60 years of Irish UN Peacekeeping
Irish participation in United Nations Peacekeeping operations represents the longest unbroken record of any nation in the world. Peacekeeping is a proud Irish tradition.
As a small neutral country, Ireland, since gaining independence, has sought to deploy its capabilities in pursuit of its principles beyond its shores. In the promotion of peace and security, Ireland has been led not by what it has to gain, but by what it has to offer.
Since June 1958, not a day has passed without an Irish soldier deployed under a UN flag somewhere around the world. Today, Irish peacekeepers are present in over half of the UN’s current peacekeeping operations, from Mali to Lebanon, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Cyprus - an extraordinary record for a small state.
To date, Ireland has participated in over 20 peacekeeping missions and completed over 70,000 individual tours.
Ireland is the largest per capita contributor in the Western European and Others Grouping at the United Nations. We are a champion of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda; capacity and protection building through increased trainings for peacekeepers; protection of civilians; responsibility to protect; and UN peacekeeping reform.
This virtual multimedia exhibit explores the story of Irish peacekeeping through the decades, as well as Ireland’s priorities. From archival photographs from UN Peacekeeping Missions to video messages scroll down to learn about the journeys and experiences of Irish troops contributing to UN peacekeeping.
A call from the UN Secretary General
The Irish Defence Forces first contribution to UN Peacekeeping began with a call from then Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, for an Irish contingent to serve with the UN Observation Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL). Their duties consisted of monitoring border crossing points and visiting local villages to display an international presence and gain the confidence of the population. The force consisted of 600 officers from 21 countries, the Irish contingent, at 50, being the fourth largest.
In the 1950s we began our journey, contributing to the UN Truce Supervision Organization and the UN Observation Group in Lebanon.
Unbroken since 1958
It was also in 1958 that Ireland first deployed officers to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in 1958, where our presence has remained unbroken ever since.
With UNFICYP since inception
The 60s marked the beginning of Irish engagement in another UN Peacekeeping Mission, when Irish troops deployed with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Except for a brief period in the 1970s, Irish peacekeepers have been stationed with UNFICYP since its inception in 1964.
Ireland continued to engage in UN Peacekeeping Missions in the 1960s. In addition to marking the beginning of our engagement with the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), where Irish troops are still stationed to this day, Ireland sent troops to an additional three missions during this decade.
On 27 July 1960, the first complete unit from the Defence Forces sent to serve overseas, 32 Inf Bn, took off from Dublin bound for the Congo. This mission, the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC), was based in a difficult environment but one in which the Irish troops’ performance and even-handedness in dealing with all parties earned them international respect. Tragically, 26 Irish soldiers lost their lives. This is a constant reminder of the dangers that face United Nations personnel in the course of their duties.
(Photo Credit: UN Photo)
The second UN Emergency Force (UNEF II) was established in 1973 to supervise the ceasefire between Egyptian and Israeli forces following what became known as the Yom Kippur war. As the quickest way to get a UN force into the region was to transfer existing contingents, the Irish Government acceded to a request to supply troops. The 25 Infantry Group was pulled out of Cyprus, before it had barely settled in, and flown to Cairo. The Irish contingent was augmented by 130 extra troops from Ireland and took up duties in the Sinai Desert.
The 1970s marked the beginning of Ireland's involvement in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, where troops are stationed until this day. The Irish Defence Forces have a long and distinguished history with UNIFIL, joining the mission after its establishment in 1978.
Ireland’s largest peacekeeping mission
Ireland first deployed peacekeeping troops to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in May 1978. UNIFIL is currently Ireland’s largest overseas peacekeeping mission with over 300 Defence Forces personnel deployed, making Ireland one of the top ten troop contributing countries (TCCs). In 2019, Poland and Ireland partnered to create the joint Irish-Polish battalion for UNIFIL, with Poland contributing some 200 troops.
Shaping UN policing policy
Police personnel formed the largest component of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia. Ireland sent its first contribution of An Garda Síochána to UNTAG. The civil police monitors were led by Chief Supt Stephen Fanning. The success of this policing structure helped shape UN policing policy and Chief Supt Stephen Fanning went on to hold senior UN posts in Cambodia, El Salvador and the former Yugoslavia.
As Ireland continued to participate in UN Peacekeeping missions around the world during the 1980s, we also helped shape wider UN Peacekeeping policies. Chief Supt Stephen Fanning's success at designing and implementing UN policing policy in the UN Transition Assistance Group led the way for future missions.
UN Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group
A week before the formal ceasefire that ended the almost decade-long Iran-Iraq War, UNIIMOG was activated. In October, a 37-strong Irish Military Police detachment joined the mission, in addition to 15 officers serving as observers.
In September 1999, the UN Security Council established the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET). A special operations force of the Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) joined the mission. Irish forces would remain until 2004, even as INTERFET was replaced by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor.
During the 1990s, Irish troops deployed to UN Peacekeeping missions around the world.
UNDOF Throughout the Decades
Ireland’s commitment to United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) began with a deployment of Defence Forces from June 1997 to August 1998. Ireland resumed troop deployments to UNDOF in 2013 continuing to the present day.
Chapter VII Operation
After visits to Somalia by Foreign Minister David Andrews and President Mary Robinson, Ireland contributed a transport company to the United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNSOM II). Ireland’s participation in the mission set a precedent for future deployments as it marked the first time that Irish soldiers participated in a Chapter VII peace enforcement operation.
Humanitarian Aid Delivery
In January 2008, the EU conducted a military bridging operation in eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic, before handing over to MINURCAT. Ireland contributed one of its largest overseas deployments: 450 soldiers, including Special Forces personnel and two Helicopters, to the EUFOR mission, which was then used as part of MINURCAT. Both missions were deployed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and were tasked with creating a safe and secure environment for civilians, including refugees and displaced persons, and with facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid.
(Photo Credit: UN Photo)
Irish troops continued to contribute to UN Peacekeeping into the new century. With a protection of civilians mandate included in more UN Peacekeeping missions, troops contributed to civil-military-co-operation projects such as in the UN mission to Liberia.
United Nations Mission in Liberia
Irish involvement with the 15,000-strong mission commenced in November 2003. Irish contingents serving with UNMIL have become heavily involved in humanitarian and CIMIC (civil-military co-operation) projects. Through funding from the departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs and fund-raising efforts by personnel on the ground many projects have been undertaken. These include the construction of a major extension to an HIV/AIDS hospice in Monrovia, Liberia, run by the Sisters of Charity and support for leprosy and polio centres and numerous schools.
Peacekeeping in the Middle East
Continuing our engagement that first began in 1958, Irish troops continue to be deployed in the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). There are currently 11 Irish personnel serving in UNTSO, putting Ireland among the mission’s top contributing countries.
(Photo Credit: UN Photo)
In addition to our overseas deployments, Ireland contributed to UN Peacekeeping during this decade with training courses for UN Peacekeepers from around the world and fully supported the UN Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping reform agenda.
UN Secretary General Visit
In 2015, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon noted Ireland’s strong support to UN Peacekeeping during a visit where he received the Tipperary International Peace Award.
Ireland began contributing to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in September 2019. In this picture, an Irish soldier teaches a class on international law to fellow UN Peacekeepers.
Continuing Ireland’s commitment to UN policing, 12 members of An Garda Síochána are currently deployed to UNFICYP, making Ireland the mission’s largest national policing contingent. Ireland also is committed to striving for gender parity in our contribution to UNFICYP.
(Photo Credit: UN Photo)
In 2020, Ireland remains as committed as ever to our UN Peacekeeping Missions around the world. From Lebanon to the Democratic Republic of Congo, we work in partnership with the communities we serve to work towards a future of peace.
Commitment to Lebanon
Since 1978, Irish troops have completed over 30,000 individual tours of duty in Lebanon
(Photo Credit: UN Photo)
Peacekeeping Through a Gender Lens
Women, Peace and Security
“Women’s participation in the prevention and resolution of conflicts is critical to building sustainable peace because no society can develop – economically, politically or socially – when half of its population is marginalised.” (Mary Robinson)
1957 was the first year a woman officially served in a peacekeeping operation. Today, women make up only 6% of all uniformed personnel in missions. This is not enough. Ireland fully supports the UN efforts to increase the number of women peacekeepers.
Women, Peace and Security
As part of our national response, Ireland’s Defence Forces (DF) have initiated a Defence Forces Gender, Diversity & Inclusion Office and developed a specific Defence Forces national action plan on UN resolution 1325. To date, a total of 1,363 tours of duty to peacekeeping missions have been completed by Irish women. But focussing on numbers is not enough. It must be accompanied by efforts to address structural and institutional change.
Women, Peace and Security
To create lasting change, Ireland is ensuring that there are gender advisors in each of the Defence Forces’ headquarters and gender focal points at all levels of the organisation. Ireland advocates for women at senior leadership roles such as the role played by Brigadier General. Maureen O’Brien as Deputy Force Commander in UNDOF and for women peacekeepers’ full and meaningful participation in missions. Women are not passive recipients of peace but positive participants whose involvement and contributions have been proven to increase a mission’s success.
These images by Amelia Stein RHA are from her forthcoming exhibition The Bloods which will open the new Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, Ireland, this August. For details: www.butlergallery.com
Lt Gen (rtd) Colm Mangan DSM : Service in UNFICYP, UNIFIL, UNTSO and EUMM. Former IRISH Batt Commander in UNIFIL. Former Defence Forces Chief of Staff
Cpl Shelley & Pte Stacey Kehoe : Infantry soldiers, Winners of All-Ireland Camogie (women’s hurling) titles. Served in UNIFIL
Comdt Rosanna White : Served in UNIFIL, EUFOR and KFOR
Keeping Peacekeepers Safe
Ireland’s UN Peacekeeping Training Contribution
Increasing expectations and demands on peacekeeping missions places our peacekeepers and the citizens they seek to protect in danger. One of the best ways we can ensure their protection is through the provision of training.
Ireland, with over sixty years of experience and expertise, has pledged to provide training on core areas and issues, such as the protection of civilians and countering improvised explosive devices.
Training in these areas protects peacekeepers and local populations, helping to make missions more effective; helping to deliver peace. Over the last year, peacekeepers from across the globe have participated in Irish-led training, in Ireland or in the field.
Some 2,100 international personnel have received training by Irish experts at the UN Training School in Ireland since it opened in 1993.
Champion of International Law
Ireland is a strong supporter of international human rights bodies and monitoring mechanisms. Ireland supports the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group’s Code of Conduct, endorsed to date by some 119 countries, as well as the voluntary restraint on the veto on the part of the permanent members of the Security Council in cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes on a large scale, as advocated by France. These initiatives help reinforce the collective responsibility to prevent mass atrocity crimes.
Responsibility to Protect
Responsibility to Protect (R2P), is a principle agreed in 2005, which commits states to to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and accepted a collective responsibility to encourage and help each other uphold this commitment.
Ireland highlights this issue though its work on the Global Network of R2P Focal Points, as a member of the Group of Friends of R2P and through its support of organisations such as the Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect and the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.
Ireland provides practical support to countries through the provision of training to develop awareness around key R2P issues.
Through our partnership with the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, Ireland is supporting the development of a training curriculum on the prevention of conflict-related atrocities. The aim of this project to is to develop and offer the training curriculum both online and in-person for security sector personnel in all UN Member States to improve skills and early warning capabilities for preventing conflict-related atrocity crimes.
Ireland is also supporting the Gaming for Peace (GAP) online training platform for peacekeepers. The GAP project allows peacekeeping personnel to experience real life scenarios that they may face in the field through an interactive game. The focus is on issues of central importance to peacekeeping effectiveness and to atrocity prevention such as gender equality and awareness, cultural skills, early-warning mechanisms and conflict resolution.