NATO chief praises work of Ireland troops
NATO'S Secretary General tonight paid tribute to the brave, dedicated and selfless Irish men and women who have taken part in its missions.
About 440 Irish soldiers are serving overseas on United Nations (UN) operations, with a small number in Afghanistan and Kosovo with Nato.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Ireland has supported and improved the overall quality and readiness of other nations' forces, which he hoped could be expanded and enhanced in the future.
"Some of you might well be asking why Ireland, a country that prides itself on its neutrality, should be sending its young people to participate in Nato-led missions," he said.
"Shared values, shared ideals, and shared commitment to the United Nations are three reasons. But there are others too.
"By engaging with Nato you get a voice at the table where the decisions are made. You get full political transparency and oversight.
"You get a military command and control system that is tried, tested, and trusted.
"And you get to operate alongside Nato allies and partners from across the world that use the same procedures and practices."
The Secretary General touched down in Dublin to meet Ireland's political leaders and European Union defence ministers during an informal meeting marking Ireland's presidency of the EU.
He said while Ireland is not a member of Nato, it is an important partner and has contributed to its missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
"I want to thank the brave, dedicated and selfless Irish men and women who have participated in those missions," he said.
"And to offer my deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those who laid down their lives in pursuit of peace."
Elsewhere Nato forces have undergone training at the Curragh army camp in Co Kildare, which Mr Fogh Rasmussen said has undoubtedly saved many lives.
But he believes Ireland and Nato could do more together in military education, training and exercises.
"Keeping close links in times of peace will help us work together better in times of crisis," he added in a speech at the Institute for International and European Affairs in Dublin.
"We need to make sure that we sustain our ability to answer quickly, and effectively, when the United Nations calls for support."