A large contingent of Irish troops will for the first time have to endure a six-month tour of duty in Lebanon without being allowed any alcohol — even on Christmas Day.
The decision by military management to close the bar at their main base in Lebanon, Camp 245, is believed, in part, to have been prompted by a recent alleged assault that may have been fuelled by alcohol.
However, such incidents are very rare and the drink ban has led some Defence Forces sources to maintain it will be very bad for morale, especially as troops have been warned they're not allowed to purchase drink outside the camp either.
The contingent of 320 troops of the 119th Battalion has just arrived in Lebanon and forms the lead group of the 500-strong joint Irish/Polish peacekeeping force operating there.
One source told theit was already bad enough soldiers had to isolate due to Covid-19 restrictions for two weeks prior to their recent departure to Lebanon, and thus missed those days with their families.
“But now they can't even have a drink when they're off duty over there, not even on Christmas Day. This certainly will not be good for morale,” the source added.
Another described it as “ridiculous” that many young men and women serving the cause of peace in what can at times be a hostile environment “can't even have a pint in their downtime”.
The Defence Forces have operated a bar at their headquarters in Lebanon since 1978. It is only open on some days and is strictly limited to people who are off duty. The revenue raised from the bar is used to supplement other activities for the troops while on deployment there.
There have been 'dry missions' in other countries where Irish peacekeepers have been deployed, but this is the first time in Lebanon, which traditionally has the biggest contingent of troops of any Irish overseas peacekeeping missions.
Dry missions have been introduced before where there was deemed to be a high level of operational risk, and a need to respect alcohol-free cultures of dominant religions in some regions.
The Defence Forces press office issued a statement saying 'the General Staff, having carefully considered the standards required of operational units on deployment, have directed that personnel serving with IRISHPOLBATT in South Lebanon (119th Battalion) will not partake of, or consume alcohol for the duration of their deployment in the mission area.'
They said the decision will see troops in Lebanon come in line with the (Irish) Force Reserve Company serving with the UN in Syria, "ensuring uniformity across all our operational units in the Middle East".
Syria is one of the countries where the Irish have taken the decision because of anti-alcohol religious beliefs in the region, added to the fact that it can be a volatile area.
The Defence Forces press office added that the General’s Staff’s decision "has been informed by the lessons learned in previous operational deployments that were designated as ‘dry’, such as EUFOR Chad and 'Operation Resolute Support' in Afghanistan".
While Lebanon has a large Muslim population, alcohol is more tolerated there and sold openly in shops.