Government backs Irish general criticised by U.S. ambassador in Lebanon
The Government has given its full backing to an Irish general who has been criticised by an United States ambassador for being allegedly "blind" to a massive flow of illegal weapons into southern Lebanon.
Major General Mick Beary is in overall charge of the United Nations peace mission, UNIFIL, in southern Lebanon.
The post is currently the most prestigious command held by a member of the Defence Forces overseas.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has accused General Beary of "being the only person in south Lebanon, who is blind to what Hezbollah is doing".
However, General Beary has strongly rejected the allegation, which has also been voiced by the Israeli government over the past decade, and said his force had no evidence of weapons being stored illegally in the region.
Ms Haley said there was no shortage of evidence about the large caches of Hezbollah weapons buried in south Lebanon.
However, neither she nor the Israelis have produced any evidence to back up their claims.
A former Israeli ambassador to Ireland alleged several years ago that about 30,000 rockets were stockpiled in south Lebanon. That number has since grown to over 100,000.
But General Beary said his troops had not come across any major weapons cache in the UNIFIL-controlled area. He said if there was hard evidence of a cache of weapons, his force would assist the Lebanese armed forces (LAF) in removing them.
Ms Haley, who is a strong supporter of Israel, wants to change the mandate given to the mission to make UNIFIL "stronger".
But other countries, including France, have argued that it was of paramount importance for the stability of Lebanon and the region that UNIFIL keeps its mandate in its current form, with the full support of the UN security council.
Last night, the government minister with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe, expressed "full confidence" in the capacity of General Beary to discharge the office of force commander and head of mission in UNIFIL.
Mr Kehoe said the United Nations had stated that it had full confidence in General Beary and similar assurances had been conveyed directly to Ireland's permanent representative to the UN at senior level by UN headquarters.