Minister Paul Kehoe swapped the relative safety of Wexford for one of the most dangerous countries in sub-Saharan Africa last week as he accompanied Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a diplomatic mission to Mali.
The Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Defence joined the Taoiseach in meeting with the President and Prime Minister of Mali, along with Irish troops who are taking part in the EU Training Mission Mali (EUTM) to train the Malian armed forces.
The EUTM was founded in 2013 in response to an attempt by rebels to annex the northern part of the country and declare it an independent state. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world and, thus, is prone to Islamic extremism.
Minister Kehoe said that security was tight as he flew into the country with the Taoiseach.
'It's a very dangerous region,' he said. 'Security was very tight as we arrived. We were not allowed out on the street and we were taken around in armoured vehicles. Mali is so dangerous that there's currently no Irish Aid agency operating there. Accommodation plans were changed this time. The place we were before had been shot up in the meantime. They went around room to room and executed ten people.'
'We were always very safe on this trip though,' Minister Kehoe said. 'We also had the Irish Rangers with us and fortunately everything went off without a hitch.'
Minister Kehoe said that he and Taoiseach Varadkar were greeted at the airport by the Malian Prime Minister and he and the President are grateful for the work being done by Ireland in the region.
'Ireland is very well respected out there,' he said. 'For a small country, they understand that we make a big contribution.'
As well as meeting Malian representatives, the Taoiseach and Minister also had the chance to meet the 20 Irish troops who are in the process of training the Malian Defence Forces, one of whom, Seamus McManus, is from Wexford.
The Minister and the Taoiseach said that they were delighted to see first-hand the good work that the troops were doing in Mali, as discussions are now taking place about potentially sending more troops to the poverty-stricken region. While Minister Kehoe flew home last Tuesday, the Taoiseach continued on his journey to Ethiopia where he was to meet with NGOs operating there.