in Lebanon and Golan Heights

Mr Kenny will travel close to the Syrian front in the war against IS to visit the troops. He will be accompanied on the trip by the two defence ministers, Simon Coveney and Paul Kehoe.

The delegation will depart Dublin on Sunday and fly via Beirut to visit the Irish camp in southern Lebanon, where 200 Irish troops are stationed. They will then travel to the Golan Heights where they will visit up to 130 troops before returning home late on Tuesday.

Speaking at a briefing for political correspondents in Dublin, Mr Kenny said the time is right to travel and pay tribute to the members of the Defence Forces who put their lives on the line on behalf of their country.

“On Sunday, I hope to travel to the Middle East with the minister for defence and the minister for state at the Department of Defence to visit the Irish peace keeping troops in south Lebanon and the Golan Heights.”

Mr Kenny said that as leader of the country he is extremely keen to acknowledge the “huge contribution” made by the Defence Forces in often challenging circumstances, referring not only to the Lebanon and the Golan Heights, but also the role of three naval ships in the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean throughout 2015.

“I very much look forward to acknowledging the huge contribution made by our Defence Forces not just on terra firma but also those who have served on the three naval ships in the Mediterranean who have pulled more than 8,500 men, women, and children from the waters of the Mediterranean,” he said.

“It is an entirely appropriate time to go and visit the peacekeeping troops in view of the circumstances that are changing on a weekly basis and the difficulties and the challenges they face as professional soldiers.”

Mr Kehoe, the junior defence minister and chief whip, echoed the Taoiseach’s comments.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner last night, he said: “It is great for the Taoiseach and both ministers to be going to visit our troops abroad coming up to Christmas time”.

“All of these people stay away from their families and they all have loved ones back home. But what I have found about the Defence Forces is that away from home they are one big family,” said Mr Kehoe.

“I have no doubt they will enjoy Christmas abroad even if they are on peace-keeping duties on behalf of the Irish people and the Irish State.”

The 200 Irish troops in the Lebanon are part of a 12,000- plus strong United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil). Ireland has suffered more casualties than any other country which has contributed to Unifil since troops were first deployed there in 1958.

The 50th Infantry Group are also part of a deployment to the UN Disengagement Observation Force (Undof), based in the Golan Heights.

The unit comprises a wide range of backgrounds from soldiers and officers on their first deployment, to highly- experienced senior non- commissioned officers and commanders.

The group was deployed to the Golan Heights at the end of September, taking over duties from the 48th Infantry Group which has been serving with Undof since March.

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