With a light breeze ruffling the Tricolour in the castle grounds, the President spoke of the importance of Ireland’s peacekeeping mission, which began with a small army contingent to Lebanon in 1958. He paid tribute to the 87 members of the Defence Forces, and one garda who died or were wounded on peacekeeping service.
As the army band played ‘The Last Post’, the President laid a wreath in tribute to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. He also met peacekeeping veterans, including Colonel John Ryan, an army officer who served with the first group sent to Lebanon in 1958.
Mr Varadkar praised the “outstanding record” of Irish peacekeepers, saying it had not come without sacrifice.
He also emphasised that renewed efforts were being made to secure a permanent seat for Ireland on the UN Security Council.
“Ireland’s outstanding record on the international stage, in the service of peace, strengthens the values we represent as a nation, inspiring the pride of our people at home and abroad,” he said.
“Today, there are 645 members of the Defence Forces deployed in 13 missions, in 13 countries and one sea. These troops are continuing Ireland’s proud peacekeeping record.”
Close to 70,000 individual tours of duty have been completed over the past 60 years by members of the Defence Forces. Last week, the Cabinet gave the go-ahead for Irish troops to return to a UN base in Syria overrun by Islamic militants in 2014.
A video presentation relayed across the grounds of Dublin Castle, included footage of the speech to the Oireachtas by then US president, John F Kennedy, in 1963, when he drew attention to Ireland’s role as UN peacekeepers.
“Ireland pursues an independent cause in foreign policy, but it is not neutral between liberty and tyranny and never will be,” he said.