Soldiers return from Lebanon is delayed

Local troops who were due home this week and next week from Lebanon may not now get home until late June or early July.

The Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe this week confirmed that the current indication is that Defence Forces members on  UNIFIL Mission in Lebanon will have their rotations extended.

The mission includes some Athlone troops and other midlands Defence Force members based in Custume Barracks.

He said that the first rotation or ‘chalk’ of the troops will take place in the latter part of June and the second in early July.

He said: “However, contacts with the UN in New York are continuing about the scope to possibly bring these dates forward.”

The issue arose after the United Nations Secretary General, on April 5, directed the suspension of all rotations and leave for military personnel serving in UN missions until June 30, effective immediately.

Minister Kehoe said the UN had agreed to a partial exemption of the suspension for Ireland.

“This flexibility from the UN resulted from the immediate and coordinated case advanced at mission level, by the Chief of Staff and at UN Headquarters by the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

The Minister acknowledges the impact the UN decision has had on Defence Force members, as well as the anxiety that this has caused for families.

In recognition of these impacts, the Departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Defence Forces have had extensive engagement with the UN and UNIFIL headquarters in order to ensure these rotations take place as early as possible.

Confirmation of the precise dates is expected very shortly and will be communicated in the first instance by the military authorities to both contingents (the contingent coming home and that going out to Lebanon).

The UN direction impacted over 100,000 UN uniformed personnel from over 120 countries serving world-wide, including Ireland and Defence Forces personnel serving with UN missions. The suspension was based on the protection of local communities as well as that of the peacekeepers during the Covid pandemic.