Hundreds of Irish soldiers are to be deployed to a peace-keeping mission in Lebanon in the new year, it was announced today.
Defence Minister Tony Killeen said 440 troops would be sent to the troubled Middle Eastern country before next summer to serve under the United Nations.
The Cabinet has approved the proposal and Mr Killeen will seek the backing of the Dáil in the coming months.
“It is vitally important for Ireland to maintain a level of commitment to international peace-keeping operations and the obligations it has assumed through its membership of the UN,” he said.
“Overseas operations contribute greatly also to the professional development of the Defence Forces.”
Army chiefs had been considering options for the international deployment of troops since the unexpected and unplanned withdrawal from Chad earlier this year.
The Irish troops will serve alongside the Finnish armed forces in Lebanon, who were also involved in the UN mission in Chad.
Mr Killeen said most of the costs of the Middle East mission will be met by the UN.
Irish soldiers served in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) from its establishment in 1978 until 2001, when the main battalion was withdrawn.
Another contingent was deployed for one year in 2006 after an escalation in hostilities.
Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sean McCann said he was delighted with the planned deployment which would involve protecting civilians, extensive mobile patrolling, ground holding and monitoring along the blue line border with Israel.
“We have a long and proud tradition of service in the Lebanon and we look forward to using our skills and our experience to make a substantial contribution to the peace and security of the region,” he added.
The Irish soldiers will operate in an area measuring around 140sq km extending from Tibnin in southern Lebanon to the blue line.
A total of 47 Irish troops have lost their lives during peace-keeping missions in Lebanon since 1978.
Around 12,000 troops from 31 countries currently serve in the Unifil force.
The Department of Defence said the mission to Lebanon would cost the taxpayer around €5m next year, with that figure dropping to around €3m in 2012.
Fine Gael defence spokesman David Stanton said there had been a fear the economic crisis would put an end to overseas missions, which he described as the lifeblood of the Defence Forces and a crucial part of foreign policy.
“The Defence Forces have provided outstanding service for many years in Lebanon and while it is sad that another troop deployment is required, I have no doubt but that they will continue to maintain their high standards in fulfilling their Unifil duties,” he said.