President hails Irish women peacekeepers at ceremony to mark 60th anniversary of first UN mission
Irish women peacekeepers are central to global conflict resolution and "empower" all women, President Michael D Higgins has said.
Speaking at the State ceremony in Dublin Castle to mark the 60th anniversary of Irish participation in the United Nations' peacekeeping operations, Mr Higgins said the "promotion of a strong gender perspective" is a key element in all peacekeeping operations. He told a gathering of retired soldiers, their families and dignitaries - including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Defence Minister Paul Kehoe and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan - how vital women had been since they first started taking part in overseas missions with the UN in 1982.
"Over 300 women have served overseas since 1982 and currently there are 29 women serving overseas," said Mr Higgins.
"The promotion of a strong gender perspective is a key element in our peacekeeping operations and must continue to be a priority to increase female participation in peacekeeping contingents.
"The presence of women contributes greatly to the full delivery of the capacity of resolving conflict and with connecting with the local populations.
"The contribution and presence of women in our peacekeeping forces has broadened the skill sets available in a peacekeeping mission and importantly has provided role models for women at home and abroad.
"There can be no doubt that integrating gender perspectives and empowering women are integral to improving the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping everywhere," he added.
The President laid a wreath in memory of the 87 Irish peacekeepers who have died while on UN service.
A roll call of deceased soldiers and members of An Garda Síochána was read out by Captain Sarah Conlan.
This was followed by a minute's silence.
Some of Ireland's first peacekeepers - known as the Blue Helmets - remained stoic in the blistering heat of the midday sun, as they held flags aloft, marking their place in history.
Meanwhile, hundreds of family members lined the courtyard of Dublin Castle, observing the ceremony with pride.
The President paid a special tribute to Colonel John Ryan, who was also present at the ceremony yesterday. Col Ryan served with the very first group of Irish soldiers sent to the Lebanon in 1958.
Mr Higgins said that it had been a "great honour to have the opportunity" to mark the 60th anniversary of Irish peacekeeping.
"And to honour those who have served for peace in the name of Ireland, to honour their families and in a special way, the families of those who have died or were seriously injured in the service of peace in the name of Ireland and for the United Nations.
"We salute all of the brave women and men who serve, and have served, in peacekeeping operations around the world, and pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of peace.
"As peacekeepers, our Irish troops are not at war on behalf of Ireland but seeking to secure peace, building peace, in places where war was relentlessly recurring or reoccurring," he added.
Irish peacekeepers' completion of more than 66,700 tours of duty across some of "the world's most volatile places", meant Ireland now had a "unique record" as a nation focused on conflict resolution - an image bolstered by the nation's status of neutrality.
And this was something the Defence Forces, members of An Garda Síochána and also civilians - who had also taken part in missions - could be "justifiably proud of", he added.
Thanking the Irish peacekeepers on behalf of the Irish people, he said that the past 60 years was a "legacy you and all of us, can be very proud of".