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Thursday 22 August 2019

Families' heartbreak as soldiers' return delayed

UN blamed as Lebanon has yet to give plane clearance to land

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Elaine Keogh

Families have been left broken-hearted after the flight due to bring members of the Defence Forces home from Syria was unable to depart.

The 130 members of the 58th Infantry Battalion, part of the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights, have completed their six-month tour of duty.

They were due to land at Dublin Airport at 9.40am this morning. It is not yet known when they will get home.

This is the second time in recent months soldiers have bee let down due to their flight being delayed. The last occasion was in October.

Some had booked holidays to be taken this weekend and do not yet know if they will be back in time.

News that the flight was not going to depart Beirut as scheduled was broken to the soldiers and their families yesterday afternoon less than 24 hours before they were expected back.

The Department of Defence last night said: "The United Nations is responsible for organising the rotation flights to transport the current UNDOF contingent back to Ireland.

"We have been advised by the UN that the Lebanese authorities have not yet granted approval of the landing clearance in Beirut for the aircraft scheduled to transport the 58th Infantry Group.

"Defence Forces personnel on the ground are liaising with the local United Nations personnel, who are doing their utmost to resolve this situation."

A department spokesperson said that, at the request of Defence Minister Paul Kehoe: "Ireland's Permanent Mission in New York is engaging directly at the highest levels with the UN in New York, with a view to resolving the situation as quickly as possible".

One mother said she was dreading telling her six-year-old son his father would be delayed getting home.

"He only rang him before school to tell him he would be home in the morning," the mum said.

Another mum said her daughter has "done a countdown for the last seven days until her daddy was home and she came out of school singing her dad was coming home tomorrow".

One soldier's wife said: "Myself and the children are devastated, we have gone through a long arduous six months without him. The kids were so excited about seeing their dad and having to break the news to them was heartbreaking.

"I know we are in a lucky enough position living close to the airport but some families will have travelled from around the country today to be in Dublin to collect their husbands, dads or sons in the morning."

PDFORRA, which represents members of the Defence Forces, said, it was "bitterly disappointed to learn of another delay" in soldiers getting home.

Irish Independent

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