Irish peace-keeping missions 'an essential expression of what Ireland is all about', says Taoiseach in Mali
Irish participation in peace-keeping missions around the world is “an essential expression of what Ireland is all about”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told troops serving in Mali.
Mr Varadkar met with a number of troops who are deployed to the conflict driven area as part of an EU Training Mission.
In all there are 20 Irish personnel serving in Mali where they are working - alongside soldiers from 25 other European countries - to train the Malian army in areas such as urban warfare, counter-IED and humanitarian warfare.
It is generally regarded as one of the more challenging missions that Ireland is involved on but the mission is also a central pillar of the EU’s work to stabilise Mali which has seen a surge in extremist violence in recent years.
Corporal Seán Monaghan, from Meath, who is one of the 20 troops who is currently just over halfway through a rotation there, works in the area of communications.
The mission is a unique opportunity for Irish forces also as they get to work alongside soldiers from other countries.
“It’s good to see everybody works together, everybody chips in,” Cpl Monaghan said.
But the risks are not underestimated by the troops stationed there.
“The situation is dangerous, you are in a country that’s basically in the middle of a civil war so every time you go out we’re always following the same SOPs that we follow in the Lebannon and other countries - it’s always the same,” he said.
Training of local forces is carried out through interpreters in large part.
The EUTM in Mali was established in 2013 after conflict emerged following a bid to create a separate state in the north of the country by rebel groups in 2012 and it is estimated by the EU some 400,000 people were forced to flee their homes as a result.
Mali is also one of the countries in the Saher region which is faced with a myriad of challenges including poverty, migration issues, frequent food and nutrition crises and conflict.
In the first visit to Africa by the Taoiseach in more than a decade Mr Varadkar said Ireland’s respected role in peace-keeping missions helped also to give Ireland some status and to gain goodwill and a listening ear among other governments.
Problems facing Ireland were global problems, he said which means that it is even more important that Ireland plays its part in the world.
There are 20 Irish Defence Forces members currently serving as part of the EUTM in Mali which has been in place since 2013 as part of a drive to bring stability to the country.
Mr Varadkar is accompanied on the trip by Minister of State with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe.