Enda Kenny praises Irish peacekeepers ahead of Middle East visit
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has paid tribute to the work of Irish peacekeepers deployed in war-torn parts of the Middle East ahead of a pre-Christmas visit.
Ahead of Sunday's trip to South Lebanon and the Golan Heights Mr Kenny praised security and humanitarian operations on land, and at sea where Navy crews have been deployed since May saving refugees and migrants on the Mediterranean.
"I very much look forward to acknowledging the huge contribution made by our defence forces not just on terra firma but also those who have served on the three naval ships in the Mediterranean who have pulled more than 8,500 men, women and children from the waters," Mr Kenny said.
"I think it is an entirely appropriate time to go and visit the peacekeeping troops in view of the circumstances that are changing on a weekly basis and the difficulties and the challenges they face as professional soldiers."
Mr Kenny wi ll meet the 191 soldiers in the 51st Infantry Group in Lebanon as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or Unifil.
Stationed in the village of At Tiri in the south of the country since November, the Irish troops are serving with a Finnish unit and carry out patrols along the so-called blue line separating Israel and Lebanon.
They also ensure humanitarian access to the people living in the area.
The soldiers on overseas duty for Christmas are drawn mainly from 2 Brigade Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin and there are men and women from 25 counties in the unit.
Mr Kenny will also travel to the Golan Heights territory where 131 soldiers from the 50th Infantry Group are serving as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof).
They are drawn mainly from 1 Brigade Collins Barracks Cork and soldiers from 21 counties are in the ranks.
They were deployed in September for a six month tour of duty in the flashpoint, now troubled by the Syrian civil war, as well as maintaining ceasefires after the conflict between Egypt, Syria and Israel in the October 1973 Six Day War.
Irish soldiers are part of a 789 strong international contingent providing quick reaction and armoured protection for UN personnel and support for UN peacekeepers at observation posts in no man's land.
The Taoiseach is to travel with Defence Minister Simon Coveney and junior minister Paul Kehoe.
He announced the trip the day after the LE Samuel Beckett returned to base in Haulbowline, Cork with its 61 crew following its three month humanitarian mission on the Mediterranean.
It was involved in five rescues and saved 1,088 men, women and children, mostly believed to be refugees and migrants fleeing Libya or Eritrea.
Navy crews have been assisting Italian authorities since May and are credited with saving more than 8,500 people from the sea.
There are 424 Defence Forces' personnel deployed in 15 missions overseas at present.